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The Canon EOS 550D is a difficult product to categorize. Ostensibly designed to appeal to first-time DSLR buyers and enthusiasts, it offers a lot more technology, and at a higher price, than we might expect for a camera aimed squarely at this sector. Although it might seem logical for the 550D to replace the EOS 500D, the older camera is set to continue in Canon's lineup, which leaves the 550D pinched between its entry-level (represented by the still-current EOS 1000D and the 500D) and nominally enthusiast (the EOS 50D) peers. Confusingly however, apart from build quality (which is all but identical to the EOS 500D), the 550D has more in common with the prosumer EOS 7D, and - perhaps even more confusingly - it out-specifies the EOS 50D in many areas.

Central to the impressive specification of the EOS 550D is a high-spec movie mode which offers full HD capture at up to 30 fps, manual control over exposure, and the option to use an external stereo microphone. The new camera also inherits the EOS 7D's sophisticated metering system (which brings it a lot closer to similarly positioned Nikon SLRs).

So why has Canon apparently risked cannibalizing 7D sales by releasing such a similarly-specced, lower-end model? Well, Canon might have invented the 'entry-level' DSLR way back in 2003 with the attractively priced (for the time) EOS 300D, but these days, this sector of the marketplace is pretty crowded. Far from enjoying a monopoly, Canon, like all manufacturers, faces a stiff battle to make its products stand out amongst their numerous peers. To this end, Canon has pulled out all the stops with the EOS 550D and produced the most highly-specced Rebel we've ever seen. Now that a production sample has arrived in dpreview's offices, we've had the chance to subject it to our full in-depth test procedure. Read on to find out how it performs.

A brief history; Canon entry level digital SLR series

* The Canon EOS 1000D represents a sub-class of the Rebel series and hence should be considered a parallel series.

Headline features

  • 18 Megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
  • DIGIC 4 processor with ISO 100-6400 (Expansion to 12800)
  • Continuous shooting at 3.7fps
  • Full HD movie recording with manual control and selectable frame rates
  • 7.7cm (3.0”) 3:2 Clear View LCD with 1,040k dots
  • iFCL metering System with 63-zone Dual-layer Metering Sensor
  • Quick Control screen to change shooting settings
  • Exposure compensation +/-5 stops (although viewfinder scale is still +/-2 stops)
  • Select maximum value for Auto ISO
  • External Microphone socket
  • Movie crop function
  • Eye-Fi connected functions compatibility

EOS 550D vs EOS 500D Key differences

  • Higher resolution 18MP CMOS with gapless micro lenses
  • ISO 6400 no longer in 'expanded' range (12,800 max remains the same)
  • Redesigned buttons and new movie/live view button
  • Customizable auto ISO ranges
  • Improved 63 zone metering (iFCL)
  • 3:2 format screen with more pixels
  • Improved movie functionality
  • Slightly higher burst shooting rate (though buffer holds fewer shots)
  • HDMI control (CEC)
  • SDHX Compatible

Technology in Detail/What's New

18.7 megapixel CMOS sensor
The 550D uses a new, 18.7 (total) megapixel sensor that's similar, but not exactly the same as the one featured in the 7D (according to our sources at Canon). As before the sensor uses high frequency vibrations to remove dust.

Gapless micro lenses
First touted by Canon on the 50D, the EOS 550D's sensor has what are effectively gapless micro lenses, which significantly increases the efficiency of each pixel.

63-point iFCL metering
The consumer EOS range gets a welcome metering boost with a new 63-zone dual layer iFCL metering sensor (first seen on the EOS 7D). The iFCL system uses focus, color and luminance information to determine consistently exposed shots. All focus points provide distance information to the metering system to determine proximity to the subject and allow the algorithm to weight the exposure accordingly.
Typically, metering sensors are more sensitive to red subjects which can lead to overexposure. The EOS 550D combats this with the dual layer sensor, which has one layer sensitive to red and green light and one that is sensitive to blue and green light. The metering algorithm then compares the level of the two layers and adjusts the meter reading accordingly.

Full HD movie mode
In keeping with the overall specification hike the EOS 550D gets full HD (1920 x 1080) movie capture at a range of frame rates (30, 25 and 20), bringing it in line with the EOS 7D. You also get full creative control (over apertures and shutter speeds), and you can set Highlight Tone Priority for movies independently of the setting used for stills. Another welcome addition is the inclusion of a stereo microphone jack.

Screen Color
There are several minor changes to the user interface. You can now preview the color schemes available for the Quick Control Screen.
Copyright information
The new in-camera copyright information feature - another that's trickled down from the latest professional models - allows copyright data to be entered directly into the camera, appending that information to each image file in the Exif metadata.

Button changes
The EOS 550D gains new button dedicated to Live View / movie mode; where it used to sit on the EOS 500D is now a new 'Q' button (for fast access to the Quick Control Screen). Most of the buttons have been redesigned, and they're generally larger and flatter.