Digital camera

4 Dec 2003

Product: HP PhotoSmart 945
Price: €599

In a very short few years the range of digital cameras on the market has grown and now almost matches the variety of conventional cameras. There are slim pocket cameras that can give surprisingly sharp snapshots, just like their film counterparts, and there are top end semi-professional models that emulate the performance of SLR (Single Lens Reflex) cameras. That is the territory where HP has pitched its new PhotoSmart 945 model. ‘Semi-professional’ really means advanced amateur with some budget limitations, of course.

With a resolution of 5.3 megapixels and impressive 8x optical zoom (multiplied by 7x digital) the PhotoSmart 945 is a versatile all-rounder for business use. The high resolution means photos can be enlarged to, for example, A3 size for mini-posters while the generous zoom range adds even more flexibility: not only long range shots but very detailed close-ups.

To make a good choice of camera, you really should know what you will principally use it for and work back from the most appropriate specifications. For general business use, this HP model is competitive in both features and price. It is a neat design with a solid feel, deliberately imitating the matt black look and feel of a conventional SLR in a smaller and lighter package. The LCD preview screen is also the interface for most settings through on-screen menus and a well positioned four-way rocker switch and OK button for speedy adjustment – once you learn your way around. A clever feature is that the LCD screen switches off to save battery life when you put your eye to the camera viewfinder. As with all digitals, the preview screen uses more energy than taking and transferring the photos.

HP’s heritage in IT as opposed to the optical industry shows in several ways with this camera. The software for easy transfer and editing that comes with it is actually a most valuable part of the package and unloading is easy via USB cable direct to PC or to a printer. The clever ‘digital flash’ feature enables darker areas to be captured in a way that allows automatic fill-in as if a more powerful flash had been used. In fact it’s fair to say that this camera is optimised to work with a PC and HP’s printer range – several photo printer models and all-in-ones share the same imaging software and have card slots to enable printing (proofs or full prints) directly from the camera.

The other side of this lineage, on the other hand, is that serious photography amateurs will not be all that impressed. The lack of a hot shoe for external flash and synchronisation (many of us have discovered the magic of slave flash units!) is serious. Others will quarrel because you actually cannot get uncompressed raw image files, say in TIFF format, although you can choose the JPEG compression level from three. The serious image editing people like to work with all the pixels. As it comes, the only traditional photography accessory it connects to is a tripod! However, an optional adapter allows fitting of add-on lenses for specialist use or a lens hood, arguably basic to almost all serious photography.

Storage is on the excellent Secure Digital card format (about the size of a thick-ish phone SIM) with 32MB as standard giving 23 exposures at top resolution. Not great if you are on hols and happily far from a PC, but SD cards are available up to 4GB, although that size will cost nearly as much as the camera. The 8x zoom is very good, equivalent to 37mm-300mm, but that lower end is a bit tight for wider-angle shots.

By Leslie Faughnan