Canon PowerShot A550
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The PowerShot A550 ($199) is one of the entry-level cameras Canon's A-series. Replacing the PowerShot A530 from last year, the A550 adds a larger LCD (2.0" vs 1.8") and, naturally, more Megapixels. Other features on the camera include a 4X optical zoom lens, point-and-shoot operation, a VGA movie mode, and support for SDHC memory cards.
If you're confused about all the A-series models out there, you're not alone. Hopefully the chart below will help clear things up for you:
I hope that helped, at least a little bit!
Ready to learn about one of Canon's latest budget digicams? Keep reading -- our review starts right now!
What's in the Box?
The PowerShot A550 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Canon includes a 16MB memory card along with the A550, which is quite small for a 7MP camera (it holds just four photos at the highest quality setting). So, unless you already have one sitting around, you'll need to buy yourself a larger memory card. The A550 supports Secure Digital, MultiMedia, and the new SDHC memory card formats. I'd recommend picking up a 512MB card along with the camera. Buying a high speed card (50X or higher) is a good idea, as it does impact camera performance.
Like its predecessor (along with most of the other A-series cameras) the A550 uses two AA batteries. The alkalines that come in the box will quickly find their way into the trash, so you'll want to pick up a four pack of NiMH rechargeables plus a fast charger right away. Once you've got those installed, here's what kind of battery life you'll get out of the camera:
Well, there were a bunch of other cameras I wanted to list up there, but their respective manufacturers don't provide the needed information (this means you Fuji, Olympus, Pentax, and Samsung). Despite that, I think it's a safe bet that the PowerShot A550's battery life is well above average. It's almost quite a bit higher than it was on the A550's predecessor, the A530.
As you may know, I'm a big fan of cameras that use AA batteries. They're cheaper than their proprietary counterparts, and you can buy off-the-shelf batteries when your rechargeables die.
As you can see, there's a built-in lens cover on the A550, so there's no clumsy lens cap to worry about.
Unlike the more expensive models in the A-series, the PowerShot A550 is pretty light on accessories. You can buy an external slave flash (priced from $91), which attaches to the tripod mount, and fires when the onboard flash does. You can also pick up an AC adapter (priced from $32), or a battery/charger combo kit (priced from $38). And that's about it!
ImageBrowser (Mac OS X)
Canon includes version 30 of their Digital Camera Solution software package with the PowerShot A550. The main applications are the ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser "twins" that come with all PowerShot models. ImageBrowser is for the Mac, while ZoomBrowser is for Windows PCs. The Mac version is not Universal, so it doesn't run as fast as it could on Intel-based Macs.
After you download photos via the CameraWindow application, you'll end up with the screen above, which has a standard-issue thumbnail view. Photos can be organized, printed, and e-mailed from this screen.
Double-click on a thumbnail and you'll bring up the edit window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve.
ImageBrowser - MovieEdit Task (Mac OS X)
The MovieEdit task lets you take your movie clips, add effects and transitions, and then save the results as a single movie.
PhotoStitch (Mac OS X)
A separate program called PhotoStitch can, well, stitch together separate photos into one giant panorama.The interface is simple, the process takes minutes, and the results are impressive, as you can see. Do note that while the A550 doesn't have the Stitch Assist feature built into it, you can still take panoramas: just line up your photos side by side (use a tripod for best results) with plenty of overlap, and you should be able to get images like you see above.
The A550's documentation comes in several parts. You get a basic manual to get you up and running, and an advanced manual for more complex camera features. There's also a separate manual for the bundled software. While the manuals aren't what I'd call pleasure reading, they will answer any question that may come up about the camera.
Look and Feel
The PowerShot A550 is a compact (but not tiny) camera made of plastic. Unlike some other entry-level cameras, Canon uses high grade plastics on the A550, giving it a solid feel in the hand. The only exception to this is the very flimsy door over the battery/memory card compartment, which feels like it could snap in two at any moment. There's a decent-sized grip for your right hand, though I found my thumb sitting right on top of the Print/Share button when I was holding the camera.
Now, here's a look at how the A550 compares with some of the competition in terms of size and weight: