When my approx. 4-year-old Canon Powershot S1 IS started displaying an image sensor malfunction, I thought I was going to have to drop a cool $400 on a new camera. But Canon's website had a service notice stating that this was a known defect, and that they would repair this for free, including shipping.
What they sent me back was a Canon Powershot S5 IS. Sweet!
The malfunction first appeared in late December 2007. The sensor intermittently produced a purple cast with horizontal lines and severe distortion. When the weather was warmer or more humid the problem occurred with greater frequency, and leaving the camera on for more than a few minutes increased the chances of seeing the "purple lines of death". (Not the official name.)
I was pretty bummed, having taken some freaking awesome pictures with that camera. But it was 3 years out of warranty, so I expected that was the end. (Repairs can be pretty expensive, even surpassing the price of a used camera.)
Then my dad discovered that his Powershot A65, unused since his summer trip to the Bahamas, was no longer working. (Turned it on and the screen remained black, but there was a faint repeated clicking from the front.) That's when he discovered the service notice on Canon's website and alerted me to it.
My dad sent his A65 in and it was repaired quite expediently, so I decided to give it a shot. I wrote to the listed email support address and described the problem. They sent back a printable pre-paid UPS shipping label, and I bundled up my camera and sent it off.
A week went by, and I received a repair estimate of $0.00 and a description of the work to be done. Another week went by. Finally, I received a package by UPS. Opening it, I discovered a shiny box containing what I suspect is a new (not refurbished) Canon Powershot S5 IS. An enclosed note explained that necessary parts were not in stock at the repair facility, so to expedite the repair they sent me "a new or refurbished camera of equal or greater value".
Canon's support and repair staff were highly professional, and I was not expected to pay anything at any point in the process. Most astonishing was the company's willingness to take the burden of repairing a well out-of-warranty camera.
The S5 is quite an upgrade! While I couldn't be more thrilled to have this camera, there are a few areas where the S1 IS was superior. (Very few.) Below I describe the major differences as they apply to everyday use.
Now I've got 12x optical zoom instead of 10x (which was already extreme, especially at the time I bought it), and 8 megapixels instead of 3.2. Video is now available from almost all shooting modes, and ranges from 30 fps to 60 fps. Super Macro mode allows me to photograph insects that are nearly touching the lens.
The body is slightly bulkier, making it a bit less portable, though I still carry it around bandoleer-style everywhere I go. I don't mind the extra bulk too much, because 1) the LCD screen is much bigger, and 2) the lens cap actually pinches off instead of being held on by friction. (Still a little touchy, I must say.)
I'm still getting used to the button layout. The omni control (4-way directional button) of the S1 was just the right distance and direction from the Set button such that I could work the former with the tip of my thumb and the latter with the first knuckle down. On the S5 the Set and Menu buttons are recessed and directly under the omni control, which slows me down. Perhaps I just need to get more comfortable with the slight changes to the layout.
There are a ton of new features, but most of them seem to be in the category of post-processing; I prefer to do any color-correction in a powerful photo editor such as the GIMP or Adobe Photoshop. Unfortunately lacking is the intervalometer (time lapse) tool that all its predecessors have. Instead, there is a "custom timer" which can take up to 10 pictures with up to 30 second intervals, a far cry from the 2-100 pictures with 1-60 minutes intervals. However, the highly-unofficial CHDK was recently released for DIGIC III/DryOS Powershots, and I can run all sorts of fancy bracketing and interval scripts. (It's a boot-time in-memory firmware patch, so it doesn't actually void the warranty.) CHDK also enables RAW capture, cabled remote triggers, and in-camera image stacking — astounding. Go read about it.
Focusing works very differently. There are three distance ranges: Normal, Macro, and Super Macro. They are optimal for normal range, close range, and super-close, respectively. Interestingly, Super Macro does not allow use of the zoom lever — it seems to pull the zoom as far back as possible and rely entirely on focus. The camera also provides a number of settings to tweak how and when autofocus, IS, and other automatic features are brought into play.
Overall, the S5 is a pretty stunning camera, especially with the CHDK filling in for deficiencies. I highly recommend it for mid-level amateurs such as myself.