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  • Testing / Performance

  • Components

  • Design / Layout

  • Modes

  • Control Options

  • Image Parameters

  • Connectivity / Extras

  • Overall Impressions

  • Conclusion

  • Sample Photos

  • Photo Gallery

  • Specs / Ratings

Testing / Performance

With a couple exceptions, the inner and outer squares of most of the tiles look very similar. The reason the small rectangles look lighter than the squares is because the S5 IS's color is most accurate when images are slightly underexposed. In the chart below, we show a more quantitative view of the S5’s color accuracy. The locations of the ColorChecker colors are shown as squares on the color spectrum, and the S5’s colors are shown as circles. The lines connecting the circles and squares show the extent of the color error for each of the 24 ColorChecker color tiles.

The S5 IS has an overall mean color error of 5.87 in L**a**b* color space, which is excellent. As you can see in the chart, many of the colors are almost dead-on, except for some blues and yellows. The blues and yellows may be shifted on purpose, in order to make blue skies and lush foliage pop even more. This color score is higher than most other digital cameras, an attribute that has become a hallmark of almost every recent Canon camera.


We test the resolution of cameras by photographing an industry standard resolution test chart under even studio lighting. We vary the focal length and exposure settings to find where the camera is sharpest, and run the images through Imatest to determine exactly how sharp they are. Imatest measures resolution in terms of line widths per picture height (lw/ph), which shows the number of equally-spaced alternating black and white lines that can be fit into the image frame before becoming blurred.

The 8-megapixel Canon S5 IS is sharpest at ISO 80, f/4.0, and a focal length of 16.8mm. It resolves 1623 lw/ph horizontally with 5.8 percent oversharpening, and 1516 lw/ph vertically with 7.4 percent undersharpening. These sharpening levels are good and avoid excessive image artifacting, but it’s worth noting that when the images are slightly underexposed, they are very oversharpened. Oversharpening destroys image information and can create image "artifacts."

Click to view the high-resolution image

Also, examination of the edges of the resolution test chart image show significant chromatic aberration. This causes edges of strong contrast to be discolored, and points to problems in the camera’s optics. Overall, the S5 IS has mediocre resolution. It scores significantly worse than the other top Canon PowerShot model, the 10-megapixel Canon G7, as well as Sony’s comparable ultra-zoom, the Sony Cyber-Shot H7.

Noise – Manual ISO*(3.54)

*Digital cameras' image noise is a major factor in degrading image quality. Noise refers to the "snow" or graininess that can become noticeable in digital images, especially at higher ISO sensitivities. Noise can be very distracting and ugly, and should be kept to a minimum whenever possible. We test the noise levels of cameras by photographing our test chart under bright studio lights at all ISO sensitivities, and running the images through Imatest. Imatest evaluates noise levels based on the percentage of the entire image that the noise drowns out.

The graph above shows the noise levels of the Canon S5 IS over the entire ISO range of the camera. Noise stays low under ISO 200, but above 200 it increases to alarming levels. Noise is readily apparent in full resolution images when the noise levels surpass 2 percent, and this occurs in S5 IS images at all ISO sensitivities above ISO 200. ISO 800 and 1600 are essentially unusable, unless you absolutely need to capture that low light shot and don’t mind if your subject appears to be caught in a blizzard or sand storm. The S5 has significantly worse noise than the Canon PowerShot G7 and the similar Panasonic Lumix FZ8 and Sony Cyber-Shot H7.

**Noise – Auto ISO ***(1.19) *

We also shot our test chart with the camera set to Auto ISO to determine its noise level. The camera chooses ISO 200 when set to Auto ISO, and Imatest reports a noise level of 1.77 percent. This is significantly more noise than we would like to see under such bright studio lighting.

**White Balance ***(10.30)

*In order to reproduce accurate colors, a camera must have accurate white balance. Poor white balance can be devastating for an image by creating a color cast that changes all the colors. We test the white balance of cameras by photographing the ColorChecker under four different types of light: flash, fluorescent, outdoor shade, and tungsten. We test both the auto white balance setting, as well as the appropriate white balance presets. On the S5, these settings can be found in the Function menu.

Auto (9.25)

The S5’s auto white balance setting is very accurate under flash and fluorescent lighting, mediocre under outdoor cloudy shade, and poor under tungsten light. Auto white balance problems are common under tungsten lights, and aside from that, the camera should perform well if left in auto white balance.

*Preset (11.35) *

Though the auto white balance was acceptable, using the presets is even more accurate. Accuracy is excellent in all types of light, most notably in tungsten light, where users should always try to remember to use the tungsten preset in order to avoid a yellow cast to their images. Overall, the S5 IS has very accurate white balance, scoring better than similar models.

**Still Life Sequences

**Click to view the high-resolution image


Low Light *(7.22)


**We dim the studio lights to see how cameras perform in less than ideal conditions. We photograph our ColorChecker test chart at 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux with the camera set to its highest ISO setting. Sixty lux corresponds to a room softly lit with two lamps, 30 lux is equivalent to a room lit with a single 40-watt bulb, and 15 and 5 lux are quite dark, simulating a dimly lit street at night.

The S5's color accuracy holds up very well in low light, though noise levels are a different story. Even in the down-sized images above, you can clearly see the grainy noise. Closer inspection shows the noise also contains ugly splotches of blue and yellow. Frankly, you need to avoid using ISO 1600 with this camera, unless you plan to do some significant post-processing. If you really need to shoot hand-held in low light with high ISO, know your photos will have to be downsized a lot in order to look decent.

On the other hand, if you have a tripod and don’t mind taking some long exposures, you don’t have to use such a high ISO sensitivity in low light. We test the long exposure performance of cameras by photographing our ColorChecker in low light. For the S5 IS, we tested at ISO 400. A graph of the noise levels at each exposure is shown below.

Noise levels are significantly reduced from those at ISO 1600, but they are still quite high. Noise stays fairly even from 1 to 15-second exposures, with perhaps a hint of some noise reduction at very long exposures. The biggest problem with the S5’s long exposures, however, is that it has a very tough time manually white balancing. This throws the color off in some of our photos, and may take users a few tries to get the right white balance when shooting in the field.

**Dynamic Range ***(5.44) *

Dynamic range is a very important image quality factor that assesses how well a camera can discern detail in both bright and dark parts of an image. Photographing an outdoor scene in bright sunny light is a perfect case where dynamic range is very important. Good dynamic range will retain detail in the bright sunny areas of the image, as well as providing detail in the dark shadows. Poor dynamic range can blow out the bright areas and make detail in the shadows disappear.

We test the dynamic range of cameras by photographing a backlit Stouffer test chart in our lab. The Stouffer chart consists of a long row of rectangles, each a slightly different shade of gray varying from brightest white to darkest black. The more rectangles the camera can differentiate, the better the dynamic range.

The graph above shows the best possible dynamic range for each ISO setting on the S5 IS. The camera has good dynamic range at ISO 80, but any higher than that and the dynamic range drops alarmingly quickly. Past ISO 200 the dynamic range is very poor, and risks losing lots of detail in images with significant contrast. Dynamic range is closely linked to noise levels, and that is certainly the case here. High noise levels will actually drown out information in your images, which is a large reason why the S5 IS scores so poorly. Keep the S5 IS at low ISO as often as possible.

**Speed/Timing **– All speed tests are conducted using a Kingston Ultimate 120X 2GB SD Card

Startup to First Shot (8.3)

The S5 IS takes 1.7 seconds to turn on and snap a shot.

Shot-to-Shot (9.3)

The S5 IS has two continuous shooting modes, Continuous and AF Continuous. In Continuous mode, the camera takes shots every 0.7 seconds for more than 200 shots. In AF mode the S5 IS takes shots every 1.1 seconds while autofocusing between each. This is a solid performance, and should help you catch some good action shots.

Shutter-to-Shot (9.0)

The Canon fires a shot instantly when the shutter is held down halfway and prefocused. Without being prefocused, the S5 IS takes 0.4 seconds to snap a shot.

Processing (8.6)

The camera takes 0.7 seconds to process one full resolution superfine 2.8MB photo taken at ISO 80.

**Video Performance ***(6.55)

**Bright Indoor Light – 3000 lux

*Almost every digital camera released these days has a Video mode, but unfortunately none of them can yet match up to decent camcorders. We put the S5’s video to the test by recording footage of our color test charts under bright studio lights and setting the camera to auto white balance. As you can see in the charts below, the cameras colors are way off. However, this is mostly due to the problem the camera has auto white balancing in tungsten light, and is a problem for almost every digital camera. The mean color error is 22.3, with saturation of 135.7 percent. Noise levels are very low.

Low Light – 30 lux

Similar to our still image low light test, we dim our studio lights to 30 lux and record more video footage to test the video performance of the cameras. In low light the S5 actually has far better color accuracy, with a mean color error of only 7.09 and saturation of 107.5 percent. There is some noise present, but significantly less than in other cameras shooting in the same situation.


We shoot video footage of our resolution test chart at 1700 lux to see how the camera’s resolution holds up. Video resolution is significantly smaller than still image resolution, especially Standard Definition video of 640 x 480, which is what the S5 IS shoots (as does every other digital camera except for the Canon PowerShot TX1, which shoots in high definition). The S5 IS has decent resolution for a camera, recording 330 lw/ph horizontally with 0 percent oversharpening, and 370 lw/ph vertically with 13 percent oversharpening.


We duck out of the lab to capture some footage of cars and people to test motion. Though still not at the level of a camcorder, the S5’s video motion is very good. Despite some color moiré and a little jerkiness to moving objects, the video has excellent color reproduction and exposure, as well as good detail provided by very sharp focus. Compared to the Sony Cyber-Shot H7, a similar ultra-zoom camera with very good video, the Canon S5 IS has sharper focus and more accurate color reproduction without oversaturating color as much as the Sony does. However, the Sony H7’s motion is smoother than the S5’s.

Overall, the Canon S5 IS has the best video performance score so far this year. It certainly isn’t camcorder quality, but it’s a step in the right direction.



The Canon S5 has an electronic viewfinder positioned prominently above the LCD screen and surrounded by a rubber eyecup. The viewfinder protrudes from the body, but not enough to keep noses from rubbing against the LCD screen.

The viewfinder display can be changed via the display button. The various displays can be changed in the Recording menu: shooting info, histogram, 3:2 guide lines, and grid lines. Users can customize two viewing modes with combinations of those displays.

The viewfinder is well sized and comfortable to use, but its resolution is horribly grainy. In the 0.33-inch window, only 115,000 pixels are used to display the image, so individual specks of color can be picked out and it’s hard to tell if subjects are in focus.

On the left side is a diopter adjustment dial that is difficult to rotate because of the tiny grooves and corner it is in; it requires a fingernail to pry it one way or another. This should only have to be adjusted once unless there are multiple users that don’t share the same eyeglass prescription. The diopter control moves from -5.5 to +1.5m in six steps.

The viewfinder is great for outdoor photography or when bright light makes the LCD screen hard to see. The viewfinder is nicely shaded and its view is 100 percent accurate, but its poor resolution makes it hard to use all the time.

LCD Screen*(7.0)*

The Canon PowerShot S5’s LCD is an upgrade from the S3’s 2-inch LCD with 115,000 pixels. The S5’s 2.5-inch LCD screen with

207,000 pixels is an improvement, but the resolution still falls short of average. Most digital cameras – especially ones that cost $499 – have 230,000 pixels on their LCD screens for a much smoother view.

The low-temperature polycrystalline silicon TFT LCD screen is mounted on a sturdy platform and linked with a hinge on its left side. The hinge can fold in and out of the camera and rotate 270 degrees. This style looks like a camcorder and is perhaps an allusion to its great Movie mode. The S3’s smaller LCD also came on a folding hinge. The $479 Sony H9 has a larger 3-inch LCD screen with 230,000 pixels; it has hinges on the right and left sides of the LCD that allow it to pop outward and tilt up and down. It doesn’t twist to all the various angles the Canon S5 allows, but it has a bigger and smoother view.

Speaking of views and angles, the Canon S5’s LCD screen can be seen just about anywhere, even when it isn’t folded out and rotated. The screen itself is high-quality in that it can be seen from wide angles right to left, although the view isn’t as good when looked at from above or below. When taken outdoors in sunny weather, the LCD screen is still usable, but appears to have a purple haze. Users will be able to see subjects but not fine details when viewing the LCD outdoors. The electronic viewfinder is easier on the eyes outdoors and makes a better choice in this situation.

Like the electronic viewfinder, the display on the LCD screen can be customized with two viewing modes that include combinations of shooting info, histogram, 3:2 guide lines, and grid lines. The display has two brightness settings in the Setup menu – normal or bright – marked by sunshine icons.

The Canon S5’s vari-angle LCD screen has a smooth refresh rate, wide views, and nice 2.5-inch size. However, Canon could stand to improve the screen's resolution.


The built-in flash unit is the same one included on the older S3, but the new camera adds a hot shoe to its feature set. The hot shoe accepts Canon Speedlite 220EX, 430EX, and 580EX II accessory flashes, and the camera can control the output of those flashes in 19 levels.

Using the automatic ISO setting, the S5’s built-in flash reaches 1.6 to 17 feet when zoomed out and 3 to 13 feet when zoomed in. In Macro mode the flash is only effective from 1 to 1.6 feet, which is common but is probably best avoided. The flash doesn’t pop up automatically, and must be pulled up by the small tabs on the sides. This could be a problem for point-and-shooters who want everything done automatically.

If the flash is pulled open and the camera is set to a Manual or Priority mode, the flash fires every time. In Automatic mode, it fires only when the camera finds it necessary. In Program and Scene modes, the flash can be set to auto or on – supposedly. The manual states changing this is done by pushing the flash button on the left shoulder of the camera body while pushing the right or left sides of the selector. In reality, this does nothing. The model we reviewed seems to be stuck in the auto setting, so there’s no guarantee the flash will fire.

The other flash options work as they should. The red-eye reduction can be turned on and off and the slow sync can be set to first or second curtain. The flash output can be adjusted to three levels.

When the flash is activated in dim lighting it almost always causes deep shadows by or behind subjects. This effect is lessened when the output is manually adjusted; it certainly isn’t equipped with the intelligent flash system that automatically makes adjustments on Fujifilm cameras, though. The flash coverage is a bit spotty too. It appears brighter near the top and center of the image, leaving the corners and bottom darker than the rest.

Though the flash is a bit spotty, its 17-foot effectiveness is decent. The vast array of options like red-eye reduction and slow sync is good to have on hand, as is the hot shoe for Canon Speedlite flashes.

Zoom Lens*(7.5)*

The most celebrated feature on this "ultra-zoom" digital camera is its 12x optical zoom lens. It measures from 6-72mm, equivalent to 36-432mm in the 35mm format. This isn’t very wide. There are other cameras that offer wider angles. For instance, the Olympus SP-560’s 18x lens is 27mm wide, and Panasonic FZ18’s 18x optical zoom lens is 28mm wide.

Indeed, the Canon PowerShot S5 IS’s lens is on the shorter end of its ultra-zoom competitors. Sony’s H9 has a 15x lens and Olympus and Panasonic have 18x models. The Canon isn’t at the bottom of the barrel, though. Sony has a $299 H3 model with a 10x lens and the $229 Kodak Z710 has a 10x lens. As most other manufacturers have begun to include longer lenses on ultra zoom models, the Canon’s S-series has remained stagnant by using the same 12x optical zoom lens.

The S5’s zoom moves in and out with the zoom ring that surrounds the shutter release button. When pushed, a horizontal bar appears across the top of the LCD screen that has numerical and graphical components to help users know where the zoom is in the range. The zoom moves smoothly, andstops at about 16 different focal lengths throughout its 12x range. It also moves quietly, which can’t be said of all ultra-zoom models.

Digital zoom is available in the Recording menu; it can be set to a standard, 4x, 2x or 1.6x. There is also a digital tele-converter with 1.6x and 2x options that zooms even more – almost like digital zoom applied before the optical zoom rather than afterward, as is standard. Digital zoom degrades image quality, so it should be used sparingly.

The 12x lens’ aperture maxes out at a wide f/2.7, letting plenty of light pass to the image sensor. The aperture shrinks to f/3.5 in Telephoto mode decent for this type of lens.

The lens is backed up by optical image stabilization, which is very effective in reducing blur in still images and visible shake in videos. It has several modes: Continuous, Panning, Shoot Only, and Off for still images and Continuous for the Movie mode. The image stabilization system is quiet, along with the autofocus system, which is powered by an ultrasonic motor.

The Canon PowerShot S5 can be fitted with conversion lenses. There is a button to the lower left of the lens that allows the outer rim of the lens to screw off. Doing so reveals a wide threading where other lenses can be attached: wide-angle WC-DC58A, tele-converter TC-DC58B, and close-up 500D.

The Canon 12x optical zoom lens comes with a cheap plastic lens cap that attaches to the neck strap. This is the pinching kind of lens cap and it falls off easily, making a designated camera case an even more necessary purchase.

The S5’s lens has wide apertures and a healthy 12x optical zoom backed up by image stabilization, but isn’t perfect. We saw a lot of chromatic aberration in images caused by the lens and spotted some barrel distortion in macro images, as well.

Design / Layout

Model Design / Appearance*(8.25)*

When Canon announced the S5 in May 2007, the company called it "a technological bridge between Canon’s advanced point and shoot compact digital cameras and its entry-level digital SLR cameras." The design of the S5 reflects this. It uses the shrunken shell of a DSLR with a chunky 12x lens attached to it, but adds simple menus and features more typical of compact digital cameras.

The SLR-shaped body involves metal and plastic panels; overall, it is quite sturdy. The body comes in black, which makes it look more like a DSLR than the typically shinier compact models. The Canon PowerShot S5 IS looks like a digital camera to be taken seriously.

Size / Portability*(4.75)*

The Canon S5 won’t fit in a pocket with its chunky 4.6 x 3.15 x 3.06-inch measurements. It will fit in a purse or backpack, but it really belongs in a carrying case of its own. The chunky body introduces some vulnerability; the LCD monitor or hinged flash could snap off, for instance. Although it’s a sturdy body, treating it like a compact digital camera (stuffing it in a bag, dangling it from a wrist, etc) probably isn’t a good idea. The S5 weighs 15.9 ounces unloaded, but its four AA batteries make it feel a lot heavier. It feels too heavy for its size. During long photo shoots, the neck strap will come in handy. The S5 is easier to tote around than a DSLR, but chunky enough to require its own case.

Handling Ability*(8.0)*

The Canon PowerShot S5 IS is built to be handled more than the average compact camera. It has a chunky SLR-like grip that is wide enough for big hands. The inner portion of the hand grip has a rubber surface to give fingers a little more to grip. On the back of the camera, the right thumb can cradle the body on the plastic bumps to the left of the multi-selector. There slight bump beside the multi-selector makes a niche that gives users a better grip. The bottom of the camera is nice and wide, with plenty of room for the left hand. Users can hold the camera like a compact model, with the left thumb supporting the bottom and the other fingers wrapped around the side – or users can hold it like a DSLR, with the left palm cradling the bottom and fingers holding the lens.

Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size*(8.5)*

The control buttons are more cleanly laid out on the S5 as opposed to the curvaceous S3. The buttons on the S3 are spread randomly, whereas the buttons on the S5 are more neatly stacked in columns.

The buttons are sufficiently labeled except for the video recording button, which is designated by a red dot in the middle of the chrome button positioned on the back of the camera.

The shortcut button is an interesting feature that allows users to access a favorite function very quickly. The shortcut button can be assigned to access metering, white balance, custom white balance, digital tele-converter, AE lock, AF lock, and display off functions. It also doubles as the button that transfers photos to the printer.

The only major complaint we have is with the multi-selector, which feels like a tiny bowl. It’s hard to distinguish the directions from one another, which often results in accidentally entering the wrong menu.


The menu system is typical of Canon PowerShot digital cameras. It is split so frequently-used features are in the Function menu, accessible by the function/delete button to the right of the LCD screen. This menu comes with a large live preview that takes up most of the frame. The menu items appear along the left edge of the screen and their respective options appear along the bottom edge of the screen. The menu appears as follows.

The menu button pulls up three menu tabs with camera, tool, and person icons. The background is light gray, and the area directly behind the white text is a darker gray color. The tabs are color-coded. For example, the camera icon is on a red tab, as is the highlighted option within that menu. The full menu in the Manual mode is as follows:

The menus are lengthy, but there is a vertical bar along the right side that indicates to the user how far down the menu they are. The length of the standard Recording menu almost necessitates the shorter Function menu that makes frequently used settings easier to find.

Navigation through the menus is done with the tiny, soft multi-selector located in the upper right corner of the back. Because of its high placement on the edge, it isn’t very comfortable to access while still supporting the hefty camera body. The selector doesn’t offer much tactile differentiation between the four directions, so accidentally choosing the wrong menu item is a common mistake.

Ease of Use*(6.75)*

The Canon PowerShot S5 IS is fairly intuitive, but still not a camera to purchase for your technologically-impaired great aunt. The S5 is easy to use if you’ve used other Canon PowerShot digital cameras, because many of the features carry from model to model. The menus are organized, the layout is clean, and the features are easy to find and activate. Despite all this, the novice would likely be intimidated by the abundance of buttons, flipping LCD, unlabeled video recording button, finicky selector, and flash that needs to be manually opened to function.


**Auto Mode ***(7.25)*

This digital camera has 22 shooting modes, but the most prominent one on the mode dial is Auto mode. Auto is printed in black upon a shimmering green background, whereas the other modes are printed in silver on a black background.

The S5’s Auto mode’s functionality is the closet to a point-and-shoot. It automates everything, including exposure. Users who want some control can access the Program mode, which gives access to exposure compensation.

Much of the Recording menu remains intact in Auto mode; it is missing a few more manually oriented flash options such as slow sync. The Function menu allows users to change the video and image sizes, but the rest of the options are unavailable. The ISO button has automatic and high ISO automatic options to choose from. Face detection and central autofocus points can be selected from the set button, too.

There are still a few features available in Auto mode, but it is basically a point-and-shooter’s dream because nothing has to be changed to snap a decent picture.

Movie Mode*(8.25)*

There is a Movie mode located on the mode dial, and it can also be accessed by pressing the designated video recording button. The button isn’t well labeled; it’s marked only by a red dot on a chrome button to the right of the viewfinder. There are a few advantages to having a separate recording button from the shutter release button. Movies can be recorded any time and there is no need to waste time flipping the dial to the Movie mode. In addition, full-resolution still images can be taken while a video is being recorded. Canon calls this separate button its MovieSnap function.

Flipping to Movie mode on the dial isn’t a complete waste of time because it allows users to see what shooting parameters, such as white balance, are currently activate. In the Movie mode, users can access white balance, My Colors, video resolution, and image size from the Function menu. The ISO button can be pushed for a +/- 6 gain adjustment that brightens and darkens the video.

Video resolution options are 640 x 480 at 30 frames per second (fps), a more compressed "LP" 640 x 480-pixel option, also at 30 fps, a smooth 320 x 240 pixels at 60 fps, and a more e-mail-friendly 320 x 240 pixels at 30 fps. The Motion JPEG files can record up to an hour or until the memory card is full (the camera accepts up to 4GB SD cards). On older PowerShot cameras, including the S3, the 60 fps Movie mode was limited to one minute of recording time. That has since been upgraded to record as long as the rest of the modes.

The specs claim there are four Movie modes: Standard, Color Accent, Color Swap, and My Colors. The My Colors can be set from just about anywhere, but the Accent and Swap modes are only found among the Scene modes – so they cannot be accessed if the dial is rotated to Movie mode. This isn’t very intuitive.

The Canon PowerShot S5 IS’s videos look great most of the time. They are properly exposed and smooth. The 12x optical zoom is functional and quiet. The optical image stabilization helps keep videos steady, even when there isn’t a tripod around. The only videos that aren’t fabulous are those shot in low light; they look noisy and dim.

The generally excellent videos are complemented nicely by clear stereo audio. Most digital cameras offer monaural audio only, although the new Kodak EasyShare Z812 IS offers stereo capabilities. The Canon’s audio is hard to beat, though. Users can turn a wind filter on and off and adjust the sensitivity of the microphone by 21 levels, or let the camera automatically adjust the microphone level. Audio in Movie mode is recorded at 44.100kHz and sounds great.

The S5’s excellent Movie mode is unparalleled in any digital camera, except perhaps the PowerShot TX1. The TX1 sports high-definition video recording and a functional 10x stabilized lens in a more compact but less comfy body; it is touted as a hybrid camera-camcorder. The Canon S5 IS provides a much more substantial body to hang onto, giving it the edge for standard 640 x 480-pixel video.

**Drive / Burst Mode ***(6.0)*

The Drive modes are found by pushing the tiny circular button behind the shutter release button. There are lots of options; more show up in Manual modes, though. Single, Continuous, Continuous AF, and three self-timer options fill the order. In Single mode, the camera can take one picture about every three seconds. The Continuous mode speeds that up to 1.5 pictures every second. The Continuous AF mode, which focuses before each picture, is a bit slower at 0.9 fps. The standard Burst mode took 57 shots and filled up the memory card. The Continuous AF mode took 16 pictures at its 0.9 fps pace and then stuttered on subsequent images and took even longer.

The three self-timers include 2 and 10-second delays and a custom self-timer that can be set to delay 0-30 seconds and then take 1-10 shots in a row. Computer-controlled shooting is possible with the included software, so a mouse click can take a picture, too.

The Panasonic FZ18 has a quicker Burst mode that shoots 3 fps, but it doesn’t last long at all. At full resolution, the camera stops after only four pictures to take a rest before the next burst. The Canon PowerShot S5 IS outdoes its competitors in the length of its burst, but should be faster given its $499 price tag.

Playback Mode*(7.75)*

The S5's Playback mode is accessed by twisting the power switch to the right. The Playback mode is displayed on the nice 2.5-inch LCD screen that rotates and is visible from most angles.

Pictures can be viewed individually and magnified up to 10x. They can be categorized for later access through the menu or the LED-adorned button on the upper left of the camera’s back. There is an automatic categorizing feature that sorts pictures by the mode they were taken in. For example, using this feature, the Portrait mode pictures are sent to the people category.

Pictures are deleted with the designated button to the right of the LCD, and users can navigate quickly through lots of images by using the jump button just below the delete button. The jump button skips to every 10th or 100th image, or to movies, folders, categories, or shot dates. Users can also navigate by pushing the wide end of the zoom ring that displays nine images at a time. Pictures can be set to automatically rotate in the Setup menu.

Scrolling through individual pictures quickly is a chore. A red LED blinks on the back of the camera while between pictures. Playback mode just tends to be a little slow.

There are a few editing options available in the Playback menu, but nothing like cropping and resizing; there are My Colors and red-eye correction settings, though.

There is a sound recorder in the menu that doesn’t have much to do with playing back pictures. It simply records audio and can play it back in the menu. Somewhat related are the sound memos, which can be added to pictures. Up to one minute of audio can be attached by pushing the button on the left shoulder of the camera. The audio records at 11.025 kHz, so it isn’t very clear.

Videos can be played back with VCR-like control. They can be played normally or in five levels of slow motion. Users can cut the beginning or end and save the file. The volume can be adjusted in five levels while the video is playing back by pushing the selector up and down. Movies look good and the stereo audio sounds great.

Custom Image Presets*(6.25)*

This PowerShot has a decent list of Scene modes that include Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, and Sports directly on the mode dial. The rest of the Scene modes are grouped within a "SCN" portal on the dial. The following are accessed by pushing the right and left portions of the selector: Night Scene, Indoor, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Color Accent, and Color Swap. This selection is bigger than those on Sony’s ultra-zoom cameras; they have only seven Scene modes. The Canon S5 is outdone by others in this area though: the Olympus SP-560UZ has 25 Scene modes and the Kodak EasyShare Z812 IS has 16 Scene modes. Most users of this digital camera won’t care; the Canon S5 covers the basics and has plenty of other exposure modes to play with.

Control Options

Manual Control Options

The Canon PowerShot S5 IS has plenty of manual controls for exposure, flash output, ISO, white balance, self-timers, etc. This digital camera will please consumers in search of control.


Auto Focus *(6.75)*

The through-the-lens autofocus system isn’t the snappiest we’ve seen, as it tends to take a few tenths of a second before focusing on a subject. The more zoomed in the lens is, the longer it takes.

The S5’s autofocus has some interesting features. Face detection can be accessed from the set button, along with a central focusing frame and the FlexiZone function. The FlexiZone can be turned on and off in the Recording menu and allows access to a focus point that can be moved along an 18 x 28-spot grid with a superimposed green box on the LCD. The face detection, available for stills and movies, can recognize up to nine faces at a time and does so quickly. Once recognized, the camera tailors its exposure, parameters, and focus to ensure that faces look their best. Face detection is another feature that is an upgrade from the older S3.

The autofocus features can be set to function continuously or only when the shutter is pushed halfway down. Most cameras’ continuous AF modes make some noise, but the Canon S5 is quiet as can be.

The Canon PowerShot S5 IS’s lens normally focuses from 1.6 feet (wide) to 3 feet (telephoto). The Super Macro mode brings the focus much closer. Objects touching the lens can stay in focus with its 0 to 3.9-inch focus area. In low light, the camera’s autofocus assist beam shoots out a beam of light if set to do so in the Setup menu.

Overall, the S5’s autofocus system is decent, but sluggish.

Manual Focus*(4.0)*

The button that accesses this feature is located on the left side of the lens. It isn’t a button that needs only to be pushed once; users have to hold it down while scrolling up and down with the selector. This is tricky, especially when trying to hold the hefty camera body. The Manual Focus mode can focus as close as 3.9 inches and as far as the lens can see. Users can choose whether to preview a zoomed portion of the image for better focus, but it’s still hard to check the focus because of the LCD screen’s limited resolution. In case you’re not sure about the focus (and it’s hard to be), the camera offers a Safety MF function that allows users to manually focus but then also access the autofocus if needed.


The ISO has a designated button to the right of the LCD screen. If pushed in Auto mode, only Automatic and High ISO modes are available. The Automatic ISO shouldn’t be trusted. It produced more noise than most compact digital cameras in 2007

; see the noise test in the Testing/Performance section of this review for more details. The High ISO Auto mode is becoming more common; Canon’s maxes out at ISO 800, which is a low cap compared to some other models but is probably the most the S5 can offer with its abundance of noise. Most other exposure modes offer the full 80-1600 ISO range. The manual ISO range is preferable to the automatic setting, but the amount of noise produced is still unacceptable. In the Movie mode, the ISO button accesses a +/- 6 adjustment scale to brighten or darken videos.

The Canon S3 has an ISO range of 80-800, so the S5 bests that and adds an Auto ISO Shift mode. This function can be turned on and off in the Recording menu of the Priority and Program modes, but not in Manual mode. The shift function, when turned on, blinks the blur warning on the LCD and the blue LED on the button on the left shoulder; when that blinking blue button is pushed, the ISO is bumped up to accommodate flash-free low-light photography.

White Balance*(8.25)*

The white balance settings can be found by pushing the function button. The S5 has the same options found on other PowerShot digital cameras: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Flash, and Custom. The custom white balance is simple to set, too. The camera superimposes tiny brackets in the center of the view and provides on-screen directions that prompt users to push the set button when something white is framed within those tiny brackets. The Canon S5’s white balance system is among the best we’ve tested; see the Testing/Performance section for more details.


The exposure can be manually or semi-manually adjusted, or left up to the discretion of the camera. The Auto mode doesn’t allow any adjustment of the exposure – as it should. The Program, Priority, and Scene modes allow a +/- 2 exposure compensation scale in 1/3 steps when the top portion of the selector is pushed. In Manual mode, individual shutter speeds are changed by pushing right and left for shutter speed and up and down for aperture. Exposure bracketing can be adjusted through the Function menu; the camera can take three pictures in a row at increments of +/- 0.3, 0.7, or 1.0. For those users who want to watch the exposure carefully, a histogram can be displayed on the LCD screen.


The metering can be changed within the Function menu to the following options: Evaluative, Center-Weighted Average, and Spot. These are typical options on compact digital cameras, but most cameras don’t allow them to be manually selected in the Movie mode like the S5. The S5 even syncs the metering with the face detection feature when it is activated.

Shutter Speed*(8.0)*

The Canon S5 has a mechanical and electronic shutter that flips as fast as 1/3200 of a second and can open for as long as 15 seconds. It can be manually adjusted in Shutter Priority and Manual modes by pushing right and left on the selector. There is a live preview of the exposure in Manual mode, but not in Shutter Priority mode. Any shutter speeds that operate slower than 1.3 seconds employ the built-in noise reduction system.

**Aperture ***(8.0)*

The Canon lens on the camera has a wide f/2.7 aperture at its widest end that allows plenty of light to pass through the lens and hit the image sensor. The lens and its apertures are the same as what was included on the older Canon S3. The max aperture shrinks to f/3.5 in telephoto and shrinks as small as f/8. In the Aperture Priority mode, pushing right and left on the selector brings users through these options: f/2.7, f/3.2, f/3.5, f/4, f/4.5, f/5, f/5.6, f/6.3, f/7.1, and f/8. In Manual mode, users have to push up and down to access the apertures.

Image Parameters

Picture Quality / Size Options*(8.5)*

The S5 upgrades the 6-megapixel S3 to 8 effective megapixels on the same-sized image sensor. The 1/2.5-inch CCD has 8.3 total megapixels. Image sizes can be chosen in the Function menu: L (3264 x 2448), M1 (2592 x 1944), M2 (2048 x 1536), M3 (1600 x 1200), S (640 x 480), and W (3264 x 1832). Hidden in this menu is a tiny prompt that allows the compression to be changed to Superfine, Fine, or Normal. These options are typical, although most digital cameras include a 3:2-formatted image size so that properly cropped 4 x 6-inch prints can be made directly from the camera. The Canon S5, and many of its PowerShot siblings, only provides 3:2 guidelines superimposed on the LCD screen as part of the display. It doesn’t actually crop the images though, so users will have to do that in software after uploading the pictures to a computer.

Picture Effects Mode*(8.0)*

The Canon PowerShot S5 IS has a host of picture effects also found in other Canon digital cameras. Most effects are available under the My Colors heading in the Function menu: Off, Vivid, Neutral, Sepia, Black & White, Positive Film, Lighter Skin Tone, Darker Skin Tone, Vivid Blue, Vivid Green, Vivid Red, and Custom Color are included. These Color modes are also available in the Playback menu, except for Custom Color. Custom Color mode allows users to adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, and individual red, green, and blue colors along with skin tones on +/- 2 full-step scales. There aren’t many cameras that provide this much in-camera control over color.

Canon also throws in Color Accent and Color Swap modes in the Scene menu. These used to be grouped with the My Colors modes in cameras released before 2006, but the manufacturer has since decided to market them as separate exposure modes rather than simple picture effects. Users can highlight a color to accent or two colors to trade using the set button; the pictures and videos taken with these usually look quite strange but are fun to play with anyway.

Connectivity / Extras



The Canon S5 comes with a Canon Version 30.2 Solution Disk. The CD-ROM includes the following programs for Macintosh: ImageBrowser 5.8, PhotoStitch 3.1, and EOS Utility 1.1. For Windows, ZoomBrowser EX 5.8, PhotoStitch 3.1, Camera TWAIN Driver 6.7, and EOS Utility 1.1 are provided. Apple QuickTime 7 is also included.

The ZoomBrowser program is the main hub for viewing and editing. There are quick access buttons along the left side of the window to upload images, view and classify them, edit, export to other programs, print, and upload to the Internet. Viewing is done in three modes: zoom, scroll, and preview. Shooting information, histograms, and other file information is displayed along with user-generated comments, ratings, and keywords.

There are basic editing tools, but nothing that would impress enthusiasts. Red-eye correction, automatic adjustments, color and brightness adjustments, sharpness, trimming, and inserting text can be done from the editing tab. Links from ZoomBrowser open up other programs such as PhotoStitch, which links all the pictures taken with the Stitch Assist mode on the camera.

Overall, the included software is enough to crop and prepare pictures for printing but won’t be enough to satisfy more advanced photographers.

Jacks, ports, plugs*(6.5)*

The camera’s jacks are located under rubber covers on the right side of the camera. There are two covers. The top one protects the power adaptor jack, and the longer, skinnier cover beneath it protects the separate USB and AV jacks. The included USB cable is a high-speed 2.0 mini-B type. The AV function can be set to NTSC or PAL standard in the Setup menu, like many other digital cameras.

*Direct Print Options (7.0)

*The Canon S5 is equipped to print directly with its USB cable and designated LED-adorned print button. The camera also has a print submenu within the Playback menu. From there, users can print individual images or create and save print orders. When creating a print order, users can scroll through the images and select which ones to print and how many, from 0 to 99, of each to print. Users can manually scroll through the images or select images by date, category, or folder. The S5 is PictBridge, Canon Direct Print, and Bubble Jet compatible. Our only complaint is that it doesn’t have an image size formatted to the most popular print size: 4 x 6 inches. The crop of the images is left up to the printer, which isn’t always a good idea.


A few years ago, most ultra-zoom digital cameras were powered by AA batteries. That has changed, and there’s now a fairly equal spread of cameras that offer AA batteries and those that accept lithium-ion batteries. The AA batteries are more convenient; if you run out while on vacation, you can find them at a gas station or grocery store. They don’t pack nearly as much power, though. Lithium-ion batteries last longer, but if they are lost or the charger is accidentally left at home then there’s almost no hope for those vacation pictures. The Canon PowerShot S5 IS is powered by convenient AA batteries. Four of them, however, make the camera feel quite hefty. Four alkaline AA batteries are included in the box with the Canon S5, but Canon also sells longer-lasting NiMH AA batteries and a charger for them. The NiMH batteries get 450 shots per charge while the alkaline set only lasts for 170 shots. In comparison, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 has a lithium-ion battery that can snap 400 shots at a time.


The Canon PowerShot S5 IS accepts SD, SDHC, and MMC cards up to 4GB. It does not have internal memory but comes with a 32MB MMC card instead. The older S3 had a memory card door on its right side, but the new S5 places the memory card slot in the battery compartment on the bottom of the camera. This makes changing the memory card or the batteries while using a tripod difficult.

Other features*(4.5)*

Voice Memo – Available in the Playback menu, this feature allows users to attach up to one minute of audio to each image. The audio isn’t very high-quality. It records at 11.025 kHz only, so it is made to record the photographer’s voice and that’s about it. The button to activate this feature is located on the left shoulder of the camera’s back.

*Sound Recorder *– This feature is also buried in the Playback menu, although it doesn’t have anything to do with pictures. It has three audio quality levels: 11.025, 22.050, and 44.100 kHz, and can record up to two hours of audio at a time.

Stitch Assist – This mode is located on the dial. It provides previews that allow users to line up pictures from right to left or left to right, along with four-square layouts that allow users to make square-shaped pictures. The images aren’t stitched together until loaded into the PhotoStitch 3.1 software, which is included with the camera.

Overall Impressions

Value (6.0)

The Canon PowerShot S5 IS retails for $499, the same introductory price as the S3. The difference is that the S3 was the top dog in its time and the S5 now has much more competition in the ultra-zoom market. The $499 price tag is steep; it is one of the most expensive ultra-zoom cameras along with the $499 Olympus SP-560UZ. There are plenty of other cameras that sell for less and have more features. If the camera’s autofocus was faster, its burst was snappier, and its pictures were noise-free, paying $499 wouldn’t be so bad. But Canon still has lots of improvements to make – and some competitors have already made those improvements. The Canon S5 was announced in July 2007, so its price should hold high for awhile. The older S3, however, is still a great camera and its age has demoted its price to a steal at less than $300.


Canon PowerShot S3 IS – This digital camera is a year older and has the previous generation of image processor. The processor has served it well, though. Its noise levels remain lower and its dynamic range is more robust. The S3 has 6 megapixels and the same 12x optically stabilized zoom lens. These SLR-styled cameras share the same variety of exposure modes and many of the same features, although the older S3 does not have the Auto ISO Shift function. The S3 also misses out on the included hot shoe. The bodies of the two cameras are similar except the hand grip is slightly shallower on the S3 and its buttons are more scattered than the neat, straight layout of the S5. The Canon PowerShot S3 IS has a 2-inch LCD screen that folds out and rotates, but its resolution is almost embarrassing at 115,000 pixels. The S3 has the same great Movie mode and still provides a lot of great features; it can be found for less than $300.

Kodak EasyShare Z812 IS – This digital camera’s specs sound familiar: 8.2 megapixels and a 12x optical zoom lens that is optically stabilized. The $299 price tag is a lot less expensive, though. The SLR-like body is slightly smaller and definitely lighter at 10.6 ounces. It has 16 Scene modes and a clean layout. Up to 10 faces can be recognized with the Kodak Z812’s face detection technology. High definition pictures and videos can be captured and output, a fairly new feature on the market that is currently only offered on select Sony models and the Canon TX1. High-resolution videos are backed up with stereo audio, something the Canon S5 has as well. Videos on the EasyShare are restricted to 30 minutes, though. The Kodak Z812’s manual controls aren’t very impressive: shutter speeds are limited to 1/2-1/1000 of a second, and custom white balance isn’t even an option. The Kodak has a 2.5-inch LCD screen with 230,000 pixels and 32MB of internal memory.

Olympus SP-560UZ – This camera has the same $499 retail price as the S5. It also has 8 megapixels and an SLR-shaped body. Its 18x lens is longer and wider at 27mm. Like the S5, it features optical image stabilization. It has an excessively detailed Guide mode with lots of tutorials about how to take better pictures. It offers 25 Scene modes, JPEG and RAW shooting, and an Underwater mode to match the optional $379 underwater case that can take it 40 meters below the ocean’s surface. The Olympus SP-560UZ has face detection and ISO adjustments up to 1600 at full-resolution. Its Movie mode has a major quirk: users can either use the optical zoom while recording or activate the audio, not both at once. The SP-560 has a similarly-sized body but it weighs less at 12.9 ounces unloaded. It requires four AA batteries to power it. It has a 2.5-inch LCD screen with smoother 230,000 pixels. It also has 47MB of internal memory and includes a slot that accepts xD-Picture cards up to 2GB.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18 – This SLR-shaped digital camera also has 8.1 megapixels and a full range of Manual and Automatic modes, but comes with a longer 18x optical zoom lens. It’s optically stabilized, too. To sweeten the deal, the FZ18 can shoot RAW and RAW + JPEG files along with the standard JPEG. It also has face detection technology that can recognize up to 15 faces. In addition to the 640 x 480-pixel videos, there is a wide 848 x 480-pixel video resolution that shoots at the same smooth 30 fps. The camera body is about the same size, but weighs a lot less. It comes with a lithium-ion battery and charger to reboot it every 400 shots; this is preferable to the hefty and expensive AA batteries that power the Canon S5. The Panasonic’s lens is wider at 28mm but its LCD doesn’t fold out and rotate. The LCD does have other familiar specs, though; 2.5 inches filled with 207,000 pixels. The FZ18 has a quick 3 fps burst, but it maxes out at four shots at full resolution. Another disadvantage is that it doesn’t include a hot shoe. The price, however, is very enticing at $399.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 – The 8.1-megapixel Sony H9 offers many of the same features and even a few upgrades for $20 less. It has a longer 15x optical zoom lens along with optical image stabilization. It has the full range of Manual and Automatic modes in an SLR-shaped body, and an interesting "Advanced Sports Shooting mode" that uses a continuous tracking autofocus system along with quick shutter speeds that flip as fast as 1/4000 of a second. It has a larger 3-inch LCD screen that folds out from the camera body, but it tilts up and down instead of rotating like the S5’s monitor. The Sony H9’s layout includes a "home" button that is an access point to just about everything on the camera; there is also a Function guide that is helpful for beginners who want everything spelled out. The H9 has the same top video resolution of 640 x 480 pixels at 30 fps and, like the Canon S5, can use its optical zoom lens while recording. The Cyber-shot adds a NightShot mode that uses infrared light to capture subjects in no-light situations, helpful for wildlife photography at night. It also has high definition output capabilities, but only if an optional $40 cable is purchased from Sony.

Who It’s For

Point-and-Shooters – This digital camera has plenty of features for this demographic: Automatic and Scene modes, an intuitive layout, and simple menus.

Budget Consumers – With a $499 retail price, the S5 is priced at the high-end of the compact digital camera market. It is even on the pricey side for ultra-zoom models. Those on a budget and bound for a Canon should consider the still respectable S3, which sells for less than $300.

Gadget Freaks – The folding and rotating LCD monitor, face detection, and MovieSnap function are all desirable features. These users should also check out the Sony H9, which is $20 cheaper and has an interesting Infrared mode.

Manual Control Freaks – A full range of manual control is available, so these consumers will be satisfied.

Pros/ Serious Hobbyists – The manual controls are pleasing to this audience, but the poor performance in noise and dynamic range tests just might ruin the deal.



The Canon PowerShot S5 IS combines a few aged components with some new technology and upgrades. The 8-megapixel ultra-zoom digital camera has a 12x optical zoom lens that has made several appearances on previous S-series models. The 12x lens used to be considered long, but is now one of the shorter lenses on an ultra-zoom camera. Newer cameras have 15x and 18x lenses – and are less expensive.

The S5’s $499 price tag is steep and hard to justify when the competition is offering more features. In addition, the S5 doesn't perform as well as it should. Granted, its colors are beautifully accurate, but its dynamic range and noise levels are subpar, even when compared to less expensive compact digital cameras.

The S5 is still a great hybrid digital camera. It takes excellent video with stereo audio, and its 12x optical zoom and image stabilization are functional. If only the pictures were as good. The burst mode lags at 1.5 fps, the autofocus isn’t as quick as its DSLR-like body suggests, and noise renders some images nearly unusable. There are better options for the price.

Sample Photos

Sample Photos

Click on the thumbnails to view the high-resolution images.

Specs / Ratings

Specs Table

Meet the tester

Emily Raymond

Emily Raymond


Emily Raymond is a valued contributor to the family of sites.

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