Canon A550 Review
Canon PowerShot A550 Design
Measuring 3.6 x 2.5 x 1.7 inches, the Canon PowerShot A550 is a comfortable camera to hold, with controls that are well spaced and easy to use, even if you have larger hands. It is meant to go in a larger pocket or purse, and at 7.76 ounces including batteries and memory card, it won’t weigh you down. The best bet to protect the A550 is to go for a semi-rigid case. Something with room for an extra set of batteries would be wise too, even though the A550 has a long battery life. I recommend using the wrist strap because though it has a larger grip, its smooth, sleek surface left me worrying about dropping the A550.
The Canon A550's relatively fast, f/2.6-5.5, 35-140mm equivalent optical zoom lens juts out about 3/8 inch from the front of the camera when closed. The lens is a retractable design with built-in lens cover. Above the lens from left to right are the three holes for the microphone, the self-timer/AF assist lamp, the optical viewfinder window, and the flash. Along the left side is the grip with a new chrome accent strip.
The right side of the A550 has only a hole for the lanyard loop.
On the left you see the A550's rubber port cover, concealing the DC In, USB, and A/V Out ports.
On top you'll find the power button, mode dial, and shutter button. The shutter button is surrounded by the zoom toggle, an easy arrangement that works better than rear zoom toggles. You can also see the top hole for the lanyard loop on the far right.
Here on the back is where you'll find the majority of the A550's controls. The 2.0-inch LCD leaves room for an optical viewfinder on top, with two LED lamps just left of that to report camera status. Right of that you'll find the A550's speaker. Surrounding the Four-way controller are four buttons. The top left button switches between Playback and Record modes. The upper right button serves as the Print/Share button, which lights up blue when connected to a computer with the software loaded, or else when connected to a PictBridge-compatible printer. Below left is the Display button, and to the right is the Menu button. The buttons of the Four-way controller serve as navigational controls in menus and when zoomed in on an image, and nested in the middle is the Function/Set button. This brings up the Function menu, and selects settings in the menu. The four directions also serve to adjust Macro, ISO, Flash, and Drive mode (continuous, single, self-timer).
The A550's bottom panel is reasonably flat, with a sliding door to access the battery compartment and a threaded plastic tripod mount off in the opposite corner. The battery door and tripod mount are far enough away from each other to make quick battery changes while working with most tripods. Inside the battery door are wells for two AA cells, a small slot for the tiny CR1220 battery that maintains the camera's clock settings when the main batteries are out, and the SD/MMC memory card compartment.
Canon PowerShot A550 External Controls
Shutter Button: Resting in the center of the Canon A550's Zoom lever, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.
Zoom Lever (see image above): Surrounding the Shutter button on the Canon A550's top panel, this lever controls the optical and digital zoom while in Record mode. In Playback mode (when not using the playback zoom), the wide setting displays a nine-image index display of all images on the memory card, and accesses a "Jump" function that lets you scroll through index display screens quickly. Alternatively, the magnify position enlarges the currently displayed image as much as 10x, so that you can check on fine details.
Mode Dial: Also on the camera's top panel, this large, notched dial is used to select the camera's shooting modes. Canon divides these functions into Manual, Auto, and Image Zone. The options are as follows:
- Manual: Allows limited control of the camera's functions including exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, My Colors and metering modes.
- Auto: The camera controls everything about the exposure, except for flash and macro modes, image size, and quality settings.
- Image Zone
- Portrait: Uses a large aperture setting to blur the background while keeping the primary subject in sharp focus.
- Landscape: Employs a small aperture setting to keep both the background and foreground in focus. (May use a slower shutter speed, so a tripod is recommended.)
- Night Snapshot: Allows you to take snapshots of people against twilight or night backgrounds by reducing the effects of camera shake even without using a tripod.
- Kids & Pets: Offers a faster shutter speed for capturing fast moving little ones.
- Indoor: Prevents camera shake blur and maintains the subject's true color when shooting under tungsten or fluorescent lighting.
- Scene Modes: Accesses more specific preset shooting modes, including Night Scene, Foliage, Snow, Beach and Fireworks.
- Movie: Records up to 640x480-pixel 30-fps AVI (motion JPEG) format movies with sound. Maximum movie length is 1GB file size or one hour, whichever comes first. Focus and optical zoom are fixed while shooting movies.
Power Button: To the left of the Mode dial, this button turns the camera on or off.
Mode Switch: In the top right corner on the rear panel, this switch selects between Record and Playback modes.
Multi-Controller Rocker Button: The Canon A550's four-way rocker button isn't marked with arrows, but actuates left, right, up, and down, simulating arrow keys to navigate through settings menus. In Record mode, the left button enables macro mode, while the right button selects the flash mode (Auto, On or Off). The top button cycles through the available ISO settings (ISO Auto, Hi, 80, 100, 200, 400 or 800), while the bottom button accesses the Drive modes (Single, Continuous or Self-timer). Available selections vary with mode.
In Playback mode, the left and right buttons scroll through captured images. When an image has been enlarged, all four arrows pan within the view.
Function/Set Button (see image above): In the center of the multi-controller, this button confirms menu selections. It also displays the following Function menu while in Record mode (again, available selections vary with mode):
- Exposure Compensation: Adjusts exposure compensation values from -2 to +2 stops in 1/3 increments.
- White Balance: Controls the color balance of images. Options are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H or Custom (manual setting).
- My Colors: Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, B/W, Custom Color or Off.
- Light Metering System: Sets the metering mode to Evaluative, Center-Weighted, or Spot.
- Quality: Specifies the amount of compression or frame rate. Still image options are Superfine, Fine, and Normal. Movie options are 30 or 15 frames per second. Fast Frame 320 x 240 movie mode is 60 fps.
- Resolution: Specifies the image resolution. Still image resolutions are 3,072 x 2,304: 2,592 x 1,944; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; and 640 x 480 pixels. Wide Screen mode captures 3,072 x 1,728. Movies are 640 x 480, 320 x 240 or 160 x 120.
Print/Share Button: Above right of the multi-controller button, is the Print/Share button. When connected to a printer or Windows computer, this button lights up, indicating that sync or printing is one button away.
Display Button: Below left of the multi-controller and adjacent to the lower right corner of the LCD monitor, this button controls the information and image display modes in Record and Playback modes.
Menu Button: Above left of the multi-controller button, this button calls up the settings menu in Record and Playback modes. It also dismisses the menu screen and backs out of menu selections.
Battery Compartment Latch: Nestled in the center of the battery compartment door on the bottom of the camera, this sliding switch unlocks the door, so that it can slide forward and open.
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.