Very interesting to see all of the replies. I am beginning to come to the conclusion that this camera isn't for me... but I'm left wondering where to go. On paper the 7D looked like the ideal camera for me: it's got the "pro" features I want in an EFS package. But now it seems like not only can I not upgrade to the 7D... but the 60D and T3i are out (same sensor).
I suppose I'm just going to have to continue with my XSi for now.
As for not mentioning that I'm a landscape photographer... that was definitely an omission on my part. After reading everything about this camera I don't fault the people that told me to snag it... there are _many_ happy customers with this camera. I just think it's not right for me.
I think that "catz" post is the most relevant to my situation. I am often pushing my RAW files to the edge to get more detail / color / contrast out of them. If the 7D sensor is not making RAW files amenable to that then it's not for me. What is a real travesty is that this camera has great features for a landscape photographer: multiple custom settings, built in level, awesome metering, etc.
As for "pixel peeping". I don't think that's what I'm doing. Anyone who looked at those photos I posted should be disgusted. I didn't do _any_ exposure adjustment at all and just a tad bit of sharpening (not even close to as much as I typically would for a landscape shot). The exposure is spot on... fully covering the range in every channel (yay evaluative exposure on 7D! My XSi would have trouble doing that with even this shot ;-)
If I try to crop this photo down _at all_ I can see the noise with the full photo being displayed (ie not zooming in) on my 27" iMac. And that's doing a pretty small amount cropping (like only including the whole church). If I go any further, like just the front half of the church... it looks like I took this photo at ISO 800+! How anyone shooting landscapes would think that is acceptable is beyond me. I've cropped ISO 100-200 photos from my XSi _way_ down and been satisfied with the results (and I didn't have to apply any NR at all!).
Here is a screenshot of what I'm seeing on my screen: http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7166/6482020907_8689f39356_o.jpg
Bottom line: $1,500 for RAW files that you can't "push around" at all and having to apply NR at ISO 100-200 is completely unacceptable to me.
Like I mentioned, I'm still going to give it a go this weekend and see what the results are... but at this point I'm not expecting it to be good...
Thanks again for everyone taking the time to reply! This has been extremely insightful!
I'm sorry to hear you say this, I think your selling yourself and the 7D a little short. I've looked at your sample images pretty closely. I do indeed see some noise in and near shadows, however I wouldn't call it "disgusting". It is kind of annoying, but when I take your image and scale it down to 900px wide (the standard size of a 500px.com photo), I don't see any noise at all. When you think about how much higher density most 300-PPI prints are vs. the pixel density of a computer screen (which ranges from 72ppi to around 103ppi), they are about 4-3 times as pixel dense, which hides a LOT of the noise you may see at 100% on a computer screen.
Regarding pixel peeping...those photos you posted are 100% size photos...so looking at the noise in them really can't be considered anything other than pixel peeping. Thats what it is: examining detail at a pixel level at 100%. I also had a 450D, and I remember that smooth areas...smooth gradients and solid color surfaces and the like, often had visible noise at ISO100. Not quite as much as the 7D does, but some nevertheless. The current (pre 1D X) generation of Canon sensor tech is a bit noisy compared to what competitors have to offer (which these days are largely all Sony sensors, which have a much lower noise floor than Canon sensors.)
If you want high resolution with low noise, you are either going to have to spend the bucks on a 1D X, wait for a 5D III and hope it performs as well or nearly well as a 1D X, or jump ship and head to a different brand. I know Pentax is well known for having some of the best ISO noise performance of any brand these days (excluding the 1DX...I guess we'll see how it fares soon enough), however I have never been particularly impressed with its lens lineup. Nikon has some great lenses, and many of their newer cameras use Sony sensors. Even the Canon 5D Mark II has only marginally less pixel-level noise as the 7D...its just generally less obvious at commonly presented format sizes because it is once again higher resolution. The 5D II, according to some of the comments on 7D threads about its noise, has the same exact issues. ISO 100 is a bit noiser than ISO 160, 320 is less noisy than 400, etc. The 5D II has its own unique noise issues as well, as it seems to suffer from lower right corner thermal noise that produces very uneven noise distribution from left to right in an image when above ISO 1600. I don't ever recall anyone really complaining that much about it though, as in most real-world situations, its unnoticeable.
You might also want to consider the calibration of your monitor. An improperly calibrated screen might display color or luminance with too much contrast. It may be configured to enhance sharpness via the screen itself (many LCD screens allow sharpness tuning), etc. I use an Apple CinemaDisplay 30" at 2560x1600, recently calibrated with a DataColor Spyder 3 Elite. The brightness of my screen is tuned for 120cd/m, with a 5500k white point. On this screen, your ISO 200 photos look fine, and while if I get about 6 inches from the screen I CAN see noise in shaded parts of the photo, and a little bit in the roofing tiles, at my normal viewing distance of about a foot and a half, I have to squint to see any noise at all. Scaling the image down with a quality scaling algorithm to either mimic print or preview for on-screen sizes (I have to scale down about 1/3rd the original size on my 103dpi screen to simulate how big the image might be in print), I can't see any noise at all at a comfortable viewing distance.
On a properly calibrated screen in a properly lit room, the lowest image with noise from the following thread should be ISO 250 and the other +1/3 stop settings. ISO 100, 160, 320, 400, 640, should all look nearly completely black. ISO 800 and on is where noise starts to present:http://marvelsfilm.wordpress.com/2009/10/10/canon-7d-noise-and-iso-test/
The comments on the above thread provide some useful insight. A better evaluation of 7D noise and DR can be found here:http://shootintheshot.joshsilfen.com/2010/05/13/canon-hd-dslr-native-iso/