Color reproduction

Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart, place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to comparative boxes inside each patch.

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The EOS 550D delivers pretty much the same color response across the various Picture Styles as other more recent Canon DSLRs. This is useful for anyone moving from one model to another. As we've seen in other reviews the standard hues are also very similar to most other SLRs in this class, with minor saturation and brightness differences but essentially the same color response.

Canon EOS 550D Compare to:  
FaithfulMonochromeAdobe RGB

Picture Styles - Color and sharpening differences.







Changing the Picture Style doesn't only mean selecting from a range of color treatments, what Picture Style you use also has an impact on sharpening and contrast. These images (JPEGs converted from a raw file using Digital Photo Professional) show the differences in color and sharpening between the different styles at their default settings.

As you can see, as well as a shift in color and contrast rendition, there is a noticeable difference in sharpening between 'Standard' and 'Neutral' for example. The lower sharpening of the 'Faithful' and 'Neutral' presets might be useful if you want to take control over sharpening post-capture, but it does leave JPEG output looking very soft when viewed at 100%. The amount of sharpening applied by each Picture Style can be adjusted on a 7-point slider from within the 550D's shooting menu, or post-capture in DPP (if you're applying a Picture Style preset to a raw file).

Artificial light White Balance

The EOS 550D doesn't do a great job here in our test environment, and none of these images is accurate, all being rather too warm. There is a lot of variation in both incandescent and fluorescent lighting, but it is a shame that neither AWB, nor the built-in presets can do better than this. The 550D isn't alone though, and like most cameras, setting a custom white balance or shooting raw (and adjusting WB post-capture) is still the surest way of getting accurate colors under artificial lighting.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 9%, Blue: -10.8%, Average
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: 8%, Blue: -11.1%, Average
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 7.1%, Blue: -9.4%, Average
Fluorescent - Fluorescent preset WB
Red: 6.7%, Blue: -6.3%, Average


The EOS 550D's built-in flash performs very well in all of the situations in which we used it. Color and exposure are excellent, and in the fully automatic modes ambient light and flash exposures are usually perfectly balanced (auto fill flash works very well too).

Auto Lighting Optimizer

Canon's Auto Lighting Optimizer is designed to compress the tones in images shot under difficult lighting conditions, so that as little detail as possible is lost to shadow or highlight clipping. Most current DSLRs feature some sort of similar functionality (Nikon calls its version Active D-Lighting, and Sony has Dynamic Range Optimization, to give but two examples). Canon's ALO is primarily designed to correct for underexposure, and its effect is subtle to the point of being unnoticeable in most situations. Where ALO comes in handy is when shooting subjects against a bright background, where it is beneficial, as you can see here. Even so, we had to resort to the 'strong' setting to see a significant benefit.

ISO 400, F8, 1/320sec
ALO On 'Strong'
ISO 400, F8, 1/320sec

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

We're not surprised that the EOS 550D turns in generally excellent image quality in most of the situations in which we used it. The 18 million pixel sensor might be capable of greater resolution than most of us ever need, but one advantage of larger files is that there is more scope for cropping post-capture, should it be necessary. The general rule that more pixels = more noise holds true with the EOS 550D to an extent, but like its near-relation the EOS 7D, noise isn't particularly problematic until you get into the really high ISO settings of ISO 3200 and beyond.

For small-ish prints, we'd be perfectly happy with image quality at all ISO settings, but for more critical work, high ISO JPEGs might not be up to scratch. Ideally, we'd always recommend raw capture for maximum flexibility, but it is especially true towards the high end of the ISO scale, where post-capture noise reduction can make the world of difference.

Returning to JPEG capture, the Canon EOS 550D is a fairly typical Canon DSLR in that straight from the camera, images look nice and crisp, but don't contain as much detail as they might due to slightly clumsy edge sharpening. The best results from JPEG are achieved by dialing sharpening down to 0 and applying USM post-capture in Photoshop, but for most purposes, this level of intervention is unnecessary. If you're a JPEG shooter, the most important thing to bear in mind is that as we've shown on this page, some of the Picture Styles have a dramatic effect on sharpness, as well as color and contrast.