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Canon have this to
say about the camera:
"The PowerShot A550
features ISO 800 for flash-free shooting indoors and in other low light
situations. With 7.1 Megapixels and a 4x optical zoom, this compact performer
offers a lot of camera for your money."
You can find more information on their website.
The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Panasonic Lumix FX30)
Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm camera.
Specifications / Features:
Average box contents - Purchase of a pouch is recommended to protect the camera. The camera connects directly via a usb cable and has a separate cable which allows output to a television via A/V sockets.
Battery usage: Battery life is good. I have been able to take over 250 photos using 2500MAh NiMh AA batteries between recharging. This is less than the guide of 550 for 2500 MAh NiMh batteries, but this will always depend on usage, such as the amount of time spent reviewing. As AA batteries are widely available and relatively cheap, carrying a set of back-ups makes sense to avoid missing photo opportunities due to lack of power.
Operation and Options:
The power button switches the camera on ready for taking photographs,
and the review button will also switch on the camera for reviewing the
pictures you have taken. The mode dial has manual, auto, portrait, landscape,
night snapshot, kids and pets, indoor, scene, and movie modes. Within
the scene mode, by using the 'set' button, you can select from night scene,
foliage, snow, beach, and fireworks. When using the manual option, as
well as ISO, it is possible to set contrast, vivid, neutral, sepia, black
and white as well as white balance. In playback photos can be shown by
9 thumbnails which can be scrolled through a screen at a time. You can
also go from image to image whilst zooming. The 'disp' button toggles
through display options.
Photo mode/menus: The function button brings up the screen as shown on the right below:
Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen has a resolution of 86,000 pixels and updates smoothly - the colours appear accurate for reviewing photos. There is a live and review histogram available by pressing the 'disp' button; the screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read.
Viewfinder: The optical viewfinder is useful in bright daylight, but not very accurate for closer shots.
Shooting Options: on dial: manual, auto, portrait, landscape, night snapshot, kids and pets, indoor, scene. Within scene: night scene, foliage, snow, beach, and fireworks. Manual: EV compensation, ISO, White balance, colour modes. Auto: ISO auto or ISO high. Other presets: ISO auto, EV compensation.
The 4 way quick control on the back, gives access to Macro, Flash setting, Single, Multi shop, or timed, and ISO in manual mode. As well as the above options, resolution and quality is selected using the 'Function / set' button. Flash is not available on 'fireworks' scene setting. Though EV can be set in all presets apart from Auto, this information is lost when you change mode. On the other hand, in manual mode, setting are retained between sessions.
Setup menu: The setup menu allows you to select AiAF, digital zoom, metering, date and time, sound, volumes, format SD card, startup options, and others.
Playback (Review) mode options:
Playback mode: Accessed by pressing 'play / review' button (if camera off, switches it on) .Scrolling through the photos is quite fast. The zoom is quick and allows switching between images after pressing the 'set' button while still zoomed in. By pressing the 'disp' button, further information is displayed about the image as well as a histogram. You can erase, protect (lock) and add voice memo.
Picture Size / Quality: A 16Mb SD card is provided with the camera. The chart below is a guide as to how many images this will store.
As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, and you can't fit very many photos on a 16Mb SD card, so a high capacity card is definitely recommended. There are a good number of choices regarding image size and quality. Note it is not possible to down-sample a fine resolution image to a lower quality or lower size one in-camera.
A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, as these are relatively affordable - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to be away from a computer for a long time (such as when going on holiday) then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in. This camera takes SD-Picture Card. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Canon PowerShot A550:
Find the latest
prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £3,
1gb (1000mb): £3,
2gb (2000mb): £8,
4gb (4000mb SDHC): £23
(with USB reader)
Speed: The camera switches on and can take its first photo in about 1.7 seconds. The camera shutter response at .5 seconds is good - and shot to shot time was quick, at less than 2 seconds (this is going to vary dependant on exposure conditions). Continuous shooting is moderately quick, at roughly 1.5fps at the highest resolution though when using flash can slow to between 5 and 10 seconds between shots (dependant on battery condition). The cameras menus and zooming in seemed responsive. Moving around the different menu options is rapid. Switching on using the 'review' toggle requires the button to be depressed for a couple of seconds before it responds.
Ease of use: The camera is intuitive to use in any mode, but the manual options and features do take a little longer to use to their best advantage. The controls on the back of the camera are easy to use; using symbols common to most cameras. The menus are responsive and simple to use and the addition of words to accompany the symbols clarifies their function.
Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The camera handles well, and the controls are reasonably sized. The buttons are labeled well (with symbols and / or text). The compartments and covers seem well positioned and are easy to open.
Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside and Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Canon PowerShot A550 Sample Photo Gallery!
Inside: The camera has good colour however some red-eye is noticable in the Heather and Flower photo, but not in the group photo. The flash is quite bright at its default setting. The camera did a good job at focusing most of the time even in low-light, thanks to the focus assist lamp. Colour is well saturated though in manual mode, white balance, and / or colour preference (eg vivid) is available. Although the camera has a continuous shooting modes, flash will slow things down quite dramatically.
ISO Noise Test: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 80, 100, 200, 400, 800).
Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 7 megapixel Panasonic Lumic DMC-FX30 and the 8 megapixel Fujifilm FinePix F40fd.
ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Canon Powershot A550 in the middle, Panasonic Lumix FX30 on the left, Fujifilm FinePix F40fd on the right. The Panasonic was chosen as a comparison as it has a similar number of megapixels to the Canon Powershot A550, and the Fujifilm was chosen due to the camera's low noise. Any tonal difference is due to automatic white balance or metering differences.
The Canon Powershot A550 has relatively low noise upto ISO200. ISO400 produces acceptable results, and ISO800 is probably best left unused unless absolutely necessary. Compared with the other two cameras, noise does appear much more noticable, however, when compared to the Panasonix FX30, you can see that the A550 retains more detail even when the ISO setting is increased. However neither the Canon or the Panasonic perform as well as the Fujifilm, which manages to produce low noise images right up to ISO800 with very good detail.
Outside: The camera has quite rich, saturated colours, with good contrast. There was reasonable detail, with hardly any purple fringing and no apparent vignetting. In general 'normal' quality jpeg artifacts are not easily seen, however areas with strong contrasts benefit from use of the highest quality setting (3mb + images).
Zoom: This camera has a 4x optical zoom lens and a built in 4x digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software, blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below to show what the zoom is capable of.
Exposure: The photos of the clock tower are slightly over-exposed with detail in the darker areas though slightly too bright in the lighter areas - exposure using 'auto' in other photos was generally similar. Purple fringing is barely noticeable in the wide angle and very little is seen in the 4x optical zoom photo. Vignetting was not noticed in any of the photographs. It can be useful set the camera to 'manual' so that you can under expose images by adjusting exposure compensation. Also selecting center weighted metering enables the exposure for the area of interest to be set prior to final composition.
Lens noise and zoom: The lens is relatively quiet in operation. The zoom ring around the shutter button gives good control over how you frame your subject though maybe a little sensitive. The digital zoom option is enabled in the menu and allows various preset steps.
Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing was minimal, but occasionally seen in areas where the sky is next to a dark object. Barreling is noticeable on the wide angle setting.
Macro: the macro mode allows you to be roughly 5cm away from from the subject. You can set white balance manually, should you find the Auto unsatisfactory.
The custom white balance helps get better colours in the macro mode. Noise is becoming evident at ISO200 in the 'actual pixels' crop though colour is quite good . Using soft contrast in manual mode should extend dynamic range, which can be useful with high contrast subjects.
Video mode: The camera features a high resolution VGA 640 x 480 at 30 fps and QVGA 320 x 240 at 60fps video mode with sound. Video quality was good however this will use memory quickly - a 16 second video recorded at 640 x 480 took nearly 18 megabytes. Digital zoom is available while recording, while optical zoom is available prior to recording.
Summary: The Canon Powershot A550 7.1 megapixel digital camera with a 4x optical zoom lens and a 2" display is not especially exciting, but it does its job well in a very wide range of situations. The camera has a good range (ISO 80-800) of ISO settings. It has excellent responsiveness and a good selection of manual options, and is capable of taking good photos. The Canon PowerShot A550 is well worth considering - there are very few digital cameras that offer these options and features at this price.
What I like:
What I don't like:
Additional Test Images are viewable in the Canon PowerShot A550 Sample Photo Gallery.