The pop-up flash unit with the GE X550 is a very nice feature. By having the flash directly above the lens and a few inches above the main camera body, you're going to have a better angle with the light from the flash versus other point-n-shoot cameras.
It would be nice if the flash unit opened automatically any time it was needed with the X550, but you must push the "open" button, as shown in the above photo, to activate the flash. Having the flash unit open gives you access to the various flash modes, so you're probably going to want to shoot with the flash open most of the time.
At the far edge of the right hand grip, you'll find the shutter button, which is much larger than with many beginner-level cameras. It's easy to find if you're blindly reaching for it while concentrating on framing an image. The zoom ring surrounds the shutter button, and it's very comfortable to use, thanks to its nice design.
If the GE X550's mode dial seems to be a bit large, that's because it needs to be big to accommodate the 10 available options. With a notched ring, it's easy to spin the mode dial on this camera, and it's located in a smart position that's easy to reach with your right thumb while you're holding the camera normally. The current mode is marked by the white tab on the far left of this image.
GE's decision to add the red lettering and icons on the mode dial for commonly used modes is a nice idea, but the red can be difficult to see against the black background in low light. Fortunately, the current mode is displayed on the LCD as you turn the mode dial, as well as icons for the other modes. The 10 mode dial options are (clockwise from 9 o'clock position):
- Camera icon (in red) - Auto mode
- SCN - 20 scene modes
- Movie camera icon - Movie mode
- Stretched rectangle icon - Panorama mode
- Human head icon - Portrait mode
- Camera icon with "M" (in red) - Manual mode
- A - Aperture Priority mode
- S - Shutter Priority mode
- P - Program AE mode
- A-SCN (in red) - ASCN mode (Automatic Scene mode)
One aspect of the X550 that beginning photographers will appreciate is the inclusion of an EVF (electronic viewfinder), shown in the upper left of this photo. Very few point-n-shoot cameras in this price range offer a viewfinder, which allows you to frame photos by holding the viewfinder to your eye. You can either activate the EVF or the LCD by using the toggle button show in the lower right of this image. Both items cannot be activated at the same time.
Compared to the large size of the overall camera, I thought the LCD screen on the GE X550 looked a little small, and it does measure only 2.7 inches diagonally, which is on the small side compared to most newer digital cameras. The LCD contains 230,400 pixels, which again is on the low end compared to most new cameras.
GE does give you plenty of options for setting the brightness level on the LCD, as you can pick from 10 different settings, along with an automatic setting. By lowering the brightness level of the LCD, you can conserve battery power. The LCD does have some glare problems when using the X550 outdoors in sunlight, but if you use the brightest setting, you should be able to counteract the glare. You also can use the EVF to eliminate glare problems, which is nice.
The control button setup for the GE X550 is pretty easy to understand. The green light at the top indicates that the camera is powered on and ready for shooting. It changes to a red light when the camera is busy saving a photo.
We already discussed the EVF/LCD button at the top left. Just below that is the Playback button on the left, which is used to review your images, and the Disp button on the right, which toggles through a set of information that's displayed on the screen, including grid lines, a histogram, and shooting settings.
The four-way button in the middle controls the Delete, Macro, Self-Timer, and Flash settings. In the middle of the four-way button is the FUNC/OK button, which allows you to gain quick access to commonly used camera settings, such as the resolution or ISO. You can use the OK button to make selections when scrolling through the menus.
The Menu button on the bottom left gives you access to the camera's various menus, such as a photo settings menu or general settings menu. The Exposure button on the bottom right gives you access to settings such as aperture, shutter speed, and EV (exposure value).
For the most part, the buttons are well placed on the X550. To make them more comfortable to use, they could be a little larger, however. The four-way button definitely could be raised away from the camera body a little more, making it easier to use, but for a camera in its price range, the buttons are pretty well designed.
The USB port is on the right hand side of the GE X550, behind a flexible panel.
One reason the GE X550 has such a large right hand grip is because that's where the four AA batteries are housed. The battery compartment and the memory card slot are behind a large hard plastic panel on the bottom of the camera that locks in place. The plastic panel on the model I tested was a little wobbly, and it appears if you bump the camera hard with this panel open, it feels like the panel could easily snap off. Having most of the weight of the camera in the batteries in the right hand grip throws off the balance of the X550 a little bit.
The X550 makes use of a standard sized SD memory card.
Obviously, there's no need for a battery charger to be included with this camera, because of its use of four AA batteries. Surprisingly, the battery life with the X550 was very good, which isn't always the case with a point-n-shoot camera that uses AA batteries. I was able to run nearly all of my tests and shoot almost a few hundred photos and movies all on one set of standard AA batteries. Having a camera that can run on AA batteries is handy when traveling, as you can purchase these types of batteries almost anywhere.