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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot S5 IS  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Posted: July 11, 2007
Updated: December 31, 2011

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The Canon PowerShot S5 IS ($499) is the follow-up to the incredibly popular PowerShot S3, which was introduced in February of last year. The S5 takes an already excellent camera and improves up on it, adding these new features:

  • 8 Megapixel CCD (versus 6MP on the S3)
  • DIGIC III image processor
  • Large LCD display (2.5" vs 2.0")
  • Hot shoe for external flash
  • Higher top sensitivity (ISO 1600 vs 800)
  • In-camera redeye reduction
  • Face detection AF
  • Ability to record longer movie clips

What hasn't changed since the S3? The S5 IS still has a 12X optical zoom lens, optical image stabilization, full manual controls, a rotating LCD display, and a top-notch movie mode. A few things have changed for the worse, though, including the continuous shooting rate and battery life.

The PowerShot S3 (along with its two predecessors) was one of my top picks in the ultra zoom category. Does the new S5 continue the tradition? Find out now in our review!

What's in the Box?

The PowerShot S5 IS has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 8.0 effective Megapixel PowerShot S5 camera
  • 32MB Secure Digital memory card
  • Four AA alkaline batteries
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V output cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
  • 33 page basic + 201 page advanced + 84 page software manuals (all printed)

Canon includes a 32MB memory card with the S5, which holds a grand total of eight photos at the highest quality setting. So, unless you have one laying around, you'll want to pick up a larger card right away. The S5 supports SD, SDHC, and MMC media, and I'd recommend picking up a 1GB card at the very least. If you plan on taking a lot of movies, spring for a 4GB SDHC card. Having a high speed card is important with this camera, so look for one with a speed rating of at least 60X (for SD) or Class 4 (for SDHC).

Like its predecessors, the S5 IS uses four AA batteries for power. Canon includes four alkaline batteries in the box, which will quickly find their way into your trash can. Thus, you'll want to get a set or two of NiMH rechargeable batteries (2500 mAh or better) and a fast charger. Once you have those installed, you'll get these battery life numbers:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon PowerShot S3 IS * 550 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Canon PowerShot S5 IS * 450 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Fuji FinePix S6000fd 400 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Fuji FinePix S9100 320 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Kodak EasyShare Z712 IS * 275 shots KLIC-8000
Olympus SP-550 Ultra Zoom * 530 shots 4 x 2300 mAh NiMH
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 * 380 shots CGR-S006
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 * 360 shots CGR-S006
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 * 300 shots NP-BG1
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 * 280 shots NP-BG1

* Has image stabilization

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

As you can see, the S5's battery life is a good 20% lower than on the S3. I'm guessing that the larger LCD has a lot to do with this. Despite that, the S5's numbers are still well above the group average.

I'm a big fan of cameras that use AA batteries. They cost less than their proprietary counterparts, and if your rechargeables dies you can just pull some regular alkalines off the shelf to get you through the day. About half of the normal-sized ultra zooms use AAs.

A lot of people complained about the lens cap on the S3, and it's been reworked a bit here. Unfortunately it still pops off way too easily, probably to keep the lens from jamming.

Like accessories? Then the PowerShot S5 will be right up your alley. Here's what you can add to it:

Accessory Model # Price * Why you want it
Wide-angle lens WC-DC58A From $138 Brings the wide end of the lens down by 0.75X to 27 mm; requires conversion lens adapter
Telephoto lens TC-DC58B $99 Boosts focal range by 1.5X to a whopping 648 mm; requires conversion lens adapter
Close-up lens 500D (58 mm) From $85 Lets you use the telephoto end of the lens for macro shooting; minimum focus distance at telephoto is 35 cm; requires conversion lens adapter
Conversion lens adapter / lens hood LAH-DC20 From $23 Required for conversion lenses; you can attach standard 58 mm filters to it as well; a lens hood is also included
External flash 220EX
580EX II
From $119
From $209
From $425
More powerful flashes that also reduce the likelihood of redeye
AC adapter CA-PS700 From $45 Power the camera without wasting your batteries
Battery/charger kit CBK4-300 From $40 Includes four 2500 mAh NiMH batteries and a charger
* Prices were accurate when review was posted

That's a pretty nice list if you ask me. The big story here is the support for external flashes, courtesy of the S5's new hot shoe. You can still use the HF-DC1 slave flash, but why would you want to?

ImageBrowser (Mac OS X)

Canon includes version 30.2 of their Digital Camera Solution software package with the PowerShot S5. The main applications are the ImageBrowser/ZoomBrowser "twins" that come with all PowerShot models. ImageBrowser is for the Mac, while ZoomBrowser is for Windows PCs. The Mac version is not Universal, so it doesn't run as fast as it could on Intel-based Macs.

After you download photos via the CameraWindow application, you'll end up with the screen above, which has a standard-issue thumbnail view. Photos can be organized, printed, and e-mailed from this screen. There's also a rather bizarre TimeTunnel view that lets you view thumbnails in a "tunnel", with a jog dial that lets you move forward and backward in time.

Double-click on a thumbnail and you'll bring up the edit window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve.

RemoteCapture Task (Mac OS X)

Another nice part of the software bundle is the RemoteCapture Task. As its name implies, the software lets you control the S5 over the USB connection, saving photos directly to your computer instead of a memory card. You can control virtually all of the camera's features, as you can see. This is a feature that is extremely rare on consumer-level cameras, and Canon gets bonus points from me for offering it.

ImageBrowser - MovieEdit Task (Mac OS X)

One of the big features on the S5 is its movie mode, and Canon provides a tool that lets you take advantage of it. The MovieEdit task lets you edit videos, complete with transitions, effects, text overlays, and much more. Perhaps the most important feature is the ability to downsize the videos, which makes them easier to share with friends via e-mail or your website.

PhotoStitch (Mac OS X)

A separate program called PhotoStitch can, well, stitch together separate photos into one giant panorama. The interface is simple, the process takes minutes, and the results are impressive, as you can see. You can use the S5's StitchAssist feature to line up the photos side-by-side with just the right amount of overlap.

The S5's documentation comes in several parts. You get a basic manual to get you up and running, and an advanced manual for more complex camera features. There are also separate manuals for the bundled software and for direct printing (via PictBridge). While the manuals aren't what I'd call pleasure reading, they will answer any question that may come up about the camera.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot S5's design has changed very little since the S3. And that's a good thing, because it's was a pretty well designed camera to start with. The S5 is made of a mixture of plastic and metal, and it feels really solid in your hands. Speaking of which, there's a large grip for your right hand, while your left hand can fit comfortably under the lens barrel.

The camera's button layout still leaves something to be desired. There are buttons all over the place, and not necessarily in easy-to-reach locations. That said, the controls you'll use the most are within easy reach of your fingers.

Okay, here's how the PowerShot S5 compares to the competition in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot S3 IS 4.6 x 3.1 x 3.0 in. 42.8 cu in. 410 g
Canon PowerShot S5 IS 4.6 x 3.2 x 3.1 in. 45.6 cu in. 450 g
Fujifilm FinePix S6000fd 5.2 x 3.8 x 5.0 in. 98.8 cu in. 600 g
Fujifilm FinePix S9100 5.0 x 3.7 x 5.1 in. 94.4 cu in. 650 g
Kodak Easyshare Z712 IS 4.1 x 2.9 x 2.7 in. 32.1 cu in. 300 g
Olympus SP-550 Ultra Zoom 4.6 x 3.1 x 3.1 in. 44.2 cu in. 365 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 5.5 x 3.4 x 5.6 in. 104.7 cu in. 668 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 4.4 x 2.8 x 3.1 in. 38.2 cu in. 310 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 4.3 x 3.3 x 3.4 in. 48.2 cu in. 375 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 4.3 x 3.3 x 3.4 in. 48.2 cu in. 375 g

The S5 has put on a little weight compared to the S3, due to its larger LCD. The S5 is average-sized, though slightly heavier than the competition. While it's certainly not going to fit into you jeans pocket, the S5 is still not much of a burden to carry over your shoulder, in a jacket pocket, or in a camera bag.

Okay, let's start our tour of the S5 now, beginning with the front of the camera.

The PowerShot S5 has the same F2.7-3.5, 12X optical zoom lens as its predecessor. This lens has a focal length of 6 - 72 mm, which is equivalent to 36 - 432 mm. The lens has an ultrasonic motor, so it moves silently, which is important when it comes time to record movies. While the lens itself is not threaded, you can remove the plastic ring around the lens barrel (by pressing the button to the lower-left) and attach the optional conversion lens adapter. From there you can attach one of the three conversion lenses I mentioned earlier, or any 58 mm filter.

Hidden deep inside the lens is Canon's optical image stabilization system. Image stabilizers help counteract the effects of "camera shake". You'll notice this mostly when the camera is at the telephoto end of the lens or in low light, where tiny movements of your hand turn into big movements in your photo, resulting in blurring. The camera detects this motion, and moves a lens element to compensate for it. It won't work miracles, but it will allow you to get blur-free photos at shutter speeds that would be unusable on an unstabilized camera.

How well does Canon's OIS system work? I've got two examples for you.

Image stabilization off

Image stabilization on

I took both of these shots at 1/13 second, and as you can see, the unstabilized shot came out blurry. If you want another example of the OIS system's performance, then have a look at this short sample movie.

Directly above the lens is the S5's pop-up flash, which is raised manually. The flash strength is unchanged since the S3, with a working range of 0.5 - 5.2 m at wide-angle and 0.9 - 4.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO), which is pretty good. If you want more flash power, and less redeye, then you may want to consider adding an external flash -- I'll show you where it goes in a second.

Between the lens and the flash are the PowerShot S5's stereo microphones. You won't find many cameras with this feature. To the left of those is the self-timer + redeye reduction + tally lamp. The tally lamp turns on when the camera is recording video.

Jumping now to the opposite side of the microphones, we find the S5's AF-assist lamp. The camera uses this is a focusing aid in low light situations.

One of the nicest features on the PowerShot S5 is its flip-out, rotating LCD display. The screen is both larger and higher resolution than the on the PowerShot S3, keeping the S5 competitive with other high-end ultra zooms. The screen rotates 270 degrees, from pointing at the ceiling all the way around to facing your subject. When you have the LCD "turned around", the image on the screen is flipped, so it's still right side up. You can put the LCD in the more traditional position (seen below), or close it entirely and use the viewfinder.

I'm a big fan of rotating LCDs. They let you shoot over the heads of those in front of you, or take ground level shots without having to get on your hands and knees. It may sound gimmicky, but once you try it, you'll be sold too.

One of the nicest upgrades on the PowerShot S5 is its LCD. It's now up to 2.5" inches in size, compared to 2.0" on the S3 and 1.8" on the S2. The resolution has gone up considerably as well, from 115k to 207k pixels, so everything is nice and sharp. Outdoor visibility was decent, and low light visibility was great, as the screen brightens automatically in those situations.

Directly about the LCD is the S5's electronic viewfinder, or EVF. The EVF is a small LCD that you view as if it was an optical viewfinder. It shows the same things as the LCD, and since its displaying 100% of the frame, there's no parallax error to worry about. Unfortunately, "real" optical viewfinders are brighter and sharper than their electronic counterparts. The screen here is average in terms of both size (0.33") and resolution (115k pixels). The EVF isn't terribly easy to see outdoors, as the eyepiece lets in a lot of ambient light. In low light, the screen does brighten up, though. On the side of the EVF is a diopter correction knob, which focuses what you're looking at.

To the left of the viewfinder is the Print/Share button, which serves many purposes. In record mode, it's a "shortcut" button, whose function can be customized. If you have the Auto ISO Shift feature is on, the light on this button will blink, warning you that your photo may turn out blurry. Press the button and the camera will boost the ISO to the setting that will result in a sharp photo.

When you're connected to a printer or PC, the Print/Share button lights up. If its a printer you're connected to, pressing the button prints the currently displayed image. If you're hooked into a Mac or PC, the button will transfer photos to your computer, even allowing you to set the desktop background.

On the opposite side of the EVF is the S5's dedicated movie recording button. Press it once to start recording, and again to stop. While you're "filming", you can take a still photo using the normal method, though the movie will pause briefly while this happens. I'll have much more on the S5's movie mode later in the review.

Continuing to the right, we find the camera's four-way controller. You'll use this for menu navigation, adjusting manual settings, and for setting the exposure compensation (with the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments range).

The S5's face detection system found three faces (the maximum) in our test scene. The one in white is the "main" subject. Pressing the shutter release halfway locked onto five faces

Below the four-way controller are the Set and Menu buttons. In addition to its duties as the "ok" button in menus, the Set button also activates the camera's FlexiZone autofocus system. This lets you use the four-way controller to select a point in the frame on which to focus. This comes in handy when the camera is on a tripod. When FlexiZone is turned off, the button toggles between center-frame and face detection AF. Yes, the PowerShot S5 has face detection, it works quite well. The camera will lock onto as many as nine faces, and will make sure that they are properly exposed.

To the left of those buttons are three more, which include:

  • Function + Delete Photo
  • ISO (Auto, Auto Hi ISO, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600) + Jump (move through images quickly)
  • Display (switches between the LCD and EVF and also toggles what is shown on them)

Like the PowerShot S3 before it, the S5 has two Auto ISO modes, with the "Hi" option uses higher sensitivities than the regular one. You should only use the Auto Hi ISO option if you know that you'll be making small prints, as the resulting images can be quite noisy. The S5's top ISO is higher than the S3 (1600 vs 800), and we'll see how those images look later in the review.

Function menu

Pressing the Function button opens the -- get ready -- function menu! Here are the options you'll find there:

  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, flash, custom) - see below
  • My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, positive film, lighter skin tone, darker skin tone, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, custom color) - see below
  • Bracket (Off, exposure, focus) - see below
  • Flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments) or flash output (1/3, 2/3, full) - which option you get depends on your shooting mode
  • Metering mode (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • Resolution (see chart later in review)
  • Compression (see chart later in review)

A few of those options require further explanation. The custom white balance option lets you use a white or gray card as reference so you can get perfect color even under the most unusual lighting conditions. Every camera should have this, but that dream hasn't be realized just yet.

Most of the My Colors options should be self-explanatory, but I do want to mention the Custom Color feature. This lets you adjust the levels of contrast, sharpness, saturation, reds, greens, blues, and skin tones in your photos. Each of those options can be adjusted from -2 to +2 in 1-step increments. There are two more My Colors options (color swap and color accent) that I'll tell you about in a bit.

Exposure bracketing

Like its predecessor, the S5 supports both exposure and focus bracketing, which helps you ensure properly exposed or focused shots. Exposure bracketing takes three shots in a row each with a different exposure. The interval between shots can be ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV or ±1EV. Focus bracketing works in a similar way, with the camera taking three shots, each with a different focus distance. The first shot uses the selected focus position, while the next two are focused a little closer and a little further away, respectively. You have a range of +1 to -1 in 1/3-step increments, though I have no idea how much distance these steps represent. Do note that focus bracketing is for use with manual focus only.

Believe it or not, that's everything on the back of the camera.

The first thing to see on the top of the PowerShot S5 is the flash setting / microphone button over on the left side. In record mode, pressing this button toggles the flash between automatic and forced mode (redeye reduction and slow sync are turned on in the menu). In playback mode, a press of this button will allow you to attach a 60 second audio clip to an image.

To the right of that is one of the S5's other big new features: a hot shoe. This lets you attach a Canon or third party flash, giving you better flash range and potentially less redeye. Canon flashes will work the best, as they fully integrate with the camera's metering system. Other flashes will need their settings adjusted manually. The S5 can sync as fast as 1/250 sec with an external flash.

Next up we have the S5's mode dial, which has these options:

Option Function
Movie mode I'll have much more on this later
Stitch Assist Helps with the creation of panoramic shots; you can go left to right, right to left, top to bottom, bottom to top, or clockwise
Special scene mode If the scene modes below don't do it for you, here are several more: night scene, indoor, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, aquarium, color accent, and color swap; see below for more
Sports Four commonly used scene modes
Night snapshot
Auto record mode Fully automatic, most menu options locked up
Program mode Still automatic but with full menu access; a program shift feature (activated by pressing the ISO button when the shutter release is halfway pressed) lets you move through various aperture/shutter speed combinations
Shutter Priority (Tv) mode You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a range of 15 - 1/3200 sec; Do note that the fastest shutter speeds are only available at the smallest apertures
Aperture Priority (Av) mode You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed; aperture range is F2.7 - F8.0
Full Manual (M) mode You pick the aperture and shutter speed. See above for values.
Custom mode Your favorite camera settings can be saved here for easy retrieval

As you can see, the PowerShot S5 has a full suite of manual exposure controls, and plenty of auto modes too. The custom mode is handy -- here you can store your favorite camera settings for easy retrieval later.

Two of the scene modes are actually My Colors features. Color Accent lets you select a color to highlight, and the rest of the image is turned to black & white. Color swap does just as it sounds: you swap one color for another. They're gimmicky, but fun for a while.

To the right of the mode dial is the power switch, which also moves the S5 between record and playback mode. Above that is the drive button, which has these options: single-shot, continuous, continuous AF, and self-timer (2 or 10 sec + custom). Like all of Canon's cameras, the S5's continuous shooting mode lets you keep firing away until your high speed memory card is full. The "regular" continuous shooting mode has a fairly average burst rate of 1.5 frames/second, down from 2.1 fps on the S3. The continuous AF mode refocuses before each shot, which drops the burst rate down to 0.9 frames/second. If you're manually focusing, or using the fireworks scene mode, there's a third mode available known as continuous live view. This also shoots at 0.9 fps, but it doesn't refocus like the continuous AF mode does. Whichever mode you use, the LCD and EVF keep up fairly well with the action, with only a slight blackout between each shot.

The final thing to see on the top of the PowerShot S5 is the zoom controller, which wraps around the shutter release button. Like the S3 before it, the S5's zoom controller is a bit too sensitive for my taste. At "full speed", the controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 0.9 seconds. If you put less pressure on the controller, you can move the lens slower, with the camera taking over 3.5 seconds to pass through the entire range. There were over twenty steps in the 12X zoom range.

On this side of the PowerShot S5 you'll find two focus-related buttons and the speaker. The lens is shown at the wide-angle position.

Manual focus (center-frame enlargement not shown)

Pressing the manual focus button lets you use the four-way controller to set the focus distance. A guide showing the focus distance is shown on the LCD/EVF and the center of the frame is enlarged as well. If you need a little help getting things focused, you can press the Set button to activate the autofocus system.

The button below that activates the macro and super macro features, and I'll have more on those later in the review.

Here's the opposite side of the camera, with the lens at full telephoto. The ports here include:

  • DC-in (for optional AC adapter)
  • A/V out
  • USB

Two notes before we wrap up the tour. First, the camera outputs sound in stereo, which makes sense, as that's the way it's recorded. Secondly, the PowerShot S5 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol, for fast data transfer to a Mac or PC.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount (it was plastic on the S3), plus the battery/memory card compartment. As you can see, you will not be able to swap memory cards while the S5 is on a tripod mount -- a disappointment. The door covering the battery/memory compartment is quite sturdy.

The S5 actually uses five batteries: four AAs, plus a watch battery that sit between them and the memory card slot in the above photo. This watch battery stores the date and time, and should last for years.

Using the Canon PowerShot S5 IS

Record Mode

The PowerShot S5 has one of the fastest startup times of any ultra zoom, taking just 0.9 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting.

A live histogram is available in record mode

While not the fastest focusing camera out there, the S5 still has above average focus times. In the best case scenarios (good lighting, wide-angle), it takes the camera between 0.2 and 0.4 seconds to lock focus. At the telephoto end, you can expect to wait twice as long as that, though rarely any longer. Low light focusing was quick and accurate, thanks to the S5's AF-assist lamp.

I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds at which it can occur.

Shot-to-shot speeds were excellent, with a delay of about one second between shots.

You can delete a picture as it's been saved to the memory card by pressing the Function/Delete Photo button.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the camera:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # Images on 32MB card
# images on 1GB card (optional)
3264 x 2448
Superfine 3.4 MB 8 278
Fine 2.0 MB 14 462
Normal 980 KB 29 958
Wide (16:9)
3264 x 1832
Superfine 2.5 MB 11 366
Fine 1.5 MB 18 614
Normal 736 KB 39 1284
Middle 1
2592 x 1944
Superfine 2.4 MB 11 380
Fine 1.5 MB 20 678
Normal 695 KB 41 1342
Middle 2
2048 x 1536
Superfine 1.6 MB 18 590
Fine 893 KB 32 1058
Normal 445 KB 64 2082
Middle 3
1600 x 1200
Superfine 1002 KB 29 942
Fine 558 KB 52 1678
Normal 278 KB 99 3180
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 111 3554
Fine 150 KB 171 5494
Normal 84 KB 270 8634

That's a pretty good selection of options, if you ask me. One thing missing is support for the RAW image format. There are some ultra zooms that support it, but the S5 isn't one of them.

Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The PowerShot S5 uses the standard Canon menu system. It's attractive, responsive, and easy to navigate. Here's the full list of items in the record menu:

  • FlexiZone (on/off) - described earlier: lets you select a focus point anywhere in the frame
  • Digital Zoom (Off, 1.6X, 2.0X, Standard) - see below
  • Flash sync (1st curtain, 2nd curtain)
  • Slow synchro (on/off)
  • Flash adjust (on/off) - lets you adjust the flash strength via the function menu when in aperture or shutter priority mode
  • Redeye reduction (on/off) - uses the redeye reduction lamp to reduce this annoyance
  • Safety FE (on/off) - adjusts the exposure in P/A/S mode when using the flash to prevent over/under exposure
  • Custom self-timer - a very handy feature
    • Delay (0-10, 15, 20, 30 secs)
    • Number of shots (1 - 10)
  • Spot AE point (Center, AF point) - whether the spot metering measures exposure at the center of the frame, or at the AF point
  • Auto ISO shift (on/off) - see below
  • MF-point zoom (on/off) - center-frame enlargement in manual focus mode
  • Safety MF (on/off) - lets you use the autofocus while in manual focus mode
  • AF mode (Single, continuous) - see below
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Tally lamp (on/off) - whether this light illuminates when you're recording movies
  • Review (Off, 2-10 seconds, hold) - post-shot review
  • Save original (on/off) - whether an unretouched copy of a photo taken in My Colors mode is saved
  • Reverse display (on/off) - whether the image on the LCD is flipped when you turn the LCD all the way around
  • Auto category (on/off) - puts photos into categories based on your shooting mode; more on this later
  • Display overlay (Off, gridlines, 3:2 guide, both)
  • IS mode (Off, continuous, shoot only, panning) - see below
  • Converter (Off, wide, tele, close-up) - for using conversion lenses
  • Custom display settings - you can have fours sets of display options, two for the LCD and two for the EVF
    • Shooting info (on/off)
    • Grid lines (on/off)
    • 3:2 guide (on/off)
    • Histogram (on/off)
  • Set Shortcut button (Off, metering, white balance, custom WB, digital tele-converter, AE lock, AF lock, display off) - redefine what the Print/Share button does

The S5 supports Canon's "new" digital zoom feature. Canon calls the 1.6X and 2X options a "digital tele-converter" -- it's basically just fixed digital zoom. The Standard option is what you'll find on every camera. The S5's Safety Zoom feature warns you when you pass the point where image quality is degraded. When you're shooting at the highest resolution that starts as soon as digital zoom kicks in, but if you're using a lower resolution you can use it for a little while before that happens (e.g. you can go up to 19X total zoom at the 3 Megapixel "M2" resolution). This feature can be found on other cameras (Sony calls it Smart Zoom; Panasonic: Extended Optical Zoom), and you can do the same thing in your favorite photo editor as well. You can see this feature in action below:

Safety Zoom Example (at M2 resolution)
Full wide-angle
(1X / 36 mm)
Full telephoto
(12X / 432 mm)
Full telephoto + safety zoom
(19X / 684 mm)

Again, you'll have to lower the resolution in order to take advantage of the Safety Zoom feature, which shouldn't be a big deal if you'll only be making small prints.

After using it on several 2007 PowerShots, I've found the Auto ISO Shift feature to be quite handy. If you halfway press the shutter release button and get the flashing red "shake warning" on the LCD or EVF, you can press the blinking Print/Share button, and the camera will choose a higher ISO that will result in a sharp photo. Of course, pressing the Print/Share button while simultaneously holding down the shutter release isn't easy -- it requires two hands.

There are two autofocus modes on the camera. Single AF is your standard "press the shutter release halfway and the camera will lock focus" feature. Continuous AF mode is always trying to focus, even when you're not touching the shutter release. This means faster focus times (and movies that stay in focus), but less battery life.

There are three image stabilization modes to choose from on the S5. Continuous IS starts reducing shake as soon as you halfway-press the shutter release, which aids in photo composition. For more effective image stabilization you'll want to use the "shoot only" mode, which activates the OIS system when the photo is actually taken. The panning mode only stabilizes up and down motion, which you'll want to use when you're tracking a subject moving from side to side. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable when shooting on a tripod.

One feature that has gone the way of the dodo bird since the S3 is the Intervalometer -- a fancy word for a time-lapse photo function.

The setup tab in the menu has the following items:

  • Mute (on/off) - turns off all the beeps
  • Volume
    • Startup volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Operation volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Self-timer volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Shutter volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Playback volume (Off, 1-5)
  • Audio
    • Mic level (Auto, manual)
    • Level (-40 to 0 dB) - for use in manual mode
    • Wind filter (on/off)
  • LCD/EVF brightness (Normal, bright) - the LCD and viewfinder maintain their own setting
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Time zone (Home/world)
  • Date/time
  • Clock display (0-10, 20, 30 secs, 1-3 mins) - the S5 doubles as the world's bulkiest watch
  • Card format
  • File number reset (on/off) - maintain file numbering
  • Create folder
    • Create new folder - on the memory card
    • Auto create (Off, daily, weekly, monthly) - this new features will automatically create new folders on the memory card at set intervals
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
  • Distance units (m/cm, ft/in) - for the focus range which is shown on the LCD
  • Lens retract (1 min, 0 secs) - how quickly the lens retracts when you switch to playback mode
  • Language
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Print Method (Auto, PictBridge)
  • Reset all - back to defaults

Audio settings

Only thing to mention here is that audio menu, which offers features that you won't find on your typical digital camera. That includes manual audio level adjustment, and a wind filter for those breezy days (which is every day here).

There's also a separate My Camera menu, which lets you select the startup screen and sound effects that the camera makes.

Okay, enough about that, let's do photo tests now!

The PowerShot S5 IS did a great job with our macro test. Colors are both accurate and saturated, and the figurine has the "smooth" look that has become somewhat of a trademark of Canon cameras.

There are two macro modes on the S5. The standard macro mode, which works only for the first quarter of the focal range, has a minimum focus distance of 10 cm, which is average. For real close-ups you'll want to use super macro mode, which locks the lens at the wide end, and reduces the focal range to 0 cm. That's not a typo -- you can literally have the lens up against your subject.

The night shot turned out equally well, though that new sign on the US Bank building makes this shot less appealing that it used to be. With its manual control over shutter speed, bringing it enough light was easy on the S5. The buildings are nice and sharp, though noise is visible here at ISO 80. Purple fringing levels were fairly low.

I've got two ISO tests in this review, and the first one uses the night scene above. Here's how the camera performs at each ISO sensitivity in low light:

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

The ISO 80 and 100 shots look about the same. At ISO 200 we start to see some detail loss, though I'd say that you could still make a midsize print at that setting. Noise reduction starts to take over at ISO 400, so this is as high as I'd let the camera go in low light. If you run the ISO 400 shot through noise reduction software like NeatImage, you can get a decent quality 4 x 6 print out of it. Once you hit ISO 800 there's substantial detail loss, which gets even worse at ISO 1600.

More ISO testing in a bit.

There's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the PowerShot S5's 12X zoom lens. The best real world example of this can be found when you take pictures like this, where the buildings appear to curve inward.

While I didn't find vignetting to be a problem on the S5, I did notice some slight blurring in the corners of a few shots. It seems that S5's 8 Megapixel sensor is really pushing the lens to its limits.

Like the S3 before it, the PowerShot S5 has a big problem with redeye, even with the redeye reduction feature turned on. The camera doesn't use preflashes for this -- rather, it uses the self-timer lamp, which isn't bright enough to dilate your pupils. And thus, you get some pretty nasty demon eyes.

But there is some good news in this area: the PowerShot S5 finally has in-camera redeye reduction, which does a fairly good job of getting rid of this annoyance:

While it's not perfect, the redeye is gone. It's too bad you can't have this run automatically when you take a flash photo!

And now it's time for ISO test number two, which is shot in my studio (such as it is). You can compare this test with those in other reviews on this site, and I recommend loading up the Olympus SP-550, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50, and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 reviews if you can. While the crops below give you a quick view of the differences at the various ISO sensitivities, it's a good idea to view the full-size images as well. And with that...

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

The ISO 100 shot is just a tad bit noisier than the ISO 80 shot. The ISO 200 photo has more visible noise, but since there's not much in the line of noise reduction artifacting, details are intact. There's more noticeable detail loss at ISO 400, though Canon is still going pretty easy on the noise reduction at this point (look at the ISO 400 shot from the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 to see too much NR). The ISO 800 photo is quite noisy, and is really going to require a trip through some noise reduction software before you can do anything with it. I ran the ISO 800 cat photo in our gallery through NeatImage, and the result is good enough for a small print for the refrigerator. I would pass on the ISO 1600 photo, as there's too much detail loss to really do anything with it.

Like the previous models in the PowerShot S-series, the S5 IS takes very good quality photos. They're well-exposed, with pleasing colors and exposure. Image sharpness is right about where I like it: not too sharp, not too soft. Noise levels are higher than on the S3 (which isn't surprising, given the increase in resolution), especially in low light situations. Purple fringing popped up a bit, but it wasn't too bad. Still, seeing some of that plus the corner blurring makes me think that the next S-series camera should have a new lens, especially since the resolution will likely increase.

That said, have a look at our photo gallery. There you'll find seventeen photos that you can view and print at your leisure. Once you've browsed through them you should be able to decide if the PowerShot S5's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The PowerShot S3 had a great movie mode, held back only by its 1GB file size limit. The PowerShot S5's DIGIC III image processor raises that limit to 4GB, increasing recording times by a factor of four (yes, I'm a math genius). And that's good news.

The S5 records videos at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with stereo sound until either the memory card hits that golden 4GB limit, or the movie clip hits 1 hour. Since your memory card is filling up at a rate of 2MB/sec at this quality, you'll hit that limit after about thirty minutes of continuous video recording. If you want to record longer movies (remember, these are per-clip limits) you can try out the new "long play" VGA resolution, which simply compresses the videos more. This allows for 55 minutes of continuous recording.

There are two 320 x 240 modes available, with only the frame rate differing. There's a standard 30 fps mode, plus a fast 60 fps mode available for capturing action.

As I mentioned earlier, you can take a still photo right in the middle of your movie recording. The movie will pause briefly while the image is recorded, but then it keeps on going. The image stabilizer is active, and so is the optical zoom. You may be able to hear some motor noise if you zoom in and out, but it's pretty quiet overall.

Movies are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.

I have two sample movies for you. The first was taken at the highest quality setting, while the second was taken at the 640 x 480 "Long Play" setting.

Click to play movie (24.2 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime

Click to play movie (12.1 MB, 640 x 480 LP, 30 fps, AVI format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime

Playback Mode

The PowerShot S5 has a very nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows, image protection, image rotation, voice captions, thumbnail view (which is nicer than on most cameras, as it enlarges the photo you're looking at), and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the picture up to 10X, and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. When you're zoomed in you can press the Func/Set button and then move from photo to photo at the same magnification setting, which is handy.

I already told you about the effective redeye removal tool that can be found in the playback menu. It's quick and painless to use, and your original image can be saved. Most of the My Colors features can be used in playback mode, save for Color Accent, Color Swap, and Custom Color.

The S5 also lets you "trim" a movie clip you've recorded, by cutting parts off of the beginning and/or end that you don't want. You can overwrite the original file, or create a new one.

Assigning a category to a photo

The new My Category feature lets you assign photos to any of seven possible categories. If you have Auto Category turned on in the recording menu then this will be done automatically for some of your photos, depending on what shooting mode you used to record them. There are three custom categories, though I don't see a way to give them a name instead of the generic "My Category 1". You can select images by their category and display slide shows of them, or delete/protect them.

The Jump feature lets you move forward or back 10 or 100 photos at a time, and you can also go to the first photo in a category or folder. As the screenshot above shows, you can also jump ahead by date using this feature.

In addition to recording stills and videos, the PowerShot S5 can also be used for recording audio clips. You can record up to two hours of continuous audio at the sampling rate of your choosing, as long as its 11 kHz, 22 kHz, or 44 kHz. Sound is recorded in stereo, as you'd expect.

By default you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. But press the Display button and you'll get more info, including a histogram.

The PowerShot S5 moves between images almost instantly, with your choice of two snazzy transitions. Like most of Canon's other cameras, when you rotate the camera 90 degrees, the photo on the LCD rotates too.

How Does it Compare?

With a host of improvements, the Canon PowerShot S5 IS remains one of my favorite ultra zoom cameras. The "old" PowerShot S3 offered almost every feature one could want on a camera: a 12X optical zoom, optical image stabilization, full manual controls, an advanced movie mode, and a rotating LCD display. On the PowerShot S5 IS, Canon added a new image processor, larger LCD, and hot shoe, making it even more desirable. The larger LCD knocked the S5's battery life numbers down quite a bit compared to the S3, and images are a bit noisier as well due to the higher resolution CCD. Even with a few flaws, this is a top-notch camera, and one that I can easily recommend.

At first glance, the PowerShot S5 doesn't look a whole lot different than its predecessor. But if you look closer, you'll notice that the LCD has grown from 2.0" to 2.5", and that a hot shoe has magically appeared on the top of the camera. Canon also stuffed an 8 Megapixel sensor into the S5, compared to 6 Megapixel on the S3. Everything else is about the same, and that's a good thing. You get a nice 12X zoom lens, with a fairly standard 36 - 432 mm focal range. If you want to expand on that, Canon offers both wide and telephoto conversion lenses. The optical image stabilization is also unchanged from the S3, and it works quite well, both for still and video shooting. I already mentioned that the S5's LCD is larger than ever before. Well, it's also higher resolution, with 207,000 pixels. The screen is visible both in bright outdoor light and in dimly lit rooms, and it can rotate 270 degrees, which is quite handy. The electronic viewfinder isn't quite as nice -- it's not terribly sharp, and it can be hard to see outdoors. The camera is very well put together -- perhaps even more so that the S3 -- though you still can't swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

The PowerShot S5 is packed with features, and some of the new ones were really needed. If you're a point-and-shoot type of person, then you'll like the S5's numerous automatic and scene modes. There's also the Safety Zoom feature, which lets you get more zoom power out of the camera without lowering the image quality, though you will have to lower the resolution in order to use it. Enthusiasts will enjoy the full manual controls and the ability to control the camera from a computer. There's still no support for the RAW image format, though. Everyone will like the camera's superb movie mode, which lets you record up to 30 minutes of continuous VGA-quality video with stereo sound (up from 9 minutes on the S3). Both the optical zoom and image stabilizer are active during movie recording, and you can activate a wind filter or adjust the microphone level if you wish. Another much-appreciated feature is the new redeye reduction tool in playback mode -- and you'll likely need it.

Camera performance was very good. The PowerShot S5 starts up in an incredible 0.9 seconds -- twice as fast as its predecessor. Focus speeds were snappy, and in low light situations the camera locked focus without difficulty (thanks to its AF-assist lamp). Shutter lag was minimal, as were shot-to-shot times. While the burst rate has understandably dropped since the lower resolution PowerShot S3, the S5's continuous shooting mode is still pretty good. You can keep shooting at 1.5 frames/second until your high speed memory card fills up. Battery life has also taken a pretty big dive since the S3, but it's still well above average in the ultra zoom category. Like all Canon cameras, the S5 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol, for fast data transfer to your Mac or PC.

The PowerShot S5's image quality is some of the best you'll find on an ultra zoom. The camera takes well-exposed, colorful photos with just the right amount of sharpness. At lower ISO settings, images have an almost D-SLR-like "smooth" appearance to them. Noise doesn't become a problem until ISO 400 in good light, and ISO 200 in low light. ISO 800 is usable (in good light) if you use noise reduction software, but you might as well forget about using ISO 1600. There seemed to be more purple fringing and corner blurriness than on the S3 (but not enough to be concerned about), which tells me that the S5's lens is really being pushed hard. One big problem that remains on the PowerShot S5 is redeye -- it's pretty awful. The good news is that the redeye removal tool in playback mode gets rid of it quickly and easily.

While I got in most of my complaints about the S5 in the preceding paragraphs, here are a few more. This may sound silly, but the "new" lens cap is still lousy. It pops off way too easily. The zoom controller remains too sensitive, at least in this reviewer's opinion. And lastly, it would've been nice had Canon included some rechargeable batteries with the PowerShot S5. Hey, I can dream, right?

While not perfect, the Canon PowerShot S5 IS is still one of the best ultra zooms on the market. It offers a nice blend of photo quality, performance, and features that appeal to both beginners and enthusiasts. I can recommend the S5 to just about anyone interested in an ultra zoom camera. If you're a PowerShot S3 owner wondering if you should upgrade, I would only say "yes" if you need the hot shoe and longer movie recording times. Otherwise, stick with what you have!

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • 12X optical zoom lens; ultrasonic motor means fast, nearly silent focusing
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Large and sharp 2.5" LCD can flip-out and rotate; screen is easily visible in low light
  • AF-assist lamp, great low light focusing
  • Snappy performance
  • Full manual controls
  • Custom shortcut button + custom spot on mode dial
  • Handy Auto ISO Shift, custom self-timer features
  • Effective redeye reduction tool in playback mode (and you'll need it)
  • Superb movie mode: VGA quality, with stereo sound, optical zoom, and image stabilization; recording times are 4X longer than on the S3
  • Manual audio level controls + wind filter (for movie mode)
  • Support for conversion lenses, filters, and external flashes
  • Camera can be controlled from your computer
  • Above average battery life; uses AA batteries
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Redeye a big problem (but at least you can remove it)
  • Some purple fringing and corner blurriness; noisy images at higher ISOs
  • Electronic viewfinder has low resolution, so-so outdoor visibility
  • Overly sensitive zoom controller
  • Lousy lens cap
  • No RAW image support
  • Can't swap memory cards while camera is on a tripod
  • Would've been nice to see rechargeable batteries included

Some other ultra zooms to consider include the Fuji FinePix S6000fd and S9100, Kodak EasyShare Z712 IS, Olympus SP-550 Ultra Zoom, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 and DMC-FZ50, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 and DSC-H9. There's also the "old" PowerShot S3, which is still available, very capable, and $200 less than the S5.

As always, I recommend going to your local camera or electronics store to try out the PowerShot S5 and its competitors before you buy it!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

Want another opinion?

You'll find another review of the PowerShot S5 at CNET.com.