Canon continues its plan to dominate the photography landscape with a new addition to its DSLR range. Building on the success of the EOS 500D, Canon's entry-level EOS 550D has an 18MP sensor and pushes movies to the max with Full HD video.
The 550D is the same size as the 500D. It’s smaller, lighter, more plasticky and less rock hard than the weatherproof, prosumer 7D, despite having the same sensor and video capabilities – but it’s still chunky enough to sit nicely in your mitt.
There's a choice between an optical viewfinder and the 3in Live View screen for framing shots. The viewfinder features speedy autofocus via nine AF points, while the screen is retina-slicingly clear and bright but very slow to autofocus.
The 550D’s movie mode is brilliant enough to stiffen the clapperboards of any amateur filmmaker. Unlike most affordable DSLRs, it doesn’t feel lacking in its approach to video. There is manual control over exposure compensation, ISO and aperture, as well as the ability to record stereo using an external microphone.
And movie quality? It's eye-poppingly stunning, sharp and clean – even in low-light conditions. You can record at full 1920x1080 at 24, 25 or 30fps, or 1280x720 at 50 or 60fps. Complaints? HD-movie files are capped at 4GB (around 12 minutes), so those Brian De Palma-esque no-cut sequences aren’t on the menu.
Ready for your close-up?
Using the lightweight 18-55mm kit lens, the 550D delivers fantastic results, though if you want to shoot ultra close-ups and portraits you may want to add an additional lens, such as the EF-S 60mm f2.8 Macro lens.
Sharper than Zorro's sword it’s able to deliver a short depth of field too – great for adding that Hollywood sheen to your movies.
Even when you push ISO speed towards its 6400 maximum, the noise-reduction tech on the 550D does a bang up job of cleaning up JPEGs. There’s RAW too, but with just 25 RAW snaps snaffling a full GB of space, you’ll need a big SD card.
Review continues after the break…
Cards and cables
A wide range of accessories are compatible with the 550D, from mini HDMI cables to hook it directly up to your HD telly, to stereo mics for video and Canon’s range of flashes and EF lenses. The card slot takes SD, SDHC and new SDXC cards.
Olympus' retro-tastic E-P2, which is a dab hand at video capture and features an external mic socket to boot, offers the EOS 550D some stern competition. It's limited to 1280x720 resolution though, and so, for our money, the 550D is more of a movie master.