I'm always on the look-out for the best compact camera for low-light imaging. I hate flash-lit shots from compact cameras, and usually try to expose ambient while using flash fill -- difficult, with compacts. I've been using a Canon SD400 for some time now (it's the camera I recommend to just about everyone), but I've recently switched to a Fuji FinePix Z1 -- not because it's a better camera, but because it seems to perform better in low light.
The Fuji FinePix Z1 is compact and stylish. In its press release, Fuji states:
The pocket-sized FinePix Z1 Zoom houses a fifth generation version of Fujifilm’s Super CCD HR sensor, delivering superb images even in low light conditions, making it the ideal pocket companion for concerts or nights out. Its five megapixel processing power and low noise ISO 64-800 sensitivity range also means that large reprints can be developed without loss of image clarity or detail.
They tout their new Super CCD HR sensor as one that works better than the competition does in low light; having a compact camera that can even shoot at ISO 800 is rare. At least Fuji has stopped marketing their cameras as having higher pixel counts than others do. That was stupid.
I took a few comparison images the other day. You can be the judge:
As you can see, at ISO 400, the Fuji's image is much cleaner than the Canon's is. It certainly trades sharpness for smoothness, but it's a trade-off I'm willing to accept.
Other than its (relatively) smooth low-light performance, I much prefer the Canon SD400 to the Fuji Z1. A few drawbacks of the Fuji:
1. Doesn't focus as well as the Canon in low light.
2. Uses xD cards. Blech.
3. Out of the box, requires dock for charging and USB connection. Lame.
4. Shooting settings found in buttons, "F" menu, AND traditional menu. Can be confusing.
5. OEM battery charger doesn't feature integrated AC plug (requires cable).
6. Lens placement encourages finger coverage.
I've put up a few images for comparizon in a zipped file. It contains resized images from the cameras (no sharpening or any other modifications), and 100% crops.