At around £230 the Canon PowerShot S5 IS ('IS' signifying optical image stabilisation) has positioned itself as either a direct alternative to a budget dSLR or a back up camera for someone who already owns a higher end device.
With the four AAs that power it inserted into the base of the hand grip that also features an SD slot, the S5 IS feels sturdy in the palm -- the all-black livery disguising the slightly plastic feel.
While just slightly smaller than a budget dSLR, it's obviously borrowed its styling from one. The S5 IS controls, including an icon-led mode dial up top and main shutter button positioned on the forward slope of the hand grip, is reminiscent of the 400D. Although the batteries add weight, it does have an advantage over a dSLR with an impressive 36-432mm lens reach, while still maintaining compact dimensions. Kitting yourself out with a similar optic for your dSLR would not only add bulk but also significant cost.
The S5 IS isn't just about taking stills either. Its video mode usefully has its own record button and two microphones positioned either side of the lens barrel deliver stereo sound. Plus, unlike many compacts, the optical zoom isn't disabled when you turn the dial to movie capture mode.
Thanks to the ultrasonic motor, the zoom action is quick and smooth, so your clips will be free of irritating jerks and you'll also be able to quickly frame your composition, whether utilising the large and clear electronic viewfinder (EVF) or the flip-and-twist vari-angle LCD screen at the rear. When not in use, the screen can be turned face-in to the body.
Being a Canon, the S5 IS delivers warm, colour-rich images straight out of the box. Most controls fall readily under finger and thumb, there's no noticeable shutter delay and maximum resolution JPEGs are committed to SD card in a second. Instances of camera shake at maximum telephoto proved rare.