On the fence about the 7D

I am still on the fence about whether to purchase a new 7D or a used ID MIII.  (Note to non-camera geeks: you can stop reading now).  The consensus is the autofocus works great, but the jury is still out on image sharpness and noise levels.   DP Review raves about the camera.  Gizmodo likes it.  Darwin Wigget says the images are soft.  Drew Strickland at ProPhotoHome disagrees.  Wigget is still not convinced.  Meanwhile, Fake Chuck Westfall is apoplectic [NSFW].  Bob Atkins, for his part, likes the camera but says the resolution isn’t as high as the megapixels might indicate.

Several reviews mention noise levels.  For instance, Nick at GSM Arena also likes the camera, and says that the noise is “tolerable”:

There was a lot of commotion in the enthusiast community about the Canon 7D pixel-crammed sensor. The 15 megapixel EOS 50D was not among the Canon’s most successful products and the new 18 megapixel camera made photographers fear the worse – excessive noise without noticeable increase in resolved resolution.

The real-life results however are far from that and they are actually quite promising. The noise is well contained and has a more tolerable film-grain-like look – that’s way better than what most people expected from the most pixel-dense APS-C sensor on the market.

Scott Bourne agrees with  Nick’s description of the notice as “film like” but says that the noise levels are unacceptable, at least with the current beta of Adobe Camera Raw:

I have one complaint about the camera but it may be premature. As it sits now, the 7D still images are noisy. Period. There’s no getting around it. But the possible culprit may be the lack of a finely tuned raw conversion from Adobe. I am using the beta version of ACR that supposedly supports the 7D but I can tell you it’s not there yet. There’s no way this amount of noise is acceptable. At ISO 250 I saw plenty of noise after conversion. I suspect this will be improved once Adobe finishes dialing in ACR for this specific camera.

At least he likes the autofocus, claiming that it “worked perfectly” for challenging birds in flight.  I read Artie Morris’ first impressions review to express more or less the same view about the noise and the autofocus:

I finally got a chance to try the relatively new Canon EOS-7D and I gotta say that I was most impressed, especially with the all new AF system.  Focus on any subject with the central sensor and recompose and the system switches sensors to stay with the originally selected subject.  You can actually see the active sensor or sensors change as you track the subject.  AF is fast and sure; I never once lost focus on the cranes in flight.  And best of all, the resulting images are tack sharp.  In the image above I started with the central sensor and the bird in the middle of the frame.  Even though I moved the bird back in the frame and several other birds flew by, the AF system was not fooled into losing the original subject.

This image was created at ISO 1000.  There was a bit of noise that was easily controlled with Photoshop CS3’s noise reduction.

So where does this leave me? Confused.  I like my 40D a lot, but I’d sure like a bigger viewfinder, better autofocus, and maybe even a few more megapixels. But given my style of photography, lower noise levels would improve my images more than those other features, and I can make nice 13×19 prints from the 40D.  I think that means I should get at 1D MIII, but . . .