DigitalCameraReview.com
Canon Powershot S5 IS Review
by Jim Keenan -  7/13/2007

The Canon PowerShot S5 IS replaces the S3 IS in the Canon line, and boasts a full mix of features: an 8 megapixel sensor and 12X optical zoom lens that provides a 36 to 432mm focal length range (35mm equivalent); optical image stabilization and an ISO range up to 1600; a DIGIC III processor which Canon says improves image quality and camera functionality, particularly with the face detection and red-eye correction technologies; full manual controls in addition to the typical auto and special scene shooting modes, plus a hot shoe, viewfinder, and 2.5 inch LCD monitor that can be rotated and folded to accommodate a wide range of shooting angles.

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Canon’s ad copy says their "....high-end PowerShot digital cameras incorporate the creative performance of a professional digital SLR camera and the compact convenience of a point and shoot." Let’s give it a try.

A CLOSER LOOK 

Canon provides four AA alkaline batteries, a 32MB memory card, lens cap, neck strap, USB and Stereo video cables, and CD-ROM software with each camera. Before you do anything else, attach the lens cap to the camera by means of the lens cap cord. Every time you power up the camera in shoot mode without first removing the lens cap, the cap is ejected from the front of the lens as the lens extends from the camera body.

Speaking of the camera body, it’s got a composite material exterior and the handgrip-style design makes for a secure one-handed shooting hold. The rubber material on the grip is a little too smooth for my taste – I’d like something with a tackier feel – but it’s a pleasure to hold overall.   

Camera dimensions are 4.6 x 3.15 x 3.06 inches with the lens retracted, and a shooting weight (memory card and 4 AA batteries installed) of about 18 ounces.

The S5 IS can capture JPEG still images in six pixel sizes: Large (3264 x 2448), M1 (2592 x 1944), M2 (2048 x 1536), M3 (1600 x 1200), S (640 x 480), and W (3264 x 1832). Quality (compression) of these images may be at the Superfine (high quality), Fine (normal quality), or Normal (more images) levels. As has been my recent experience with Canon P&Ss, there’s not much to choose between the three settings in terms of apparent image quality, so unless you anticipate making really big enlargements, you can save some memory by shooting at Fine or Normal compression.

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Superfine (view medium image) (view large image)

Movies may be captured in AVI format at 640 x 480 pixels and 30 frames per second in either normal or LP mode (LP file sizes are about half that of normal mode), or 320 x 240 pixels at either 60 or 30 fps. Movies may be recorded until the memory card is full (up to 4GB) or for a period of 1 hour. A handy feature for folks who shoot movies is the “movie” button on the camera body, which switches the camera immediately into movie mode and starts recording. A second push of the button takes the camera back out of movie mode.

CAMERA FEATURES AND LAYOUT 

One of the first things you notice about the S5 IS are the buttons everywhere on the camera body! Canon has designed the camera to permit quick access to certain functions (macro, ISO, continuous shooting, movie recording, etc.) and uses the buttons to either directly enable the feature or take the shooter to an internal menu to make desired settings. I found the camera and controls nicely fit my medium-sized hand – folks with big hands might find the camera a bit small.

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canon powershot s5 is
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canon powershot s5 is
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canon powershot s5 is
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canon powershot s5 is
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canon powershot s5 is
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SHOOTING WITH THE S5 IS 

Auto Mode 

Like many P&S cameras, the S5 IS can be set on "auto" to produce great images over a range of conditions and subjects. While this camera has a host of features and shooting modes optimized for particular situations, it does a pretty good job if left on its own. The shots that follow were all among the first I took with the camera, encompassing flash, open shade, hazy sun and an early, gray day at the beach. The camera shoots nicely right out of the box with default settings.

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Shooting Modes 

In addition to "auto", the S5 IS has fifteen shooting modes for specific conditions: portrait, landscape, night snapshot, sports, night scene, indoor, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, aquarium, color accent, color swap, stitch assist and movie. Selecting one of these modes causes the camera to automatically adjust settings to provide optimal shooting. For example, here are shots of some front yard foliage shot at “auto” and again at "foliage" mode. Both shots are similar, but the "foliage" mode colors are a little richer.

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One nice feature of the S5 IS is that you can opt to display camera settings in the viewfinder or monitor, and when shooting in the various modes, pressing the shutter button halfway to acquire focus also will tell you what ISO the camera is going to set from the "auto ISO" range, along with f-stop and shutter speed. For example, sitting at home I set the camera for "landscape", "night snapshot" and "sports" on three successive shots, aimed the camera at the same spot on the wall, and half-pressed the shutter button. The camera told me it was going to use 80, 250 and 800 ISO respectively on those shots.

At the beach the next day, I set the camera on "sports" to shoot some surfers. Because the morning was overcast and gray, the camera indicated it was going to use 500 ISO for the shot. I took the shot, but knowing that 500 ISO is getting into the range where the ISO Noise Cops might pull you over for speeding, I also switched the camera to Aperture priority (Av), manually set 100 ISO and took another shot, trusting that the camera’s IS would make up for the slower shutter speed. The two shots follow, and while not too bad, the ISO 500 shot is clearly noisier that the 100 ISO. Had the day been brighter, the "sports" mode would have selected a lower ISO which presented no noise concerns.

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Finally, our city’s 4th of July fireworks display is set off in the park across the street from our house. The "fireworks" mode provided for a 2 second shutter speed, but since I was trying to dampen out tripod vibrations by using the self-timer to fire the shutter, timing the flight of the fireworks so the shutter was open when the burst took place was somewhat imprecise. I switched to manual exposure and set a 4 second shutter speed in order to have a longer window to catch the burst. Unfortunately, the prevailing winds kept blowing the smoke from the charges towards the camera, so getting a burst without smoke in the shot was impossible at our location. Here’s two original shots and then 8 x 10 crops of each shot to emphasize the burst. The settings selected by the camera were identical to mine with the exception of shutter speed.

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The S5 IS also provides for Programmed Auto (P), Aperture Priority (Av), Shutter Priority (Tv) or Manual (M) exposure modes that Canon likes to refer to as the "creative zone".

All in all, I would be confident trusting the shot entirely to the S5 IS in "auto" or any of its shooting modes, but it should be noted that the camera may increase ISO in the night snapshot, sports, night scene, indoor, aquarium, color accent or color swap modes to the point where noise becomes a concern. Having the "creative zone" options as possibly lower-noise alternatives is a valuable and versatile asset. 

In-Camera Editing Tools 

The S5 IS features a Red Eye Correction function that can manually correct red eye in recorded images. I didn’t specifically try to induce red eye in any images with the S5 IS, but other Digic III Canon P&Ss (A570 IS, SD850 IS) have demonstrated a good red eye reduction function with the flash, and a good correction function on those images that did need work.

An "adding correction frames" function allows you to select up to 35 frames, change their size and save them.

The "My Colors" function allows you to introduce select color effects to recorded images: vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, lighter or darker skin tone, vivid red, vivid blue or vivid green. 

Exposure Compensation 

+/- 2 EV exposure compensation is available in 1/3 EV increments.

Light Metering 

Evaluative, center-weighted average or spot metering may be selected, with evaluative being the default setting.

Focus/Macro Focus 

Normal focus range for the S5 IS is 1.6 feet to infinity.

Macro focus at wide angle is 3.9 inches to 1.6 feet. Depending on the size of the object being imaged, it can be easy to get inside the 3.9 inch minimum at wide angle, producing blurry shots.

Super Macro at wide angle only is 0 to 3.9 inches. Watch you don’t put the front element of the lens onto the subject while trying to fill the frame.

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Super macro (view medium image) (view large image)

The S5 IS acquires focus reasonably quickly, and there is an AF-assist beam for dim conditions.

Monitor/Viewfinder 

The S5 IS features a 2.5 inch, 207,000 dot composition monitor that can be folded and rotated to facilitate various shooting angles. The monitor is adjustable for 1 step of brightness, and it seemed to perform a little better than most similar sized monitors in bright outdoor light.

There’s no need to use the monitor for any but the most awkward angled shots, because the S5 IS has an excellent viewfinder with 100% accuracy. The viewfinder is equipped with a diopter to accommodate varying qualities of vision. 

Flash 

Canon credits the S5 IS built-in flash with a range out to 17 feet at wide angle, and 13 feet at telephoto, and my experience was the camera met these values. There is also an external hot shoe to accept a flash unit: Canon’s Speedlite 220EX, 430EX or 580EX II are recommended models.

The flash is equipped with a red eye reduction function as a default setting, and while I did not try to specifically induce red eye with the S5 IS, other recent DIGIC III Canons I’ve tested (A570 IS and SD850 IS) had good red eye avoidance performance with this function enabled.  

Color 

The S5 IS produced pleasing and accurate color in the daylight, overcast and flash-illuminated conditions that comprised the bulk of my shooting.

ISO 

A range of ISO values from 80 to 1600 is available in the S5 IS. There are "Auto ISO" and "Hi ISO" settings which set ISO values based largely on the brightness of the shooting environment, and individual values of 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 may be manually selected in certain shooting modes. ISO performance is about what we’ve come to expect from a P&S: 80, 100 and 200 ISO are pretty good and fairly difficult to differentiate; 400 shows some noise, with 800 even more so, and the largest individual jump in noise coming from the 800-1600 increment.


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

White Balance 

Auto white balance is the default value and performed well; daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash or custom settings are also available.

Battery Performance 

Canon lists a 170 shot battery life when using the monitor with AA alkaline batteries, and 200 shots with viewfinder only. Fully charged Ni-MH batteries are rated for 450 and 470 shots respectively under the same conditions, and a couple sets of these would be the cost-effective choice over the long run.

A set of 4 lithium AA batteries was provided with this camera for demonstration purposes, and the picture count for these batteries was just over 500 when I finished shooting - the batteries themselves were still going strong.

Shutter Performance 

The S5 IS offers a range of shutter speeds from 15 to 1/3200 of a second. Shutter lag once focus is acquired is good. You’ll pretty much get the shot you take with the S5 IS if it has acquired focus. 

Canon lists a 1.5 frame per second continuous shooting rate, and a 0.9 fps continuous rate with AF for the S5 IS. That 1.5 fps rate is achieved by taking the focus for the initial shot and applying it to all subsequent shots in the series. Unless you’re shooting a subject that doesn’t move from the original point of focus, there’s a pretty good chance shots 2 through whatever are going to get progressively worse from a focus standpoint when shooting only continuous. Continuous with AF is the option of choice if you have to shoot a series of a moving subject, and the camera does a pretty good job with the focus in this mode. What’s difficult is keeping the subject in the viewfinder/monitor for the next shot, since the camera screen goes blank for a split second after each shot in the series, and you’re left to pan by instinct. Once the screen comes back on, the next shot happens quickly and leaves you little time to adjust the subject’s location in the frame if it’s not where you want it.

Lens Performance 

A word here about the lens on the S5 IS, strictly from a hardware standpoint -  the lens delivers a 432mm focal length at the telephoto end with a maximum aperture of f/3.5. Canon’s lens selection for their DSLR cameras includes 400mm lenses with apertures of f/2.8, f/4 and f/5.6. Canon’s 500 and 600mm telephotos are both f/4. The speed of the S5 IS lens at telephoto compares favorably with the biggest and fastest lenses in Canon’s entire lineup.

The power of that 12X zoom to pull in distant subjects has got to be one of this camera’s major selling points. In the shots that follow, I was perhaps 150 yards away from the giraffe and unable to get any closer, but the big lens produced an original shot that could still be cropped to a pleasing 8 x 10 size. While I was able to approach much closer to the hummingbird, he was still skittish enough that it took all the lens to produce the original and the accompanying 8 x 10 crop. The ability of this lens to fill the frame, or much of it, with distant subjects makes those 8 megapixels go a lot further.

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The lens was a little soft at the edges with perhaps a slight hint of vignetting at the corners in wide angle; barrel distortion (lines bow out from center of image) was present, and a sharp-eyed viewer might notice a "bent" line in certain photos. The edge and corner softness would probably go unnoticed by any but the most critical viewer at typical image sizes.

The lens also seemed a little soft at the edges and corners in telephoto, but otherwise performed well. There was chromic aberration (purple fringing in high contrast boundary areas) present, but it would become objectionable principally at extreme enlargements unlikely to be contemplated by most shooters. 

MISCELLANEOUS 

The S5 IS PictBridge compliant and also features a direct print capability with certain Canon printers. There are a number of accessories available, including wide and tele converters that let the lens shoot at about 27 and 645mm focal lengths, respectively.

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CONCLUSION 

Does the S5 IS measure up to Canon’s self-proclaimed "creative performance of a professional digital SLR camera and the compact convenience of a point and shoot"?  In large measure, yes, it does.

This is a capable and versatile camera, with good shutter and focus performance, great image and color quality and a lens that can range from modest wide angle to long telephoto. The auto and shooting mode options are supplemented by a full set of manual controls, and the camera will provide a fine imaging tool to the novice who never ventures past "auto"; serve as an excellent learning platform for someone contemplating the move to a DSLR and all that entails, or capably produce high quality images for an advanced shooter who doesn’t need or want to be constrained by the bulk of a DSLR. The smaller physical size of the sensor guarantees that noise performance won’t match a DSLR once ISO values start to rise, and the 0.9 fps continuous shooting speed is a bit of a disappointment for a camera that does so many other things so well. But these are truly minor annoyances given the overall excellence of the S5 IS.

PROS

CONS