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Canon PowerShot S5 IS Gordon Laing, February 2008


Canon PowerShot S5 IS verdict

Canon’s PowerShot S5 IS remains one of the best super-zoom digital cameras on the market. It sports a decent 12x range with optical stabilisation, a useful flip-out and twist screen, a decent degree of manual control and impressively, a flash hotshoe. Some will also prefer its use of AA batteries over proprietary and expensive Lithium Ion battery packs.

Canon S5 IS video - zoomed out
Canon S5 IS video - zoomed in

The PowerShot S5 IS also handles quickly and gives you plenty of creative options from control over aperture and shutter, to an amazing macro mode which can focus as close as 0cm – that’s right, with the subject essentially touching the lens.

While obviously primarily a photo camera, the S5 IS additionally boasts some of the best video recording facilities on a still camera at the time of writing. Unusually you can optically zoom while filming and the audio is in stereo – the USM motor used to drive the zoom is also very quiet when operating at its slower speed.

But on the downside there’s noticeable coloured fringing around high contrast subjects, a zoom which misses out on true wide angle coverage, no RAW facilities, and an infuriating lens cap which falls off at the slightest nudge.

Crucially there’s also very stiff competition in the super-zoom market including models like Panasonic’s Lumix FZ18, available for pretty much the same price. So without further-ado, how does the PowerShot S5 IS compare?

Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18


Rather than compare all the super-zooms on the market we’re going for the pick of the crop here: Panasonic’s Lumix FZ18, which has held top place in our Super-zoom Best Buys category since its launch. The FZ18 costs around the same price as the PowerShot S5 IS, but most obviously in its favour features a zoom range that’s 50% greater. Not only does the FZ18’s 18x zoom allow it to zoom in a little closer, but crucially it also zooms out wider to an equivalent of 28mm compared to 36mm on the Canon. Unlike the Canon S5 IS and other super-zooms, the FZ18’s images are also virtually bereft of coloured fringing.

Beyond the zoom, it’s a case of weighing up various features. Both have a 2.5in screen, but the Panasonic’s is fixed whereas the Canon’s will usefully flip to any angle. Both have great quality movie modes, but while the FZ18 has a genuine widescreen option, the Canon boasts stereo and the ability to zoom while recording. Also in the Canon’s favour is a flash hotshoe, but then again the FZ18 has a RAW mode.

So if you really want a flip out screen, the ability to zoom while filming, and would use the flash hotshoe, then the Canon PowerShot S5 IS is the better bet. But if none of these are that important to you, then the FZ18’s wider and longer 18x range is preferred, while its RAW option is the icing on the cake. See our Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ18 review for more details.

Compared to Canon PowerShot G9


Canon’s PowerShot G9 is the company’s flagship compact, and while it costs a little more than the PowerShot S5 IS, it’s worth making a comparison. In its favour, the PowerShot G9 features 12 Megapixel resolution, a slightly bigger 3in screen and RAW recording facilities along with styling and controls which will appeal more to enthusiasts. As such it’s become a popular companion to many DSLRs.

When testing the G9 though, it’s easy to fondly remember its predecessor’s flip-out screens, and of course that’s something you get on the S5 IS, along with a zoom range that’s twice as long: 12x to the G9’s 6x. The S5 IS may not be the highest-end Canon compact, but like the G9 it does also sport a flash hotshoe, while offering superior video recording facilities; although it should be noted the G9 has a time-lapse option that’s absent on the S5 IS.

So once again it’s a case of weighing up which features mean more to you. If you want the much longer 12x range, flip-out screen and ability to zoom while recording movies, then go for the PowerShot S5 IS. But if you value RAW recording, 50% more Megapixels, arguably better controls for the enthusiast and a bigger – albeit fixed – screen, then the G9 is the Canon compact for you. See our Canon PowerShot G9 review for details.

Canon PowerShot S5 IS final verdict

The PowerShot S5 IS is certainly a powerful super-zoom camera with some neat features. The 12x range gives you decent coverage, the stabilisation is effective, the flip-out screen allows for unusual angles, the movie options are some of the best around on a still camera, and the literal icing on the cake is the hotshoe, supporting external flashguns.

But the 12x range is looking less impressive these days compared to the 18x of rival models. It’s not just about zooming closer either – models like Panasonic’s FZ18 also zoom-out much wider, allowing you to grab bigger landscape, building or group shots. Canon really has to step up to the plate and start offering 28mm wide angle coverage across its range like Panasonic, and not just on selected models.

While on the subject of selected models, Canon should also extend the inclusion of RAW recording to its super-zoom model, again a feature that’s present on the FZ18. And while no super-zoom is optically perfect, coloured fringing is more apparent on the PowerShot S5 IS than it is on the FZ18.

Canon S5 - flip screen

But then the S5 IS also has key advantages over the Panasonic, including a flip-out screen and flash hotshoe, along with stereo sound and the ability to zoom during movies. You’ll simply have to weigh up which feature-set best suits your style of photography.

Ultimately there’s still no perfect super-zoom. We’d love a camera with a long zoom range sporting wide angle coverage and adjustments during videos, a flip-out screen, flash hotshoe and RAW recording facilities, but there’s no one model which offers it all. Once again there’s the feeling if Canon added RAW to the S5 IS or a flip-out screen to the G9, it could be a lot closer to satisfying the demands of enthusiasts, but in the absence of either, it’s a continued case of compromising on some aspect.

The PowerShot S5 IS misses out on our top rating due to its lack of wide angle coverage, noticeable fringing and absence of RAW facilities. Throw in that annoying lens cap and there’s just a few too many downsides for a Highly Recommended award. But on the flip-side there’s certainly enough that’s great about the S5 IS for it to comfortably earn our Recommended rating.

If you’re in the market for a super-zoom digital camera, you should certainly strongly consider the PowerShot S5 IS, but it’s crucial to also try out the Panasonic FZ18. Both are great models, but you’ll need to carefully weigh-up their respective feature sets to work out which will be best for you.

Good points

12x optical zoom with IS.
Fully articulated 2.5in screen.
Manual control and flash hotshoe.
Optical zoom and stereo sound in movies.

Bad points
Noise visible throughout ISO range.
Fringing on high contrast subjects.
Widest-angle ‘only’ 36mm.
No RAW recording facility.


(relative to 2007 super-zooms)

Build quality:
Image quality:


16 / 20
15 / 20
17 / 20
16 / 20
17 / 20



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