The EOS 550D is an advanced mid-range camera, just one step down from the EOS 50D (although ironically slightly more expensive). It is aimed at experienced amateur photographers, and has a features set to match. It has a wide range of shutter speeds, from 30 seconds to 1/4000th, a nine-point AF system with a cross-type f/5.6 central point, and the sophisticated 63-point metering system from the EOS 7D, more advanced than the 35-zone meter of the 500D.
The control interface is very well thought out, and all the main shooting settings can be adjusted quickly and easily either from the main menu or from an on-screen quick menu as shown in the image above. Pressing the “Q” button highlights the settings, which can be navigated using the D-pad and adjusted by the control wheel located just above the shutter button. The 550D has only a single control wheel, and this is used in conjunction with the Av+/- button to control either shutter speed or aperture.
Like other DSLRs in Canon's range it has the easy-to-use but highly adaptable Picture Style feature for colour and tone customisation, with nine pre-sets each of which can be individually tailored to the user's requirements for sharpness, contrast, saturation and tone. White balance control however is less adaptable, with only auto, six pre-sets and a custom setting which is set from a recorded image. There is no dial-in colour temperature or adjustable balance.
Other advanced features include the Auto Lighting Optimiser function, which helps to preserve shadow and highlight detail in high-contrast lighting situations. It has three levels of activity, and does work well, although I'd say it is slightly less effective than Sony's Dynamic Range Optimiser system, and certainly not a patch on Pentax's in-camera HDR feature.