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Camera Reviews > Canon PowerShot SD550
Canon PowerShot SD550 Review
Date: Mar 27, 2006
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 7.723.1mm (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
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
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).
||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.
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.
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.
|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
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
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
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