The sturdily built Canon PowerShot S5 IS is what is commonly known as a 'bridge' camera – so called because it forms a bridge between a point-and-shoot compact and a digital SLR.
The Canon PowerShot S5 IS qualifies for that tag by virtue of its 12x zoom lens with built-in image stabiliser (hence the 'IS') that, in theory, provides a sufficient focal range for any eventuality.
The only obvious sticking point is that the Canon PowerShot S5 IS costs as much as some entry-level DSLRs, although it does offer 36-432mm equivalent range in a much more compact and portable form.
You get a creatively flexible video mode with stereo sound that has its own record button and allows full use of the zoom. An ultrasonic motor ensures lens movement is both swift and smooth, while the Canon PowerShot S5 IS's comfortably rounded handgrip houses four AA batteries and a supplied 32MB SD card, adding to the solid feel.
The Canon PowerShot S5 IS is activated via a rotating switch. Although this feels fiddly, the Canon PowerShot S5 IS is quick to power up, taking around a second for its lens to extend to maximum wide angle and either the electronic viewfinder or rear LCD to burst into life.
The monitor can be flipped out and rotated, making it useful for high or low angle shooting where it would otherwise be difficult to get your eye to the viewfinder.
Taking a shot, any shutter delay is minimal, and the committal of images to memory is similarly swift – a top quality 8mp JPEG wrote to the card in around a second. Surprisingly, given that the Canon PowerShot S5 IS is a semi-professional camera, you don't also get the option to shoot uncompressed RAW files.
With the Canon PowerShot S5 IS's image stabilisation set to continuous, blurred results at maximum telephoto setting are refreshingly rare. Like most compacts, there is some pixel fringing evident between areas of high contrast, although only when zooming in.
Noise is more of an issue with Canon PowerShot S5 IS shots, however, creeping into shots upwards of ISO400 and images at maximum ISO1600 appearing as if you're viewing them through frosted glass.
The Canon PowerShot S5 IS produces shots were colours are well saturated and skin tones are warm and flattering.
With a little care and attention, the Canon PowerShot S5 IS delivers the goods. It has a 12x zoom, a flip and twist screen, and is fast, intuitive, light and compact. Unfortunately, you get image noise on shots taken above ISO400, plus occasional pixel fringing.