My parents tell me that camera always fascinated me since I knew how to use one and I have faint memories of my childhood days in Singapore when I used to be fascinated with weekend outings since that is also the time when cameras would come out. The 90s were the days of film cameras and not the “happy go clicky” days of today 😉
Our honeymoon pics in Mauritius were through the borrowed camera from bhai, Sony DSC-H series and I must say it was a very nice camera with its 15x zoom. Click here for to see the pics.
Soon after marriage, we realised that we both were really into travelling and it was the one thing that we were always in a lookout for. Moving to Hong Kong in 2010, we realised that the world is opening up for us and it was time we start pursuing our passion to the fullest. And to capture those memories, we decided to invest in our first “proper” camera – Canon 550D. I did some research at the time between the various alternatives and settled for Canon – though I have to say over time I realize the gear is just not as important as the photography skills.
And I am not a pro anyways, so my review is not technical, but what my experience of using it for two years has been.
For technical specifications and reviews, there are many websites you can see, including dpreview.com which I use very often. Also, for lens, I use photozone.de which I think is one of the best in terms of objective and unbiased views.
Pixels and printing
There is a big myth out there – the more the pixels, the better the camera. Truth is that pixels (how many MegaPixels the camera is) is only important how big you want a photo to be, when you print it. For reference, below is the table. So you can see that for most of us either just see it on screen (which is typically 2560×1440) or print 5×7 inch or max A4 prints (which I do a lot) and hence 10×13 size. With that, a 12MP camera is more than enough for our needs. Over and above that, it is only a feel good factor, nothing else.
|Camera||Image||Best print||Good print||Decent print|
|3||2048 x 1536||6.8 x 5.1||10.2 x 7.7||13.7 x 10.2|
|6||3008 x 2000||10.2 x 6.7||15.0 x 10.1||20.0 x 13.3|
|8||3264 x 2448||10.8 x 8.2||16.3 x 12.2||21.8 x 16.3|
|10||3872 x 2592||12.9 x 8.6||19.4 x 13.0||25.8 x 17.3|
|12||4290 x 2800||14.3 x 9.3||21.5 x 14.0||28.6 x 18.7|
|16||4920 x 3264||16.4 x 10.9||24.6 x 16.3||32.8 x 21.8|
|18||5184 x 3456||17.3 x 12.1||25.9 x 17.3||34.6 x 23.0|
|24||6048 x 4032||20.2 x 13.4||30.2 x 20.2||40.3 x 26.7|
Note: Image size is max resolution on screen Note: Best size is max print size in inches for that megapixel and print quality
Canon 550D is an 18MP cropped sensor camera which is always enough for all of us. The camera had both raw format and JPEG format images, so that is good, although I used JPEG since I didn’t know the benefits of raw format, till almost two years later.
Note: I will take up the benefits of raw format picture taking in my future post on “What i know about photography”. There, I will also discuss things like cropped vs full frame cameras, ATS pyramid, techniques to take good shots from day 1 etc.. give me some time!
Design and handling
The Canon 550d is not that heavy for a DSLR actually at 525g with battery but ex lens. However, we never enjoyed its “lightness”. That is because I wanted a long range lens and hence went for the Canon 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 lens which itself was 600g!!! Yes, more than the camera body itself. Nevertheless, the camera was still quite comfortable to use even for the relatively smaller hands of my wife. There are a few things that are always particular to different manufacturers – like pressing delete 2x deletes pics in Nikon while for Canon, it is bit different – delete, left, ok to be pressed etc.
In my early days, I was told that Nikon has been found to be easier in terms of interface but to be honest, it is just about what system you are comfortable with. I did use Nikon for a few hours to test its “easier” interface, but ended up sticking to Canon since that is what I have been using and where I think my comfort lies. In quality, there is hardly any difference in any of the brands – each has its hardcore admirers and I am no different. Period.
Holding the camera: Canon 550D has good placement of controls in my view and grips at the left end as well the ridges on the lens make it easy and comfortable to hold it. Also, I know a bit amateur to write it here but NOTE THE WAY the person holds the dslr here – that is the right way, since DSLR lenses are not automatic zoom and hence you need one hand to support zoom in/out and another to hold the camera itself. This position also helps hold the camera with stability. There are many people I have seen holding the camera’s left and right end with both hands and struggle to keep the camera stable (especially if attached with heavy lens). This is the right method, folks.
Battery life is quite good, it lasted more than 500 pics for me easily although I STRONGLY recommend those who are getting bit more serious into photography to buy an extra battery and keep it handy. You really do not want to miss those pics in a birthday party, or when you are out for vacation and battery runs out just when you reached the last attraction of the day, which was also the best attraction of that trip!
Lens: 18-200mm – One of the best “Fits all the bills” lens
So, I was advised to rather take a smaller zoom lens – like 18-105 since it has better picture quality but I salivated at the prospects of having a one for all purpose lens (wide angle as well as long range zoom) and hence went for this lens.
Also, the Canon 18-200 has an optical image stabiliser which helps adjust itself to allow the camera take a sharp photo despite your shaky hands. Note though – if you are badly drunk / smoke heavily and expect it to do all the adjustments for you, I think that’s asking a bit too much! Or much too much!
Canon claims the image stabilization will make up for 4 stops total difference of shutter speed. My experience has been that I could take decently sharp (printable for memories) pictures till shutter speed was around 1/15sec or even 1/8sec if I take multi shots to choose the sharpest one. Any slower than that, I would be frantically looking for my flash or tripod to get a sharp one!
Agree that there are always some compromises such as bit less sharp edges at the long end of the range and some chromatic aberration at the wide end, but that is by no means a disappointment, especially since there are many softwares to correct at least the latter. And as you’d see in the butterfly pic below, zoom is usually used when you want to focus on something, so the soft edges anyways never trouble you since they are never the subject of the picture. Plus, the comfort of walking around with a single lens, there is nothing to beat that.
P.S. the soft edges due to lens “imperfection” is visible at bottom right of the pic below. The top left softness is deliberate to throw the background out of focus so viewer’s eyes focus on the subject. Also, the slight softness at the top tip of butterfly’s wings is due to my imperfect timing of the shutter time – the butterfly was fluttering the wings and I should have reduced the f-stop and hence the shutter time.
Image quality and conclusion
The very first trip with this duo was to South Korea, just before which we bought the camera. I did try to make the most of the newly found love for serious photography and I have to say that having a good camera did help a lot, in the experience. While over the last five years since I am into serious photography, I have realised that the person behind the camera is more important than the gear itself, having a decent gear does matter as well.
This camera + lens served its purpose well enough in 2010-13. The purpose to take some excellent shots and having enough functions to play with in various situations and scenarios which demanded a different feature. Whether it were the dark Manjanggul Caves of Jeju which needed multiple shots to get one sharp image, or the high zoom feature of the lens for that macro photo, to beautiful landscape shots of Yunnan, I thoroughly loved this duo. They certainly intrigued me into the world of photography and I am happy to say that I was in no way disappointed with this, ever.
For those who now are thinking – since this is all written in past tense, and if I love this duo so much, why did I change? Well, that is because I think there are certain limitations of a consumer level camera which I cover here and which is why I moved to Canon 5D Mark III.
As a starter, I wanted a full frame lens as I realised I was more into landscape photography rather than macros and zooms. Full frame work really well in night photography given its larger sensor so that was another reason. Also, depth of field is easier to control in a full frame. Separately, having an in-built HDR function was like a good to have feature in 5D which honestly, has become my most OVER USED function in the camera, of all time. And lastly, to be really honest, there is a bit of indulgence factor as well as I think settling for a mid-range full frame camera like Canon 6D (at that time) would have sufficed at that point. Nevertheless, gadgets are boy toys, and when it was also about a growing passion, travel and experimenting the new world of photography, why not settle for the best!
Following are few other pics I took with the Canon 550D… albeit with some experience of photography.
Till date, I am impressed by its results. Note – I used the camera extensively (and for the last time that extensively) in our Tanzania trip! Below, you see the zebra pic, that is taken with the 550D. All the zoomed closeup shots are with the 550D since with the 100-400 lens, I could effectively reach 640mm zoom range with the 550D.
Best decision to do that, thanks to the guidance given by my photography guru – Craig!
P.S. – this was a really fast flying away eagle that was captured by the 550D mounted with Canon 100-400 lens.