Canon PowerShot S5 IS Overview
by Theano Nikitas
Review Date: 10/30/2007
Updated Performance: 10/31/2007
The latest model in Canon's popular line of image-stabilized superzoom cameras, the 8-megapixel Canon PowerShot S5 IS is similar to its predecessor, the 6-megapixel PowerShot S3 IS (Canon skipped a number so there's no S4). Both have an image-stabilized 12x optical zoom lens with a focal range of 36-432mm (35mm equivalent), an SLR-like design, an articulated LCD, and a versatile feature set that mixes a full range of manual exposure controls (Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual) with easy-to-use Auto, Program, and Scene modes.
Measuring 4.6 x 3.15 x 3.06 inches (117.0 x 80.0 x 77.7mm) and weighing 1.25 pounds (574g) with battery and card, the Canon S5 IS is slightly larger and heavier than the S3 IS, in part to accommodate Canon S5 IS's new 2.5-inch LCD. The LCD's resolution has also been upgraded from 115,000 to 207,000 pixels. Both are welcome changes and increase the LCD's usability, especially in bright light and when using manual focus. The Canon S5 IS now sports a hotshoe so users can take advantage of Canon's powerful Speedlite flash units. The physical changes are rounded out by minor control changes and a new, spring-loaded lens cap in place of the S3's slip-on design.
Internally, the Canon S5 IS's processor has been updated to DIGIC III and, not surprisingly, the camera offers Face Detection Autofocus and Auto exposure for more accurate capture of group and single portraits. Maximum ISO has jumped to 1,600 and ISO Shift has been added so you can adjust light sensitivity on the fly if you need a faster shutter speed. Safety FE helps avoid overexposed highlights when using flash and Safety MF allows you to use autofocus to tweak manually focused images.
Other additions to the Canon S5 include the ability to correct red-eye in Playback, and two new Continuous Shooting options: Continuous Autofocus and Live View. The former is self-explanatory; the latter's name is confusing but it allows you to use a single, manually set focus point when shooting in Continuous mode. Unfortunately, the Canon S5 IS loses the S3's High Speed Continuous Shooting and, in fact, the new camera's continuous shooting speed is slower than its predecessor. There's no Intervalometer mode for time lapse shooting on the Canon S5, although up to 4GB of movie clips can now be recorded (versus the S3's 1 GB). A new LP (Long Play) option, much like the LP of VHS days, increases recording length in movie mode.
The Canon S5 IS has all the components to attract both experienced shooters who want control over their images and novices who want to hone their digital photography skills, most notably a well-rounded, advanced feature set with a respectable number of bells and whistles, a long zoom, and effective optical image stabilization. The Canon S5 IS is one of the better megazooms on the market, but image quality issues may take it down a notch.
Canon PowerShot S5 IS
by Theano Nikitas
Intro. The Canon PowerShot S5 IS is more of an evolutionary update than a major upgrade in Canon's megazoom PowerShot line. That's okay, since the camera has been updated enough to keep it current but still maintains the attributes that made the S3 IS so popular. Of course I, and probably many other photographers, would welcome the ability to shoot RAW with the Canon S5 IS, but the camera has more than enough features to keep both control-obsessed enthusiasts and point-and-shooters happy.
In addition to its extensive feature set, the Canon S5 IS operates more like a digital SLR than many of its competitors. Lots of external controls make for easy access to settings and help the Canon S5 deliver an efficient shooting experience. While its performance and image quality don't match those of a digital SLR, the Canon S5 IS will certainly appeal to a wide range of photographers, whether as an affordable substitute for a DSLR or as a step-up model for snapshooters who want the power of a telephoto lens without the learning curve and expense of a digital SLR.
Look and feel. Like most superzooms, the solidly built Canon PowerShot S5 IS has the look and feel of a digital SLR. Although this model is slightly larger and heavier than some of the competition, the extra heft provides a sturdier handhold and the additional real estate provides room for good-sized control buttons. The Canon S5 IS's grip is deep enough for most people to hold the camera comfortably and there's lots of wiggle room between the grip and the lens barrel, which is not always the case with some megazooms. Even though the Canon S5 IS's optical image stabilization is quite effective, the aforementioned design attributes provide a little extra help in holding the camera steady so you have a better chance of grabbing a telephoto shot without blur.
Unlike most digital cameras the Canon S5 IS uses an interesting combo Power/Mode Lever to power the camera on, switch from Record to Playback (and vice versa) by jogging the lever to the left or right. The camera is powered down by an Off button located in the center of the Mode Lever. I really disliked this control when it was first introduced by Canon but have since become accustomed to -- and more adept at -- using the lever. It's really a very efficient method of turning the Canon S5 on and switching modes; you can even power-on the camera directly in Playback mode with a quick jog of the lever to the right. Since the Canon S5's lens does not extend when the camera is powered-on in Playback mode, you don't have to remove the lens cap when reviewing or sharing images. I still think the small, center-positioned Off button is a little difficult to access, though.
Control buttons are sufficiently large and high-profile enough to be located by touch so you don't have to look away from the LCD or Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) to operate the Canon S5 once you memorize the purpose of each button. Control layout is relatively efficient, although out of habit I kept trying to press the center of the Four-Way Controller instead of the Set button (located directly below the controller) to implement a setting change. Although the Manual Focus and Macro/Super Macro buttons are located on the left side of the lens barrel, they're within easy reach once you realize they're there. The Canon S5's Direct Print/Shortcut button has been moved to the left of the viewfinder and can be customized for one-touch access to a number of different functions such as White Balance, Manual White Balance, Light Metering, AE Lock or AF Lock, among others.
Naturally, the Function button, which accesses a menu of most frequently changed settings, is extremely convenient and streamlines camera operation, eliminating multiple trips to the Canon S5 IS's more extensive menu system. Canon's tabbed menus are easy to understand and navigate, although the icons at the top of each tab can be a little cryptic.
Canon changed the design of the lens cap for the S5 IS. The new cap has spring-loaded buttons to hold it in place. While this is an improvement over the S3's friction-fit lens cap, the new cap still pops off a little too easily. I often carried the Canon S5 IS in a large tote bag and frequently found that the cap had fallen off when floating around in my bag. The lens cap can be attached to the neckstrap or neckstrap lug, so at least it doesn't get lost if/when it falls off; but it could easily scratch the lens when in a bag. It's really better to protect any camera in a case of its own.
The SD/SDHC/MMC card slot has been moved to the bottom of the camera, sharing space with the Canon S5 IS's four AA batteries. You may be able to change both card and batteries while the camera is mounted on a tripod, depending on the tripod design and your dexterity. I have always found it difficult to open and close digital camera compartments that house AA batteries since the top of the batteries seem to protrude ever-so-slightly above the edge of the compartment. Changing batteries or card without a tripod isn't bad on the Canon S5 IS but watch for dropping batteries, as AA batteries are seldom locked in place.
Although the Canon S5 IS has a huge focal range, there may be times when you need to expand the zoom, particularly on the wide-angle end. All you have to do is remove the ring on the front of the lens and attach one of several accessory lenses from Canon's offering of wide, tele, macro converters. At 36mm (35mm-equivalent), the lens is wide enough for most day-to-day purposes but it would be nice to start at a wider field of view without having to purchase an accessory lens, especially since you might want to spend your extra money on a Canon Speedlite instead, now that the Canon S5 IS has a hotshoe.
Auto, Program, or any one of the camera's many scene modes turns the camera into a simple-to-use point-and-shoot camera with a very long lens. But it would be a shame not to make full use of the Canon S5 IS's many features. Even experienced digital photographers should make at least a brief foray through the User Guide. While the camera is relatively easy to use, you may not know what the camera offers without reading the manual.
Display/Viewfinder. Like all superzoom cameras, the Canon PowerShot S5 IS is equipped with both an LCD and an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). The S5 IS's LCD is articulated, which means you can flip it against the camera body to protect the screen, which automatically switches to the EVF when the camera is powered on. You can also swing the LCD out and rotate it to grab overhead and very low shots without putting a strain on your neck, back, or knees. Or, if you prefer a more conventional viewing option, the LCD can be rotated and flipped up against the camera body with the screen facing outward.
Thanks to its increased size (2.5-inch vs. the S3's 2-inch monitor) and higher resolution (207,000 pixels vs. the S3's 115,000 pixels), the Canon S5 IS's LCD is a pleasure to use regardless of lighting conditions. It is bright, clear, and easily viewed in bright sunlight. The ability to tilt the screen also helps when you're shooting outdoors at high noon.
The EVF is decent but not outstanding. It's large and bright but it doesn't seem quite as crisp as it could be. The diopter works well, and it was easy to adjust the EVF to my eyesight. When shooting at telephoto, I tended to use the EVF, because I found it easier to hold the camera steady with it pressed against my eye. Even with the Canon S5's optical image stabilization, I believe in taking advantage of every option available to keep the camera from moving.
I really liked being able to pick and choose the type of information that appeared on the Canon S5's LCD. All it takes is a quick trip to the Custom Display option in the camera's menu to decide, for example, if you want a live Histogram or Grid Lines to appear when you shoot; and because of the LCD's larger size, the screen doesn't seem quite as crammed when you choose to display full data information.
Performance. Overall, the Canon PowerShot S5 IS is fast enough for most shooting conditions. Start up is relatively quick and there's very little shutter lag throughout the focal range. The lens, benefiting from Canon's Ultrasonic Motor, moves smoothly throughout, and is absolutely silent when zooming at a standard speed. High-speed zooming (achieved by pressing the zoom lever to its extreme position) creates a little bit of noise, but the lens movement still feels smooth.
Compared to start-up and shutter lag, the Canon S5's shot-to-shot time is relatively slow. You'll have to wait 1.6 seconds between shots when shooting Large/SuperFine JPEGs. Add another seven seconds or so if you're using the flash at full power.
For continuous shooting, the good news is that your finger is more likely to tire from holding the shutter down before the camera stops shooting. The bad news is that when set to Large/SuperFine JPEG, the Canon S5 snaps off just over 1.5 frames per second. Performance tests were conducted using a Kingston Ultimate 133x SD card and it seems likely that some performance attributes will lag when using a slower card.
The Canon S5 IS comes bundled with 4 AA alkaline batteries, which you should immediately relegate to another electronic device or to the junk drawer for emergencies only, since you'll only get about 170 shots from alkalines, if you're lucky. You're much better off picking up 4-8 rechargeable NiMH batteries and a charger. The latter delivers, according to CIPA standard, about 450 shots per charge--a much better deal all the way around. We found that a few of our older NiMH batteries didn't work for more than a few seconds with the Canon S5 IS, so make sure you get a fresh set. Here we switched to Sanyo's new Eneloop batteries, which promise a longer shelf life, and we had no trouble.
Canon's Face Detection technology seems to be one of the better ones on the market and it works pretty well on the Canon S5 IS. However, I sometimes found it easier to simply move the AF point to my subject's face. Regardless, autofocus was generally fast and accurate, even under low light conditions. Occasionally the lens would search at the telephoto end and it wasn't as accurate as I hoped when shooting in Super Macro mode. Don't use the on-board flash for either Macro mode; the lens gets in the way and casts a shadow.
Despite some corner softness at both extremes (wide angle and full telephoto) and an average amount of barrel distortion at wide angle, the Canon S5 IS's 12x zoom lens did a good job of producing sharp and nicely-detailed images in well-lit areas. Details became softer in shadows due to noise suppression, though. Image noise and loss of detail due to noise reduction detract from the Canon S5's image quality, starting at about ISO 800 up to 1,600, so keep it to 400 and below unless you're only planning to print 4x6-inch prints.
The Canon S5's other major shortcoming is an unexpectedly high level of chromatic aberration. Fringing and halos were noticeable along high contrast and even some medium contrast edges. The extreme brightness and width of the fringing was not only surprising but disappointing.
However, the Canon S5 IS's metering options worked well to deliver generally even exposures, albeit with some clipped highlights. Colors were well-saturated, delivering the vibrant images that consumers have come to expect from non-digital-SLR cameras.
The Canon S5's optical image stabilization worked well, especially when set to Shoot Only mode, which activates OIS only when the shutter is pressed. Continuous and Panning OIS worked fine as well, although panning--with or without OIS--takes a little practice to perfect.
Shooting. I took the Canon PowerShot S5 IS with me to New York City to complement the tiny, point-and-shoot Nikon Coolpix S200 I also brought. The Nikon S200 was great for quick snaps but I also needed a camera with a little more sophistication in case I needed manual options. As it turned out, the Canon S5 IS came in handy in the late afternoon when city streets are alternately very sunny or shady, so I was able to make good use of Aperture- and Shutter-priority modes. The Canon S5 IS's optical image stabilization was extremely useful when shooting on the shady side of the street or in a local park with large, sunlight-blocking trees.
I made good use of the Canon S5's articulated LCD when shooting upward at the top floors of buildings from the outside or angling the camera to grab a shot of some interesting tree formations that I couldn't get close to. I really missed having a wider angle zoom when shooting in the street, though; 36mm isn't quite wide enough when you're standing right in front of a building--even a low-rise set of apartments.
But the Canon S5 IS's telephoto range and optical image stabilization were invaluable when taking pictures of the Chrysler building from a friend's office high above Times Square. Even shooting through a window, the Canon S5 IS did a good job balancing the bright sky and the distant buildings. I used the EVF to brace the camera against my eye, always conscious of the fact that even with optical image stabilization, when you're shooting at 432mm and can't achieve a reciprocal shutter speed of 1/432 sec, it's important to hold the camera steady. As it turns out, everything worked well and my shots were focused and relatively sharp considering I was shooting through a window into the hazy sky of the city.
I also took the camera around my neighborhood, looking for interesting fall foliage, but the high temperatures have kept most of the trees green. I decided to photograph some tall Milkweed plants with interesting looking pods and decided it was time to try out the Canon S5 IS's Super Macro mode. It was late in the day and there wasn't much light (and I knew I couldn't use the on-board flash because it would cause a shadow), so I did my best handholding the Canon S5. I kept the ISO as low as possible, made sure OIS was enabled, and opened up the aperture to get a decent shutter speed. As I put the camera near the Milkweed pods (Super Macro can allegedly focus down to 0cm), I noticed that the plant's pods were loaded with insects. Interesting subjects, but I was a little too phobic to approach as closely as I could have. My fear of bugs, a slow shutter speed, and very little depth-of-field rendered the images softer than I would have liked. But those images allowed me to examine the details of these odd little insects from a safe distance. The Super Macro mode definitely has great potential, even though it has shortcomings like slightly soft details and evidence of some chromatic aberration.
Although the Canon PowerShot S5 IS has a few shortcomings, most notably image noise and some problems with chromatic aberration, I really enjoy shooting with the camera (See our Exposure and Optics tabs for more the Canon S5's image quality). It has pretty much everything that I want or need in a camera of its class; everything but RAW and a wider-angle lens. When I'm in a point-and-shoot mood, the S5 IS is just as obliging with its Auto, Program, and Scene modes.
Movie mode. An extra benefit to the Canon S5 is its quick switch into movie mode. You never have to select a mode, in fact, just press the Movie button on the back. The Canon S5's high resolution movies include stereo sound and a wind filter, which means this camera also serves as a full-function camcorder with a 12x, image-stabilized zoom. Movie quality is quite good and the sound isn't bad either.
Summary. The Canon PowerShot S5 IS has a lot to offer with its image-stabilized 12x optical zoom lens and well-rounded feature set that provides more than enough sophistication and manual options for advanced amateurs and prosumers, while providing less experienced photographers a solid set of familiar options like Auto, Program AE, and Scene modes. Image noise issues and the appearance of chromatic aberration mar the otherwise pleasing image quality and although the S5 IS benefits in many ways from the latest DIGIC III processor from Canon, its performance could be taken up a notch. The Canon PowerShot S5 IS, however, has so much to offer in terms of features and design that these attributes may be enough to compensate for the camera's shortcomings. The S5 IS is one of the many megazoom cameras I've tested, the S5 IS is one of my favorites.
- 8.0-megapixel CCD
- 12x optical zoom lens (equivalent to a 36-432mm lens on a 35mm camera)
- 4x digital zoom.
- 2.5-inch articulated color LCD monitor
- Electronic Viewfinder
- Program Automatic Exposure
- Aperture- and shutter-priority modes
- Full Manual exposure mode
- Built-in pop-up flash with red-eye reduction
- SD/SDHC card compatibility
- USB high speed connection
- Four AA alkaline batteries included
- 32MB SD card included
- Software for Mac and PC
- Optical Image Stabilization: Shooting, Continuous, Panning
- Automatic Face Detection AE/AF
- Multiple continuous shooting modes, including Continuous Shooting AF
- ISO from 100-1600 and High ISO mode
- ISO Shift
- Safety FE and MF options
- On-board red-eye correction (in Playback)
- High resolution movies with stereo sound
- Wind filter, audio capture adjustment settings
- Shutter Speeds from 15 sec to 1/3,200 sec
- Multiple creative options, i.e., My Colors
- Contrast/Sharpness/Saturation/Red/Green/Blue and skin tone adjustments
- Multiple White Balance settings, including Manual
- Exposure Bracketing and AF Bracketing
- Adjustable Flash Intensity
- Multiple Metering and AF modes
- Continuous AF
- Selectable AF points
- Live Histogram and Pattern/Grid Overlay
- Wide angle and telephoto accessory lenses and filters available
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Canon PowerShot S5 IS camera
- Shoulder strap
- Lens cap and attachment string
- Four AA alkaline batteries
- 32MB SD card
- USB cable
- Stereo Video cable
- Printed manuals for camera and software operation
- Digital Camera Solution Software CD
- Large capacity SD/SDHC card. 2GB is a good first choice, but you'll need a larger card, preferably a 4-8GB high speed SDHC card for taking advantage of high speed continuous shooting and long video clips.
- One or two sets of 4 AA NiMH rechargeable batteries and charger. Sanyo Eneloop work great, and don't cost much more.
- Wide angle accessory lens for landscape and group shots
- Canon 430EX or 580EX II accessory flash for helping with that long zoom
The Canon PowerShot's S5 IS extensive feature set combined with its image-stabilized 12x optical zoom lens will please photographers who want a solidly built and capable non-DSLR camera with all the bells and whistles. Aside from the omission of a RAW mode, the Canon S5 IS is one of the more capable megazooms on the market. External controls and easy access to setting changes add to the Canon S5's appeal, as does its excellent movie mode with stereo sound. The Canon S5's automatic and semi-manual functions will be comforting to snapshooters looking to step up and/or develop their photographic skills. Noise and chromatic aberration issues, unfortunately, detract from the camera's otherwise pleasing image quality. Still, the Canon S5 IS serves as both a camcorder and a long zoom, all-purpose event capturing device, and we think it's one of the best on the market. We give the S5 IS a Dave's Pick for overall utility, quiet, reliable operation, and a refined interface.