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.
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Though the camera is fairly large, the icons on the mode dial are unusually small.
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.
Though the 945 sits at the top of HP's camera line, its missing capabilities will miff photo hobbyists. There's no hotshoe or plug-in connection for an external flash. You can't save uncompressed TIFF or RAW files, which are essential for getting the best possible image quality. For resolution, you choose between 2,608x1,952 (5 megapixels) or 1,296x976 (1 megapixel) and three JPEG-compression levels. You'll need the optional adapter to attach filters, a lens hood, or add-on lenses.
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The 945 ships with four photo-lithium AA batteries, but don't hesitate to replace them with rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride AAs. With our 1,850mAh test set, the camera delivered an adequate 350 shots, 50 percent of them with the flash.
The 945's performance is good compared with that of the other 5-megapixel mainstream cameras we've tested, though this model still isn't suited to quick shooting. It starts reasonably well, taking only about 4 seconds to get from boot to shoot. But shot-to-shot time can run as long as 4 seconds. Ironically, shutter lag isn't to blame. It's typically around 0.8 second and can stretch to 1.7 seconds under difficult focusing conditions. The delay between photos doesn't stem from the flash, either; it recycles fairly quickly. The real culprit is the lengthy updating pause of the electronic viewfinder; it blacks out for 1.5 to 2 seconds after each picture.
The EVF also interferes with continuous shooting. We obtained a 5-frame rate of almost 2.5 frames per second, but we shot blindly while the EVF and the LCD remained dark. When we tried waiting for the display to return, the numbers dropped to 1 frame every 2 seconds, which you really can't consider burst speed. On the plus side, unlike many cameras in its class, the 945 has a built-in flash that operates in burst mode. The farther you are from your subject, the longer the time between exposures, so the burst mode's flash works best close-up.
Both the EVF and the LCD show 100 percent of the image. The EVF's slow frame rate results in a slightly jumpy view, but the LCD is smoother, and the ability to adjust it for indoor and outdoor brightness levels makes it easy to use in full sunlight.
The 945 delivered the same passable but not great images we've come to expect from midlevel contenders. In a variety of lighting situations, the automatic metering produced very good exposures with pleasingly saturated colors. Across the board, the camera also showed an impressive dynamic range, rendering shadows, midtones, and highlights extremely well. Although the automatic white balance choked under tungsten lights--a common failing--the manual setting and the presets generated more-agreeable results. All these factors combined to create great-looking small photos.
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|We saw aliasing, or jaggy edges, and color fringes in the majority of our photos (left). The problems were most visible in our RGB images' blue channel (right).|
Up close, however, we spotted some mild problems that would irk picky photographers. None of our photos were quite in focus, and details were never accurately resolved. Images taken at the camera's most sensitive setting, ISO 100, displayed a relatively average noise level for their resolution class, but better competitors have even lower settings that generate cleaner pictures. Finally, the demosaicking algorithm, the process in which the camera analyzes the limited data from the CCD's color-filter array and fills in the missing pixels, produced color fringes and stair-step patterns along edges.