Canon's PowerShot A550 is a simple, inexpensive 7-megapixel camera, and that's all it wants to be. While it has some nice features, it doesn't offer any outstanding, unique aspects that put it above any other camera in the field, and that's just fine. Good performance and solid images are all a camera needs to succeed, and the A550 delivers just that.
Though not quite small enough to slip into your jeans, the A550 is still comfortably compact. At 7.4 ounces and 1.7 inches thick, the camera can fit easily into most jacket pockets and bags. The camera's body has an L-shaped design found on most of Canon's PowerShot A series, giving it a generous grip. The buttons are large and comfortable, and they're laid out logically along the back and the top of the camera.
The A550 is a fairly nondescript camera, with few outstanding or unusual features. Its most notable attribute is its 35mm-to-140mm-equivalent 4X zoom lens, which gives it just a bit more range than the 3X lenses typical of most budget cameras. It has a smaller-than-usual 2-inch LCD screen that is augmented by an optical viewfinder for shooting in dim light. Besides those features, the A550 has the standard handful of scene presets and image adjustment settings, including a 30fps VGA (640x480) movie mode and a pleasantly unexpected 60fps QVGA (320x240) high-speed movie mode. Finally, like most Canon PowerShot A-series cameras, the A550 conveniently takes AA batteries.
The A550 performed well in almost all of our Labs' tests. After its brisk start-up time of 1.5 seconds, we could snap a shot once every 1.7 seconds, a great improvement over previous PowerShot A5x0 cameras. Unfortunately, with the onboard flash enabled, that time more than tripled to 4.9 seconds per shot. The camera's shutter was responsive, lagging less than 0.5 seconds with our high-contrast target and a modest 1.2 seconds with our low-contrast target. Burst mode was also pleasantly fast, managing 51 full-resolution shots in 31.4 seconds for a rate of 1.6 frames per second.