Canon S5 IS Review

 
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Canon PowerShot S5 IS Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Very good overall color and hue accuracy, with minor oversaturation of some colors.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Saturation. The Canon PowerShot S5 IS oversaturates strong red and blue tones slightly, not uncommon among consumer digital cameras. Still, we found overall color quite pleasing across a broad range of subjects. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. Here, with the color balanced properly for the light source, the S5 IS' skin tones were slightly pinkish, but still fairly natural. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Canon PowerShot S5 IS showed a few moderate color shifts relative to the correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects, pushing blue toward cyan and yellow toward green, though overall accuracy was still pretty good. Hue is "what color" the color is.


See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Slightly warm with Auto white balance, a little magenta with Incandescent setting, but good color with Manual white balance. About average positive exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+1.0 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+1.0 EV
Manual White Balance
+1.0 EV

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was slightly warm in Auto white balance mode, while the Incandescent setting had more of a magenta tone overall. Manual mode was the most accurate, though skin tone here was a bit warm and reddish. The S5 IS required a +1.0 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, about average for this shot. Overall color with the Manual white balance setting is quite good, though the blue flowers are quite purplish. (Many digital cameras reproduce these flowers with a dark, purplish tint.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.

 

Outdoors, daylight
Slightly dark color, good exposure, though with high contrast in harsh lighting.

Auto White Balance,
+1.0 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Canon PowerShot S5 IS performed fairly well, with good exposure. Contrast is a little high in the outdoor house shot, but detail remains pretty strong in the shadows. On the outdoor portrait, shadow detail is less distinct, though highlights are reasonably good. The camera's adjustable contrast setting did even out the tones slightly at its lowest setting, but muddied skin tones a little and dimmed the overall exposure a small amount as well.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
High resolution, 1,500 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
1,500 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,500 lines vertical

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,500 lines per picture height. Extinction occurred around 1,900 lines. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Fairly sharp images overall, with only minor edge-enhancement on high-contrast subjects. However, noise suppression limits detail in the shadows.

Definition of high-contrast
elements is a little soft, especially
in the shadows, though some
edge enhancement is visible.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression blurs
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
as in the darker parts of
Marti's hair here.

Sharpness. The Canon PowerShot S5 IS' detail suffers from noise suppression, which significantly decreases detail at even the lowest ISO setting. Slight enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows fairly high noise suppression, with darker areas of Marti's hair showing limited detail. Individual stands are hinted at in the shadows, but not quite distinct enough. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low to moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, though a jump in noise with strong blurring at the higher settings.

ISO 80 ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1,600

Noise levels and efforts to suppress noise are visible at the Canon PowerShot S5 IS' lower sensitivity settings, with much higher noise and stronger blurring at ISO 200 and up. At ISOs 800 and 1,600, the grain pattern becomes progressively stronger, with a shift in overall color as well.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail, but slightly high contrast and limited shadow detail. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.

+0.7 EV +1.0 EV +1.3 EV

Sunlight:
The Canon PowerShot S5 IS had just a little trouble dealing with the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, producing very high contrast with deep shadows. Shadow detail is limited, with noticeable noise suppression in deep shadow areas. The camera required slightly more than average compensation to get proper exposure of skin tones, at +1.0 EV, which pushes highlights on the shirt a fair amount. The camera's low contrast setting did attempt to even out the exposure, though skin tones appear muddy and the overall exposure is dimmer. Be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)




  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
ISO
80
Click to see S5ISLL00803.jpg
3.2 sec
f3.0
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6.3 sec
f2.8
Click to see S5ISLL00805.jpg
9.9 sec
f2.9
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16 sec
f2.8
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16 sec
f2.8
ISO
100
Click to see S5ISLL01003.jpg
2.5 sec
f3.0
Click to see S5ISLL01004.jpg
5 sec
f2.8
Click to see S5ISLL01005.jpg
8 sec
f2.9
Click to see S5ISLL01006.jpg
16 sec
f3.0
Click to see S5ISLL01007.jpg
16 sec
f2.8
ISO
200
Click to see S5ISLL02003.jpg
1 sec
f2.8
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2.5 sec
f2.8
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4 sec
f2.9
Click to see S5ISLL02006.jpg
8 sec
f3.0
Click to see S5ISLL02007.jpg
16 sec
f3.0
ISO
400
Click to see S5ISLL04003.jpg
0.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see S5ISLL04004.jpg
1.2 sec
f2.9
Click to see S5ISLL04005.jpg
2 sec
f3.0
Click to see S5ISLL04006.jpg
4 sec
f3.0
Click to see S5ISLL04007.jpg
8 sec
f3.0
ISO
800
Click to see S5ISLL08003.jpg
1/4 sec
f2.8
Click to see S5ISLL08004.jpg
0.6 sec
f2.8
Click to see S5ISLL08005.jpg
1 sec
f3.0
Click to see S5ISLL08006.jpg
2 sec
f3.0
Click to see S5ISLL08007.jpg
4 sec
f3.0
ISO
1600
Click to see S5ISLL16003.jpg
1/8 sec
f2.8
Click to see S5ISLL16004.jpg
0.3 sec
f2.9
Click to see S5ISLL16005.jpg
0.5 sec
f2.9
Click to see S5ISLL16006.jpg
1 sec
f3.0
Click to see S5ISLL16007.jpg
2 sec
f3.0

Low light:
The Canon PowerShot S5 IS performed well on the low-light test, capturing bright images at the lowest light level with the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 80). Color balance was good with the Auto white balance setting. The camera's autofocus system worked well also, as it was able to focus on the subject down to the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted, and down to the darkest light level with the AF assist enabled. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the Shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

How bright is a foot-candle? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Flash

Coverage and Range
Uneven flash at close range and at telephoto, though it's surprising that the 12x telephoto end did this well. Our standard shots required higher than average exposure compensation, though coverage was pretty uniform.

36mm equivalent 432mm equivalent
Normal Flash
+1.3 EV
Slow-Sync Flash
+1.7 EV

Flash coverage was uneven at wide angle, with about average falloff in the corners and at the edges of the frame. At full telephoto, the target was too far away for the flash to illuminate it well, but results here are a little better than we've seen on long-zoom consumer digital cameras in the past. In the Indoor test, the S5 IS' flash underexposed our subject quite a bit at its default setting, requiring a +1.3 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get good results (higher than the average amount). The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced slightly brighter and more even results, though with a stronger pinkish-orange cast from the room lighting. Here, the camera required even more of an exposure boost, at +1.7 EV, which is unusual considering the typically longer exposure time.

Flash Range: Wide Angle
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
Click to see S5ISFL06W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL07W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL08W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL09W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL10W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL11W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
Click to see S5ISFL12W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL13W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL14W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL15W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL16W.jpg
1/64 sec
f2.8
ISO 100

Flash Range: Telephoto
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
Click to see S5ISFL06T.jpg
1/64 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL07T.jpg
1/64 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL08T.jpg
1/64 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL09T.jpg
1/64 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL10T.jpg
1/64 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL11T.jpg
1/64 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
Click to see S5ISFL12T.jpg
1/64 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL13T.jpg
1/64 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL14T.jpg
1/64 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL15T.jpg
1/64 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
Click to see S5ISFL16T.jpg
1/64 sec
f3.6
ISO 100

ISO 100 Range. At wide angle, flash shots at ISO 100 remained fairly bright out to a distance of about 16 feet. At full telephoto and ISO 100, the target at 16 feet was surprisingly bright, consistent with the other exposures from shorter range.


Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range
Wide Angle Telephoto
Click to see S5ISFL_MFR170WA0200.jpg
17.0 feet
Auto ISO 200
Click to see S5ISFL_MFR130TA0200.jpg
13.0 feet
Auto ISO 200

Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. In the wide angle shot above, the S5 IS seems to perform exactly as Canon says it will, producing a good exposure at the rated distance with its ISO set to Auto (which selected ISO 200). At telephoto, the image is only slightly dim, though the camera did not boost ISO to compensate. Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, good color, sharp 11x14 inch prints. ISO 400 images are soft but usable at 8x10, ISO 800 shots are better at 5x7.

The Canon S5 IS had enough resolution to make good looking 11x14 inch prints. 13x19 inch prints were reasonable, but soft, and chroma noise shows up in the shadows. ISO 200 shots are better than expected at 11x14 in terms of detail, but unfortunately shadows have blotchy chroma noise. ISO 400 shots are soft at 11x14, and chroma noise intensifies. At 8x10 detail returns, though color is still less saturated. ISO 800 images have noisy shadows at 8x10, and color is still more muted, but it's not a terrible at arm's length. At 5x7 ISO 800 results are quite good. ISO 1,600 images are rough at 5x7, with very grainy shadows, and a more pointillist painting feel throughout, which doesn't get much better at 4x6.

We suggest you keep your ISO below 800 and don't expect to enlarge above 11x14.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Canon PowerShot S5 IS Photo Gallery.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!

Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Canon PowerShot S5 IS with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

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