Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent resolution, good detail at lower ISOs (though output a little soft)
  • Good color, good exposure, generally accurate focus gives a high 'hit rate' even in auto mode
  • Huge photographic versatility with 36-432mm lens and super macro mode
  • Image stabilization works well (and can be used in movie mode)
  • Some welcome improvements over the S3 IS; better viewfinder, better screen, flash hot shoe
  • Packed with features
  • Very quiet
  • Solid construction and good handling
  • Fast and responsive
  • Superb movie quality with high quality stereo sound
  • Impressively little distortion for such a large lens
  • Enjoyable and easy to use
  • Superb screen, bright and clear with full tilt & swing articulation
  • Optional wide and tele adapters
  • PC controlled shooting (via USB)
  • Customizable shortcut button, ISO button
  • Superb battery life with NiMH cells
  • Flash hot shoe
  • Good macro

Conclusion - Cons

  • Noise and noise reduction effects visible at anything over ISO 100
  • ISO 800 and 1600 very noisy and of limited use
  • Wider wideangle would be nice
  • SD card slot now in battery compartment - battery cover awkward to open and close
  • Barely any image quality improvement over predecessor
  • Movie button in awkward position
  • Some features removed (such as intervalometer) or downgraded (continuous shooting speed)
  • Electronic viewfinder may be improved, but it's still not fantastic
  • Occasional focus hunting at the telephoto end of the zoom in low light
  • No rechargeable batteries supplied in the box
  • Some highlight clipping due to over exposure of contrasty scenes
  • Chromatic aberration and purple fringing
  • No RAW mode

Overall conclusion

Although it represents a more significant upgrade than the S3 IS was over the S2 IS, the S5 IS doesn't really see Canon breaking much new ground. Of course that isn't such a terrible thing; this has been a hugely successful series of cameras - for most part deservedly so.

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That said, whilst much of this round of tinkering brings welcome improvements (the flash shoe and screen/viewfinder upgrades most significantly), the new sensor adds little to the image quality at anything much over ISO 80, and none at all at higher ISO settings (which, incidentally, are also marginally less sensitive). You also have to wonder how much longer Canon can resist the urge to go for an even wider zoom range, given that most of its competitors now offer a more useful wideangle in a 15x or 18x optic.

But let's get one thing straight; the S5 IS is a great camera, one we really enjoyed using, and one that produces decent output shot after shot thanks to a responsive focus system, accurate exposure, vibrant (but natural) color and a decent image stabilization system. Although the results don't bear close 'pixel level' scrutiny, for the typical user wanting to produce prints at standard sizes (say up to 5x7 inches) there's very little to complain about, and the more you use it the more you learn how to tailor the settings to get the best output. It also offers class-leading movie quality, if that's important to you.

Over the last few months we've spent a lot of time with the latest generation of super zoom cameras from all the major manufacturers, and the S5 IS comes closer than most to getting the right balance of features and image quality. Where the Sony H7 and H9 suffer from frustrating controls and over-aggressive noise reduction, the Canon has a friendly, intuitive interface and (relatively) light-handed noise reduction at lower ISO settings. And where the Olympus SP-550UZ misses too many shots due to focus problems, in all but the most challenging situations the S5 IS offers accurate, responsive focus. The only camera I'd consider next to the S5 IS is the Panasonic FZ8 (which also happens to be a lot cheaper) - though Panasonic's excessive noise reduction at ISO 400+ means you may have to shoot RAW to get acceptable results.

Ultimately there is no clear winner in this sector of the market, and all the models demand a certain level of compromise. As the manufacturers squeeze ever more pixels onto such tiny sensors it becomes increasingly difficult to recommend using any of these cameras at anything over the lowest ISO for anything 'serious' - unless you're happy with small prints or simply want to view the results scaled-down on-screen. The S5 IS offers what is to us a more appealing balance of noise vs noise reduction, but the DIGIC III process can't work miracles and the output at higher ISO settings leaves a lot to be desired.

So then, Canon took an already great camera and gave it a better screen, better viewfinder and a flash hot shoe, and made it a bit prettier to boot. They then put inside it a sensor that is noisier than its predecessor, meaning that - for the most part - the resolution increase simply isn't reflected in the output, thanks to the need for stronger noise reduction. It's certainly a better camera in most respects, but the improvements are about 'features' not 'picture quality', and we'd hoped for a little more from Canon this time around.

To conclude, the PowerShot S5 IS is probably, just, the pick of the super zoom bunch at this moment in time, because it offers reliable output, responsive performance and an impressive feature set in an attractive, easy to use package that makes photography fun; not because it offers better IQ.

It is crying out for a better sensor, wider lens and for Canon to move the SD card slot back out from the battery compartment, but I'd still rather take it out shooting than the Sony, Olympus or Fuji alternatives. The output (with fringing and noise issues) simply isn't good enough to earn the S5 IS an unqualified 'Highly Recommended' rating, but it's an easy 'Recommended'.

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 8.0
Ergonomics & handling 8.5
Features 9.0
Image quality 7.5
Optics 7.5
Performance (speed) 8.5
Value 8.0


Highly recommended

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