Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Canon 550D: A Review

In previous articles, we've talked a lot about the equipment we've used for our films but we haven't gone into much more detail than that. So it's time to start reviewing!

Considering we wouldn't have been able to make our last few films without it, it's only fitting that we start with the camera we use, the Canon EOS 550D.

18 Megapixel APS-C (1.6x) CMOS Sensor
Full 1080p Video
ISO 100-6400
3" LCD Screen
3.8fps Continuous Burst
Comes with 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS lens.

First off, technically speaking the Canon EOS Series are stills cameras. However, due to quality of the images they produce, they are frequently used as movie cameras. The Canon 550D is like the younger brother of the Canon 5D Mark II. Whereas the 5D Mark II uses a full-frame sensor, the 550D has a 1.6x sensor. However, when we bought our 550D we got it for £720, whereas the 5D Mark II was over £2,000 at the time.

The 550D has never let us down in terms of image quality. From the moment we turned on our 550D and looked at the LCD screen we could see the difference in image quality between the cameras we had been using before (Canon XL1/2, Panasonic HVX-200) and this camera. The colours were vivid and the depth of field was more shallow than we were used to seeing.

For people who are used to having traditional video cameras, the way the 550D's controls are laid out my seem a little different. Although adjusting shutter speed is done by a turning a wheel where your right index normally lies, changing the aperture requires a button to be held while the wheel is turned. Not too difficult, but might take a bit of getting used to.

Having an ISO range of 100-6400 means that the camera can perform exceptionally in both bright sunshine and indoors. However, we could advise wherever possible to not exceed ISO 800, as the image begins to look very grainy and can be distracting.

For white balancing there are plenty of presets to choose from. There is a custom white balance option, but we found it a little complicated. It would have been better to be able to choose colour temperature in terms of degrees Kelvin, like on the 5D Mark II.

Finally, the 550D allows you to shoot in both 720p and 1080p, as well as the option of shooting at 50fps in 720p.

The 550D does have a built-in microphone, but we would strongly advise against using it to record. Luckily, the camera has a 3.5mm jack socket which allows you to plug in an external microphone. Alternatively, you can record sound externally and use the built-in microphone to synchronise audio in post-production.

Kit Lens:
The lens than comes with the 550D is a 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens with image stabilising. Although the lens can produce some good results in the right environments, the lens has very restricted usage and we quickly discovered some major shortcomings.

Firstly, the focus wheel extremely sensitive. When turning the wheel from one extreme to the other, it barely makes one eighth of a revolution. As a result, the wheel is very sensitive and the slightest movement can totally knock your image out of focus. Also, the focus wheel is right on the end of the lens, after the zoom wheel. So when you zoom in or out the focus wheel moves with it, making it impossible to attach a follow-focus wheel to.

The Lowdown:
To get the best out of it, we could recommend getting a new lens as soon as possible. We bought an 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 lens not long after buying our 550D, which eliminated all the issues with the focus wheel, as well as allowing us to shoot in telephoto. They currently sell for around £350-400 online.

It's may not be as good as the 5D Mark II, but all in all, an excellent camera body and fantastic value for money.

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