Canon Powershot S5 IS

S2 vs S5

I am pretty excited about my new Canon Powershot S5 IS. Since it is so new and there are few reviews of it around I thought I should post my “review.” If you skipped the S3 waiting for a big improvement like I did, this might be what you have waited for. But it is still not a huge improvement. If you have an S3, it might not be worth it at least till the price drops a bunch.

Major updates since I originally posted are in blue. Last updated November 24.

I was very happy with my Canon Powershot S2 IS and it still works fine (except for some grinding noises sometimes). So I was having trouble deciding whether to get the S5 or not and a lot of the early information about it was killing my excitement for it. I had been looking at alternatives in case I decided not to get the S5, but I didn’t see any that really stood out. And after finally getting to look at some of the other SLR-like cameras in person I decided just to go for the S5. There is always eBay or the 15% restocking fee if I just can’t stand it.

You can see a growing number of samples of my shots with the S5 here. Hopefully they can help you make your own decision on image quality.

The S5 is available now at Best Buy where I over paid for mine. I normally would only buy a camera online since you can find it cheaper, usually pay no tax, and likely get free shipping. But I was impatient this time and I had a gift card I was tired of carrying around.

Circuit City’s website has the camera with an unadvertised low price ($25.00 off). I don’t know how long that price is good or if it will be good in store. But the camera isn’t available yet in the store anyway and the employee I talked to said it isn’t in the computer yet and usually things show up in there about a week before they get them. Best Buy seems to have got an exclusive release date. I called Circuit City and asked about the camera, they said they are shipping them now if you order online, but he didn’t know when they would be available in stores. Checking again on June 23 on their website, Circuit City now says it is available in stores and that lower price is still listed.

Image quality seems to be a slight improvement over the S2. It may be a tiny bit softer, but not by much (if any) and more small detail is visible. You can see noise reduction effects sometimes when “pixel peeping,” but for regular viewing and printing it isn’t an issue. The noise reduction isn’t horrible and I have seen much worse samples from other cameras. Without moving up to an SLR, you aren’t really going to improve much no matter what. The sensor size and lens of the S5 are the same as the S2 but the megapixels keep going up since most people believe megapixels are everything. Canon had to increase it or it wouldn’t sell, and they seem to have done a decent job getting a bit more detail from this small sensor. I took a set of images comparing noise at different ISOs between the cameras. In those well lit indoor shots, the S5 always appear a little better. Outdoor shots are harder to determine. I have seen a small bit of purple fringing in a few of my outdoor max zoom shots especially around overexposed areas but not enough that it bothers me. Indoor zoom shots, even not so well lit, show the same minor improvement over the S2.

The feel is good, though I don’t like the minor changes with button placement. They moved the customizable button to the left side of the camera where it is basically useless. If the LCD panel is out, getting to the button with your left hand is not convenient. Since they moved that button they moved all the others down. The buttons are slightly less easily pressed compared to the S2. I guess that could be a good thing or a bad thing. You are less likely to accidentally press a button, but you will have to get used to pressing harder.

Color saturation is a bit better than my S2. Low light focusing appears slightly better but still can be trouble. Focusing in regular light on even a moving target seems improved. The view finder is brighter (and bigger too I think) though the resolution still isn’t great. And the larger LCD screen is brighter and amazing. I can’t believe I have been happy with the S2’s panel before now that I have used this giant.

ISO 400 seems ok. Some people will claim it is still unusable. Others will say it’s decent. Going higher than ISO 200 is still something to avoid if possible but I would rather have a noisy image than a blurry one or none at all. Noise reduction software can do an amazing job even on ISO 1600 images.

I really like the hot shoe for using an external flash even though I probably won’t use it that often. I have an old 1980’s Canon flash that isn’t able to talk to the camera so I had to set things manually on the camera and flash, but it is nice to have a very powerful flash. There is an annoying delay between hitting the shutter and the flash firing though. If you are shooting a fast moving target, you have to track it or won’t be in the shot by the time the flash fires. Before you use an old flash you should read this and check this chart, certain old flashes have very high trigger voltage which will over time burn out your hot shoe.

The old flash stopped working with my camera after a few months (it’s connector was nearly broken when I started using it) and I liked having the extra flash power so I bought a Sunpak flash which should have worked fine, but for some reason didn’t so I exchanged it for a real Canon flash, the Speedlight 430EX. Much more expensive, but now that I have it I am glad I didn’t stick with a cheap flash. The refresh rate of the 430EX (until the batteries are low) keeps up with the speed of the camera’s continuous shooting mode (compared to several seconds between shots with the other). So far I use it mostly for macros which it is not well suited for (the 530EX is). But a home made diffuser/reflector helps a lot. So it turns out, I do use the hot shoe a lot. Since I got the new flash, I hardly shoot macros without it.

The S5 has several new features that I like in theory, Face Detection, Continuous Shooting AF, and Safety Manual Focus, but I will have to wait and see how useful they really are.

I have not yet tried Face Detection much but it sounds like it works well for other people. It is on by default for the more automatic modes, but it must be activated manually for P mode and higher. Unless you turn off FlexiZone, face detect is not very useful. Once detected, the auto focus box would stay on the position the face was when detected. If you turn off FlexiZone, Face Detect can be activated all the time with the set button and is just like in the automatic modes.

Continuous Shooting Auto Focus seemed to work ok but is not perfect. The speed isn’t too much lower than the regular continuous shooting. But there is no focus box to aim to help keep focus on your subject so some shots may be focusing on the subject and some on the background but it will be nicely in focus. It is not hidden away in a menu option so is easy to activate, it is right there as a choice next to regular continuous shooting when you hit the button.

Safety Manual Focus is a feature I think might be extremely useful. I have a Raynox DCR-250 macro adapter and at its maximum magnification, focusing is extremely difficult so manual focus is almost a must. But even then I miss a lot of shots just slightly due to the very narrow DOF so I hope safety focus help. I haven’t yet really put this feature to the test.

The lens cap does seem like it will stay on better than the S2, it is now a sort of clip on lens. But it still pops off so it doesn’t put any pressure on the lens motor if you forget to remove it. So it may still not stay on all the time, but I have not knocked it off accidentally yet.

The plastic tripod mount threads on the S2 have been replaced by metal. That was a common complaint with reviewers but I didn’t find it that bad. But now that it can have an external flash it does need the better thread.

There is now an ISO Speed field in the EXIF that Picasa and Flickr both read now so you don’t have to look in the Maker Notes fields to find it.

Canon got rid of the intervalometer and the high speed continuous shooting mode, but I suspect the majority of users never even knew either of those features existed. I will miss the high speed mode’s 2.4 fps. Regular continuous mode is the same as the S2 and S3’s 1.5 fps.

Actually comparing regular continuous shooting on the S2 with the S5, both cameras do seem about equal though not exactly the same. The S2 seemed to start off faster I think but over a minute slowed down slightly a few times in my first test. It was on an older smaller card but both were SanDisk. Neither had been formated recently and both had images already on them.

shots size time fps
S2 89 66 mb 1 min 1.483
S5 91 102 mb 1 min 1.517


I did some further tests comparing the speed of the two cameras. The S5 is a tiny bit (one shot per minute) faster than the S2’s normal continuous shooting mode. I used the same memory card in both cameras this time and included low level formatting it as a test for each camera which made no difference. Having the LCD panel open or closed also made no difference. I set the cameras to manual on ISO 80 and the fastest shutter speed I could at F2.7, 1/1600s. I also tried shooting with the S5 in lower resolutions, which slows it down slightly because it must resize.

shots size time fps resolution
S2 92 40 mb 1 min 1.533 2592×1944
S5 93 36 mb 1 min 1.554 3264×2448
S5 89 22 mb 1 min 1.483 2592×1944
S5 91 1.8 mb 1 min 1.517 640×480

In regular shooting there is a longer black out moment right after you hit the shutter. On the S2 it was so short I didn’t even realize it was there until now. The S5 seems to double the length of the blackout which is still extremely short and certainly not measurable by me, but seemed odd until I realized the S2 did it also.

The memory card slot is now under the battery door which is probably good for retail marketing since they can leave a card in there now and not have it stolen. That is good for trying the camera in the store which used to be difficult with no memory, but it is annoying for owners. I prefer to use a card reader so I take the memory card out frequently. Now I have to worry about not turning the camera over or I have to close the door so the batteries stay in. I found that if I left the door open on the S2 I was less likely to forget to put the memory back in. Going out to shoot with no memory card sucks. The door now opens different, instead of front to back like the S2, it opens to the side. And thanks to the extra strong springs on the batteries, closing the door is difficult. I wonder if I will download images less frequently to avoid using that door. Maybe it will improve with use as the springs get softer, but closing the door is my biggest complaint about the camera.

I have read some places that claim that the focusing on the background problem has been improved. If it is, its still far from gone. Just ask the blurry bird I shot tofday. The camera liked the leaves behind him better since they were lit better and higher contrast even though the bird took up more than 90% of the focus box on the screen. Five out of nine shots focused on the background or at least tried to. Some of those the whole shot was blurry but the leaves were less blurry. I finally had to go into Digital Zoom so there was very little background visible to get the shot. It doesn’t actually look too bad. Even with the S2, the background focusing problem was never a big issue. It is annoying when it happens, but it isn’t common and can usually be worked around by adjusting your angle or focusing on a nearby object.

Even though the flash is a tiny bit higher than the S2, it is still partially blocked by the lens when in Super Macro mode. But that can be easily overcome with a home made ring flash diffuser. It is made out of a Styrofoam bowl and called the CCRRFD. Once I learned about it, I have used it for most of my macros.

DCResource.com has up sample photos from the S5. He says the review probably won’t be up till July though. These aren’t completely controlled studio shots so it is difficult to compare them, but his S3 gallery has three very similar shots between the two cameras.

CNet has a review up. I prefer DCResource and DPReview‘s more in depth reviews but since they aren’t out, you have to decide without them if you can’t wait.

DCRecource and DPReview posted their reviews. Here are a couple other informative reviews that have popped up recently: dpinterface.com, photoreview.com.au, mycanong7.com.

There is also a Flickr group for the camera and you can view photos taken with the S5 in Flickr’s Camera Finder. When I first posted, the group only had four photos and they were all mine. Now we are nearing 200 photos. In the group, I started a discussion of things that annoy users about the camera.

Overall I like the camera. It’s not perfect, but no camera is. I would recommend it. But I also recommend you find it online for less than $500. It isn’t hard if you can stand to not have it right away. If you aren’t already an S series user, you should look at the S3 too though. You can find it for about half the S5 price online. If the new S5 features don’t interest you, the S3 is a much better deal and there is likely less difference in image quality than there was from the S2. Don’t focus on the megapixels, six is plenty for most people.

I will keep this post updated as I learn more about the camera. I have had it for less than 24 hours so far so I am sure there is a lot more to learn. I bet reading the instruction book would help. I have now read some of it. It did help.

22 Comments to "Canon Powershot S5 IS"

  1. June 22, 2007 - 12:28 pm | Permalink

    You did a great job with your comparison shots, I’ll order my S5 tomorrow 😀
    Even without professional reviews I have seen several examples of the great capacity of this camera and I decided to buy it.

  2. June 22, 2007 - 8:01 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your review. I’m upgrading from an Olympus C765 UltraZoom, which is equivalent to the Canon S1. This seems like a great fit.

  3. June 23, 2007 - 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Purchased the camera from Best Buy. Was able to use a 12% off coupon.

    So far, I love the camera. It’s a big step up from my Olympus — except, the viewfinder is much better on my olympus. But since the LCD is so versatile, I’m sure I’ll just use that.

    I haven’t tried everything yet, but this is the best designed camera I’ve ever used (non-DSLR). All the functions are easily accessible. I’m sure I’ll be more inclined to use manual modes with this camera.

    Thanks again for the review

  4. Rebecca's Gravatar Rebecca
    June 30, 2007 - 8:18 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for the review. Found this after flipping through Flickr looking for S5 pics. I actually just bought an S5 today and wanted to re-affirm my decision by looking at some pics and seeing what others have done with the cam. It was really helpful to see your test pics, how you cleaned them up, what settings you’ve used etc. I can’t wait to try my new baby out now!

  5. Amy's Gravatar Amy
    July 5, 2007 - 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this! I was glad to see your review, I’ve been waiting for more info to appear about this camera, and I’m still not sure it’s what I’m looking for but it sounds like the best of the almost-slrs at least for now…

  6. Pine's Gravatar Pine
    July 16, 2007 - 3:06 am | Permalink

    Love the camera specially the 12x zoom that allows me to shoot the animal scenes that I like.
    I also find the view finder great as apposed to my PS 640.
    Have set the dioptre to my eyes and can now take shots immediatly whilst looking over my glasses which is bettter than looking through the glasses.

  7. July 19, 2007 - 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the review. I’ve got my S3 on ebay right now and I plan on getting the 430ex flash to go along with my S5 which is on the way partially due to your review and pictures. 🙂

    I used to own a Nikon D100 dSLR with SB-800 flash when I worked with a friend. He would shoot with the Sony VX2000 pro video camera and I would take stills with the D100 when we covered events together.

    I feel that the S5 with it’s great video, long zoom, good picture quality and flash hot shoe will allow me to get both pictures & videos of an event almost as well as the that two person team with professional equipment.

  8. July 25, 2007 - 7:55 am | Permalink

    Thank you very much for this article. I too have a S2 and loving it, but thinking of upgrading it to a S5. Have you used the wide angle and tele converter lenses with your S2 or the S5?

  9. July 25, 2007 - 10:40 am | Permalink

    Have S5 and love long zoom and pictures have been great.

    BUT did have a problem that the LCD would not come on or go on and off and I moved it or place on back of camera. Sent in for repair
    Have no other complaints. Got it and not SLR for size and not sure I need all the rest that goes with SLR for my pictures. This seems to do it all.

  10. wombat's Gravatar wombat
    November 3, 2007 - 3:54 am | Permalink

    just wondering if you need to use a lens adaptor with your Raynox DCR-250 macro lens?

  11. Megan's Gravatar Megan
    February 13, 2008 - 9:27 pm | Permalink

    I was thinking about buying the S5 IS but was looking at the past release dates of the S2 and S3 and it seems they come out with a new one every year. I’m not sure if I should hold out and wait to see if a new one comes out in the summer or go with this one….any suggestions?

  12. george's Gravatar george
    February 23, 2008 - 10:11 am | Permalink

    Great review, i was thinking of buying this camera but have heard it had noise issues. I was deciding between this and canon sx100 is as its cheaper and seems to cope with noise well, but the movie mode has no zoom and mono sound 🙁

    By the way how’d you make that flickr pic bar at the top of the page?

  13. March 16, 2008 - 5:33 am | Permalink

    I just purchased a S5 IS and have been looking into the Raynox macro lenses, probably the DCR-250, but have never seen one used with a ring-light instead of a regular flash. Is this even possible? To use a ring-light instead of a flash. You’d probably have to double sided tape it onto the front of the macro lens adapter I guess.

  14. Tina's Gravatar Tina
    March 20, 2008 - 11:09 am | Permalink

    Thank you for providing people with such a complete review and pictures taken with this camera! I was considering ordering this model and was hesitating, debating between the S5 and another model. After reading your review and seeing your beautiful pictures, I have made my decision! Thank you for your guidance on this! 🙂

  15. Stevie apollo's Gravatar Stevie apollo
    May 25, 2008 - 7:08 pm | Permalink

    I am having trouble with my cameras auto focus. It works great sometimes and not so great on other times. Is this just what you get when you don’t get a slr?

  16. pethead's Gravatar pethead
    June 14, 2008 - 2:44 am | Permalink

Leave a Reply

Please leave these two fields as-is: