Canon Powershot S5 IS Review

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Canon Powershot S5 IS

Steve's Conclusion

Building on the success of their very popular PowerShot "S" series of stabilized super-zoom models, Canon introduces the S5 IS. The successor of the S3 IS we reviewed in last year (2006), the S5 IS retains the same versatile 12x 36-432mm zoom lens, however, it's been upgraded with increased resolution (8-megapixels compared to the S3's 6-megapixels), the maximum ISO setting has been raised to 1600, the LCD is also larger at 2.5-inches, and the S5 features a handy flash hot shoe for use with Canon EX speedlites. While having the ability to be a versatile photographic tool with its wealth of manual exposure options, the S5 can also be simple enough to use that the most inexperienced user can capture great photos by simply pointing and shooting, when using the Auto, Program or one of the 14 pre-programmed scene modes.

Like all of the models in this line, the most prominent feature found on the S5 is the Canon 12x optical zoom lens, which covers a focal length range of 36-432mm in 35mm equivalence. This lens offers a great deal of versatility over the typical 3x zooms found on a large majority of consumer digicams. Anyone who has used a digicam with a long focal length zoom can tell you that these lenses really add to the overall "fun factor" and usability of the camera. However, the longer the focal length, the more chances your images will be blurring from camera shake. Non-stabilized cameras with high power telephoto lenses require the use of a tripod, monopod or a faster shutter speed to overcome the camera-shake issue. This is not the case with the S5; its optical IS (Image Stabilized) lens reduces the effect of camera shake in your long telephoto shots, and makes the camera capable of taking handheld shots in lower light levels without the flash. I was consistently able to capture blur-free images hand-held at slower than normal shutter speeds using the mid to full telephoto end of the zoom range. I was even able to capture several sharp handheld images at as slow as 1/30 second. Overall, the S5's IS system works great and is a key feature of this model.

Not only is this lens versatile, it's also fast with a maximum aperture range of 2.7 at wide angle to 3.5 at full telephoto. This will further enhance your ability to capture sharp images in marginal lighting conditions. I noticed the lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion at full wide angle as well as slight amounts of chromatic aberration (purple fringing on highlights) in high-contrast areas throughout the zoom range. The zoom mechanism is driven by a 2-stage switch- actuated Ultra Sonic Motor (USM); it operates smoothly and quietly throughout its range. The motor runs at a slow or fast speed depending on how far you move the zoom lever, which helps make framing your subject much easier; no more zooming with your feet. It takes about 4 seconds to zoom the entire range at slow speed, and less than 1 second at high speed.

The S5 employs two viewfinders for you to choose from for composing and reviewing your stored images: an LCD monitor, or, like most digicams with a big zoom, a high-resolution electronic viewfinder (EVF) with diopter adjustment. The LCD and EVF are equally-functional, you can setup the camera, compose and review your images on either one. The viewfinders provide a wealth of exposure information, including the ability to display a histogram while reviewing your images. I favored the 2.5-inch vari-angle LCD for camera setup, image review and overhead or waist-level shooting, and the EVF for eye-level shooting; switching between the two requires two depressions of the DISP button or opening/closing the LCD. I found both display a pleasure to use indoors and out. In low-light conditions, they "gain-up" well, allowing you to see your subject for framing; something you that was very difficult in the 35mm film days. Outdoors in bright sunlight, the LCD was usable ever with harsh sunlight beating directly onto it, thanks mostly to the anti-reflective coating. The EVF was also effective outdoors, although it would benefit from a deeper eyecup.

The shooting performance of the S5 was very impressive. From power-on until the first shot was captured measured just 1.3 seconds! This includes the time it takes to boot up and extend the lens. Shutter lag, the elapsed time between depressing the shutter and capturing an image, measured less than 1/10 second when pre- focused, and only 1/10 - 2/10 of a seconds including autofocus, depending on the amount of change in the focus distance. In Single shot mode, the S5 IS captured 8-megapixel Superfine images at the rate of one every 1.3 seconds without flash, and between 2.4 to 3.5 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life.

There's also two continuous or burst shooting modes, Continuous and Continuous Shooting AF. In Standard mode, I was able to capture images at 6/10-second intervals; the viewfinders briefly displayed the last captured image between shots, making it difficult to follow a moving subject. In Continuous Shooting AF mode, shots were captured at a slower rate of 1 second intervals, but the autofocus system acquires focus for each shot; between shots, the viewfinders briefly display the live image. I was impressed that the only limit on the number of continuously captured images was the amount of available memory on the installed memory card; the S5's buffer was able to empty as fast as images could be captured. Our tests were done using a Kingston 4GB SDHC card, Program exposure mode, large superfine quality, review off, flash off, ISO auto, and all other settings at default (unless noted). Times may vary depending on camera settings, lighting, media used, etc.

The S5's image quality results were pleasing, both indoors and out. The majority of our outdoors sample images were sharp thanks to the accurate AF system and high-quality Canon lens, and exposure and color saturation are also very nice. You can also adjust the degree of sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color using the Custom My Colors function. Image noise is a very important factor when choosing a Prosumer model like this, where is it likely that you are going to be using higher sensitivity settings. I feel noise levels are very low at sensitivity settings of ISO 80 and 100, becoming more noticeable in shadow areas at ISO 200 - 400. At ISO 800, noise is apparent throughout the image, however it is still usable to produce typical size prints. At 1600, images look horrible at 100%, however you could get away with creating small prints, no larger than 4x6-inches. Thankfully, the S5's IS system will allow you to use lower ISO settings and still capture blur free images at slower shutter speeds, where you would normally increase the sensitivity to achieve the same results.

Indoors, the S5 also performed well. The flash has an above average range of about 17 feet at wide angle (ISO Auto), and when combined with the 36mm wide angle extreme, will afford you nice interior shots in mid sized rooms; do not expect this flash to illuminate large open rooms. However, unlike past models, the S5 offers a new flash hot shoe that allows the use of Canon EX Speedlites. This greatly adds to the versatility of this model and is a feature that is long over due on this series. I achieved nice results using the dedicated Portrait scene mode as well as Aperture Priority, shooting from about 7 feet away with the built-in flash unit. Our close-up portrait shots show pleasing facial details and skin tones. Like the S3, the flash does not automatically pop-up when needed; it must be manually raised to fire - which is slightly annoying. You'll be able to include yourself in group portraits because the S5 IS has both a tripod socket and self- timer. The S5's autofocus system delivered consistently sharp images. It uses only a single AF point, but you can position it virtually anywhere in your composition. Thanks to the AF-assist lamp, the S5 is able to achieve autofocus quite well in marginal lighting to complete darkness.

Movie mode allows you to capture high quality video with stereo sound, at 640x480 or 320x240. The frame rats is 30fps, or in 320x240 you can also choose 60fps. While many digicams prevent zooming during movie recording, the S5 IS allows it because of the ultra-quiet USM motor, which will not interfere with the audio portion of your movies. In-camera editing of movies is provided in playback mode, allowing you to cut from the beginning and/or the end, and saving the edited clip as a new file or overwriting the original. The maximum length of capture in any quality setting is limited to 4GB or 1 hour, whichever comes first. Our move samples look great, showing minimal compression noise and the AF system does well when following moving subjects and zooming. Since the 640x480 30fps mode consumes about 2MB per second, we consider you purchase a high-capacity (1GB or larger) memory card, especially if you like to take a lot of video.

Like the S3, Canon has integrated the S5's still and moving image capabilities well. Unlike other digicams, the S5 has separate shutter buttons for stills and movies; movies can be taken in any of the S5's still picture modes, and stills can be captured while the camera's mode dial is in the movie mode. Not only that, but stills can be captured during movie recording; the movie will be flawed with a brief series of black frames and the audio will contain the shutter release sound.

Power is supplied by 4 AA type batteries and I was impressed by their life considering that you always have either the EVF or LCD turned on when using the camera. It captured more than 305 shots on a set of 2700mah NiMH rechargeables with full-time use of "continuous" image stabilization. As usual, we recommend that you acquire at least two sets of high-capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries, that way you'll always be charged and ready to capture that spontaneous photo opt. so that you are never disappointed when that once in a lifetime photo op meets a set of dead batteries.

Bottom line - As we have said with all of the S5's predecessors (S1 IS, S2 IS, S3 IS), I was very impressed with Canon's latest addition to their awesome line of Prosumer models. With appealing features like 8-megapixels of resolution, 12x zoom lens with optical IS, 2.5-inch vari-angle LCD, excellent image quality, and blazing fast performance, the S5 IS will be a tuff model to beat in the super-zoom category. Especially with a very reasonable price tag of only US399 or less! Be sure to check out our samples page to see how the S5 performs for yourself.

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