But now Panasonic, with the new GX1 (following the the GF1 and GF2 line, not sure what the X is doing there) has made remarkable progress. See below cropped images shot at ISO 3200 at GF2 and GX1:
Like I said, remarkable. This goes straight from "not really usable at this setting" to "very usable at this setting". And this progress is made while at the same time upping the resolution from 12MP to 16MP.
Get the full size images here: GF2 and GX1.
These I got via the very ingenious Camera Comparison page at Imaging Resource.
see here, despite the smaller sensor, it has the same image quality as the Pana GX1! Damnable impressive. And its lens is 1.5 stops faster than the compact zoom which comes with the GX1. It's a very impressive all-round semi-compact camera. So unless you need exchangeable lenses, the choice is hard.
I should note that the GH2, a bulkier and more expensive camera, but highly capable especially for video, has about the same quality again, maybe even a notch better. The GF2 and GH2 came out at the same time about, and I was not aware that there was such a large gap between them in this respect. Usually sensors of the same size from the same time and manufacturer has comparable quality.