Canon PowerShot S5 IS Digital Camera - Review

Canon PowerShot S5 IS Digital Camera - Review

Loyal Canon fans should be quite familiar with the look of the PowerShot series by now. Canon probably thinks it’s always a good idea to repeat a winning formula. So to find any design changes between this and its predecessors requires a fair bit of scrutiny.

Design of the Canon PowerShot S5 IS Digital Camera

The first major change is the hotshoe now available on the S5 IS. On paper, the S5 IS is supposed to be the heaviest of its family at 450g compared with the S2 IS at 405g and S3 IS at 410g. In reality, the difference is pretty negligible. The next upgrade is the LCD screen. S5 IS comes with a generous 2.5-inch LCD display compared with the 1.8-inch and 2-inch screens from previous models.

To make way for the enlarged LCD, the direct print button has been moved from the right of the camera where the function and ISO buttons are, to the left of the viewfinder. The A/V output jack has also been shifted from the left side of the camera to the right so it’s now in a neat row together with the DC jack and the digital PC connector.

The lens design is altered as well. The silver-colored S2 IS's lens design has a smooth rounded edge, while the S5 IS has a ridged chamfered edge giving it a more "professional" dSLR feel. The lens cap is secured in a similar fashion as dSLR cameras--you press two "buttons" on the side to release the cap. But unlike dSLR lens caps, it manages to come off too easily--like when you accidentally brush against it.

This seems to be a common design trait as the S2 IS featured the same flaw, but you couldn't really complain with the S2 as the cap was held in place by friction, by virtue of a sponge ring fitted on the inside of the lens cap. Whichever the mechanism, this flaw definitely needs to be addressed as the chances of getting the lens scratched seem really high, which means you definitely need to buy a camera bag if you intend to take this Canon out anywhere.

The overall finishing is excellent. Clad in a glittery graphite coat, the plastic body looks and feels almost like metal, and will probably withstand a fair amount of wear-and-tear. We never had a problem with the old silver S2 IS. It looks almost new even after three years of rough use. The settings dial in S5 is now replaced with a metallic dial, so the camera appears almost like a mini dSLR.

Features of the Canon PowerShot S5 IS Digital Camera

The S5 IS has upgraded from being a 6- to an 8-megapixel camera, so now it offers up to a maximum resolution of 3,264 x 2,448 pixels. Compared with the S3 IS, it has also upgraded to the DIGIC III imaging chip. It also incorporates Multi-Face Detection technology which detects up to nine faces.

During operation, the face detection mode was easy to activate. Pressing the set button allowed us to switch quickly between Face detection mode and Center focus mode. The rest was done automatically for us. In our tests, it detected faces accurately most of the time.

Another feature of the camera is the improved shutter drive mechanism. Purportedly, it now achieves shutter speeds ranging from 15 secs to 1/3,200 sec. In practice, we are not sure exactly how useful that is; we got a lot of blurry pictures, although granted we were shooting from a moving vehicle. In operation, we did not see any significant speed improvement between the S2 IS and the S5 IS.

The S5 IS handles almost identically to its predecessors, with the same menus and interface. One con, though, is that you will need the S5 IS's packaged software to download your photos. Just plugging the memory card into a PC won't get your pictures downloaded, which can be a hassle especially if you're traveling.

If you've owned a previous version of the camera, you should also note that your old software will not work with this camera even though it is similar to previous models; you will need to install the accompanying software if you want to download pictures from your S5 IS.

Video recording has improved significantly since the S3 IS. Instead of the original 1GB file size, it now allows you to record up to 4GB, although the length is still set at 60 mins. As in previous versions, it features the "Photo in Movie" function, meaning you can snap a photo while you're recording a video halfway. This sounds great until when you take a picture and find your recorded video will have a similar pause before continuing.

The S5 IS now features 22 shooting modes including nine special scenes (pre-programmed settings). The previous S3 IS had 20 shooting modes and eight special scenes.

The S5 IS also offers a "My Category" function which allows you to tag your images and movies under specific categories for easier viewing, searching and editing. If you're the kind who likes to view your pictures from the camera's LCD, this can be a useful function, but we'd guess most people will just download it onto their PC before sorting the pictures.

Performance of the Canon PowerShot S5 IS Digital Camera

The S5 IS' performance splits right down the middle. It delivers very good speed for its class. It wakes up and shoots in 1.3 seconds, with a shutter lag of 0.5 and 0.8 second in bright and dim light, respectively. It can shoot consecutive single images 1.6 seconds apart, growing to a reasonable 2.1 seconds with flash enabled. Continuous shooting is fixed at about 1.5 frames per second (fps), regardless of image size, and can run for about 18 shots before it starts to slow.

Image Quality of the Canon PowerShot S5 IS Digital Camera

Image quality is definitely top-notch when compared with compact point-and-shoot cameras. Aside from shooting fast-moving objects or from fast-moving vehicles, the camera speed is quite acceptable.

The S5 IS offers the same 12x optical zoom similar to its previous models. Olympus now has a model that offers 15x optical zoom.

Sunny day pictures are not a problem at all, but in less than optimal lighting conditions, Auto mode may not always bring you the best results. In this case, it takes a bit of experimenting to find the best setting for clearly focused images.

In Macro mode, you will probably need a tripod or a really steady hand as we found it more effective to take close-up photos in Auto mode than in Macro mode which turned out blurrier images compared to Auto mode.

Color-wise, the camera stays very much true to the hues of its surroundings. Even in dark settings you should be able to get rather brilliant tones.

We're not sure where the Image Stability bit comes in as a lot of the images we snapped were blurred even though it was in Auto Mode. It could be the cloudy conditions although we doubt that would be a good excuse for a camera. Moving objects were not captured properly either even when set to Sports mode.


The battery life of the camera is excellent, delivering close to 300 pictures with AA-sized photo Lithium batteries. This was achieved with the LCD viewfinder off while taking pictures, although occasional photo playback was done with the LCD.

The battery life certainly exceeds its predecessor despite the larger LCD screen. If you are outdoors, however, you should always be prepared with extra batteries as the low battery warning's buffer time is rather short.

Retailing at S$799 (package price), this camera certainly delivers on most of its promises. By today’s standards, it could do with more improvements than the ones mentioned above, but it is still a good camera although there're not quite enough reasons to upgrade if you already own a previous model.