Operation and controls

Although the E550 has less in the way of external controls, it has exactly the same feature set as the more expensive F810. What you lose are the external Continuous AF and drive mode buttons (both features now relegated to menus), the extra 'command dial' (the left and right buttons do the same thing) and - obviously - the widescreen switch. That said, there is still a lot of power hidden inside the E550's unassuming body, and the control layout and menu system are simple, fast and efficient, making picture-taking a real pleasure.

Rear of camera

The rear of the E550 is fairly sparse, even compared to the F810, with only the bare minimum of external controls. To the right of the LCD are the main play/record mode switch and the 'F' button used to change image size/quality, ISO setting and color options. Below these are the display/back button (which changes the amount of information shown on-screen and turns the LCD off if required, and also doubles as a 'back/cancel' button when using the menus), and the multi-function four-way controller. As well as being used to navigate on-screen menus, two of the directional keys have a second function when in record mode, allowing instant access to macro and flash modes. In the middle sits a MENU/OK button (for activating menus and confirming changes).

One final button, to the right of the viewfinder, activates the pop-up flash. Unlike the F810, the flash is not motorized - you have to push it back down to close it.

Top of camera

The top of the E550 shows the camera's slightly chunkier design and decent hand-grip. The only controls found here are the main mode dial, main power switch and the shutter release.

Display and menus

The E550 shares the same basic menu system with the rest of the FinePix range. It's colorful (some might even say gaudy), but is fast, easy to use and easy to see. Some of the visual effects are a little unnecessary (menus that fade in, checkerboard effects when deleting images), and may actually slow down operation fractionally, but to be fair to Fujifilm this is more a matter of personal taste than anything. Compared to much of the competition the interface is mature, attractive and - most important of all - effective. Interestingly the display is very slightly different to the F810.

Apologies for the low quality of some of these screenshots, the E550 does not support video out in record mode, so the screen was photographed directly.

You can choose how much information is displayed on-screen in record mode, from nothing at all to full information (as shown here). Note that the calculated exposure is shown at all times, not just when you half-press the shutter...nice. Even in the most basic display mode, half-pressing the shutter will display the focus point selected and fix the auto exposure. Warnings are given for focus errors, possible camera shake or out-of-range exposures.
You can also choose a 'rule of thirds' grid overlay if you struggle with straight horizons. Note also the 'open flash' warning. One very nice - and sadly rare - feature is Program Shift in P mode. Simply press the left or right arrow keys to change the aperture/shutter speed combination without altering the actual exposure value. With this option it is possible to stay in P mode for virtually all your shooting.
Pressing the 'F' button brings up a menu with options for image quality/size - from 12MP down to 0.3MP, ISO (80-800) and color settings (B&W, normal, chrome). Annoyingly whilst there are two JPEG options (fine and normal) for 12MP pictures, there's none for any other size. Another niggle is that you cannot select RAW mode from here - that's hidden in another menu. Less frequently accessed controls are found in the main record mode menu (activated using the menu button). Here you'll find options for white balance, focus mode, metering mode, continuous shooting, bracketing, sharpness, flash output level and the self timer (2 or 10 seconds). The last option in the record menu gives you access to the setup screens (see below) and controls over screen brightness.
Pressing the +/- (AE compensation) button in playback mode gives you fairly comprehensive shooting information and a histogram. The right (tele) zoom button lets you enlarge images up to 30x (the actual amount depends on the size of the image). You can scroll around enlarged images using the four-way controller.
Pressing the DISP button cycles through the various playback modes, including 3x3 thumbnails, as shown here. Pressing the 'F' button in playback mode allows you to create DPOF print sets.
The playback menu (activated by pressing the MENU button) has the usual options for deleting images, protecting (locking) them and producing on-screen slideshows. There are also options for adding voice memos and trimming (cropping) photos. The four-page setup menu (accessible from both playback and record modes) is where you find camera-related settings. It is also home to the card formatting option and the rather well-hidden RAW mode.