Read about the Camera ISO noise tests in the help section to learn more about the tests and how they are conducted. A key take-away from that page is that noise reduction is completely off unless otherwise specified.
There are many MB of files required to be downloaded to make all of the mouseclicks on this page function properly - please be patient while they load. Also note that my 7D delivered exposures that are 1/3 stop darker than my compared-to bodies at the identical exposure settings in this test - thus the +1/3 EV examples.
Please note: Because there were so many options above and on the fabric comparison below, I am forcing mouse clicks on what are typically mouseover links. I found it too hard to navigate the mouse between all of the options.
I'm particularly impressed at the Canon EOS 7D's noise performance against the 50D. Comparing the gray blocks at the top of the 50D's image shows the 7D to have a slight advantage over the 50D at ISO 800 that builds to a solid advantage at ISO 3200. By ISO 12800, the 7D solidly outperforms the 50D.
To my eyes, the lower model line T1i/500D falls in between these two DSLRs in this comparison. With their larger sensors, the 1D Mark III and the 5D remain better low light imagers - though the much lower resolution of the 1D III is quite apparent in these comparisons.
The with-noise-reduction examples have a range of noise reduction added - from 1,2 (Luminance, Chrominance) at ISO 100 up to 8,16 at ISO 12800. These examples clearly show that noise reduction reduces the visible noise - and reduces the fine details as well.
The 7D images are softer than the other DSLRs at the same sharpness setting - repeated testing confirms this. There is no focus error here and the examples use an aperture wider than the DLA. A set of examples processed at a DPP sharpness setting of "2" shows similar sharpness to the T1i and 50D. Also noticeable is that sharpening sharpens the noise which makes it more apparent. Thus, equal sharpness results in the 7D losing some of its lead in the high ISO noise comparison.
Here is another example that includes fine details.
Once again, many comparisons can be made. In this example, the fine details of the fabric better-hides the high ISO noise. The Canon EOS 7D shows a slight resolution increase over the 50D, but again, appears slightly less-sharp at the "1" sharpness setting. Even though the 50D image is slightly sharper, the 7D image is still better than the 50D uprezzed to 7D dimensions. Honestly, the resolution differences are not huge and in my opinion, not a good reason alone (there are many other good reasons) to upgrade from the 50D to the 7D for most.
A sharpness setting of "2" helps the 7D a lot in this example. The 5D Mark II, on the other hand, is a clear winner in this comparison.
From a noise perspective, my personally acceptable high ISO noise level has long been ISO 1600 with ISO 3200 for emergency use. I'm slowing moving my bar up to ISO 3200 as some of the latest DSLRs are delivering decent results at this level. That said, the biggest 7D noise improvements over the 50D are at levels that remain very noisy. And that said, I shot an indoor soccer match in a horribly-lit gym using the 7D and Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens. I needed ISO 6400 to get a 2/3-stop underexposed image at 1/800 and f/2. The results are not portfolio quality, but the shots are obtainable.
This shot was cropped (fixed focal length lens used from a fixed location usually means cropping) to 4059px high and then reduced to the size you see above (600px high). This is about equivalent to a 4x6 print using my monitor. It would make a nice print for the album or photo book. The higher ISO settings indeed extend the usefulness of the camera.
Back to the Canon EOS 7D Review.