Canon PowerShot S5 IS Digital Camera Review

Read an expert, independent digital camera review of the Canon PowerShot S5.

September 14, 2007
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Testing / Performance


*All digital cameras reproduce colors differently, so we test the color accuracy of each to see how it stands up to the rest of the pack. To determine color accuracy, we photograph an industry standard Gretag Macbeth ColorChecker test chart and compare the colors the camera reproduces with the colors of the chart. The ColorChecker test chart is made up of 24 different color tiles, and the image below shows how accurately the camera reproduces these 24 colors. In the image, the outer square is the color the camera reproduces, the inner square is the actual color of the test chart corrected for the exposure, and the small rectangle is the actual color of the chart in a perfectly even exposure.


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.


Auto WB - Flash Illumination


Auto WB - Fluorescent Illumination


Auto WB - Shade Illumination


Auto WB - Tungsten Illumination 

*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.


Flash WB - Flash Illumination


Fluorescent WB - Fluorescent Illumination


Shade WB - Shade Illumination


Tungsten WB - Tungsten Illumination

**Still Life Sequences

**Click to view the high-resolution image

Still Life Scene
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 ISO 80  *ISO 80*
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 *ISO 100*  ISO 100
** {{article.attachments['ColorsSL-ISO200-sm.jpg']}}**  {{article.attachments['PeopleSL-ISO200-sm.jpg']}}
 ISO 200  ISO 200
** {{article.attachments['ColorsSL-ISO400-sm.jpg']}}**  {{article.attachments['PeopleSL-ISO400-sm.jpg']}}
 *ISO 400*  *ISO 400*
** {{article.attachments['ColorsSL-ISO800-sm.jpg']}}** {{article.attachments['PeopleSL-ISO800-sm.jpg']}} 
 *ISO 800*  *ISO 800*
** {{article.attachments['ColorsSL-ISO1600-sm.jpg']}}**  {{article.attachments['PeopleSL-ISO1600-sm.jpg']}}
 *ISO 1600*  *ISO 1600*


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.

 {{article.attachments['S5IS-Vid-Res-HorizTrumpet.jpg']}}  {{article.attachments['S5IS-Vid-Res-VertTrumpet.jpg']}}


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.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.


  1. Testing / Performance
  2. Components
  3. Design / Layout
  4. Modes
  5. Control Options
  6. Image Parameters
  7. Connectivity / Extras
  8. Overall Impressions
  9. Conclusion
  10. Sample Photos
  11. Photo Gallery
  12. Specs / Ratings
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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