The Canon EOS 550D is a difficult product to categorize. Ostensibly designed to appeal to first-time DSLR buyers and enthusiasts, it offers a lot more technology, and at a higher price, than we might expect for a camera aimed squarely at this sector. Although it might seem logical for the 550D to replace the EOS 500D, the older camera is set to continue in Canon's lineup, which leaves the 550D pinched between its entry-level (represented by the still-current EOS 1000D and the 500D) and nominally enthusiast (the EOS 50D) peers. Confusingly however, apart from build quality (which is all but identical to the EOS 500D), the 550D has more in common with the prosumer EOS 7D, and - perhaps even more confusingly - it out-specifies the EOS 50D in many areas.
Central to the impressive specification of the EOS 550D is a high-spec movie mode which offers full HD capture at up to 30 fps, manual control over exposure, and the option to use an external stereo microphone. The new camera also inherits the EOS 7D's sophisticated metering system (which brings it a lot closer to similarly positioned Nikon SLRs).
So why has Canon apparently risked cannibalizing 7D sales by releasing such a similarly-specced, lower-end model? Well, Canon might have invented the 'entry-level' DSLR way back in 2003 with the attractively priced (for the time) EOS 300D, but these days, this sector of the marketplace is pretty crowded. Far from enjoying a monopoly, Canon, like all manufacturers, faces a stiff battle to make its products stand out amongst their numerous peers. To this end, Canon has pulled out all the stops with the EOS 550D and produced the most highly-specced Rebel we've ever seen. Now that a production sample has arrived in dpreview's offices, we've had the chance to subject it to our full in-depth test procedure. Read on to find out how it performs.