The Canon EOS 550D is not quite Canon’s highest-spec’d consumer digital-SLR, but it still packs a mighty punch.
The EOS 550D sits just below the EOS 50D and the more professionally orientated EOS 7D in Canon’s rather cluttered product line-up, but in some ways, it trumps these higher-spec’d cameras.
For example, the EOS 550D packs in more megapixels than the EOS 50D (18Mp versus 15.1) and offers more sophisticated HD video features, with the ability to manually control exposure.
Of course, Canon isn’t Father Christmas, so you’re not getting an EOS 7D on the cheap here.
The 550D lacks the 7D’s bullet-proof alloy construction and lags behind in the speed stakes. While the EOS 550D can shoot at 3.7 frames per second in Continuous Shooting Mode, it’s restricted to 34 JPEG images or six RAW files – so sports and action photographers might want to look elsewhere.
But don’t get us wrong; while the EOS 550D is not a professional-spec SLR, the keen photographer will nevertheless get a lot of bang for their buck.
The 550D also puts a lot of pressure on Nikon to respond in kind; the Nikon D300s, while a sturdy and impressive stills SLR, lacks the megapixel count and the sophisticated HD movie options of the EOS 550D – and a D300s with a kit lens will cost you several hundred quid more than the Canon.
Then there’s the Nikon D90, but again it’s looking a bit dated compared to the EOS 550D.
The same goes for the Sony Alpha range, though you can pick up some great Micro Four Thirds hybrids, such as the Olympus PEN E-P2 and the Panasonic Lumix GF1, for a similar price to the 550D.
That said, the 550D still appears to have even more sophisticated HD video-editing functions than either of these Micro Four Thirds hybrids. Conventional DSLR lenses tend to be cheaper too and come in more flavours.
The feather in the EOS 550D’s cap is that it offers full HD mode, rather than just standard HD – 1,920 x 1,080 pixels versus 1,280 x 720.
And as you’d expect the EOS 550D works with the full range of EOS lenses. Just as well, as the supplied kit lens is a bit of a letdown, but more on this later.
Despite lacking the tough alloy frame of the 7D, the build quality of the EOS 550D is pretty good.
The plastic chassis manages to feel stiff and sturdy without being heavy, and the EOS 550D is certainly lighter and easier to lug around than a more pro-spec’d camera.
The ergonomics and menu layout are generally good too. The three-inch rear LCD is easy to read and manipulate in all but the poorest light, coming as it does with a resolution of 1,040,000 pixels.
This rear LCD is also a big help when recording and previewing moves in Live View mode. The top viewfinder is a bit small in comparison to the rear LCD; we had to squint through it a bit, and it’s not the greatest aid to composition if, like this reviewer, you are cursed with a big nose. Otherwise, the various dials and buttons are well laid out and easy to manipulate, and it’s really nice to have a dedicated ISO button.
The EOS 550D strikes the perfect balance between the ease of use of an entry-level Canon SLR and a more pro-spec’d model like the 7D; we’re impressed.
The very best mode dial looks a bit crowded, mainly because Canon’s still insisting on squeezing on all those dumbed-down exposures presets that you get on beginner DSLRs (portrait, landscape, and so on). We reckon the boffins have got room for about three more icons before the whole wheel fills up!
Check Out: Best Canon EOS 550D Lenses
The 550D uses a new, 18.7 (total) megapixel sensor that’s similar, but not exactly the same as the one featured in the EOS 7D. Also central to the impressive specification of the EOS 550D is a high-spec movie mode which offers full HD capture at up to 30 fps, manual control overexposure, and the option to use an external stereo microphone. The new camera also inherits the EOS 7D’s sophisticated metering system. Canon has pulled out all the stops with the EOS 550D and produced the most highly-specced Rebel we’ve ever seen.