Canon EOS 550D Review

 

I’m the kind of person who loves ‘stuff’ it doesn’t matter what that stuff is just as long as it is something. So I was delighted when this arrived in my office a few weeks ago giving me the chance to have a play! With Easter weekend and a trip home to Scotland planned I would put this little baby through its paces!

The Body:

The Canon EOS 550D was launched in February this year, successor to the little stunner the 500D. Whilst they are eerily similar, the 550D seems to have grown up just a tad! The back control panel seems sleeker somehow. The buttons seem cooler and all in all it seems more sure of itself in a grown up, “I’m comfortable with who I am” kind of way. There are a few minor changes of which I am glad; the “live view” button has moved closer to the thumb, making it, well, easier to push with your thumb. This was a bit of a bugbear on the older model and I tended not to use it as I found it quite difficult and it got in the way. However, this didn’t even crop up as an issue on the 550D and I was able to use live view without fumbling about looking for the button! But, and there must always be a but, I’m still disappointed that the camera wont accept CF cards; every other Canon camera I have or had, uses compact flash and I wish it was all universal!

The body is crafted in plastic, making it lighter and easier to handle than some. Again, the camera does seem quite small which is good for families who just want something that takes amazing pictures without weighing down picnics, beach days etc., but perhaps less of a feature for those who are after a slightly more robust and rugged camera. This camera is packed full of features you will find in higher-end SLR’s it’s actually a wonder how Canon managed to make it this size! But don’t let this deter you from the amazing images it can produce. I took this home to Edinburgh for the weekend and it sat comfortably in my bag, didn’t weigh me down and didn’t make me feel like a tourist in my own city!

LCD Screen & Viewfinder:

The 3” viewfinder is just stunning. It’s crystal clear with amazing clarity it almost made me sad to go back to my older and now clunky feeling Canon! It's super fast and the detail just blew me away. Usually I would rely on checking exposure, sharpness etc. after I had uploaded, but the screen was able to show me that what I had shot, was pretty much what I had shot! Live view was great also, and being slightly easier to use with the live view button. I did notice however that it was a bit sluggish switching to and from live view mode as the mirror inside flips up, but I think if you want to shoot something from a difficult angle where you may not be able to look through the lens then its worth waiting for it to catch you up. As you would expect there is also the standard dioptre to allow you to calibrate the camera for your own vision with or without glasses, and you can also change the brightness of the screen. I wouldn’t recommend this as it may fool you into thinking you have a better or worse exposed image than you actually have - best to keep it neutral! It’s also anti glare, which is good for those rare sunny days!

Pixels & Sensor:

A slight step up from its predecessor, the Canon 550D packs in 18 megapixels on the CMOS sensor. Thanks to Canon’s own DIGIC 4 processor its super fast and there’s no fear of thinking you might miss the shot! The ISO combination provides plenty of choice from 100-6400 and then expandable to a mind boggling 12800 for those low light shots you simply need to have or where flash would just kill the mood! It was amazing in low light, producing very little noise thanks to the DIGIC 4 processor - thanks Canon! I split my shots between JPEG and RAW and whilst you will always get a better end result in RAW, JPEG didn’t do too badly; it hardly bowled me over but I was happy with the results. Shooting JPEG was fast, easy and comfortable. However, I do think you always have more creative control if you start in RAW but only if your willing to spend the time RAW processing afterwards. Not everyone is as picky as me with end results and luckily I love image processing! When you shut the camera down it very nicely cleans the sensor for you by vibrating gently to shake off any dust – clever eh?

Underexposing the sky

Image Quality:

I wanted the maximum mega pixels from the sensor so I shot in RAW to allow me to fully appreciate them. It was a delight to look at the viewfinder, I did make allowances for the fact it was a RAW file and I would have to do my own “jzoosing” up to get something I was happy with. The 550D produced some simply stunning pictures. The resolution is outstanding and you really feel that despite what’s packed into this camera, image quality is never sacrificed. I shot with the 18-55mm kit lens which I feel doesn’t really do it justice, its often slightly soft and a tad clunky, but if the Canon EOS 550D manages to produce great images with this, then imagine what it could do with any of the other Canon lenses stuck on the front, which by the way, are fully compatible with the 550D, major bonus! The pixels are so densely packed on that CMOS sensor it makes you wonder how it manages to produce such low noise photographs, but that DIGIC 4 processor really comes into its own with the noise reduction technology. There are 2 different JPEG settings, fine and normal. Fine is higher quality and, well, finer! Although selecting normal will compress the jpegs, ultimately making more room on your memory card, the difference in picture quality was only very slight, BUT it would make an impact if you wanted to enlarge prints to poster size for example. The 550D is also great for night time enthusiasts, or in my case it's great for family meals in dimly light restaurants or dark clubs! The max shutter speed is around 30 seconds, but it also has a bulb function.

The kit lens offers IS (image stabilisation) which is always seriously good news. The anti shake function can be turned on and off and can mean the difference between capturing a sharp off-the-cuff shot, or being disappointed with realising that on the one chance you had to get that shot, your camera has let you down. Fear not, the 550D delivers even here. There are heaps of in-camera controls over your picture, from standard and portrait to neutral and monochrome. Each preset offers different levels of saturation, sharpness, contrast and colour tone, however it’s good to know that each preset can be tweaked, AND you can create your own preset exactly to your liking. A feature that I particularly liked was the highlight priority function. This expands the camera's dynamic range and saves the highlight detail in particularly bright scenes, effectively stopping the camera down in highlight areas only, meaning that bright sections of your image are not bleached out. This function can be turned on and off so it’s a personal preference. I have always been a fan of bleached out, lens flared images though, so I took full advantage.

Now a little over exposing

Movie & Creative Mode:

This is the camera that just keeps on giving; there are rakes of creative modes to choose from so whether its close-ups, portraits, sports, landscape or night photography you're into, this camera will look after you and then some. The camera has the simply brilliant creative wheel atop the body with several features to choose from, the only drawback will be deciding which mode you really want. It will hold your hand on automatic mode if you want it to, or for those more experienced, braver photographers you can shoot on manual. I like to have full creative control so try to shoot on manual where possible. The one glitch I did notice however, I took a trip to Southend-on-Sea over Easter and wanted to shoot some images of the moody sky; I tried to force the camera to underexpose, but it just didn’t seem to want to. No matter how hard I tried, it seemed to produce an overall 'nice' shot. Walking back along the pier at Southend it then decided it would play along and allowed me to underexpose to grab a shot of the sky. A bit of a niggle but it seemed to play ball in the end.

For those dipping a toe in the waters of manual photography, there are aperture and shutter priority modes, which means in either mode the camera will either control the aperture or the shutter speed leaving you to worry abut the other bit, so it's sort of 'half-manual mode' and still allows a certain amount of creative control without removing the stabilisers completely. The camera also successfully carries across the HD movie mode from its little brother and enabling shooting at full 1080p is a real highlight of this camera. This can be accessed from the creative wheel on top of the camera body; you need to focus before it will start recording otherwise you will end up with nothing recording and a petted lip. I did find that I had to readjust focus during filming; this wasn’t too bad, except the cameras microphone picked up the noise of the motor. You can attach an external microphone for greater sound quality, as the on-board sound isn’t much to write home about. A fully charged battery will get you about half an hours recording.

Lenses:

As mentioned earlier I shot with the standard kit 18-55mm kit lens which is a decent starting point for anyone looking for something simple to take care of the usual family shots, days away and holidays. The lens does produce slightly soft images and is a bit plastic and clunky so I think that if you want to shoot a specific subject, it's highly worthwhile investing in the range of Canon lenses. Although, if you want just a simple good all-round lens to cover the basics then the kit lens is a good all rounder. The camera is compatible with the full range of EF-S and EF lenses which leaves the creative possibilities just huge!

Ease of Use:

There’s no getting away from it, the Canon EOS 550D is packed full of features, it's well made and perfectly formed, however it does just feel slightly narrow in my hand. I think this is purely because I use a bigger camera however. I made a point of abstaining from my other camera for a few weeks and used solely this one, and after a while I didn’t notice the difference - except when I went back to my old Canon... It sat nicely in my hand and I got used to its size. The buttons are all quite close together which took me a while to get used to as my fingers fumbled about the first few times. To begin with I felt like the buttons got in the way of taking a good shot, but it's simply about becoming comfortable with it; rather like a new pair of leather gloves that need to be broken in! Spend some time caressing it and telling it how pretty it is and it will love you back!

Conclusion:

This camera is strangely placed, it's packed full of “stuff” but not quite at the standard of say the 7D, although I have to be honest, that isn’t too much of a bad comparison! The 550D can be as simple or as creative as you want it; I don’t think this camera has a problem catering for just about everyone. So it’s a step up from the 500D, its little brother – but there is very little sibling rivalry here. They seem like good pals, and the 550D doesn’t rub it in the other camera's face. There are a few extra features, increased megapixels, slightly wider aspect ratio on the LCD screen; the focusing is more sensitive on the 550D, improved metering, and better battery life. Actually a note on battery life, I charged the battery once when I got it for around an hour and that's the only time I charged it in 4 weeks with moderate use.

This is a really great wee camera, that really delivers above and beyond even if I am a little confused as to where it should sit. It has the size and feel of an entry level DSLR, but feature wise it seems to rival other more high-end models. Having used both the 500D and 550D I don’t know if I could really justify the upgrade - they are both excellent cameras but the 550D just slightly pips its little brother at the proverbial post

Rating:

Ease of Use 7/10 A tad narrow and buttons are quite close together, but very light and manageable
Style 8/10 Cool, sleek and sexy
Image Quality 10/10 Superb, cant fault it, nothing more to say on this!
Likeablity 10/10 I just really like it and felt sad going back to my older model Canon!

Overall score: 9

View the Canon EOS 550D digital SLR at Wex Photographic.