[Note: we first did a full review of the Canon EOS 550D here. This review is part of our latest group test]
Since its release in February 2010, the 550D has been a must-have inclusion on the shortlist of anyone looking to buy a mid-range amateur DSLR. Its 18-megapixel resolution gives you plenty of pixels to work with, while the classic body design and excellent LCD screen make it a pleasure to work with.
It's a great performer. Its burst mode runs at a shade under 4fps, and records around 30 frames per second in JPEG mode before running out of buffer. It's packed with features too. Not only does the four-way pad on the back work as a way of getting through the menu system, but each direction is a shortcut. There's a dedicated ISO button just behind the shoulder-mounted click wheel too. The rear also hosts exposure compensation, exposure lock and autofocus controls.
We like the 3in screen. Not only is it the highest resolution here, with 1,040kpixels, but it also has an aspect ratio of 3:2, which is identical to that of the sensor. That means there's no wasted space when reviewing images or framing them in live view mode. The 550D's video mode is excellent too. You can opt for full 1080p resolution at 30, 25, or 23.97fps. Quality is superb.
At ISO 800, the 550D was our fourth-placed camera after the Pentax K-x and Nikon D5000, and its quality results continued in a similarly smooth fashion throughout our tests. Zoomed out, our test images were printable with no noise reduction up to ISO 3200, which bodes well for those shooting with either slow lenses or in dim light. At its highest standard setting of ISO 6400 noise was creeping in, and with ISO expansion on (equivalent to ISO 12800) you'll need to tread carefully to get usable images.
We were less impressed by the quality of outdoor images; the 18-55mm, f/3.5-5.6 stock lens is the culprit rather than the camera itself. It produced chromatic aberrations and struggled to produce sharp results. It's worth buying the 550D body and shelling out for a decent lens.
The main problem for the 550D, however, is the price. It's a great camera, but at $1189 it's significantly more expensive than the Nikon D3100.