With its 8X zoom lens, the HP Photosmart 945 is sure to make the hearts of telephoto aficionados beat faster. But this 5-megapixel replacement for the rates as merely average. It lacks many characteristics that enthusiasts look for, including uncompressed file output and external-flash compatibility, and telephoto freaks can find alternatives that provide better performance and image quality.
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Though the camera is fairly large, the icons on the mode dial are unusually small.
The Photosmart 945 feels solid and well proportioned, but it falls into the 5-megapixel heavyweight division. The plastic body weighs 1 pound, 2 ounces with its four batteries installed, a little more if you choose nickel-metal-hydride AA cells instead of alkalines. If you like your camera glued to your eye while shooting, you'll appreciate the 945's logical control layout and its lack of confusing multifunction buttons.
Most of the frequently used settings fall under your right hand's thumb and index finger. Activating controls requires a firm press, twist, or flick, so you won't trip them accidentally. Less-accessed buttons are also within comfortable reach and protrude just enough from the camera back to be easily found by touch. The mode dial, the pop-up flash's slider, and the shutter release are all on the camera top, where you can manipulate them with your index finger, while the zoom's rocker switch rests under your thumb. After a few minutes' practice, your thumb will also get the hang of maneuvering among the three keys that let you change flash settings; choose between single-frame, burst, video, and self-timer modes; and cycle through macro, normal, and other focus modes.
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When you hold the viewfinder to your eye, these sensors automatically turn off the LCD and activate the EVF.
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The controls are generally well placed and easy to operate.
The menus are very easy to read and navigate. The top screen contains important selections such as exposure compensation, white balance, metering modes, and ISO speeds. Sound, LCD brightness, power-saving recycle times, and other occasionally used settings are one level down.
The Photosmart 945 boasts modest but helpful improvements over the 850. The Digital Flash option, for example, achieves a fill-flash effect without using an electronic flash. The feature analyzes an image and brightens only darker areas, such as the subject in a backlit scene, allowing you to minimize the harsh light, the blue tint, and the high-contrast shadows that generally accompany flash use. HP's other upgrades include a 5-megapixel CCD, manual focus, a four- to six-frame burst mode, and an ISO 400 setting. A new two-shot self-timer function takes a second picture three seconds after the first, helping you get the best photo.
The 945 retains its predecessor's 37mm-to-300mm (the 35mm-film equivalent) zoom lens. Like many long-zoom models, this camera has a very useful telephoto end, but the range's wide-angle end is barely sufficient: you'll have to back up against the wall for many interior photographs. The 945 keeps the 850's electronic-viewfinder (EVF) sensors, which automatically activate the EVF when you hold it to your eye for framing. The LCD then turns off. Both displays provide a 100 percent view of the scene.
In addition to the conventional automatic, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority modes, the 945 has scene modes that designate the optimum shutter speed and aperture for action photography, landscapes, and portraits. You can also zero in on correct exposure with user-selectable multipoint average, center-weighted average, or spot metering.
The 945 supports HP's Instant Share, which lets you tag photos for printing or Web-based sharing with a single button-press. You can print directly to compatible HP printers via USB. If you want to juice up your batteries while they're still in the camera, it must be nestled in the Photosmart dock, which is sold separately.