As the 'side by side' pictures on the previous page show, the S5 IS looks very, very similar to its predecessor. The rear controls have moved a little to accommodate the larger LCD panel and the body itself has had a subtle re-styling - it's fractionally larger and heavier and slightly less curvy in general. There is also now a more obvious 'hump' where the flash and new flash shoe sit, and overall the refinements are - in my opinion - an improvement, albeit a subtle one. The camera is also a darker gray than its predecessor, and each generation looks a little less 'toy like' than the previous one. The two major external changes are the larger LCD and the flash shoe, though there are other less obvious tweaks. These include the buttons on the rear; these are now larger (they protrude a little from the body) and have springs behind them giving them a lot more travel (they need much more of a 'push'). The result is that it's a lot harder to accidentally push the buttons by accident, and you can find them by touch if you're shooting using the electronic viewfinder. The flip side of this is that I found they took a lot of getting used to after years with 'clicky' microswitch buttons when trying to work very quickly.
As with it predecessors, the 'miniature SLR' design works well, no space has been wasted, and a lot of attention has been paid to handling and ergonomics (though I personally feel the button layout could be better). With the current fashion for simple, minimalist cameras that eschew buttons and switches in favor of menu-driven control it is a real treat to use a camera designed first and foremost for taking photographs. It looks a lot nicer in black than its silver predecessors, and the S5 IS feels, and in most cases operates, like a real camera.
In your hand
The handgrip is excellent and the most important controls (zoom, shutter, shooting mode) are all perfectly placed for one-handed operation (though with a 12x zoom lens you may want to put the other hand to use too!). Despite the plastic construction the S5 IS feels solid, robust and well balanced and handles beautifully. At well over half a kilo fully loaded it is still one of the heaviest cameras in its class, but it does offer excellent stability without over-straining the neck strap.
The S5 IS takes standard AA cells - NiMH are recommended and were used for this test. In an effort to keep the price keen Canon does not supply any rechargeable batteries, so you'll need to budget for those - plus a charger. Although not quite as good as the S3, battery life is still surprisingly good for an EVF camera (450 shots using the CIPA standard for NiMH, 170 with alkalines). Batteries last slightly longer using the EVF rather than the LCD screen.
One big disappointment is that the SD card slot is now located in the battery compartment, so changing cards means powering down - and possibly dropping the batteries - which is really annoying. The battery door has been redesigned and now puts up a heck of a fight as you try to get it closed and locked into place. If you regularly remove the card (shooting in the studio, for example) this could be a serious issue - it certainly was for us when doing the test shots for the S5 IS.
The S5 IS features a small electronic viewfinder (EVF) - essentially a 115,000 pixel 0.33-inch LCD behind a magnifier. Although the basic spec is the same as the S3 IS there is a visual difference. The S5's viewfinder is marginally clearer and brighter, and looks to my eye to be around 10-15 larger too (presumably due to a slightly higher magnification). It's still not fantastic, but any improvement is welcome!
We complained that the S3 IS had a low resolution LCD and were pleased to see that Canon has finally given the S5 IS the screen it deserves. The new LCD is not only bigger (up from 2.0 to 2.5 inches), but the resolution is almost doubled to 207,000 pixels. This means it's a lot crisper and clearer, and a lot more pleasant to use.
The refresh rate is fairly high and color and contrast excellent. The screen swings out through 180 degrees and swivels through 270 degrees, offering plenty of shooting versatility. It also means you can also 'flip' the screen (so the LCD face is flush against the back of the camera), protecting the delicate screen when the S5 IS is in your bag.
Although it's by no means perfect the new screen seems less prone to glare than its predecessor, meaning it's a lot more usable in bright light. It also has a much wider viewing angle and is now amongst the best you'll find on a 'super zoom' camera from any manufacturer.
The shutter release is big, responsive and perfectly positioned at the front of the large chunky handgrip. The zoom rocker - in the form of a collar around the release - is also nice, and offers two zooming speeds. Move it a little and the zoom extends at a glacial speed (which, incidentally, is slightly faster than the S3 IS), push it all the way and the speed picks up. A small touch, but a nice one. The zoom rocker also controls playback magnification (and activates thumbnails).
The pop-up flash on the S5 IS is a fairly powerful unit that works well and recycles quickly with fully charged batteries. Like the S3 it doesn't actually pop up - you have to open yourself if you want to use it. Once open you have the usual array of flash options, controlled by a button to the left of the flash on the top of the camera.
Of course the big news for flash fans is that the S5 IS, finally, adds a hot-shoe flash connector. This extends the versatility of the camera significantly, offering users the option to use not only Canon's dedicated flash system but also the opportunity to use the S5 IS with studio flash.
Despite the arrival of 15x and 18x models from other manufacturers Canon chose not to change the lens for the S5 IS, so you get exactly the same 12x (36-432mm equiv) range and the same F2.7-3.5 maximum aperture range as the S3 IS and S2 IS. We would have liked to see a slightly wider angle at the short end - maybe next time. Again the UltraSonic motors mean focusing is very quiet indeed, and even the zooming mechanism is little more than a whisper.
The lens extends by around 30mm (1.1 inches) when powered up, after which most of the zooming is internal (the barrel doesn't extend any further).
The small button below the lens unlocks the cosmetic front ring, which is a lot more robust than on previous models. The ring can be removed to allow the attachment of wide, tele and macro bayonet fit adapter lenses.
The USB (2.0 high speed), AV and DC-in ports are located under a rather flimsy rubberized cover on the side of the handgrip.
The main power switch swaps between record and playback modes. You can power the camera up directly into playback mode (in which case the lens doesn't extend), and you can quickly move from play to record with a half-press of the shutter release. To the left is the main mode dial and above is a button that cycles through the various continuous mode and self-timer options.