500D vs 550D: Which One Should You Buy?

500d vs 550d comparisonWith Canon’s new 550D now unleashed (available at Amazon UK via this link or Amazon US here, where it’s knows as the T2i) I thought I’d do a ‘real world’ comparison of how this new model compares to the existing 500D, which I have. This will be a ‘real world’ comparison in the sense that I won’t just be listing the various features of the cameras; instead I’ll be talking about what each difference means to us, as photographers, and what it will mean for our photographs.

All the comparisons are based on the information from Canon, and my own thoughts/analysis on how the camera will thus differ from the 500D (known as the T1i ‘over the pond’) – and, more importantly, what this will mean for our photos and videos.

Resolution

Comparison:

The new 550D (known as the T2i in the US market) sports a class-leading max resolution of 18MP, which is around 20% higher than on the 500D (T1i). That’ll mean photos as large as 5184 x 3456, compared to the 500D’s max of 4752 x 3168.

What will that mean for my photos?

Well, although the increase in Megapixels looks good on paper, and is an obvious selling point, it doesn’t actually mean your photos are going to look that much – if at all – better. In theory it means you will be able to record more detail, and print out larger prints – but you would only need this extra resolution if you were printing larger than A2! If you never print larger than A3 (have you ever printed larger than that?) then you wouldn’t notice a difference.

However, one plus point for the extra resolution is that it means you can crop more of a picture whilst still retaining a lot of quality – handy when you can’t compose the best possible shot at the time, so you can crop and make a great composition at home.

In the real world, though, and if you’re not a professional photographer wanting to produce wall-sized prints, then this extra resolution is definitely not a reason to go for the 550D over the 500D.

‘Real World’ Winner:

It’s a draw, as both cameras offer more than enough megapixels to produce fantastically detailed and large prints, even when cropped.

Video Mode

Comparison:

The new 550D can record Full-HD videos – 1080p at 30 frames a second. The 500D can also record video at the same resolution, but at a lower rate of 20 frames a second. Both cameras also support video recording at lower resolutions. The 550D has an external microphone socket, which is not found on the older model.

See below for a little video showcasing the video modes on the 550D and 500D (with a bit of 7D thrown in too!)

What will that mean for my videos?

If you like taking lots of Full-HD video (and why wouldn’t you, 1080p vids look spectacular) then the higher frame rate of 30fps on the 550D is for you. Action videos on the 500D can look a bit jerky due to its lower frame rate, so this boost to 30 fps is a really welcome feature.

Both cameras have an onboard mono microphone for recording the sound for your movies, but the 550D also has an external microphone slot, enabling the truly serious videographer to plug in a much better mic for stereo sound.

‘Real World’ Winner:

For people getting either camera mainly for still-photo use, and for the occasional video, then the higher frame on the 550D is not an issue. But for those taking lots of video, and especially video of action, then the smoother frame rate is a definite plus of the newer model – the 550D wins here.

LCD Screen

Comparison:

The 550D’s LCD screen is a wider format than the 500D’s (3:2 compared to 4:3), and offers a slightly higher resolution (1,040,000 vs 920,000).

What will that mean for my photos?

As both cameras actually take photos in a 3:2 format, then the matching 3:2 size LCD on the 550D means the whole screen can be used to view your photos (and compose the picture if using LiveView). The 500D’s 4:3 format means that the whole of the screen isn’t used when viewing your taken photos – there will be little black bars either side.

This, combined with the higher resolution, means your photos will be a joy to behold, and have the practical advantage of it being a little easier to check they have pin-sharp focus.

‘Real World’ Winner:

Another draw – the change in format and slight increase in resolution is not a reason to go for the more expensive model. Photos already look fantastic on the 500D’s screen – an everyday user is not going to notice much of a difference at all.

A short video of the 550D

Sensitivity/ISO

Comparison:

Both cameras have an ISO range from 100 – 12800. 6400 and 12800 are available in the ‘expanded’ range on the older model, whereas 6400 is included in the ‘normal’ range on the 550D (only 12800 is in the ‘expanded’ range). The 550D also has adjustable Auto-ISO settings.

What will that mean for my photos?

Both cameras will take great photos in real low light, with little noise (‘grain’) apparent in the images. The fact that ISO 6400 is now in the ‘normal’ range on the 550D should also mean that it has better performance than the same ISO on the older model – so this means you’ll be able to take photos in low-light with quick shutter speeds – vital for taking non-flash indoor photography, for example.

The other selling point, adjustable Auto-ISO, means that you’ll be able to tell the 550D never to go higher than, for example, ISO 800 when shooting in Auto ISO. On the older model, there are times when you could be shooting in Auto ISO and the camera would choose a really too high ISO – say, 3200 – to get what it deems as an acceptable shutter speed. This can result in images that could have been perfectly fine using a lower ISO, and thus have an overall better image quality. Now you can set an ISO threshold so you know the camera will never go to those higher ISOs unless you want it to.

‘Real World’ Winner:

The 550D takes the crown on this one, especially if you’ll be shooting with ISO set to Auto most of the time – the ability to set a max ISO means you’ll never be shocked by an incredibly high ISO again!

Action Photos / High Speed Continuous

Comparison:

The 550D can take more shots in a second – 3.7 compared to the 500D’s 3.4. On the other hand, the newer camera has a smaller image buffer of 34 JPEG/6 RAW, compared to the 500D’s 170 JPEG/ 9 RAW.

What will that mean for my photos?

Both cameras will enable you to take lots of photos really quickly, enabling you to hold the shutter down and take nearly 4 photos a second – perfect for getting that amazing action shot.

Although the 550D has a slightly higher rate, you would be hard pushed to notice any difference between the two models’ performance – the slight increase in 0.3 photos in a second is just not going to make any difference. If we were comparing 3.4 fps to an 8 fps model, which obviously takes more than twice the amount of photos in the same timescale, then that would definitely increase your chances of getting the perfect shot – but the small difference between the 550D and 550D is not worth the upgrade at all.

Likewise, one of the only on-paper ‘cons’ of the newer model, the smaller buffer size (which means the amount of photos the camera can keep in its memory before slowing down operations by having to write to the memory card) is not going to be noticeable – who takes more than 34 continuous photos anyway…?!?

‘Real World’ Winner:

A definite draw – the slight increase in frame rate on the 550D is not going to be noticed in the real world at all, and, likewise, its smaller buffer will go unnoticed too.

Dogs playing in snow

An action shot I took with my 500D

Storage / Memory Cards

Comparison:

Both cameras accept SD and SDHC memory cards. The 550D can also use the new SDXC format.

What will that mean for my photos and videos?

It means you’ll be able to take lots of photos before your memory card filling up, especially if you’re using an 8GB card or higher. For people who want to take a truly mammoth amount of photos and videos (I’m talking to you, Mr Spielberg wannabe!) then the new 550D supports SDXC cards, which can go up to a massive 2 TB – that’s 2000GB of storage!

In the real world, though, this is not an advantage at all – for instance, I use a 16GB SDHC card on my 500D, and can take days and days worth of photos and videos, on the highest quality settings, and still never come close to filling it – I can’t see why anyone would ever want more than 16GB on a card. I’d actually say it’s more dangerous to rely on one huge memory card anyway – if I was going travelling for a month, for instance, I would take a few 16 GB cards, and if one of those cards ‘failed’ then at least I’d have my other 2 to shoot with. If I’d just taken 1 200GB SDXC card, and that ‘failed’ on me, then I wouldn’t have anything else to shoot with, and thus no more ‘memories’ of my trip…

‘Real World’ Winner:

Another draw – the extra storage offered on the new SDXC cards, that only the newer camera accepts, is not needed at all.

Conclusion

In short, both of these are fantastic cameras, that will enable you to take professional quality photos and video.

If price is of absolutely no concern to you, or you want the camera as much for video as you do for photos, then I would definitely go for the newer 550D – the 1080p frame rate of 30fps compared to the 500D’s 20fps, and external mic support, makes the 550D a truly great video tool.

On the other hand, if you’re on a smaller budget, or just won’t be using the video mode all that much (and, hey, the older 500D still has 1080p video!) then I would definitely go for the 500D, as the 550D will not take noticeably better photos at all.

You can buy both cameras at Amazon:

If you’re in the UK you can get the new 550D via this link, and the older 500D here.

If you’re US based, the new 550D (known as the T2i) can be ordered here, and the older 500D (known as the T1i) here.

Thanks for reading, and follow me on twitter if you like!


26 comments

  1. GloucesterBob /

    great, really good informative stuff- thanks!

  2. I had a Nikon D90 and was going to replace it with the same. Then the 550d popped up….now I am undecided.
    The seller for me though would be the higher pixel count on the 550d over the D90 as I will be printing large scale in the near future.

    Decisions.
    Nice site btw.

  3. Hi Toby, thanks for your comment and kind words about the site. I’d be attracted to the higher megapixels on the 550D too, if my wife would allow me to display such large prints in the house….!

  4. hi there, nice review of the two cameras. I just bought 550d and this one really helped me understand the slight difference between the two. good thing i’m into video shooting as well as photo shooting. any slight advantages makes the other better still, isn’t it? more power to this site

  5. Hi Dang – congrats on your purchase, I bet you’re having a great time with the 550D. Glad my review helped you a little. The better video mode and LCD screen dimensions of the 550D definitely appeal over my 500D… enjoy!

  6. thank you for the information..it helps a lot…now I know I should go for 500D or 550D =)

  7. Heh heh – both are fantastic cameras, you can’t go wrong with either!

  8. Excellent review! I was breaking my head on taking a decision between 500 and 550D and this review helped me to zero down my decision to 500D. Well I’m an amateur and love to take more still photographs and wont take much videos.

    I’m still not clear about the ‘expanded’ iso range in 500D (6400-12800 with boost). Is it that I can expand/boost ( may be using an external device ) 500D’s ISO range to 6400+ if required?. Also I noticed many other sites highlighting the metering and Exposure compensation of 550D as a real advantage, but dint see you explaining about it here. Would appreciate if you could clarify this, it’ll help me in finalizing my decision.

  9. Hi Anooj, thanks for your comment, glad that the review has helped a bit with your decision – I’ve got the 500D and think it’s fantastic. Regarding the ISO range, you don’t need anything external to boost it, it’s just a feature that you can change in the camera settings – dead easy.

    The 550D does have a more sophisticated metering system, so if money doesn’t matter, then I would go for that – but the price of the older 500D has dropped quite a bit, and will continue to do so, so if price is an issue, I’d definitely go for the 500D.

  10. Thanks! well 550D was kinda out of budget, but was considering if its worth the extra 200$. I feel I’ll get 500D and can spend the extra bucks on a lens as I’m getting only body and will be using a 35-80 mm lens initially (an ef lens of my dads old 1000fn film slr) and get a zoom lens next month. And yeah, 500D price price had dropped down drastically – around 80$ difference compared to how it was two months back!
    Thanks again for the info.

  11. You know what? I just go my 500D body today! :)
    Excited about it, but my old 35-80 ultrasonic lens is’nt working well in its AF, so need to give it a check from service center.

  12. Endless_Nameless /

    Great post!

    Now I understand better the differences between both cameras. As I am into video shooting as well, and I always wanted an external mic slot, I think I will stay with the 550D (in fact, it is a gift for my wife).

    Thanks!

  13. Hi, I’m planning to buy 550D Body with 18-135/18-105 MM Lens for capturing wedding moments. Can you pls advise me how is my idea ?? Please suggest me the best cheap lens I can use on my 550D, also which external flashlite I should use .. Pls reply …thankyou very much ..

  14. Manoj /

    Thanks for this wonderfull review. Now i think it will be more easier to decide between the two.
    Only doubt is with the 600d coming how does these 2 stack up.

  15. That’s true, the 600D will definitely shake things up when it arrives at the end of March!

  16. I think a small error has crept into the LCD section: it says “The 550D’s 4:3 format” where it should say “The 500D’s 4:3 format” (the 550D is the one with 3:2, right?).

    Thank you for the review, this was precisely what I needed to decide whether to go for the 500D or not. (Not, as I’m particularly looking to get into shooting video.)

  17. Hi Jani, you were absolutely right – thanks for pointing that out! Have corrected it now, thanks!

  18. Danny /

    Heya! Thanks for the comparison! I recently stumbled upon the fact that the 550d was also an option and offered a stunning 18MP. However, even though the number seems awesome, with my beginner-pro to semi-pro activities I do not think I will ever regret going for less MP.

    This post helped a lot! Thanks! :) Going to scout through your website now, it seems like a nifty place on the net!

  19. Thanks a lot for the kind comment, Danny, much appreciated!

  20. DEEPJYOTI DAS /

    I am in a begenner level photography.
    Please suggest me WHICH ONE WILL BE BETTER?
    500D WITH 18-55 + 75-300 KIT (2 lenses) for 639 $
    OR
    55O D WITH 18-55 KIT….For 684 $

  21. If I had just that budget you mentioned, and wouldn’t have any more money to spend on lenses in the near(ish) future, I’d go for the 500D with two lenses – that way you have a much larger focal length to work with; you may feel a bit limited if you only ever had the 18 – 55.

  22. Mrs.Pedigrew /

    Right now on Amazon there is only a $40 price difference between the D500 and the D550. The D500 is selling for $549 and the D550 is selling for $589. (If this helps anyone!) This made it very easy for me and I went for the D550. I really love your site also. Tight concise information and writing with a little light heart fun thrown in is always best. Kudos to you!

  23. Thanks for the headsup about Amazon, really appreciate you letting our readers know! And thanks for the kind words about the site too :)

  24. NAGARJUNA REDDY /

    Thanks a lot sir. Indeed a good information.

  25. My name is Mini from Indonesia. i had a canon 550D , with kit lens and fixed 50mm f1,8. I am just an amateur. if i want to do a photo shoot for the outdoors, what must I prepare and size iso, shutter speed and f brapa who should I use? I want to maximize the camera and lens that I have.
    Can you give criticism and suggestions on my images in http://www.notagoodwriter.tumblr.com … thank you :)

  26. Hi Mini. You have some great shots on your site! I’m afraid your question is a bit too vague, though – what will you be shooting outside? People?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. LearningTheLight.com’s Top 10 Popular Content Of 2010 | Learn Photography Tips Blog - [...] 500D vs 550D: Which One Should You Buy? With these 2 Canon cameras proving very popular, many visitors were …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>