The entry-level digital camera market is a competitive place. There are many models vying for your hard-earned cash, and little to really distinguish them. At this price point, you don't tend to get anything amazing and so you should focus on finding a solid unit that does everything well. Canon's latest entry into this space, the PowerShot A550, satisfies these criteria by offering good picture quality, a handful of manual features and a 4x zoom.
- Great colour capture, Low price tag, 4x zoom, Fast operation, Sturdy design
- Pictures perhaps not quite as sharp as they could have been
Another great compact camera from Canon, the PowerShot A550 won't compare to some more high-end units, but considering the price tag and the features on offer, it's an excellent value-for-money product.
Price$ 219.00 (AUD)
The A550 sports a 7.1-megapixel sensor, which seems to be the standard these days across most compact models. We ran it through our usual combination of tests, using some subjective analysis and our Imatest software, and it did well in all regards.
It scored 1415 in our sharpness test, which is a good result, but not outstanding. It's in line with other entry-level 7.1-megapixel sensors that we've seen. Our test shots looked good, with reasonably crisp edges that only showed minor fringing. We'd be satisfied enlarging these shots somewhat, but as you'd expect, a unit carrying this price tag isn't going to produce results that are suitable for huge prints.
Meanwhile, in the chromatic aberration test, Imatest gave it a score of .108%, which is quite a good result. We did notice a little haloing, and our shots exhibited some blurring towards the edges, but it wasn't worse than any other comparably priced units.
As usual, Canon has our colour test's number, with the A550 achieving a brilliant result of 6.21. This is excellent, indicating superior colour reproduction and no major inaccuracies. As our test charts indicate, red was the only colour that exhibited any noticeable error, but this is a common situation with compact cameras and shouldn't be an issue at all.
In our final test for image noise, the A550 also impressed with a low score of .70% at ISO 100. Most entry-level compact cameras score closer to .9%, so this is a great result. We saw no signs of noise in our test shots; everything was smooth and clean. The noise scaled about as we expected with higher sensitivities, and even at ISO 400 the shots were quite useable. At ISO 800 the noise becomes a little more colourful and thus more prominent, but even then, most people should be perfectly satisfied with its 4x6in-sized photos.
We also ran our usual array of speed tests and were extremely impressed with the A550's performance. It exhibited .08 seconds of shutter lag, which is what we expected, but its shot-to-shot time of 1.1 seconds and its power-up time of 1.6 seconds are extremely quick, and should ensure you never miss a valuable moment.
While the PowerShot range is typically known for its more advanced manual cameras, in recent times it has featured simpler models. The A550 falls squarely into this 'simple' category. While it does offer a manual mode, it isn't a true manual mode and there are no aperture, shutter or program priority modes like you'd find on some of the more costly PowerShot models. Instead, the manual mode merely offers the option to adjust things like ISO sensitivity and white balance. Sensitivities are available up to ISO 800. Also, it has both preset and manual white balance options. Several metering modes are on offer, but as you'd anticipate from an entry level unit, proper focus controls are a little lacking. We did have a few focus issues when photographing our test charts, with several shots coming out blurry.
The PowerShot series is not known for its aesthetic appeal and the A550 follows that trend. It sports the same silver-coloured, plastic design with the same jutting right-hand grip as its predecessors. It's perfectly functional, but may not satisfy those buyers who are after a funky fashion-piece as well as a camera. It's a heavy unit by compact camera standards, and it feels quite sturdy, despite being mostly plastic.
It has a function-wheel and a five-way directional pad that can be used to navigate its interface. The menu uses Canon's standard layout, which is quite intuitive and should serve novice users well. It runs off two AA batteries; another common theme of this series of cameras.
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