There's a new category of camera hitting the market - one I suggest you take a very hard look at if you are looking at buying a new point-and-shoot anytime soon.
They're being called EVIL camera's (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) and most are based around a new 4/3rds sensor - although some (like Samsung's NX100) are even using an APS-C sized sensor taken from digital SLR's.
Olympus pioneered the 4/3rd's system (with an image sensor smaller than the APS-C sized, but much larger than those found in today's point and shoots), first seen in the Olympus' E-1. As solid and professional as that camera was, the 4/3rd's system failed to capture the imagination of most other manufacturers (with the exception of Panasonic) - until the release of the Pen.
It was with the Pen EP-1 that Olympus defined their 'micro' 4/3rd's camera. Beautifully built, and stunningly retro (harkening back as it does to the original film version of the Pen from the 1950's), the EP-1 almost literally rocked the camera industry, and Olympus built a very loyal following that now includes the EP-2 and (more consumer driven) EPL-1.
The 'micro' in Micro 4/3rd's doesn't relate to a smaller chip - the chip size hasn't changed from that which Olympus uses in their digital SLR's. It's the bodies of the cameras themselves that are now smaller (micro) because they have done away with the prism viewfinder experience of a digital SLR - to the more point-and-shoot experience of using the LCD to compose and shoot (although optional Electronic Viewfinders are available - hence the EV in EVIL).
Both systems use a Panasonic 4/3rds sensor, and both have interchangeable lenses (the IL part of EVIL). Popular among these is the 'pancake' lens with a fixed focal length (17mm for Olympus and 20mm for Panasonic) which makes the EVIL system 'almost' pocketable (but still much larger than the smaller point and shoots that are available).
So why would you want one of these new EVIL camera's. It's all about the sensor baby. Bigger sensors (generally) mean better, noise free images - especially at high ISO's, and the reviews of these cameras are bearing this out. At ISO 800 the images are very useable, and the Olympus can even shoot up to 6400 for 'OK' results (the Panasonic stops at 3200). This is much better than even the best point and shoot, which is why serious amateur's and professional photographers alike have been flocking to buy these cameras.
Korean electronics giant Samsung is the newest kid on the block, with the NX100 released this year (2010) at Photokina. And Samsung have upped the anti further still by putting an APS-C sized sensor in the NX100 which should produce even better high ISO performance (although we'll have to wait and see).
The 'other' electronics giant who I haven't mentioned, but who also recently released their own EVIL cameras onto the market are, of course, Sony. The NEX 3 and NEX 5 are, as you would expect from Sony, beautifully designed cameras that 'stand out' from the crowd, but have received slightly mixed reviews so far.
With all this flurry of activity and interest around the new EVIL camera system, it's surprising that there are two notable absences from the party. What are Canon and Nikon up to? the two camera giants might be silent at the moment, but they are certainly not sleeping. Both were heavily rumored to release their own EVIL cameras at Photokina - although it didn't happen. Why? Well, I can't say. But Nikon have already indicated that they will be coming out with their answer 'in due course' - and whatever Nikon does...
What this all means for us, the consumer, is better/smaller/lighter cameras fitted with decent sized sensors - FINALLY! Thanks to Olympus and the 'Micro' 4/3rd's concept, life in digital camera land just got a whole lot more interesting.
And for me. Well, the Olympus Pen EP-1 that started it all remains a very attractive camera - literally! Look at it - it's gorgeous! And while it's auto focus system isn't reported to be the fastest, the images it can produce are classic Olympus - beautiful colour, great sharpness - with very good ISO performance. That may be something I find very hard to resist. My next camera will be EVIL. Will yours?