Externally the E550 is very different to the F810, and has a fairly functional, frill-free design. What is does have is a decent grip and pretty central lens position, giving it better handling and a more balanced feel than the F series cameras. Although it is constructed almost entirely of plastic (there is a thin metal covering to the front plate) the E550 feels neither flimsy nor overly lightweight (loaded with a couple of AA batteries it tips the scales at around 260g).
In your hand
The E550 may not be the prettiest camera on the block, but it handles very well, with the chunky grip on the front and sizeable thumb grip on the rear making single-handed shooting a breeze. The zoom and shutter controls are perfectly positioned for fast snapping, and the whole thing feels both well balanced and secure.
The battery and card slots share a single compartment under a slightly flimsy hinged door. The two AA batteries are not secured in any way, so can fall out when changing the xD-Picture Card, but you soon get used to keeping it upside down when changing cards!
A pair of decent NiHM batteries should last you around 200 shots (CIPA standard test conditions).
The 2.0-inch LCD screen is very bright, and at 154,000 pixels, very clear. Gone are the days of low resolution, low refresh rate LCDs on 'budget' cameras. The lack of an anti-reflective coating can cause problems in very bright light, but low light performance is very good indeed.
The AV (audio/video), USB (1.1) and DC-input ports are all located on the left side of the camera (looking from the back) under a removable 'push in' plastic cover. The use of a non-fixed cover is the only cost-cutting decision Fujifilm made on the E550 that I think was wrong - you are bound to lose this at some point.
The optical viewfinder is pretty standard stuff, meaning it's too small, not very clear, and shows only around 80% of the scene being recorded. There's no dioptre adjustment, and I found it so unclear as to be utterly useless. Still, if you miss the element of uncertainty you used to get with film or like to view the world through a spy hole, then you'll love it. Or you could use the excellent 100% view LCD screen. The bright LED blinks different colors to show focus/flash status.
The pop-up flash is far enough away from the lens to reduce red-eye to about as little as you can expect without using an external unit. Flash range is approx 0.3 to 4.0m (1-13ft) at the wide end of the lens, and around 0.6-2.5m (2-8ft) at the tele end. Flash recycling could be a little quicker (see timings page), but exposure is excellent, and the output is throttled down well when shooting nearby subjects.
The 4x zoom lens retracts fully into the body when not in use and has a built-in lens cap. Unlike most small consumer digital cameras the zoom range starts at a fairly respectable wideangle (32.5mm equiv.), great for landscapes and group shots. The lens is fast-moving too - it extends to its full length in around a second. Slightly less impressive is the maximum aperture, which is fine at the wide end (F2.8) but much less useful at the telephoto end of the range (F5.6).
Unlike the F810, the E550 can accept converter lenses using an optional adaptor. This button releases the chrome 'dress collar' around the lens, revealing a bayonet mount for the lens adaptor. Fujifilm currently offers two lens converters for E series cameras; a 0.76x wide and 1.94x tele.
On the top of the camera are the shutter release, main mode dial and power switch. It is possible to power the camera up directly into playback mode (without extending the lens).
Fujifilm's now ubiquitous 'F' (that's F for 'Photo Mode', apparently) button sits beside the LCD monitor and acts a little like the Canon 'FUNC' button, bringing up menus to change commonly-accessed shooting parameters such as ISO speed and image size/quality.
Whilst the four-way controller doubles as a macro and flash mode switch, the only other external photographic control is this +/- (AE Compensation) button.