HD video recording has become a must-have feature on digital SLRs these days, with only Sony yet to introduce it. The EOS 550D takes it one step further than the EOS 500D, and is capable of shooting 1,920 x 1,080 resolution video at 30fps or 1,280 x 720 resolution at 50fps. Audio is recorded in mono via a built-in microphone, but there is a socket for a stereo external microphone to be connected. I tried out the video feature, recording a local band, and I have to say that while the picture quality was very good, there seemed to be some problems with sound and picture synchronisation. I tried playing it back in several different players including the recommended QuickTime player, and the problem was present in all of them.
The 550D also suffers from what has been termed the “Jello effect” (thanks Ian!), a problem common to video recording on CMOS-sensor cameras, in which rapid pans or fast -moving subjects cause a vertical distortion as the sensor scan fails to keep up with the camera movement. It's not a big problem under most normal circumstances, but it seems to be unavoidable with this technology.
Another must-have feature is of course Live View, in which the view through the lens is shown live on the monitor rather than using the optical viewfinder. Like Nikon and Pentax (but not Sony), Canon uses the main imaging sensor for this, which of course means that the reflex mirror has to be flipped up, and the main phase-detection AF system cannot be used. There is a secondary contrast-detection AF system for live view, with just a single AF point. It does work, but it is very slow and not terribly reliable in low light. The main AF can be used in live view, but it has to flip the mirror down to take a reading, again slowing down operation.
The monitor itself is definitely one of the camera's highlights. It has a resolution of over a million dots, making it the highest resolution monitor on any current digital camera. It is also virtually glare-free even in direct bright sunlight, and has an angle of view of almost 90 degrees in every direction. The only thing I can think of to criticise is that it is fixed, which makes it a bit less versatile than the articulated monitors of the Nikon D5000 and Sony A550, but when a monitor is this good is seems churlish to complain about that. The viewfinder is also very good, nice and bright with 95 per cent frame coverage. It's quite a large view, with a nice easy-to-read data display.