There’s an old Canon PowerShot A20 sitting on the shelf here and it’s interesting to compare it with Canon’s spanking new PowerShot A550, the subject of this review. The physical design is similar, with viewfinders and LCD displays on the back to line up shots, shot mode wheels to select the type of exposure, toggle switches to control the optical zoom and even bulges to grip both cameras and hide their AA batteries.
Canon’s obviously happy with its overall design, but over the years since the A20 came out it has continued to refine it. The A550 is smaller in every dimension, though it’s still quite a stout camera. It has a 7.1-megapixel CCD (three and a half times the A20′s) plus a 51mm LCD (nearly double the older camera’s) and 4x optical zoom where the A20 could only manage 3x.
The comparisons really stop there, however. The A550′s shot mode wheel includes specialist modes for night photos, fireworks and family and pets, among others. It can shoot video at up to 30fps until your memory card’s full, and it can print your pictures to any PictBridge printer or directly to any of Canon’s Selphy models.
In use, you can line up a shot using the viewfinder or the bright LCD monitor, which includes switchable composition grids overlaid on the screen. Common functions can be selected using a four-way function ring and by flicking through several menus on-screen. The controls have been revamped but are still rather cluttered, with some buttons having three different functions, depending on mode.
Leaving everything on automatic produces very respectable shots. The nine-point auto-focus works well, as does the camera’s macro mode which will focus down to 50mm. If you need more control you can switch to manual to set your own exposure compensation, white balance and ISO speed. The optical zoom gives a good range and is backed up by a further 4x digital zoom. The camera’s ability to shoot at up to 800 ISO means it’s good in lower light conditions indoors, as well.
The supplied 16MB memory card is next to useless on a 7.1-megapixel camera. Do the maths; you’re lucky to get three shots at the camera’s native resolution. You can drop the resolution down, of course, but then why buy a high resolution camera? 128MB SD cards at retail prices are under £4, so it seems misguided of Canon to be so mean in this area.
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