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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Canon PowerShot SD550

Canon Digital Cameras


Canon PowerShot SD550 Review

Review Date: Mar 27, 2006

Category: Point-and-Shoot

Canon PowerShot SD550 


The Canon PowerShot SD550 is a digital camera targeted to point-and-shoot photographers. It has 7.1 megapixel resolution on a 1/1.8 in. CCD image sensor, and a 7.7–23.1mm (37-111mm, 35 mm equivalent) 3x optical zoom lens, with a maximum aperture of F2.8(W)–F4.9(T), and minimum aperture of F7.1.

We find the overall image quality of the Canon PowerShot SD550 to be very good to excellent, with low noise at ISO 50 and images retaining most of the details.

3x Optical Zoom Range
Wide-angle 37mm Tele 111mm
Wide-angle 7.7mm [37mm] Tele 23.1mm [111mm]

The Canon SD550 provides 3x optical zoom. In the above pictures, we show the coverage for 37mm and then 111mm (35mm equivalent). It takes about 2 sec. to zoom from wide-angle to telephoto (I counted 6 steps).

Besides Auto mode and easy-to-use Scene Modes, the Canon SD550 also has "Manual" (really, Programmed Auto) mode. There is no Program Shift available in Manual mode.

The camera also provides exposure compensation (no Auto Bracketing) and Custom (manual) White Balance. A Histogram can be displayed in Playback mode only. Shutter speed ranges from 1-1/2,000 sec. in all modes (1.6 sec. in Fireworks scene mode). Slow shutter speeds from 1 to 15 sec. (1, 1.3, 1.6, 2, 2.5, 3.2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 13, 15 sec.) can be manually selected [FUNC. - Exp. Comp. - press MENU button to switch to Long Shutter Speed - use RIGHT and LEFT ARROW to select a slow shutter speed]. You are still able to set other exposure settings such as ISO and WB when using Long Shutter Speeds. Note that to be able to use long shutter speeds, you must first enable it in the Menu [MENU - Long Shutter = On].

7.7mm, Manual, Evaluative
2 sec., F2.8, ISO 50, Custom WB (manual)

The Canon SD550 lens allows you to focus as close as 5cm (2 in.) at wide-angle. If you have AiAF on [MENU - AiAF = On], the camera will select one of nine AF frames. If you find that the Canon SD550 is selecting to focus on a different part of your macro subject than what you intended, we suggest that you turn AiAF off [MENU - AiAF = Off] and the camera will then use the center AF frame to ensure focus locks in the center of the frame. AF locks precisely and fast, even in low-light [since the AF works on detecting contrast changes, subjects with low contrast might be difficult to get a focus lock in low-light], and the AF-assist Beam [MENU - AF-assist Beam = On] is able to light up close-up subjects. There is no AF FlexiZone (i.e. you cannot manually move the AF Frame around on the screen to where you want it to focus). The AF frame turns green to indicate successful focus; a yellow AF frame indicates focus has not successfully locked.

There are three metering modes: Evaluative (Multi-Pattern), Center Weighted Average and Spot.

You can lock focus and exposure independently of each other. With flash off, focus on subject, depress shutter button halfway and press UP ARROW key to lock the exposure (AEL displays on screen) or LEFT ARROW key to lock focus (AFL displays on screen). Likewise, when flash is set ON, you can lock flash exposure by focusing on the subject, depress the shutter button halfway and press UP ARROW key to fire a pre-flash and lock flash exposure (FEL displays on screen).

White Balance Indoors
AWB Custom (Manual) WB
AWB WB = Custom

As the above pictures show, the auto white balance is not quite accurate indoors under artificial light [I have those special white light fluorescent]. Best results are obtained with Custom WB (accessed thru the FUNC. button); being able to set White Balance manually guarantees true colour reproduction under artificial light. You won't find this feature in most entry-level models. Outdoors, under natural light, the AWB works extremely well.

ISO Comparisons
ISO 50
ISO 50
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 200
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400

You can set the ISO on the Canon SD550 from 50 to 400. The 100% crops above (area delimited by the white square) demonstrate that noise at ISO 50 and 100 are under control. Noise starts to be visible at ISO 200 but is usable. At ISO 400, the presence of noise takes the form of coloured splotches.

Chromatic Aberrations
CA (Purple Fringing)

CA is minimal in everyday shots. In the high contrast shot above, the corner delimited by the red square at middle, and reproduced at 100% crop at bottom right, shows vey slight fringing.

Long Shutter Speed
Long Shutter Speed
7.7mm, Manual, Evaluative, 8 sec., F2.8, ISO 50
Custom WB, Macro ON, Self-Timer (10 sec.), Tripod Used, 100% Crop

The Canon SD550 allows the use of a long shutter speed of up to 15 sec. but only in Manual (M) mode. This allows us to take some very nice night shots. Generally, with CCD image sensors, noise usually becomes more prominent at slow shutter speeds. The Canon SD550 has special noise reduction (NR) algorithms that automatically kicks in at shutter speeds slower than 1.3 sec. and you'll notice a slightly longer processing time before the next picture can be taken.

To test this noise reduction algorithm, we take a low-light indoors shot using a long shutter speed of 8 sec. The NR works quite well. The AF worked very well in low-light, and the AF-assist Illuminator made for precise and fast focus lock [again, depends on how contrasty your subject is].

The Canon SD550 has a flash that is effective up to 5m (16.4 ft.) at max. wide-angle and 3.0m (9.8 ft.) at max telephoto. For closeup, the flash range is from 30cm (1 ft.) to 50cm (1.6 ft.) when sensitivity is set to AUTO.

The last feature we will mention is the histogram. The histogram is in Playback Mode only. You can see the histogram by rotating the Mode Dial to Playback and then pressing the DISP. button until the histogram displays. The histogram is invaluable to give an indication of under- and over-exposure (don't rely on the LCD/EVF since the brightness is adjustable and may be misleading).

Overall, very good to excellent image quality for a 7.1MP digital camera: sharp pictures, very good image detail (though some detail loss is apparent depending on the subject matter), vibrant colours, well-exposed.

The pictures in the Canon SD550 Photo Gallery page provide a good sample of what the Canon SD550 is capable of. I have provided samples at 800x600 pixels (compressed to Quality 60/100 in Photoshop Elements). Remember that this version is of slightly lesser quality than the original 3072×2304 version.

You can safely assume that most macro shots and slow shutter speed shots required the use of a tripod. Any image that is adjusted for levels in Photoshop has "_adjusted" appended to the file name.

I have defaulted the image size to 800x600 pixels. For those who have their monitor resolution set to 1024x728 pixels, everything should snugly fit and you should not have to scroll to see the whole image. If your monitor is set to 800x600 pixels resolution, start the slide show and then scroll to the right to position the image within your screen width. Then, press F11 (if you are using Internet Explorer) to switch to full screen mode, and the image should fill your screen nicely. Press F11 again at any time to switch your monitor display back to normal mode.

To return to this page from the Photo Gallery, click on the animated graphics of the camera.

Please open and download the original size version only if you need to and only once to your hard drive -- and save me some precious bandwidth. Thanks!


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