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Review Price £594.95

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.

Canon EOS 550D side

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.

Canon EOS 550D side

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.

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March 23, 2010, 9:32 am

Thanks for another great review Cliff; I wonder if the images quality score be higher if the 550D was tested with a better lens?


March 23, 2010, 1:26 pm

How does this camera stack up against the Nikon D90?


March 23, 2010, 2:28 pm

I second Money's comment. Good review, but might it be an idea to test DSLRs with a high quality lens, rather than (or in addition to) just the kit lens. Just a thought. How does the monitor do in terms of helping manual focusing (e.g. for macro photography)? With that resolution it should be ideal for that, but it's be good to have your opinion.

Mike B

March 23, 2010, 3:19 pm

On making some comparisons between the canon 550D and Nikon D90 by handling them both I went for the Nikon D90.

The D90 feels more sturdy and the controls are better arranged. The info display on the Nikon is far more legible than the Canon.

The movie mode on both seem similar and although the focusing on the Canon appeared faster it tended to over shoot and hunt so overall it took a similar time to the Nikon. Then again you don't buy either of these for the movie mode!

The Canon may have the edge in pixels but I don't think you will see the difference in real life. Given the current price of the D90 (including the better 18-105 kit lens) and cash back it is the better buy.

Well done Canon as this will spur on Nikon to better things!

Cliff Smith

March 23, 2010, 3:44 pm

Money & lensman - I certainly agree, but the last time I tested a Sony DSLR with a Zeiss T* lens readers complained and said that I should test consumer DSLRs with their kit lenses. I'm so confused!

japester & Mike B - I'm not sure that it'd be fair to compare the D90 to the EOS 550D; The D90 is a serious semi-pro camera more on a level with the EOS 50D. The 550D is more comparable with the D5000.

Mike B

March 23, 2010, 3:59 pm

But the D90 is currently the same price as the Canon 550D so I feel it is fair to make the comparison (in fact with the cash back offer the Nikon is a little cheaper but with a better kit lens).

Ignoring the pixel count they are comparable and I am sure many potential purchasers will make the comparison?


March 23, 2010, 4:00 pm


You would think it should be a fair bit better than the D90, after factoring in the lenses that is, mainly because the D90 is starting to show its age with 'only' 12mp camera and 720p movies and the new range of Canons have such fantastic ISO handling.

I think the real question is what are Nikon going to bring out to fight the 550D and the 7D? We are living in a golden age of DSLRs at the moment with each manufacture trying one-up the other with each release. And now Sony is finally adding video to its SLRs and seemingly doing it better than anyone else to boot plus Samsung trying to enter the market too it’s looking an interesting few years ahead.

The next big thing for me is going to be mirrorless DSLRs as that will be make them smaller, cheaper, faster, quieter, last longer. Its win-freakin-win baby!


March 23, 2010, 4:16 pm

@Cliff - I agree with Money, lensman and you (consensus it seems!) on the question of testing with a quality lens. ISO performance aside, IQ in the test shots is completely hamstrung by the rubbish lens and the shots really don't tell us much at all about what the camera is capable of. Really, it makes little sense for somebody to spend that amount of money on a camera and only ever keep the kit lens on the front (may as well get a 450D with the same kit lens for a fraction of the price).

This point aside, thanks for the nice review.


March 23, 2010, 4:21 pm

@ Cliff - No one's ever happy! Surely if you are testing a camera body then you should be using the best possible lens available to show what the camera is capable of producing, removing as many imperfections a lesser lens could introduce to the review. And visa versa with testing a lens. That kit lens is absolutely rubbish and does that camera an immense disservice in a review.

I would even go so far as to say that all DSLR reviews could be shot with a single test lens so that there is at least one set of photo's where the difference could be purely attributed to the camera body and software in the camera. Sure, you'd have to use an adapter rings and manual focus for but that's fine if all your testing the image IQ and attributes.

I agree - this cannot be compared to a D90! This is way, way below that level. I can see this dropping to £500 by Christmas, which will be a very attractive price. Also for the budding Indie film makers out there this camera will produce shots of equal quality to the 7D (in both stills and HD video). Very surprised that it didn't get a recommendation but when the price drops a bit, it'll be a great buy.

ps. I wish they had kept the MP down to 10-12 though - consumer DSLR's & point and shoot and don't need any more.


March 23, 2010, 5:37 pm

It is good to see that the high ISO handling is so good. I recently moved to a 5D Mark II and to have the confidence to shoot at 1600, 3200 or in some cases even higher and know that your picture will be usable is an absolute godsend.

The built in flashes on these cameras are completely inadequate for most poor lighting conditions, and unless you're looking to strap on a Speedlite, you will be shooting at high ISO with no flash.

The megapixel count is largely irrelevant (my old 5D would give better images than this camera for sure) but I'd be willing to trade a little image sharpness for that high ISO handing 99 days out of 100.


March 23, 2010, 5:59 pm

@Cliff: I take your point. I suppose there'll always be some first-time DSLR buyers who're interested in how the kit lens stacks up. Perhaps the main camera review could focus on the camera's IQ (using a good quality lens), with some supplementary comments about the kit lens? It shouldn't be too much more work, but will make the reviews more useful and might even educate first-time buyers about the futility of buying most kit lenses. I think you've actually done that once or twice, but I may be misremembering.

@lifethroughalens: Couldn't you achieve a similar result using a high-quality third party lens available in different mounts?


March 23, 2010, 7:01 pm

@ lensman - yes, sure. There might be subtle differences between identical spec lenses though, and it'll be hard to find a company that makes a lens that fits all DSLR bodies...but it's definitely a good idea.

@Greg - I still prefer the images from my old 5D to my 5D2's! Shouldn't have sold it.


March 24, 2010, 4:13 am

Im not convinced after handling both the canon// and the nikon d90,,//canon who have not long since released the 500d/ // iv got a friend who as i write this is saving for a canon 500d,// it would seem canon are too desperate to out sell the nikon d90,,which feels ad looks like a sturdy professional tool,, well iv made my mind up,goodbye canon !!


March 24, 2010, 8:05 pm

@ all D90 lovers.

I am not looking to knock the D90, I am sure is and has been a very good camera but surely its time Nikon brought out its replacement. There is no denying that the current crop of Canon's and hell even Sony's with their 'Exmor R' back-illuminated CMOS technology have much better ISO handling.

Plus, i know the purists amongst us will say they have no use for the movie modes but it always nice to have a decent mode should you ever call upon it. 720p at 24fps and no focusing just isn't good enough for a mid to high end SLR in 2010. I would say the same applies to live view, when done correctly (like the A550) live view can be a useful string to a camera's bow.

There are other things that are more in camera software than anything else but really add value to a camera. Things like Time Lapse, HDR mode, decent AEB. Not sure why DSLRs all seem to have the same problem but it would be nice to be able to take a video longer than 29.59 seconds or 4Gb.


March 24, 2010, 9:56 pm


4Gb files are a limitation of the file system (FAT) used in memory cards.

29:59 limitation is because of EU laws that say than anything that records longer than that is a camcorder, and there is a higher tax on camcorders.

Panasonic cameras sold in Europe too have this limitation, but units for US market don't.

Canon does not diversify like this, but you'll hit the 4Gb limit sooner anyway with HD movie clips.


March 25, 2010, 6:16 pm


but surely the 4Gb limit is a very simple thing to get around and just format in FAT32 or even NTFS.

Can you flash the firmware with US versions to get around the stupid EU laws?

That would also have the benefit of offer better fps too as NTSC is 30fps and 60fps where are we get crappy PAL at 25fps and 50fps. Sometimes you will like the fact that the bitrate is spread over fewer frames but do they really need to force the choice onto their customers can they not have all frame rates and let the customer choose which they would like to use?


March 27, 2010, 12:14 am

I wish i had that camers

Hans Gruber

March 27, 2010, 4:13 pm


You can specify which video standard you want to use, NTFS (HD30, HD24, SD60) or PAL (HD24, HD25, SD50) in the camera video menu for the 5Dmk2 so I expect the 550D has the same PAL/NTFS choice available too. (It would've been nice to have had an option for 720p video recording for the 5D2, shame they left that out).

One other problem associated with video recording on an SLR is sensor heat and increasing noise/picture grain, which is another reason why the 5D2 only allows up to 12 minutes of HD recording (24 mins if recording in SD).


April 11, 2010, 7:18 pm

I'm confused (not for the first time!)

I want to upgrade from my 30D. I can stretch to a 7D but the 550D seems to give almost identical performance for almost half the price. Outputs from both cameras using the same glass seem to support this view. I don't need the higher burst ability of the 7D and whilst the larger, more robust build is nice, paying an extra £500+ for it seems crazy. And yet in the review above the 550D is slated for its high price, but the 7D is, it seems, outstanding value.

I do want the video functionality - the output for these DSLRs are amazing and I'm keen to shoot video with some high quality glass. The ageing 50D is therefore of no use to me.

I know the 7D review was written first, but with other review websites comparing the 7D to the 550D why does this review refuse to do the same? Its seems an obvious question buyers would have.

Amazon currently offer the 550D at under £700 with the (poor) lens kit and adding a £50 Canon cashback offer the 550D body can be bought pretty cheaply. Assuming I sell the lens it'll cost about £600 net - comparing with over £1200 for the 7D.

I'm disappointed I can't find a way of justifying a 7D (despite TR's views).


May 20, 2010, 8:50 pm


I guess you can format your card using a file system that supports larger files, but the camera probably won't understand it.

Don't know if you can use different firmware, but the camera lets you choose whether to use PAL or NTSC.

BTW, not happy with Canon's quality control. I got a lemon the first time (greasy sensor, a known problem as page 13 of the manual indicates), now waiting for another 550D to arrive.


May 22, 2010, 3:35 pm

Seriously Pentax has around 2% of market share :O The K-X and K-7 are really good cameras for there categories and price etc... Given that they have only 2% market share should I be scared to buy a camera from them? Could they just say one day right we will no longer make cameras and that's it? To add to that question what other lens do mount on Pentax?

peter 19

July 8, 2010, 2:54 pm

i've taken the plunge and bought this....despite the mixed feelings here. the general feeling in most places is that this is a definite winner.

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