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Hewlett Packard Photosmart 945 Digital Camera

Camera QuickLook
By
Dave Etchells and Mike Tomkins
Review Date
8/27/2004
User Level
Novice to Experienced
Product Uses
Family / Travel
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot, Some Manual Control
Picture Quality
Very Good, 5.3-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
4x6, 5x7, 8x10 inches
Availability
Now
Suggested Retail Price
$449.99

Introduction

Hewlett Packard Photosmart 945 Review Links
Overview
Picky
Details
Design
Operation
Recommended Accessories
Test Images
Specifications
Conclusion
The Hewlett Packard Photosmart 945 digital camera represents the portion of the HP Photosmart line aimed at "enthusiast" photographers. . Announced in early 2000, the original two megapixel, three times optical zoom Hewlett Packard C912 - one of a number of cameras developed in cooperation with Pentax and sold by that company as the Pentax EI-2000 - was their first digital camera reminiscent of an SLR and aimed squarely at the consumer market. When Pentax updated that camera to the EI-3000 a year later, HP didn't offer an equivalent model, having moved to making cameras entirely of their own brand. In September 2002, the company released their next SLR-style camera - the four megapixel, eight times optical zoom Photosmart 850. That camera attracted a fair following of devotees, who enjoyed the combination of high resolution and a powerful Fuji-designed zoom lens (a good choice, given its bright maximum aperture of F2.8 - F3.1 across the zoom range), but some surprising limitations such as the lack of manual focus, and a maximum ISO rating of just 200 limited the model's potential. A year later, and HP announced the Photosmart 945 - a model that is very clearly an evolution of the 850, with a higher resolution five megapixel sensor and what looks to be the exact same Fuji-designed lens. Along with the improved resolution, HP's new model aims to answer some of its predecessor's limitations, with a more professional looking charcoal grey body, better control layout, new manual focusing features, a higher ISO rating of 400 and a host of other updates. With long-zoom cameras fast becoming a popular category, and the Photosmart 945 selling for about $100 less than its predecessor of a year ago, the camera could be an interesting competitor. Read on for all the details!

 

Camera Overview

Looking much like a shrunk-down version of a 35mm "big lens" SLR, Hewlett Packard's Photosmart 945 offers the benefit of a powerful Fuji 8x optical zoom and a choice of automatic or some manual controls in a reasonably compact, user-friendly package. Measuring a mere 4.8 x 3.4 x 3.4 inches (123 x 85 x 85 millimeters) and weighing 17.8 ounces (504 grams) with the batteries and SD memory card, the Photosmart 945 is just a little larger than average compared to other recent long-zoom cameras, and a bit too chunky for a shirt pocket. It should fit into larger coat pockets, purses, and backpacks without trouble though. A neck/shoulder strap comes with the 945, for more secure portability. Covered in charcoal-gray plastic body panels, the 945's body is built around the large lens barrel. A substantial rubberized handgrip provides a solid hold, and provides room to house the four AA batteries that power the camera. A plastic lens cap protects the telescoping lens, but tethers to the camera body to prevent it from being accidentally lost. The 945 features a 5.08-effective megapixel CCD, which produces high resolution images for making sharp prints as large as 8x10 inches, as well as lower resolution images better suited for email distribution. With its range of exposure options, 8x optical zoom, and high resolution CCD, the 945 is a versatile and capable performer.

The Photosmart 945 is equipped with an impressive 8x, 7.6-61mm lens manufactured by Fuji Photo Optical Co. Ltd., the equivalent of a 37-300mm lens on a 35mm camera. This represents a range from a moderate wide-angle to a fairly substantial telephoto. This lens appears to be the same as used on the Photosmart 850 model that was announced in September 2002. Maximum aperture ranges from f/2.8 to f/3.1, depending on the lens zoom setting. Focus ranges from 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) to infinity in normal mode, with a macro setting ranging from 3.9 to 39.4 inches (10 to 100 centimeters). As well as standard and macro focus modes, the 945 also offers the ability to lock focus at infinity, and (a new addition over the 850) to set focus manually. An unusual feature of the 945 is "Focus Search Priority", which allows you to bias the autofocus to objects that are nearer to or further from the camera, should the focus area at the center of the frame include objects at different distances. A focus assist light is available to aid with focusing on nearby subjects under poor lighting conditions.

In addition to the optical zoom, the Photosmart 945 offers as much as 7x digital zoom. (I always remind readers though, that digital zoom inevitably decreases the overall image quality because it simply enlarges the central pixels of the CCD's image.) For composing images, the Photosmart 945 offers a 2.0-inch LCD monitor, as well as a smaller, electronic optical viewfinder LCD display. The 945 switches between the two displays so that only one is active at a time. This can either be accomplished courtesy of an "Eyestart Sensor" below the Electronic viewfinder, or manually by pressing the Live View button. Full information and image displays including the LCD menus are available on both displays.

When it comes to exposure, the Photosmart 945 offers a range of options, controlled by the Exposure Mode dial on top of the camera. Main exposure modes include Auto, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority modes, with three preset Scene modes and a Movie mode available as well. In Auto mode, the camera handles aperture and shutter speed, but allows the user to adjust all other exposure settings. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes provide partial manual control, letting the user adjust one variable while the camera selects the other. Aperture settings range from f/2.8 to f/12.4, with the actual maximum and minimum values depending on the lens zoom position. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 16 seconds in Shutter Priority mode. The three Digital Subject Program modes include Action, Landscape, and Portrait modes, for shooting in common, yet sometimes challenging, situations.

By default, the 945 employs a Center-weighted metering system, which reads the entire frame and places emphasis on the center to determine the exposure. Through the Record menu, however, you can opt for Average or Spot metering modes. Also located in the Record menu is an Exposure Compensation option, adjustable from -3 to +3 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments. Light sensitivity is adjustable to ISO values of 100, 200, or 400, with an Auto setting as well. White Balance options include Auto, Sun, Shade, Tungsten, and Fluorescent light sources, as well as a Manual setting for manually adjusting the color balance with a white card. The Record menu also offers Sharpness, Contrast, and Saturation adjustments, as well as a Color setting with Full Color, Black and White and Sepia color options. A Digital Flash option simulates the effect of a fill flash by boosting brightness in shadow areas of images. The Photosmart 945 features a built-in, manual pop-up flash, which operates in Auto, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, On, On with Red-Eye Reduction, Night, or Night with Red-Eye Reduction modes (the flash is disabled altogether by pushing down on it to lock it in the stored position).

In Movie exposure mode, the camera captures 288 x 208-pixel resolution moving images with sound. The recording time per segment is limited to approximately 60 seconds, with a frame rate of 15 frames per second. Unusually, while on most cameras the lens can't be zoomed while recording to prevent noise from the lens motor from affecting the sound track, the Photosmart 945 allows use of the optical zoom during movie recording. We'd like to see more manufacturers take this approach - some users may find that the noise captured by the microphone is less objectionable than being limited to digital zoom. The camera's Self-Timer mode provides two choices, both starting with a 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the time that the camera actually takes the picture, allowing you to get into your own shots. The second of the two Self-Timer modes captures two shots, with a delay of several seconds in between - useful in case somebody blinks in the first shot. For shooting fast action subjects, the Photosmart 945's Burst mode captures a rapid series of images while you hold down the Shutter button, much like a motor drive on a traditional 35mm camera. In Burst mode, you can capture from 4-6 frames at about 1.8 frames per second. The actual frame rate and number of images in a series will depend on the resolution setting, subject matter, and the amount of available memory space.

The Photosmart 945 stores its images on SD memory cards, and a 32MB card accompanies the camera. (The camera also works with the slightly less expensive MMC cards.) I highly recommend picking up a larger capacity card right away, so you don't miss any important shots. (Currently, a 128 MB card represents a good tradeoff between capacity and cost.) Connection to a host computer for image download is via USB. The Photosmart 945 is a "storage-class" device, which means that it doesn't require any separate driver software for Windows 2000 and XP, or for Mac OS 8.6 and later. The camera utilizes four AA-type batteries for power, and a set of single-use Photo Lithium batteries accompanies the camera. As always, I recommend picking up at least two sets of high-capacity rechargeable NiMH batteries and a good charger, and keeping a set freshly charged at all times. Click here to read my "battery shootout" page to see which batteries currently on the market are best, or here for my review of the Maha C-204F charger, my longtime favorite. The optional AC adapter is also useful for preserving battery power when reviewing and downloading images, or when viewing images and movies on a television, via the supplied A/V cable.

Many of our readers will be familiar with the earlier Photosmart 850, so I put together the following major feature comparison between the 850 and the 945, based on specifications for the Photosmart 850 provided by HP, and our own observations of the Photosmart 945.

Feature Photosmart 945 Photosmart 850
Sensor Size (diagonal) 9.04 mm 8.97 mm
Sensor Resolution (total pixels) 5.26 megapixel
2668 x 1970
4.13 megapixel
2384 x 1734
Sensor Resolution (effective pixels) 5.08 megapixel
2608 x 1952
3.94 megapixel
2304 x 1712
Maximum Image Size 2,608 x 1,952 pixels 2,272 x 1,712 pixels
Reduced Image Size 1,296 x 976 1,136 x 848
Camera Color Charcoal Grey / Black Silver / Black
Control Differences On/Off Power slider on rear of camera. Single plastic zoom rocker button. Mode Dial on top of camera has seven positions, including all exposure modes. New Timer / Burst button. Macro button now also enables infinity / manual focus. Display button has silk-screened camera icon. Separate Print and HP Instant Share buttons Mode Dial on top of camera doubles as power control, and has four positions. Exposure modes accessed via menu system. Separate rubber zoom buttons. No Timer / Burst button. Macro button has no other functions. Display button has silk-screened LCD display icon. Single HP Instant Share button
Styling Differences Larger handgrip, taller pop-up flash, oval microphone / speaker holes, leatherette lens barrel grip, one piece SD card slot door hinge with spring-loading, padlock symbols for battery door lock, silk-screened HP logo under LCD display. Protruding area around rear camera controls styled differently. Smaller handgrip, shorter pop-up flash, round microphone / speaker holes, grooved rubber lens barrel grip, four pronged SD card slot door hinge with no spring-loading, circular open/closed symbols for battery door lock, no HP logo on rear of camera.
Focus Settings Normal, Macro, Infinity, Manual Normal, Macro
Exposure Compensation ±3.0EV in 1/3EV steps ±3.0EV in 1/2EV steps
ISO Sensitivity Auto, 100, 200, 400 Auto, 100, 200
Self-Timer 10 seconds, Single or Double shot 10 seconds, Single
Burst Mode Yes No
Audio Clip Up to 60 seconds per image Up to 30 seconds per image
Playback Zoom 0x - 150x (30 steps) 4x fixed
Sports Scene Mode Locks focus / exposure between shots within two seconds, faster Sets focus / exposure between shots, slower
Focus / Exposure Lock Focus / Exposure remembered between shots if shutter button remains half-pressed Focus / Exposure recalculated between all shots
Focus Assist Light Yes, can be enabled / disabled Yes, always enabled
LCD Brightness Adjustment Yes, two settings No
Saturation / Sharpness / Contrast Adjustment Yes, three steps each No
Settings Memory Yes, can select from Flash, Focus, Burst, EV Compensation, White Balance, ISO Speed, AE Metering, Digital Flash, Color No
Settings Reset Yes No
Audio Record Always enabled, hold shutter to record audio clip after image capture Can be enabled / disabled through menu
Image Info Can display shutter speed, aperture, ISO, lens zoom, digital zoom, flash mode, file name, file size, DPOF order, resolution, quality, and date through playback menu No
Maximum Power Consumption (HP Spec) 8 watts 12 watts
Dimensions 115 x 85 x 85 mm 114 x 85 x 83 mm
Weight (without batteries or media) 389 grams 388 grams
Bundled Batteries 4 x AA Photo Lithium single-use 4 x AA eTitanium single-use
Bundled Flash Memory 32MB Secure Digital 16MB Secure Digital


Basic Features
  • 5.08- effective megapixel CCD.
  • Electronic optical viewfinder (EVF).
  • 2.0-inch, 180k pixel color TFT LCD monitor with anti-reflection coating.
  • 8x, 7.6-61mm lens, equivalent to a 37-300mm lens on a 35mm camera.
  • 7x digital zoom.
  • Automatic, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority exposure modes, plus three preset Digital Subject Program modes.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 16 seconds.
  • Maximum aperture f/2.8 to f/3.1, depending on lens zoom position.
  • Built-in flash with seven modes.
  • SD/MMC memory card storage, 32MB card included.
  • Images saved as JPEG files.
  • Power supplied by four AA-type batteries or optional AC adapter.
  • HP Photo and Imaging Software and HP Memories Disc Creator software, and USB drivers included for both Windows and Mac platforms.
  • ArcSoft Funhouse software included in standard Photosmart 945 bundle, and ArcSoft Panorama Maker included in Photosmart 945xi bundle.

Special Features

  • QVGA movie mode with sound recording.
  • Optical Zoom can optionally be used in Movie mode (but is clearly audible in recorded movies)
  • Burst shooting mode.
  • 10-second Self-Timer and double-shot Self Timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Voice Memo mode for recording captions.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with six modes, including a manual setting.
  • Adjustable ISO with three sensitivity settings and an Auto mode.
  • Average, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering options.
  • Color, Sharpness, and Contrast adjustments.
  • Two-step "Digital Flash" function boost brightness of shadow areas in pictures, simulating fill flash
  • Supports Direct Printing via USB to HP Photosmart printers, some HP All-in-ones and USB-equipped HP Deskjet printers (cable included).
  • A/V cable for connection to a television set.
  • USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).


Recommendation
With its 8x optical zoom lens, automatic and selected manual exposure controls, and interesting "Digital Flash" function, the Photosmart 945 is a full-featured yet surprisingly affordable long-zoom digicam. Though the camera features some manual exposure capabilities, its simplified user interface and available automatic modes make it approachable for less-experienced novices who want to gradually learn more about digital photography. A 5.08-effective megapixel CCD delivers good quality images, with enough resolution to make sharp 8x10 prints, with a lower resolution option available for email and other electronic uses. The 945 is compact enough for travel, given that it is a long-zoom model, and has enough exposure features to handle most situations. The 945 would make a good choice for anyone looking for a long-zoom digicam with ample features, but at an affordable price.

 

Design

Hewlett Packard's Photosmart brand name covers a wide array of digital cameras designed to suit a wide range of experience levels and price points, from entry level to models offering high resolution and long zoom lenses. The newest addition to the pack is HP's Photosmart 945. The 945 offers a range of exposure control options, and a long-ratio 8x zoom lens, with an easy to learn user interface, all at an affordable price. Compared to the Photosmart 850, changes in the 945 include a higher resolution and slightly larger sensor, improved exposure and focusing options, and a new body that offers improved control layout in a more professional looking charcoal grey and black plastic. Shaped like a miniaturized 35mm SLR, the 945's plastic body with contrasting rubber handgrip is sleek and sophisticated, and sports only a few external controls. Measuring 4.5 x 3.3 x 3.3 inches (115 x 85 x 85 millimeters), the Photosmart 945 is rather too bulky for shirt pockets, but should slip into larger coat pockets and purses without trouble. The camera's plastic body helps keep the weight down, despite the large 8x zoom lens, at 17.8 ounces (504 grams) with the batteries and SD memory card. A neck strap accompanies the camera for easy toting, but I'd recommend picking up a small camera case to protect the finish of the charcoal grey plastic body panels when traveling.

The front of the 945 is dominated by the large lens and handgrip. When powered on, the lens extends approximately one and a half inches from the camera front. A plastic lens cap clamps onto the lens for protection, and tethers to the camera body with a small strap. A set of filter threads around the inside lip of the lens barrel on the body of the camera accommodate 55mm accessory lenses and filters via an optional accessory adapter. Also on the front panel is the autofocus assist lamp (to the left of the pop-up flash, when looking at the camera from the rear), which doubles as an indicator lamp for the self-timer. On the other side of the flash is the two-hole grille for the microphone. A substantial handgrip provides a firm hold on the camera, with plenty of room for your fingers to curve around the leatherette-finish rubber grip. While it offers plenty to grab onto, the handgrip is also small enough to be comfortable for users with smaller hands.

On the right side of the 945 (as viewed from the rear) is the Secure Digital card slot door, and slightly above this is the Power / Memory light, which lights solid green to indicate the power is on, solid amber to indicate the camera is writing to the Secure Digital card, blinking green to indicate that the camera is powered off and charging the batteries, and blinking red to indicate that the batteries are depleted. The rest of this side of the camera is blank apart from one of the neck strap attachment eyelets

The opposite side of the camera features the second neck strap eyelet, just above the connector panel. A soft rubber cover attached to the camera protects the connectors, bending aside to reveal them. The camera's USB, A/V and DC In connector terminals are located on the connector panel under this cover. Also visible on this side of the camera is the diopter adjustment dial surrounding the viewfinder eyepiece.

On the Photosmart 945's top panel is the pop-up flash compartment and release lever. A nine-hole speaker grille, the camera's Exposure Mode dial, and the Shutter button are also located on top of the camera.

The remaining camera controls are on the rear panel, along with the electronic optical viewfinder (EVF) and 2.0-inch color LCD monitor. The EVF is surrounded by a dioptric adjustment knob with a fairly wide range of adjustment, although a somewhat low eyepoint meant that I had to mash my eyeglass lens against the eyepiece in order to see the whole frame. Between the electronic optical viewfinder and the LCD are an infrared transmitter and receiver, which together are used to detect when your eye is close to the electronic viewfinder. To the right of this, above the LCD monitor, are the Flash, Timer / Burst, and Macro / Manual Focus buttons. Along the right side of the LCD monitor are the Live View, Playback, and Print buttons. To the right of the Print button is the Email button. The Power slider sits at the bottom right of the camera, directly below the Four-Way Controller with central OK button. Finally, at the top right of the camera's rear is a two-way Zoom Rocker button..

The 945's bottom panel is fairly flat, with a metal threaded tripod mount under the lens (a good position for people interested in panoramic photography), and the battery compartment at the base of the handgrip. The tripod mount is just far enough away from the battery compartment to allow quick battery changes while working on a tripod. I always appreciate this, given the amount of studio work I do, and am glad that the battery and memory card slots are both accessible while working on a tripod. One note is that the tripod mount is at the very rear of the camera, which may not provide the most stable platform for mounting the camera. A sliding switch locks and unlocks the battery compartment door, to prevent it from accidentally flying open while shooting. Also located on the bottom of the camera is a connector for the optional HP Photosmart 8881 camera dock, covered by a rubber plug which is not attached to the camera (you'll want to be very careful not to lose this plug, which can be a bit difficult to remove with short fingernails, and so thankfully isn't likely to get knocked out by mistake).

 

Camera Operation

With only a handful of external camera controls and a well-organized LCD menu system, the Photosmart 945's user interface is straightforward and easy to grasp. The Mode dial on the top panel controls the camera's main operating mode and the level of exposure control available. The 945's efficiently laid out LCD menu system is easy to understand and relatively quick to navigate. Given the camera's straightforward setup and user-friendly design, most users should be able to operate the camera right out of the box, referring to the manual only for more complex operations.

Record-Mode Viewfinder Display: In record mode, the 945 displays an information overlay on the LCD screen or electronic viewfinder, which cannot be disabled. Information shown includes exposure mode (except in Auto mode), capture menu settings (if not default, including white balance, metering mode, ISO sensitivity, Digital Flash function, saturation, contrast, and sharpness), exposure compensation (if a compensation adjustment has been made), image size and quality setting, flash status, burst mode, self timer, macro mode, manual focus, infinity focus, number of shots remaining on the memory card, battery life remaining, and a set of focusing brackets. Aperture and shutter speed are reported when the Shutter button is halfway pressed.

Playback-Mode Viewfinder Display: In playback mode, the 945 displays the current image, a battery gauge, and an indication of the current image number and how many images are on the flash card. A limited information display can be called up through the playback menu. For still images, this offers a display of the capture menu settings (if not default, including white balance, metering mode, ISO sensitivity, Digital Flash function, saturation, contrast, and sharpness), shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation (if a compensation adjustment has been made), ISO sensitivity (duplicating the previous capture menu display if ISO was set manually), image file name, zoom setting (including digital zoom), file size, macro mode, flash mode, image size and quality, and date. For movie files, the information display includes file name, file size, date, and clip length.

Pressing the up or down-arrow key on the Four-Way arrow pad, or the right-arrow key after the last image in the series, calls up the Total Images Summary screen, listing the number of images on the flash card, the number of images which can be taken using the current settings, and the number of images marked for printing or sharing. Through the playback menu you can also zoom in up to 150x (although at such a high zoom you're literally only seeing an area of about 17 x 13 pixels, even at the highest image quality) to check fine details, focus and framing, and can scroll the enlarged viewing window around the full image using the camera's arrow keys.

 

External Controls


Shutter Button
: Angled down slightly on the camera's top panel and located in the center of the Mode Dial, this button sets focus and exposure when pressed halfway, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.

Exposure Mode Dial (see previous): Surrounding the Shutter Button, this dial selects the camera's exposure mode. The following options are available:

  • Auto: This mode puts the camera in control of aperture and shutter speed, the user retaining control over all other exposure variables.
  • Movie: Indicated on the Exposure Mode dial by a silver film camera icon, this mode records moving images with sound.
  • Aperture Priority (A): Here, the user controls the aperture setting, while the camera selects the best corresponding shutter speed.
  • Shutter Priority (S): The opposite of Aperture Priority mode, this mode lets the user choose the shutter speed setting while the camera selects the lens aperture.
  • Action: Marked on the Exposure Mode dial by an icon of a running person, this mode uses faster shutter speeds to "freeze" fast-paced action.
  • Landscape: This mode is indicated by an icon of a pair of mountains on the Exposure Mode dial. Here, the camera uses a smaller lens aperture, so that both the background and foreground will be in sharp focus.
  • Portrait: An icon of a person's head indicates this mode on the Exposure Mode dial. In Portrait mode, the camera employs a larger lens aperture setting, which decreases the depth of field. This produces a sharply focused image of the subject, in front of a slightly blurred background.


Flash Release Lever
: Located adjacent to the pop-up flash, this lever mechanically allows the spring-loaded mechanism of the pop-up flash to raise it to its operating position.


Flash Button
: Above the LCD display on the rear panel, this button controls the flash mode in all but the Video record mode, cycling between Auto Flash, Auto with Red-Eye, Flash On, Flash On with Red-Eye, Night and Night with Red-Eye modes (the flash is disabled by pressing it down to close it).


Self-Timer / Burst Button
: Adjacent to the Flash button, this button cycles through the available Self-Timer and Burst modes in any Record mode. Options include Normal, Self-Timer, Self-Timer - 2 Shots, and Burst. In Video mode, only the Normal and Self-Timer options are available.


Macro / MF Button
: Adjacent to the Self-Timer / Burst button, this button cycles through the available Focus modes in any Record mode. Options include Normal, Macro, Infinity, and Manual Focus. In Manual Focus mode, the Up-Arrow and Down-Arrow buttons control the focusing distance, with an unmarked scale showing the focusing range displayed on the LCD display or Electronic Optical Viewfinder.


Live View Button
: Located to the right of the LCD display. Rather confusingly labelled with a silver camera icon that is used on most other digital cameras to indicate the button for switching to record mode, this button actually relates to the camera's LCD display and Electronic Optical Viewfinder. If the Eye Start menu item is set to On, this button enables / disables the LCD display, and has no effect when the viewfinder is in use. If the Eye Start menu item is set to off, this button switches between the LCD display and viewfinder.


Playback Button
: Located directly below the Live View button, this button switches the camera to playback mode, and brings up the most recently captured image for review. Pressing the button a second time returns the camera to record mode. The Photosmart 945 is what is often referred to as a "shooting priority" camera, so half-pressing the shutter button when in playback mode will also return the camera to record mode.


Print Button
: Located directly below the Playback button, this button is used to flag images for printing once the camera is connected to a computer. In Record mode, this button has no function, but in Playback mode a prompt will pop up briefly allowing you to set a number of copies of the current image to be printed using the Up-Arrow and Down-Arrow buttons, from a minimum of 1 to a maximum of 99 copies.


HP Instant Share Button
: Located just to the right of the Print button, this button is used to flag images for sharing once the camera is connected to a computer. In Playback mode this button will pop up the Instant Share menu, allowing you to share the image with one of 34 predefined Instant Share destinations. These destinations are entered by connecting your camera to a computer over the USB connection, and running the bundled HP Photo & Imaging software. Each of the 34 destinations can be a single email address, a group of email addresses (referred to as a Group Distribution List), or an online album on a website (choices of album providers vary by region). On the PC platform, thumbnail images are emailed by the HP software, and recipients click on a link in the email to view the full-sized image on a website. On the Mac platform, the full sized images are emailed using your default email program.

Unlike the Print button, this button will automatically switch the camera to Playback mode and call up the Instant Share menu if pressed in Record mode.


Four-Way Arrow Pad and OK Button
: Located on the right-hand side of the camera's rear panel, this set of five buttons serves as the camera's main navigational tool. The four exterior buttons navigate through settings menus, moving the selection up, down, left, or right. The center button acts as the "OK" button, to confirm any changes. In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, the left and right keys adjust the available exposure variable; in other modes these keys have no function. In Manual Focus mode, the up / down arrow keys adjust the focal distance of the lens.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrow keys scroll through captured images. The up / down arrow keys call up or dismiss the Total Images Summary screen, listing the number of images on the flash card, the number of images which can be taken using the current settings, and the number of images marked for printing or sharing. When an image has been enlarged, all four keys pan the view.

Although not labelled as such, in all modes the center button calls up the on-screen menu system, with the available options depending on the current camera mode.


Power Control
: Located directly below the Four-Way Arrow Pad and OK Button, this sliding control turns the camera on and off.


Zoom Control
: Crowning the top right corner of the rear panel, this two-way rocker button controls the optical and digital zoom in Record mode. In Playback mode, upon selecting Magnify from the Playback Menu, this button controls the playback zoom function, digitally enlarging the image as much as 150x (although at such a high zoom you're literally only seeing an area of about 17 x 13 pixels, even at the highest image quality).

 

Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: In Record mode, the camera can capture still images or videos with sound, with two screens of options available through the settings menu. The Exposure Mode dial sets the exposure control mode, while the LCD menu provides the following exposure options (some options are not available in all modes). Options can either be cycled through on the menu screen with the left / right arrow buttons, or the OK button can be pressed to bring up a screen describing the specific option and allowing it to be altered, and all options also offer a Help screen describing them in more detail:

  • Capture Menu
    • EV Compensation: Allows the exposure compensation to be adjusted from -3 to +3 exposure equivalents (EV) in 1/3 EV steps.
    • White Balance: Adjusts the overall color balance of the scene. Options include Auto, Sun, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, or Manual.
    • AE Metering: Specifies the metering system to use. Options include Average, Center-Weighted or Spot.
    • ISO Speed: Sets the camera's sensitivity to Auto, 100, 200 or 400 ISO equivalents.
    • Digital Flash : Accesses the camera's Digital Flash function, not to be confused with the pop-up flash. "Digital Flash" is HP's name for a function of the camera's firmware which brightens shadow areas of images, simulating the effect of fill flash (but with an attendant increase in image noise in the boosted areas of the image). The effect is similar to that of "dodging" specific areas of an image in the photo studio. Options include Off, Low, and High - giving two possible levels at which the Digital Flash function can be applied.
    • Color: Chooses whether the camera records images in Full Color, Black and White, or Sepia tones.
    • Resolution: Adjusts the still image resolution to 2,608 x 1,952 (5MP) or 1,296 x 976 (1MP) pixels.
    • Compression: Specifies the JPEG compression level for still images. Options are Good (*), Better (**), or Best (***).
    • Saturation: Controls the level of image saturation, with choices of Low, Medium or High.
    • Sharpness: Adjusts the in-camera image sharpening, with choices of Low, Medium or High.
    • Contrast: Controls the level of image contrast, with choices of Low, Medium or High.
    • Setup: Calls up the Setup menu, described below.



Playback Mode: This mode allows you to review captured images on the memory card, erase them, protect them, set them up for printing, etc. Pressing the Menu button displays the following options:

  • Playback Menu
    • Play / Record Audio: Allows you to record up to 60 seconds of audio to accompany a still image, or to play a video or the audio attached to a still image.
    • Delete: Deletes single or multiple images or video files, or formats the flash card. Options in the resulting Delete menu are Cancel, This Image, Audio Only, All Images, or Format Card.
    • Magnify: Accesses the playback zoom function, allowing you to use the Zoom Rocker button to digitally enlarge the image as much as 150x (although at such a high zoom you're literally only seeing an area of about 17 x 13 pixels, even at the highest image quality). Once zoomed in, you can pan around the image with the Four-Way Arrow Pad. This option is not accessible when viewing a movie file.
    • Image Info : For still images, this offers a display of the capture menu settings (if not default, including white balance, metering mode, ISO sensitivity, Digital Flash function, saturation, contrast, and sharpness), shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation (if a compensation adjustment has been made), ISO sensitivity (duplicating the previous capture menu display if ISO was set manually), image file name, zoom setting (including digital zoom), file size, macro mode, flash mode, image size and quality, and date. For movie files, the information display includes file name, file size, date, and clip length..
    • Setup: Calls up the Setup menu, described below.




Setup Mode: The following Setup menu options are accessible through both the Record and Playback menu screens, as an option at the bottom of the menu:

  • Setup Menu
    • Camera Sounds: Adjusts the volume of camera sounds, with options including High, Low or Off.
    • Eye Start: Enables or disables the camera's Eye Start function, which uses an infrared transmitter and receiver to detect when your eye is against the Electronic Optical Viewfinder. Options are On or Off. If set to On, the Live View button enables / disables the LCD display, and has no effect when the viewfinder is in use. If set to off, the Live View button switches between the LCD display and viewfinder.
    • Focus Assist Light: Enables or disables the bright orange focus assist LED located on the front of the camera. Options are Auto, which allows the camera to use the focus assist lamp when necessary, or Off, which prevents the focus assist lamp being used.
    • LCD Brightness: Offers a two-step adjustment to the LCD brightness, trading off battery life for a more visible LCD display in bright ambient lighting conditions. Choices are Indoor or Outdoor.
    • Instant Review: Turns the Instant Review function on or off, which displays an image immediately post-capture. If enabled, the review time can be set to two, four, or six seconds.
    • Auto Power Off: Sets the camera to shut itself off after 3, 6, or 10 minutes of inactivity, or disables the automatic power off.
    • Date & Time: Sets the camera's internal calendar and clock.
    • USB: Selects whether the camera should appear as a PTP imaging device or use the MSDC protocol to appear as a disk drive when connected to a computer via USB.
    • TV: Selects the video signal timing as either NTSC or PAL.
    • Language: Changes the menu language to English, German, Spanish, French, or Italian.
    • Remembered Settings: Selects which settings should be remembered when the camera is powered off and back on again. Options include Flash, Focus, Burst, EV Compensation, White Balance, ISO Speed, AE Metering, Digital Flash, and Color.
    • Reset Settings: Resets some or all camera settings to those initially set at the factory. A subsequent Reset Menu offers a choice of Cancel, All Capture Settings (Flash, Focus, Timer / Burst, and Capture Menu settings are restored to defaults), or Reset All Settings (all settings except for Date & Time, Language, TV Configuration and USB Configuration are restored to defaults).


In the Box
Packaged with the Photosmart 945 are the following items:

  • Neck strap.
  • Lens cap with strap.
  • AV cable.
  • USB cable for camera to PC connection.
  • USB cable for camera to printer connection.
  • Dock insert for use with optional HP Photosmart 8881 camera dock
  • 32MB SD memory card.
  • Four single-use AA photo lithium batteries.
  • HP Photo & Imaging software v2.0 for Microsoft Windows and Macintosh
  • HP Memories Disc Creator v1.0
  • ArcSoft Funhouse (Windows only) CD-ROM (Photosmart 945 only)
  • ArcSoft Panorama Maker (Windows only) CD-ROM (Photosmart 945xi only)
  • Operating manual and registration card.

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity SD memory card.
  • Two sets of rechargeable AA batteries and battery charger.
  • AC adapter.
  • Small camera case.
  • Accessory lens adapter ring.
  • Accessory lenses.


Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

About Batteries
I've gotten so many emails about power issues for digicams, that I now insert a standard notice in my reviews of AA-powered cameras: Don't even *think* about using alkaline AA batteries in a digicam! Despite their being packed in the box with many cameras, they simply don't have the juice to handle typical digicam demands. Spend the $35-40 or so it takes to get a set (or two) of high-capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries and a good charger! The few dollars up front will save you literally hundreds of dollars in the long run, not to mention the hassle of wimpy batteries running out in the middle of the action. Buy two sets of batteries too, so one can always be in the charger, ready to go, and so have two sets available for longer excursions. Check out my Battery Shootout page for the latest in actual, measured performance of various AA batteries. - Read my review of the Maha C-204F charger, to learn why it's my longtime favorite.

 

Picky Details

Information on shooting speed, battery life, etc. can be found here.

 

Specifications

See the specifications sheet here.

 

Sample Pictures

See our sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of our test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo. For a set of more pictorial sample photos from the Photosmart 945, visit our Hewlett Packard Photosmart 945 photo gallery.

Outdoor
Indoor Flash
Indoor
 

 

 

House
Musicians
Macro
 

 

 

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy

 



Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Photosmart 945's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how 945's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Photosmart 945 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

  • Color: Generally good color, but a tendency toward slightly warm color balance. Excellent handling of incandescent lighting though. The Photosmart 945 tended to produce slightly warm-looking images, especially with the Auto and Daylight white balance settings. In the studio, the Manual setting most often produced the best results, though the large amount of blue in the Musicians poster seemed to be a problem for all three settings. Outdoors, under the high-key lighting, color saturation was a little low, but on the whole color was accurate and pleasing. Indoors, the camera performed splendidly under incandescent lighting, a light source that tends to give digicams fits. Overall, I'd rate the HP 945's color as "good", rising to "excellent" indoors.

  • Exposure: Average exposure accuracy, high default contrast. "Digital Flash" works very well, but at the (minor) cost of higher image noise. The 945's exposure system was about average in its accuracy, among the cameras I've tested, for the most part requiring about the same amount of exposure compensation on the various test shots as most cameras do. The exception was the Indoor Portrait test, where it required quite a bit less adjustment than most cameras do. The 945's images tended to be a bit on the contrasty side, a common behavior among consumer digicams. It does have an optional contrast adjustment though, which helps hold onto detail in highlights and shadows, but at the cost of some color saturation. More useful was the camera's Digital Flash option, which did a pretty good job of balancing out high-contrast exposures, but tended to boost image noise in the darker midtones and shadows. This is an example of a feature that will likely be viewed differently by "enthusiasts" than the average shooter. For most consumers, Digital Flash will be an excellent and frequently-used feature, as it really does a lot to preserve detail in both highlights and shadows, with no adverse impact on color. Enthusiast photographers who favor large prints will be less excited by it though, as they're more likely to be sensitive to the increased image noise in shadow areas when Digital Flash is employed. If you're mainly printing at smaller image sizes and/or aren't overly bothered by moderate image noise, Digital Flash is a wonderful feature.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: Very high resolution, 1,300 lines of "strong detail." The Photosmart 945 performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 800-850 lines per picture height. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,300 lines. "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,700 lines.

  • Image Noise: Higher than average image noise, particularly at ISO 400. The Photosmart 945's images showed more noise than I'd consider average, but the noise shouldn't be too bothersome for most users at ISO 100 and 200. At ISO 400 though, the noise really takes a jump, to the extent that most people would likely find it objectionable.

  • Closeups: A fairly small macro area with a lot of fine detail. Flash is partially blocked by the lens though, and has trouble throttling down. The Photosmart 945 performed pretty well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of 3.03 x 2.27 inches (77 x 58 millimeters). Resolution was very high, and detail was very strong in the dollar bill, coins, and brooch. There was a little softness in all four corners of the frame but not bad, and details were fairly sharp elsewhere. The 945's flash is partially blocked by the lens in the closest shots, causing a shadow in the lower portion of the frame, and the flash overexposed the top portion with a bright glare on the brooch. - Plan on using external lighting for your closest shots.

  • Night Shots: Pretty good low-light performance, with usable results all the way to the lowest light level of the test. The Photosmart 945 produced clear, reasonably bright, usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle (0.67 lux) limit of my test, at all three ISO settings. Exposures were just a little dim at the darkest level at the 100 and 200 ISO settings, but the images were still within a range that I'd consider usable. Image noise was low to moderate at the 100 and 200 ISO equivalents, but increased quite a bit at ISO 400, with a strong grain pattern that detracted from both color and detail.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: Good accuracy with the electronic viewfinder. The Photosmart 945's electronic "optical" viewfinder (EVF) was very accurate, showing approximately 99 percent frame accuracy at both wide angle and telephoto zoom settings. The final frame was shifted upward slightly, however, just cutting off my top measurement lines. The LCD monitor was also very accurate, since it shows the same view, just on a larger screen. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the 945's LCD is nearly perfect in this regard.

  • Optical Distortion: High barrel distortion, slightly higher than average pincushion. Moderate chromatic aberration. Optical distortion on the 945 was higher than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 1.0 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared a bit better, as I measured a 0.4 percent pincushion distortion. (Typical numbers are 0.8% barrel at wide angle and zero to 0.3% at telephoto.) Chromatic aberration was moderate, showing about eight or nine pixels of relatively light coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) There was some softness in the corners of the frame, particularly the lower left, but it didn't extend very far into the image.

  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Shutter lag on the fast side of average, good cycle time for the first 3 shots, but very slow buffer clearing. With full-autofocus shutter delays of 0.65-1.07 seconds, the Photosmart 945 straddles the average range among digicams I test. (The normal range is 0.8-1.0 seconds, still too slow, in my book.) Prefocus delay is very short, only 0.078 seconds. Shot to shot cycle times are about 1.8 seconds regardless of image size, but the buffer memory holds only 3 shots, after which the camera slows to 10 seconds between frames. The buffer memory also takes a long time to clear, 33 seconds in my tests. This was an area that caused me a lot of frustration in the rapid-fire shooting of our testing, but that I was surprised to find wasn't a particular issue when I was more or less shooting snapshots with the camera for its photo gallery. If you're interested in capturing a lot of fast-paced action, the Photosmart 945 wouldn't be the camera to choose, but for more casual uses, it should be plenty fast.

  • Battery Life: Good battery life, but still plan on buying a couple of sets of NiMH AA cells. With a worst-case runtime of nearly two and a half hours on 1600 mAh NiMH AA cells, the Photosmart 945's battery life is quite a bit better than average. (And with modern rechargeable NiMH cells with true capacities of 2000 mAh or more, run times would be longer still.) Despite this excellent battery life though, I still strongly recommend purchasing at least two sets of high-capacity NiMH batteries and a good charger, so you'll always have a fully-charge set of spares. Read my Battery Shootout page for actual test results on a variety of batteries, and see my review of the Maha C-204F charger to learn why it's my longtime favorite.


Conclusion

Free Photo Lessons

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I found my view of the HP 945 evolving quite a bit as I worked with it. My initial reaction was pretty negative - It just seemed bulky and clunky, and so sloooow in the rapid-fire environment of our test studio. Looking at its images up-close on the computer screen, the way the Digital Flash feature emphasized image noise in the shadow areas led me to largely write it off as a marketing gimmick. When I actually went out into the field with the camera for some more laid-back shooting though, I found myself changing my mind, and ended up liking it quite a bit. While it is very slow from shot to shot after its modest three-frame buffer memory is filled, when I was just shooting casual snapshots or "artistic" photos with it, I found that the three-frame buffer was big enough that I didn't really notice how slowly the camera wrote data to the memory card. And, while the purist in me is still bothered by how much image noise shows up in the shadows when the "Digital Flash" feature is engaged, I feel that I have to pause a moment before condemning the feature out of hand based on my own preferences. The real issue is how Digital Flash is likely to be perceived by digicam users closer to the consumer mainstream than I. For people making primarily 4x6 or 5x7 prints from their digicam files, the noise that I saw and objected to really won't be all that visible. If I thus leave out the issue of image noise, HP's Digital Flash function is a very nice feature to have, as it can make a dramatic improvement in images that are overly contrasty, or that have a lot of subject detail buried in the shadows.

All this makes it tricky to come up with a definitive bottom line for the camera. If you're an "enthusiast" photographer looking for high image quality, low image noise, and lots of control, I don't think the Photosmart 945 is for you. On the other hand, if you're a former "point & shoot" user looking for an easy step up to the next level, the 945 could be just the ticket. It has useful features that can make a genuine impact on the quality of your photos, and gives you the option of more exposure control while remaining fairly easy to use, thanks to a very clear menu structure. If you're looking for a flexible camera that'll help you make the most of poor lighting with a minimum of manual control twiddling, the Hewlett Packard Photosmart 945 could be what you've been waiting for.

 

Related Links

More Information on this camera from...

Megapixel.net:
Hewlett Packard Photosmart 945, Hewlett Packard Digital Cameras, Digital Cameras

DCViews:
HP 945 review


 

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