Compared to... Canon PowerShot S3 IS

Let's look first at how the PowerShot S5 IS compares to its immediate predecessor, the PowerShot S3 IS, in the studio. In this section we have included comparisons at ISO 80 and ISO 800 (the highest available setting on the S3 IS). The new model's higher ISO 1600 setting can be found in a later comparison.

Studio scene comparison (@ ISO 80)

  • Canon PowerShot S5 IS: Aperture Priority mode, ISO 80, Default Image Parameters,
    Manual white balance, +0.67 EV compensation
  • Canon PowerShot S3 IS: Aperture Priority mode, ISO 80, Default Image Parameters,
    Manual white balance, +0.67 EV compensation
  • Lighting: Daylight simulation, >98% CRI
Canon PowerShot S5 IS
Canon PowerShot S3 IS
ISO 80, 1/40 sec, F5.0
ISO 80, 1/50 sec, F5.0
3,176 KB JPEG
2,418 KB JPEG

There are differences between the output produced by the S5 IS and its predecessor, but they are very, very small, and are unlikely to have a visible impact on anything but the largest print. Having spent a lot of time comparing the cameras (including upsizing and downsizing each to match the other's pixel dimensions) we came to the conclusion that the extra two million pixels are giving you a slight 'real world' resolution increase, but nowhere near as much as you might expect when jumping from six to eight. We suspect this is down to a combination of different factors, including the need for a little more NR and a slightly more conservative approach to in-camera sharpening. The main one issue is probably the lens - it would appear that Canon is getting close to the limits of what it can squeeze out of this compact 12x optic. The fact that these 'super zooms' can focus this much detail sharply onto an area smaller than my one year old's fingernail still impresses me, but there has to come a point where the pixel pitch gets too small.

That said, the S5 IS does manage to get a little more detail out of the scene, though the default sharpening on the S3 IS is higher, so the advantage isn't immediately obvious. If you increase the sharpening on the S5 IS you will see the difference, but you'll also start to see noise (and some NR artefacts) - an inevitable consequence of stuffing 8 million pixels onto a 1/2.5" sensor. Viewed critically at 100% (as here) you can also see some evidence of noise even at ISO 80.

Pixel-level detail aside the output is exactly what we'd expect to see from a Canon PowerShot - fairly clean, colorful and fairly punchy - albeit not as immediate as the S3 IS. There is a slight fall in sharpness at the edges (and particularly the corners) of the frame and a noticeable overall softness, but unless you're looking to produce huge enlargements it's not an issue.