Canon’s EOS 550D – or Rebel T2i as it’s known in North America – is the company’s latest upper entry-level DSLR. Announced in February 2010, it’s numerically the successor to the EOS 500D / T1i, although the older model is expected to remain on-sale at a lower price point throughout 2010.
Externally the EOS 550D / T2i greatly resembles its predecessor with similar dimensions, weight, build, styling and controls, but as Canon tradition dictates, it inherits a number of key aspects from a higher-end model in the range (in this case the EOS 7D), along with at least one brand new feature.
From the 7D, the EOS 550D / T2i inherits the same 18 Megapixel resolution (albeit with a slightly different sensor), the same 100-6400 ISO sensitivity range (with 12,800 ISO expansion), the choice of 1080p or 720p movies at a variety of frame rates, an external stereo microphone input and the same 63-zone iCFL metering. Continuous shooting is understandably much slower than the 7D, but still slightly quicker than the 500D / T1i at 3.7fps, albeit with fewer frames in the buffer. The EOS 550D / T2i’s unique new feature in the EOS range is a 3in 1040k screen with a 3:2 aspect ratio which matches the shape of its sensor, so images in Live View and playback fill the screen without black bars above or below.
Looking at these specifications in greater detail, we understand the only difference between the sensor in the EOS 550D / T2i and the high-end EOS 7D is the data readout: four channels on the new model compared to eight on the 7D. This is one of the reasons why the continuous shooting speed of the new EOS 550D / T2i remains firmly planted in the upper entry-level category, leaving pricier semi-pro models to shoot any faster.
Impressively the EOS 550D / Rebel T2i shares exactly the same movie mode options as the 7D, so it’s out with the disappointing 20fps 1080p mode of its predecessor and in with 1080p in the choice of 24, 25 or 30fps. Like the 7D you can also switch to 720p mode, again in the choice of 50 or 60fps. There’s also a 640×480 option at 50 or 60fps.
The inclusion of a 24fps option at 1920×1080 pixels will delight independent film makers, while owners in PAL regions will also be pleased to find a 25fps option which matches their video standards. Unlike many affordable models which have restricted functionality, Canon has also equipped the EOS 550D / T2i with a 3.5mm stereo jack allowing you to connect an optional microphone for high quality sound in its movie mode. You can also shoot movies in manual mode for control over the shutter speed and depth of field. The camera also becomes Canon’s first to offer a movie crop facility which records with the central 640×480 pixel area of the sensor, delivering standard definition movies with around seven times magnification compared to shooting with the entire frame.
The biggest physical change is the new 3in / 1040k dot / 720×480 pixel screen, which for the first time on a Canon DSLR employs a 3:2 aspect ratio which matches the native shape of its sensor. Previous Canon DSLRs – and indeed most rival models – used squarer 4:3 aspect ratio screens which meant images in Live View or playback had black bars above or below when the entire frame was viewed. Now on the EOS 550D / T2i, images in Live View or playback fill the screen.
An unexpected but welcome inheritance from the EOS 7D is the 63-zone Focus Colour Luminance metering system (iCFL for short) with dual layers allowing it to take colour information into account. This brings Canon’s latest DSLRs more in line with Nikon’s 3D Colour Matrix Metering system.
Completing the new features are support for larger SDXC memory cards, an HDMI port which supports Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) for operation with a compatible TV remote, and dedicated functions for optional Eye Fi wireless memory cards. Beyond these improvements, the other core specifications remain mostly the same as the older EOS 500D / T1i, with the same penta-mirror optical viewfinder and 9-point AF system.
By essentially taking the affordable EOS 500D / T1i and equipping it with the high-end 7D’s image quality, metering and HD movie modes, the new EOS 550D / T2i is a highly compelling prospect, especially for those who enjoy the benefits of video on a DSLR – indeed it’s the cheapest model to offer these capabilities. In our full review we’ll closely examine the new features and the overall performance of the new body. Can it really match the EOS 7D’s image and movie quality at half the price, and how does it measure-up against the competition? We’ll reveal all over the following pages! Note: our detailed report on the movie mode can be found under the Features tab, or by clicking here: Canon EOS 550D / Rebel T2i HD movie mode.
We tested a final production Canon EOS 550D / Rebel T2i running firmware version 1.0.6. Following our convention of testing cameras using their factory default settings unless otherwise stated, the EOS 550D / T2i was set to Large Fine JPEG quality, Auto White Balance, Evaluative metering and the Standard Picture Style; High ISO Noise Reduction and the Auto Lighting Optimiser were set to their default Standard settings, except in our High ISO noise tests page where the latter was disabled as it can introduce noise. Highlight Tone Priority was disabled apart from during our specific tests of the feature. Image Stabilisation was enabled for all handheld shots and disabled for tripod-based tests.
UPDATE: Also see our Canon EOS 600D / T3i review.