Operation and controls

As mentioned earlier the S5 IS represents a fairly small evolutionary step up from its predecessor, so anyone familiar with that model (or any recent PowerShot for that matter) is going to feel very much at home here; Canon - unlike many of its competitors - has stuck to a fairly consistent user interface now for several years.

The S5 IS, in common with most higher end PowerShots, can appear a little daunting at first glance - there is hardly a square inch of body space that isn't covered in buttons and switches. But don't be put off - unlike many cameras this means that virtually all the most commonly accessed shooting features get their own dedicated buttons, so you don't need to enter the on-screen menu system every time you want to change a setting. The sheer number of external controls is also an indication of sophisticated functionality on offer.

Rear of camera

The main 'digital' controls - those concerned with activating and navigating on-screen menus - are found on the rear of the camera, ranged around and to the right of the swing-out-and-tilt 2.5" LCD. Some of the buttons have a dual function according to whether you are in recording or playback mode, and there is one that is still unique to the this range (and the faux camcorder model, the TX1) - the prominent movie start/stop button, which is used for stopping starting movie recording, whatever mode you're in. The almost totally redundant Print/Share button doubles as a shortcut button to which any of a number of shooting options (resolution, white balance setting and so on) can be assigned. As with most higher end PowerShot models there is a separate button for selecting the ISO setting, something we'd like to see more of on compact cameras.

Top of camera

Minor design tweaks aside the S5 IS continues the 'mini SLR' styling of its predecessors (and most of its competitors). As before we were impressed with the sizeable grip and perfectly positioned shutter release. On the top plate you'll find the main mode dial, power switch, drive and flash mode buttons and the zoom rocker. Of course there's also that new flash hot-shoe.

Side Controls

The right hand side of the camera (as seen from the front) houses the miniature speaker (for playing back movies and sound captions) and two controls directly related to the lens; manual focus and macro mode.

Display and menus

Not a lot has changed here, and the interface will be familiar to anyone who has used a recent Canon Powershot. There's an awful lot to play with in the various menus, but to Canon's credit the excellent menu system and separate FUNC menu help to tame the complexity that comes with such a huge feature set.

There are a few new functions; the ISO is now displayed even in Auto ISO mode and there's an 'image inspection tool' that lets you zoom into the instant review (directly after shooting) to check focus or (if you're using Face Detection AF) jump from face to face, but the majority is carried over from the S3 IS.

The most basic preview screen showing focus point, image stabilization status and whether the wind filter is on or off (for audio recording). Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the aperture and shutter speed chosen, along with a camera shake warning if necessary. One hugely welcome new feature is that the ISO is shown prominently (even if it's set to Auto ISO).
As usual you can change the amount of information shown on-screen, and there is a 'grid' option (shown here) for those of us who struggle with straight horizons. The size/quality and remaining space indications are shown for both stills and movies, which takes some getting used to. It can get get a little crowded on-screen with everything showing, but no one could complain that Canon left anything out.
Hidden away in the Record menu is an option that allows you to customize - to an extent - the amount and type of information displayed on-screen as you cycle through the four different display modes (two on the main screen, two on the electronic viewfinder's display). Users of previous PowerShots will be perfectly at home with the record mode FUNC menu, which offers a wide range of controls over shooting and image parameters (white balance, MyColors, bracketing, flash AEC, metering mode, file size / quality) in one place at the press of the FUNC button.
As with previous models bracketing options include Focus Bracketing - useful for macro work, and pretty unusual on a camera of this type. The 'Flexzone' AF system allows you to choose from any one of 375 points in the frame by pressing the set button and moving the focus point around using the arrow keys. The S5 IS also features Canon's new (and mostly pretty effective) Face Detection AF/AE system, though activating it is counterintuitive (you have to turn Flexzone focus off; there's no mention of face detection in any menu).
Manual focus is a simple case of pressing the MF button and using the up/down arrows. You can choose to have the area around the focus point magnified in manual focus mode (not shown), and with the new higher resolution screen it's actually a lot more usable. As well as a brace of scene modes and Aperture/Shutter Priority the S5 IS has a perfectly usable fully-metered manual mode.
The 'Special scene' mode adds six subject programs (Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Indoor, Night Scene) and the unusual Color Swap and Color Accent options (which used to be part of MyColors). Record mode menu allows you to customize everything from flash synch to the spot AE point and self-timer delay. It is also here where you'll find the control for image stabilization.
You can customize the on-screen display in record mode (there are two custom settings, activated by repeated presses of the DISP button). The S5 IS has the shortcut button introduced a couple of generations back and yet, inexplicably, Canon has reduced the number of options (most importantly removing Image stabilization and image quality modes). Anyway, you can now set the button to control: metering, white balance, custom WB, digital teleconverter, AE-lock, AF-lock and display sleep.
Play mode default display, a line of basic information showing filename, date & time stamp and quality setting. One of the three alternative play mode views includes a histogram display (complete with flashing highlight warnings) and exposure information. The larger, higher resolution screen has allowed Canon to give the information a little more room to breathe.
The S5 IS provides play magnification up to to 10x (as shown here). You can move around the image using the 4-way controller. As with other recent PowerShots you can jump from image to image at the same magnification by pressing the SET button and using the left/right keys. Press the zoom controller towards the wide angle to switch to a 3x3 thumbnail index, note that you can also enable JUMP mode which allows you to step through a full page of 9 images at a time. You can also, as shown here, rotate images in thumbnail view, which is a nice touch.
One new feature, common to most modern PowerShots, is the ability to categorize images in-camera. The categories can be used in Canon's software on your PC for sorting images, but really I can't see many people sitting doing this on a 2.5-inch screen when they can do it later on the computer. The JUMP options now allow you to scroll through images according to date, category and folder, to view only movies and to jump 10 or 100 images at a time.
The play menu offers the usual range of options, including protecting, rotating and deleting images, plus a sound recorder. One new feature offers the ability to remove red-eye from your shots in-camera. As with the S3 IS you can now apply 'My Colors' effects to saved images, which is much better than committing to it at the point you take the picture.
As well as Canon's fancy new transition effects you can now set slideshows to only show images in a particular category. As usual the DPOF and direct print options are split off into a separate menu.
The setup menu (accessible from both playback and record modes) is where you find more general camera settings, including sounds, power saving, date and time, LCD brightness, card formatting, language and video output format. The My Camera menu allows you to customize the camera startup image and various sounds.