Canon Powershot S5 IS & Speedlite 430EX II: First Impressions

Well, I have had these two and so far I have taken about 66 pictures. That isn’t going to set the world on fire, but next week I’ll have a big event at work and be able to take a couple of hundred in my official role as recorder. One of the cameras I’m comparing it to, mentally, is the Sony F717 which was really the thing to have a couple of years before I bought my S1. Obviously the 717 outperformed the S1 in certain ways but it was not a huge difference from my perspective. One of the features the 717 did have was a hot shoe, as did its successor, the F828, but oddly enough this feature has been dropped in the latest high end Sony compact, the H50, which leaves the S5 and its higher-end stablemate the Powershot G9 pretty much on their own as hot-shoe prosumer compacts.

So far my impressions of the combination can be summarised as follows:

  1. The flash performance is out of this world. The Speedlite 430EX is a very powerful unit with a guide number of 43 metres. I have taken most of the pictures in rooms with reasonably low ceilings meaning I can use the head angling capability to bounce the flash off the ceiling, the result of course being no red-eye. The ability of course to take lots of photos close together without waiting for recycle is also fantastic
  2. Like the S1 and successors, the S5 features a rotary zoom controller around the shutter release. This is a two speed arrangement with the slow speed being obtained by turning the rocker partway in either direction and the fast speed by pushing it all the way round. To date I keep seeming to engage the fast speed all the time, or else the slower speed is just too fast. Every time I try to zoom I end up overshooting and have to pull back, yet I can’t get it right without blipping the controller instead of letting it run continually.
  3. The shutter release likewise is a two step arrangement so beloved of most digital cameras with a half step which causes the camera to focus and set the exposure reading, once these have locked the camera lets you know that you can press the shutter the rest of the way to take the picture. In my experiences to date, it is very hard to find this halfway point. It seems to be a very light pressure at the point where this half step engages and easy to overshoot, or more likely, the release feels more like it has three stages instead of two. Since this is my fifth Canon digital, it can be inferred that I never noticed this problem before with the other four cameras.

In comparing my experience to date with the first ten review links I found in Google, including points not mentioned above:

  • I did not find the battery door hard to fasten (DPreview) – it’s much improved over the S1 in terms of the pressure required to close it.
  • DCResource had a similar experience of difficulty with the speed of zooming on the “slow” setting. Since another review described the speed as “glacial” I am really confused at the moment 🙂
  • Photography Blog contradicted my views on the shutter release.

One thing all the blogs have in common is slating the lack of increase in the zoom range (still 12x as seen in the S3) and certain issues of picture quality such as colour fringing and noise at higher ISO settings. For me, those things aren’t major issues, but I think Canon should try to fix them in this year’s model.

In rechecking with the camera at work the next day, the zoom problem is definitely with the slower speed which really is much faster than the S1, and the shutter release has unnecessary slack in it which effectively creates a three stage operation instead of two. Both these points need to be addressed in future Canon cameras of this type.