One of the first things that hit you removing the S5500 from its box is its size; it’s very compact and its styling makes its handling extremely accomplished. Rubberised grips on its key handling surfaces - the right hand grip for example - make it great to hold.
Thankfully, the controls have been sensitively placed too proving fingertip control without the need of finger gymnastics, despite the compact 112.7x81.1x79.3 dimension. It’s light too at 340g, at least until the four AA batteries are inserted, but thankfully the camera’s storage is a tiny xD Picture Card - allowing capacities up to 512MB to be used - that’s so small it adds little to the overall weight.
Improvements over the S5000 include an extra million effective pixels (moving it to 4MP) and the use of a traditional CCD, which pushes out the previous model’s 3MP SuperCCD. CCD RAW capture provides improved image processing on PC, for those that require it.
For the confirmed ‘snappers’ among you, the S5500 doesn’t let the side down having the ‘usual’ array of automatic shooting options and scene modes including portrait, landscape, sports and night scene settings.
More advanced features include histogram playback, exposure compensation and bracketing to +/-2EV. But, by today’s ever-enlarging digicam LCDs, the 5500’s 1.5-inch colour screen looks a bit paltry but it’s a high resolution screen, set deep in the body helping reduce problems with glare in bright light.
However, the electronic viewfinder (EVF) is another matter; it’s pants! Unlike the LCD, it’s a low resolution affair so grainy-looking the image, in my opinion, sums up everything wrong with EVFs, being really only suitable for composition assessment at best. On the up side it does save battery power which is good because ‘standard’ alkaline AAs are gobbled up quickly by the S5500, so get yourself a set of high-power (2300mAh) rechargeable AA cells and a descent charger as quickly as possible.
In terms of image quality however, the S5500 starts to strut its stuff providing sharp colourful images with slight blue pixel fringing around high contrast areas. A vivid ‘Chrome’ setting allows for extra saturation of your shots (there’s a black and white mode too) ideal for vivid greens and reds. Noise is well controlled but highlights become lost quickly if there’s a bright background in a scene for example.
The 5500's a pleasing little camera (bar the EVF) that rewards your efforts with nice shots. The AF is a tad slow for my liking and the lack of image stabilization means, at longer focal lengths, camera shake rears its ugly head; a tripod will be a necessary accessory in lower lighting conditions. Overall though, the 5500's a worthy successor to its predecessor, the S5000.