Steve's Conclusion

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Steve's SnapShot
GE X550 conclusion shot.jpg

  • 16-megapixel BSI CMOS image sensor
  • 15x optical zoom lens
  • 27mm wide angle lens
  • Optical IS (image stabilization) 
  • 2.7-inch (230,400-dot) LCD screen
  • Electronic viewfinder
  • QuickTime Motion JPEG video recording  
  • Auto mode helps beginners
  • Program, aperture priority, shutter priority, and full manual modes for shooting with more advanced settings
  • Mode dial
  • Pop-up flash unit
  • Runs from 4 AA batteries

Pros
  • 15x optical zoom lens is rarely found in this price range
  • Zoom lens moves quickly through its range
  • Even though camera runs from four AA batteries, it has surprisingly good battery life, thanks to plenty of power-saving features
  • Quite a few manual control features in an inexpensive camera
  • Mode dial makes it easy to pick settings
  • Large hand grip makes it easy to hold the X550
  • Pop-up flash unit works well
  • Camera is very easy to use
  • Can frame photos with the electronic viewfinder or the LCD
Cons
  • Camera response times are sluggish
  • Camera's focus is soft at times
  • Autofocus works slowly
  • When pre-focusing, the LCD image freezes for a fraction of a second
  • LCD could be larger and sharper
  • Camera is large and the four AA batteries throw off the balance a bit
  • Camera shake can be a problem at the full zoom length
  • Pop-up flash unit isn't automatic
  • In some shooting modes, the X550 reduces resolution without notifying the photographer
  • No HD video option and no HDMI slot
Timing Test Results
  • Power up to first image captured = 4.7 seconds (with start-up image turned off)
  • Shutter lag when prefocused = less than 1/10 of a second
  • Shutter lag with autofocus = about 1.2 seconds
  • Shot to shot delay without flash = 5.3 seconds between frames with minimum review time On, 6.2 seconds with review Off
  • Shot to shot delay with flash = 5.8 seconds between frames with minimum review time On, 6.7 seconds with review Off
  • Continuous Burst Mode = 12 frames in 11.5 seconds @ 4M
  • 3-Frame Burst Mode = 3 frames in 8.2 seconds @ 16M
  • All tests were taken using a PNY Class 10, 16 GB SDHC memory card, Program Mode, Flash off, Review on, ISO Auto and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise.
Bottom Line
If you're tired of the thin point-n-shoot cameras on the market, the GE X550 is going to give you a model that looks more like the old 35mm film cameras. The large hand grip and inclusion of an electronic viewfinder give you some options that most of today's beginner cameras don't have. However, slugging performance levels and some soft focus issues harm the X550's overall usability.
Pick This Up If...
You don't mind a larger digital camera that has some performance issues, as long as it has a viewfinder and a large zoom lens with a low price point. 
The GE X550 is going to receive immediate consideration from many beginner-level photographers for one feature in particular: its electronic viewfinder (EVF). Very few point-n-shoot cameras contain any type of viewfinder, resulting in a common complaint from beginner photographers.

Having a viewfinder makes the X550 operate a little more like an old 35mm film camera, which some of those new to digital photography will appreciate. This camera looks more like an old film camera, too, with a large body and a large right hand grip. The look of the GE X550 sets it apart in today's digital camera market, which is flooded with thin models. 

The X550 is priced like quite a few beginner-level cameras at less than $150. It has some nice features for a camera at this price point, including a 15x optical zoom lens, some advanced photography modes, and a mode dial for selecting shooting modes. It also can run from four AA batteries, which is handy for travelers who run out of battery power.

Unfortunately, the X550's overall performance level doesn't match the promise of its other features. The camera responds sluggishly in quite a few areas, including in its start-up times, in its autofocus speed, and in its shot-to-shot delays. Certainly, with a low-priced camera, most photographers expect some problems in these areas. Still, these slow response times are going to cause you to miss a few spontaneous photos or photos of moving subjects.

Shutter lag is prominent in all types of photos, both indoors and outdoors. However, you can basically eliminate the shutter lag by pressing the shutter button halfway and pre-focusing on your subjects. Obviously, this isn't always possible with moving subjects, so you'll have to try to anticipate the movement of your subjects when shooting with the X550. Otherwise, the subject could move outside the frame by the time the autofocus locks onto the scene.

Not only does the autofocus work a bit slowly, but it also results in some soft photos from time to time. You may not always notice the softness unless you try to print the images at a large size, but the softness problems happened more often than I'd like to see. When the X550 gets the focus right, its images are really nice, and if you have time to pre-focus, you should see fewer soft photos. 

Shot-to-shot delays are tough to deal with as well with the GE X550. You'll have to wait several seconds between the time you press the shutter button for the first photo and the recording of the next photo. Oddly enough, my tests showed that this camera's shot-to-shot delays are shorter when you leave the minimum review time of 1 second activated versus turning off the review. Very few cameras have shorter delays with the instant review activated.

The X550's continuous shot modes help a little with this problem, but because the LCD screen and EVF freeze while the camera is recording the photos, you'll just have to guess when framing any shots after the first one.

Speaking of the LCD, it measures only 2.7 inches diagonally, and its images aren't quite as sharp as I'd like to see. You can adjust the brightness level of the LCD, making it easy to combat glare when shooting outdoors on a sunny day, but it'd be nice to have a larger LCD.

If you're looking for a camera that performs well with HD movies, you're going to want to skip this model. The X550 can only shoot SD (Standard Definition) quality movies, although it is able to shoot at up to 30 frames per second. Its full optical zoom lens is available while shooting movies, which is a nice feature as that doesn't always occur with a point-n-shoot camera.

If you can live with those problems, most of the GE X550's other features compare very nicely to other models in its price range. 

The 15x optical zoom lens is a great size and will provide plenty of telephoto capabilities for most beginning photographers. It can be a little tough to avoid camera shake when shooting at the maximum zoom, but you can use the EVF to help hold the camera steady and alleviate this problem. The zoom lens moves pretty quickly through its range.We always recommend using a monopod or tripod when using longer telephoto lenses; so it would be a wise choice to add one to your purchase if the budget allows.

Through the X550's mode dial, you can select from 10 shooting options, including a few different shooting modes where you'll have some manual control. Granted, the manual control options are far more limited than what you'll find in a more advanced camera, but it can be nice to gain access to a few more manual control options versus what you'd find in a typical beginner-level camera. GE also included dedicated buttons with this camera to allow you quick access to autofocus modes and exposure value modes, something that's rare with cameras in this price range. 

Some of the manual control options are a bit more useful than others. For example, you can manually set the ISO between 80 and 3200, but the amount of noise introduced at ISO 1600 and 3200 is excessive, leaving those modes essentially unusable. The X550 also reduces the resolution to 4-megapixels when shooting at those two highest ISO settings, which causes additional image-quality problems. 

Thanks in part to the positioning of the mode dial and the large right hand grip, the GE X550 is very comfortable to use. The overall design of this camera is smart, and every button is within easy reach. It'd be nice if the camera's buttons were slightly larger and if the four-way button was raised a bit more away from the camera body, but those are minor drawbacks compared to the nice overall design. The X550 camera body is available in all black or white with black trim.

Adding to the design of the X550 is the large pop-up flash unit, which is centered directly above the lens. This is a powerful flash, giving the X550 an advantage over other point-n-shoot cameras, which have small flash units usually placed in a corner of the camera body. You do have to open the pop-up flash manually, but, if you have the flash closed in a dark scene, the camera attempts to warn you that you should use a flash by placing a red "flash" icon on the screen as you're lining up the shot.

One of the more pleasant surprises with this camera was its good battery performance. Most cameras that run from four AA batteries struggle to conserve battery power and drain the AA batteries pretty quickly. However, the X550 has quite a few power-saving features built into it, and it does a nice job with conserving power.

Bottom Line - The basic Auto mode with this camera is very easy to use, and when you shoot at the maximum 16-megapixels of resolution, your image quality with the X550 will be good enough for small prints most of the time. When the focus is sharp, you'll be very pleased with the results. It's not common to find some of the features that are in the X550 in a sub-$150 camera, such as an electronic viewfinder, a camera that can run from AA batteries, a 15x optical zoom lens, a pop-up flash unit, and a mode dial. If you're looking for a few of those types of features in a single model, the GE X550 is one of the few point-n-shoot cameras in today's market that can provide them. However, you'll have to deal with some performance problems with this camera, such as a sluggish autofocus and significant shot-to-shot delays. Add in some softly focused images from time to time, and you're going to have to decide whether you can live with those problems if you decide to purchase this model.


Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.

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