• Price: 255

  • Company: HP

  • Pros: Simple to use and well-designed, the HP Photosmart 945 is a good budget option.

  • Cons: Image quality doesn’t compare favourably to competing models. Few professional-level controls, and only three special scene modes.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 7 out of 10 We rate this 7 out of 10

HP’s Photosmart 945 camera is difficult to pigeonhole. Over five megapixels, and an 8x optical zoom lens might put it in the class of advanced cameras like the Minolta Dimage A1 or the Fujifilm FinePix S7000, which cost a lot more. But the overall design of the Photosmart 945 seems aimed at providing point-&-shoot ease.

For one thing, this camera has few of the high-end creative controls found in more expensive models, and those it does contain are not especially sophisticated. Its manual focus, for example, lacks the magnified view that helps with accurate focus – especially with macro shots. HP has added aperture- and shutter-priority modes, but no full-manual exposure mode.

Using the priority modes is relatively slow. Selecting an aperture value requires you to repeatedly press one of the camera’s four-way navigation buttons. Better cameras often have a dial that lets you pick your aperture quickly.

The Photosmart 945 will go down well with photographers looking for simplicity. Like most well-designed point-&-shoots, it has dedicated buttons for flash, self-timer, and macro focus settings. A dial surrounding the shutter button lets you quickly select full-automatic, priority modes, movie mode, or one of only three special scene options.

Using the electronic viewfinder is disappointing. It’s relatively small, dark, and grainy when compared with those of other cameras, and it tends to smear the image if you pan quickly. The optical zoom is a bit jumpy as you change focal length, and the camera has an annoying habit of popping the image slightly when you let off the zoom button.

You manage the remainder of the camera’s settings through easy-to-read menus, many of which have built-in, text-based help screens. You can set menu options quickly by pressing the right or left navigation buttons, or by pressing the OK button and selecting from a deeper level of options. However, the user must go into the menus to change the exposure value setting.

Image quality is at the lower end of the scale. Overall exposure and colour accuracy are adequate, but colours seemed somewhat muted. An outdoor shot produced a nice contrast range, with no loss of details in the shadows. But none of the images were as sharp as what we’ve seen from many competing 5-megapixel cameras. The 945 is fine for snapshots, but disappointing if fine image quality is a high priority.

The camera is borderline-acceptable for sports or action shooting. We noticed significant shutter delay whenever the shutter button was fully pressed in one stroke. However, you can lock the exposure and focus by pushing the shutter button halfway down, and the camera will fire quickly when you then fully depress the shutter.

The Photosmart 945 is an attractive camera for casual photographers seeking a long optical zoom. However, advanced photographers should look elsewhere.

Tracey Capen