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So, how about all that technical cleverness I mentioned? The S5 has several advanced features supposedly designed to produce better pictures automatically. The smartest of these is the Face-priority AF system, which is activated by a small button on the left of the top panel. This activates software which can actually recognise the shape of a human face in the frame and automatically focus on it. I found that it worked fairly well in good light as long as the person was looking directly at the camera. However in lower light it was less reliable, and also seemed to be confused by strong backlighting or movement.
Arguably more useful is the D-lighting system, which is supposed to improve under-exposed shots by brightening darker areas, while leaving lighter areas alone. Unfortunately in most cases this results in a lot of image noise in the affected areas, since the camera is effectively increasing the ISO in those areas. However in some circumstances it can certainly improve a shot.
Also included is built-in red-eye removal. In theory this detects the red-eye effect caused by the built-in flash, and automatically removes it. Again I found that it was only partially effective, and only under close to ideal circumstances. One thing that does work is the blur warning. It detects if the picture you just shot suffers from motion blur and asks if you want to keep it.
With all this sophistication I was hoping for great things in the image quality department, but again I found several problems that I would not have expected to see in a £300 camera, especially one with the illustrious Nikon badge. While focusing and exposure were virtually perfect under almost all circumstances, and colour rendition was as good as ever, I also found that images were noticeably over-sharpened, producing lines around some high-contrast edges.
Noise control was generally very good, producing very clean results at 50 ISO, but there was some colour distortion in darker areas visible from 100 ISO upwards.
The worst offender though was the lens, which is usually a Nikon strongpoint. This time I found badly blurred corners at both ends of the zoom range, as well as severe barrel distortion at the wide-angle setting, something I’d associate with cheap cameras at the other end of the price range. See the attached sample images to see what I’m on about here.
All in all a rather lackluster performance from what should have been a very impressive camera. Considering the price and Nikon’s enviable reputation, the S5 is something of a disappointment, with fiddly controls, several handling issues and indifferent picture quality. The boasted built-in high technology doesn’t seem to make as much difference as one might hope, and certainly isn’t worth the extra money.