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Home arrow Digital Camera Reviews arrow Canon > arrow Canon EOS 550D Digital Camera Review
Canon EOS 550D Digital Camera Review

canon20100423.jpgDigital Camera Review by: Simon Vrantsis  


The entry-level DSLR market has become one of the most competitive across the DSLR range. And few would disagree that what consumers are after from a DSLR is a little different to what professionals and, even, enthusiasts are looking for. Canon has once again announced itself as a company that is willing to push the casing of their entry-level DSLRs to breaking point.

With its upper entry-level DSLR, the EOS 550D, Canon have set new standards in resolution with its 18 megapixel cropped sensor. Closely mimicking that found in its big brother, the 7D, the 550D has eclipsed resolutions that were thought possible, just a year or two ago, even from its professional full-frame cameras. Shooting in RAW, the 550D delivers detail that rivals camera double its price, and, in its class, has specifications that are unrivalled.

From the front, little has changed in appearance from its predecessor. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to identify the 550D from models that came before it. Once the camera is turned to the back, however, more changes become apparent. To many, the most obvious change will be that of the LCD display. Opting for a slightly wider screen, the new 3:2 aspect ratio matches that of the images captured by the cameras sensor. The result is the disappearance of those nagging black bars running along the top and bottom of the screen when in either live view and playback modes.

There has been a slight redesign to the buttons that surround the display, being larger and more angular. Canon has included a dedicated button to enter live view, and also to start and stop recording while in movie mode. Operation wise, there aren’t any glaring additions or omissions but the inclusion of a second finger dial for aperture/shutter speed adjustment has again been overlooked, which continues to leave this reviewer scratching his head, even though this is consistent with this end of the market.

Another headline feature of the 550D is its extremely flexible HD movie mode. It includes a serviceable built-in microphone but Canon has included a port for an external microphone to serve those that are after a more professional audio reproduction. With options to record in 720p at both 50 and 60fps, or 1080p at 24, 25 or 30fps, the 550D delivers strong competition to, even, the more dedicated camcorders out there. You are given the ability to record in both a fully automatic mode, and a manual mode. In manual, you have the choice of the aperture or shutter speed, just as you do in the 550D photographic mode. An interest inclusion to the movie mode is a movie crop option that allows you to zoom in on the middle of the sensor, the equivalent to 7.2x. The resolution drops to 640x480 but it remains a handy tool when wanting to record distant objects, like the moon for example. HDMI output is an obvious inclusion considering the high resolution from both movie mode, and still recording.

The metering system has also been inherited from the 7D. During evaluative metering, a 63-zone system is used. The results are very accurate with little need to use exposure compensation under most circumstances.

The 550D has a very commendable ISO performance, considering the number of pixels it’s pushing around the relatively small, cropped sensor. Clearly usable up to a level of 800 and, in most case, even up to 1600, the 550D competes well with the best in it target market. Its full range extends to 12800, although use at the top end of its ISO range would only be recommended for smaller prints as a last resort.

Although the 550D shares the same resolution as Canon’s top-end crop camera, the 7D, speed wise it’s still right around average for its class with a continuous drive mode of 3.7fps. This is an ever so slight upgrade from its predecessor, the 500D (3.4fps), but still a little below the market lead. The camera buffers at a peak of 6 frames when shooting in RAW but allows you to fill a memory card when shooting in JPEG recording. The 550D’s autofocus works well while tracking subjects but the 3.7fps may not be quite fast enough for those where action photography is a strong focus.

Live view shooting is one area that seems to be in constant development to appease photographers making a move from the compact camera market. As mentioned earlier, Canon has included a dedicated button to activate live view. Once in this mode, the 550D now allows for auto focusing to take place by depressing the shutter. This is a long await improvement from the need to find the AF button on the back of the camera. The Q Menu button allows for changes to settings including White Balance, Image Resolution, AF mode, Drive mode, with the finger dial used to make specific adjustments on the fly. While in live view, the Magnified Focus Assistant allows for zooming in on a section of the scene up to 10x. This ensures that the most important area of the image is in focus. This is a fantastic feature for those interested in macro photography but also helpful to confirm focusing across an entire scene.

Another aspect where the 550D is setting a new standard is its compatibility with the new SDXC format of memory card. This means the 550D will be future proof with cards up to a prospective 2TB.

Canon has introduced a new battery to the 550D meaning those using any of its predecessors wont be able to use existing batteries if they plan to upgrade. This is also the case with existing battery grips. The upgrade seems warranted with an increase in battery life from 400 to a quoted 470 shots.
 
As is the norm for Canon, they’ve again packaged software that allows remote controlling of the 550D from a computer, be it PC or Mac. This superb inclusion allows for remote changes to any setting that doesn’t require a dial to be switched on the camera. The only limitation is the ability to switch between Auto, Program, Manual, Aperture Priority etc, but this is a minor one. Live view can also be used remotely, with the ability to use features including the Magnified Focus Assistant via a computer screen. Considering many of Canon’s competitors charge for software such as this, packaging it with even their most entry-level DSLRs is a nice addition.medal-gold-r.jpg

 

Canon has ticked off, pretty much, every must-have specification for an entry-level DSLR with the EOS 550D. Pushing megapixel detail to a new high while maintaining an ISO performance close to the best in its class.

 

The change to the aspect ratio of the LCD display is a welcome one, and for the consumer looking for an all-round media recorder, the HD movie mode is the most flexible on the market, entry-level to pro. Canon has remained stagnant, however, with aspects such as build quality, leaving it identical to its predecessor.

 

There has also only been a minor improvement in the cameras continuous shooting speed. But ultimately, Canon continues its strong definition across their range of DSLRs, and if there is a requirement for speed or a more robust build, they have alternatives; although more costly. Otherwise, they have once again moved into the lead at this market echelon.

Please note that Canon’s kit lens, the 18-55mm IS, was used during testing

 

Appearance rating 4 stars
Functionality rating 4 stars
Image quality
4 stars
Lens quality
3.5 stars
View finder / LCD screen 4.5 stars
Value for money 4.5 stars
RRP (AUD) $1,349
SPACER.GIF  
Effective Pixels 18 Mega pixels
Image Sensor
CMOS 14-bit Primary Colours, APS-C
Image Sizes 4 Sizes
Lens - zoom wide [mm] 18mm (35mm equivalent )
Lens -zoom tele [mm] 55mm (35mm equivalent )
Resolution Settings 3456 X 2304 / Approx 8.0 MP 2592 X 1728 / Approx 4.5MP 5184 X 3456 / Approx 17.9 MP
Shooting Modes 14 standard modes
Face Detection Live face detection AF Modes
Manual Focus Yes
Auto Focus Yes
Aperture Range  
Aperture Priority Yes
Exposure Metering System
Evaluative, Partial, Spot, Centre-weighted average
Exposure Bracketing
2 to 3 exposures in increments of 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 1 or 2 steps to (+-) 1.0 EV
Exposure Metering Range 1/3 or 1/2-stop increments Normal: ¦5; Manual, AEB: ¦3
Shutter Speeds 1/4000 sec û 30, bulb, X-sync 1/200 sec.
Shutter Priority Yes
ISO ISO 100-6400 (H: 12800)
LCD Monitor Yes
LCD Size 3" Wide Clear View (Approx. 1,040,000 dots)
Viewfinder Yes
Flash Control
Retractable, auto pop-up flash, E-TTL II autoflash, 13/43 (ISO 100, in meters/feet), Flash-ready icon lights in viewfinder, Up to 17mm lens focal length (equivalent to 27mm in 135 format), ±2 stops in 1/3- or 1/2-stop increments
Flash Sync Modes
Flash exposure compensation for built-in flash and Speedlite can be set with the camera
Hot Shoe Yes
White balance Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten Light, White Fluorescent Light, Flash, Custom; Colour Temperature White balance correction: ±9 stops in full-stop increments; Compensation White balance bracketing: ±3 stops in full-stop increments
Self Timer 10-sec. or 2-sec. delay or 10-sec. delay plus continuous shooting
Movie Options Yes. Limited only by memory card size.
Video Out Yes
Storage Type SD memory card, SDHC memory card, SDXC Memory Card
Image / Audio Formats Still: JPEG, RAW (14-bit, Canon original), RAW+JPEG
Video: MOV (image data: H.264; audio: Linear PCM (with internal mic: monaural, with external mic: stereo))
Connectivity USB 2.0 (High-speed): (1) Video OUT terminal: NTSC/PAL selectable (2) mini-HDMI OUT terminal
Power Source AC power can be supplied via AC Adapter Kit ACK-E8
With Battery Grip BG-E8, AA-size batteries can be used
Battery Options One Battery Pack LP-E8
Battery Life
Approx 550 shots
Dimensions (W) 128.8 x (H) 103 x (D) 77mm  x 97.5 x 75.3
Weight 475g

 

 
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