White Balance

The S5 IS features a grand total of seven white balance settings including the default automatic mode. There's also a manual (custom) white balance option, which is created by aiming the camera at a white (or gray) subject and pressing the SET button. Automatic white balance appeared to work well outdoors but produces images with a distinct cast in low artificial light. If you prefer a more neutral tone to your indoor shots you're much better off using one of the presets (or custom WB). As we've mentioned before Canon has told us that the warm tone on incandescent auto WB is intentional and is designed to preserve some of the 'atmosphere' of the original scene.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 9.5%, Blue -14.0%,
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red -0.8%, Blue 1.5%
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red 1.5%, Blue -14.5%
Fluorescent - Fluorescent preset WB
Red 1.9%, Blue -4.7%

Flash Performance

The built-in pop-up flash unit has a specified range of 5.2 m at wide angle and 4.0 m at telephoto (when the ISO is set to auto). In use we found it to work very well indeed, with most indoor flash shots perfectly exposed. The FUNC menu offers a Flash Exposure Compensation setting (-2.0 to +2.0), and the AF illuminator helps focus in low light (though it isn't powerful enough for such a long zoom camera - it only really works over distances of about 1.3 m and lower). The S5 IS is the first model in this range to sport a hot-shoe for use with external flash units, a very welcome addition. It's designed to work with Canon's 220EX, 430EX and 580 EX II Speedlites, but should offer full dedication with any Canon compatible flashgun. Interestingly we couldn't get it to fire our studio flash using a wireless shoe adaptor, so if you intend to use the S5 IS for studio work you'd better check it'll work before buying. Note also that the flash exposure is linked to the face detection AF/AE, and this does help avoid 'blown out' flash shots of friends and family.

Skin tone - Excellent color and exposure.
Portrait mode, Face Detection ON.
Color chart -Slight warm tone, excellent exposure

Macro Focus

Macro performance is identical to the S3 IS; in other words nothing to write home about, despite the headline '0cm' Super Macro mode. First let's look at the standard macro mode, which allows you to get down as close as 10cm (at the wide end of the zoom). It's okay, but nothing special (fitting an area of around 9.5cm across into the frame). At the telephoto end of the zoom you can actually get slightly higher magnification (photographing an area of around 8.2cm across), with less distortion and less corner softness, albeit from a much greater distance (about 70cm).

Wide macro - 93 x 70 mm coverage
35 px/mm (886 px/in)
Distortion: Average
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
Telephoto macro - 82 x 61 mm coverage
40 px/mm (1003 px/in)
Distortion: Low
Corner softness: Low
Equiv. focal length: 432 mm

Super Macro mode

If its normal macro mode is nothing to write home about, the S5 IS has the same rather unique trick up its sleeve as its predecessors - a 'super macro mode' that allows you to focus down to an unprecedented 0cm from the front element. This means it can actually focus on things that are touching the front of the lens. Of course there aren't many things you can actually photograph from 0cm - they either need to be lit from behind (you can use the S5 IS to shoot 35mm slides if you don't mind the cropping, distortion and corner softness!) or small enough that they don't fill the frame. In most cases the shadow of the lens obscures your subject so much that you can't use it at distances of less than a few centimeters, at which point the subject area you're photographing is around 40mm across - roughly the same as most of its competitors (such as the Panasonic FZ7), but with the ever-present danger that you'll move so close that you end up causing permanent damage to the front element of the lens. Still, it's fun to play with and does allow you to take some unique photographs.

Super macro - 21 x 15 mm coverage
154 px/mm (3912 px/in)
Distortion: High
Corner softness: Average
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm

Focus distance for this shot was 0cm (chart lit from behind).

DVD, approx 5mm distance watch, approx 15mm distance
Pen, approx 0mm distance Eye, approx 15mm distance

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

The S5 IS exhibits remarkably low distortion given the huge focal length range - 1.1% barrel distortion at the wide end, and no measurable distortion at all at the full 432mm telephoto end. There is also only barely measurable - and hardly noticeable - vignetting.

Barrel distortion - 1.0% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
Pincushion distortion - 0.1% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 432 mm