Top of camera controls

The controls on the top of the EOS 550D are identical to the EOS 500D and the EOS 450D before it. There are a couple of design changes, but they're subtle - the mode dial has switched back to black (the EOS 500D's is silver) and has more pronounced knurling, the ISO button sits inside an indentation (presumably to make it easier to find without looking), and there's a slightly different shape to the angled 'finger rest' that the shutter release sits on.


Icon Description
Control Dial

As normal the control dial is used to change settings when buttons are pressed or menus active, and to alter exposure settings in manual or semi-automatic modes
ISO ISO button

The dedicated ISO button just behind the shutter release brings up an on-screen ISO menu that can be navigated using the control dial or the arrow keys on the rear of the body. When the camera is held up your eye it highlights ISO in the viewfinder, again you can change it with either the dial or the left/right arrow keys.

Mode dial

Basic zone exposure modes

Full Auto and the six scene exposure modes are collectively referred to as the 'Basic Zone', in this 'Zone' certain settings are either fixed, restricted or unavailable. In the basic zone the camera will indicate that blur may occur because of slow shutter speeds, it does so by blinking the shutter speed on the LCD and viewfinder status bar.

Basic zone modes

Icon Description
Fully Automatic Exposure

Camera has complete control over exposure, point-and-shoot operation.

Apertures are kept as large as possible (small F number) to produce a shallow Depth of Field (blurred background).

Apertures as small as possible (large F numbers) for the largest depth of field.
Close-up (Macro)

Aperture is kept to a medium setting to ensure the subject DOF is deep enough but the background is blurred.

Shutter speed is kept as high as possible to ensure capture of fast moving objects.
Night Scene

Allows for slow shutter speeds combined with flash to illuminate foreground and background.
Flash off

Disables internal and external flash for taking automatic slow exposures.

Creative Auto

Exposure is set using two sliders - one representing depth-of-field, the other representing brightness, essentially sticking a 'results-orientated' face onto the aperture-priority mode.

Creative zone exposure modes

The five exposure modes will be more familiar to (and preferred) by most prosumer / professionals. All menu functions and camera settings are available in these modes and can be used in any combination.


Program Auto (flexible)

Very similar to Auto exposure but you have access to all the normal manual controls, can set the ISO, exposure compensation, use AE lock, bracketing etc. The Program AE is flexible which means that you can select one of a variety of equal exposures by turning the main dial. Example:
 • 1/125 sec, F9 (turn left one click)
 • 1/160 sec, F8.0 (turn left one click)
 • 1/200 sec, F7.1 (metered)
 • 1/250 sec, F6.3 (turn right one click)
 • 1/320 sec, F5.6 (turn right one click)

Shutter-Priority Auto

In this mode you select the shutter speed and the camera will calculate the correct aperture depending on metered exposure, exposure compensation and ISO sensitivity. Turn the main dial to select shutter speed in the range of 30 to 1/4000 sec (in 0.3 or 0.5 EV exposure steps depending on C.Fn 1).

Aperture-Priority Auto

In this mode you select the aperture and the camera will calculate the correct shutter speed depending on metered exposure, exposure compensation and ISO sensitivity. Turn the main dial to select aperture (in 0.3or 0.5 EV exposure steps depending on C.Fn 1). The exact range of apertures will depend on the lens used.

Manual Exposure

In this mode you define the exposure by selecting the aperture and the shutter speed manually. Turn the main dial to select shutter speed, hold the Av/exposure compensation button and turn the main dial to select aperture. If you change the exposure the meter graphic on the viewfinder status bar and LCD will reflect the exposure level compared to the metered exposure, if it's outside of +/- 2EV the indicator bar will blink either + or -.

Automatic Depth-Of-Field

This mode, common on Canon SLRs, automatically controls the depth of field to ensure that the subjects covered by all of the focusing points, from those close to the camera to those far away from the camera remain sharply defined (are within the depth of field). Note that AF point selection is set at 'Auto'.

Movie mode

The upgraded movie mode brings the consumer Rebels in line with the more advanced (and more expensive) EOS models, offering true HD capture at various frame rates and full control over apertures and shutter speeds. Effectively, in fact, the EOS 550D offers the same movie specification as the more expensive EOS 7D, which represents about the most versatile movie recording package of any APS-C format DSLR currently on the market.


Movie mode

Movies are recorded in .mov (Quicktime) format using H.264 codec for video and PCM for audio. The maximum duration is 29m 59sec, maximum file size is 4GB. You get the option of auto or manual exposure and can set various other parameters including (in a big step up from the EOS 500D) sizes and frame rates. A new 'crop' mode shoots VGA footage using the middle of the sensor (as opposed to downsampling the entire frame), giving the equivalent of a digital teleconverter.

You start and stop recording by pressing the dedicated movie button on the back of the camera. Pressing the shutter button while you are recording a video will interrupt the video and record a stills image. 

The EOS 550D offers control over the various movie settings. You can change the following parameters:

 • Movie rec size (1080P, 720P, 640x480, VGA crop)
 • Frame rate (1080: 30, 24 or 24 fps, others 50/60 fps according to PAL/NTSC setting)
 • Exposure mode (auto or manual)
 • AF mode
 • Highlight Tone Priority
 • Picture style
 • White balance
 • Image quality for stills images