Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
A short while ago I wrote a brief review of the HP945 which you can find here:
HP945 Review. That review was written based
on the use of a a pre-production sample and HP requested that full size images
not be posted since changes might be made before the camera was finally released.
This extension of the earlier review is based on a production sample and
represents what you would receive if you purchased the camera today. I won't
repeat all the things in the previous article, so if you haven't read it yet, you
might want to do so before reading this follow-up article.
Pre-production vs. production differences
The main operational difference I noticed between the pre-production model and
the production model was that the electronic viewfinder now works much better!
Earlier I had commented that the electronic viewfinder didn't turn on reliably
when the camera was held up to my eye and didn't turn on at all in vertical mode.
With the production model there was no such problem. The electronic viewfinder
turned on as soon as the camera was brought up to eye level, whether in
horizontal or vertical orientation. I didn't notice any other operational
differences. There may have been some small software tweaks. For example, I
believe that the production model takes advantage of the ISO 200 setting over the
ISO 100 setting in auto ISO mode when the shutter speed becomes low enough that
there is a chance of camera shake affecting image quality.
What's in the box?
HP945 digital camera -5MP, 37-300mm zoom (35mm equivalent)
32MB SD card
4xAA Photo Lithium Batteries
USB Cable, camera to PC
USB Cable, camera to printer
Lens cap cord
Dock insert for use with (optional) 8881 camera dock
CD with photo & imaging software
The inclusion of 4 AA Photo Lithium Batteries is a nice plus over the lower
capacity AA alkalines some manufacturers supply. The Photo Lithiums seem to last
forever, though I'm sure they really don't! They certainly significantly outlast
AA alkalines, NiCads or NiMH cells.
The software is best described as basic. Not many frills here, especially the
image editing software. You can crop and rotate images, adjust contrast,
brightness, sharpness and color plus remove "red-eye", but that's about it. The
color adjustment is a little weird. Here's a quote from the help file:
"Type a number between -180 and 180 [or use the slider] in which
to increase or decrease the color. The color values
correspond to the angles on the color wheel. Increasing the color by 1 changes
each color by one color unit. For example, if you increase the color by +60
degrees, green becomes cyan, blue becomes magenta, and red becomes
This is fine if you want to experiment with strange color effects, but pretty
useless for things like correcting overall color casts. As far as I can tell you
can't correct a color cast using the supplied HP software. I'd say this is a
problem if you have no other image editing software. Thankfully there are quite a
few freeware and shareware programs out there that you can use. For example
IrfanView is a very useful program
In my earlier review I had commented that I didn't quite see what advantage
the "digital flash" feature had over post exposure processing using an image
editor. "Digital Flash" (also called "Adaptive Lighting Technology") isn't really
flash at all. It's an image processing mode where the darker parts of an image
are lightened - somewhat in the manner you might get from using conventional
fill-flash. The difference is that (1) you don't actually use a flash and (2)
it's effective at any distance.
The advantage of using the in-camera processing is that the full 12-bit image
depth is used. Since the camera saves images as 8-bit (per color) JPEG files
there's a clear advantage in doing any manipulations in the camera at the 12-bit
Does it actually work? Yes, indeed it does! Here are two shots taken of Mt.
Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine. They are both taken with the same exposure,
one has "digital flash" enabled, the other doesn't.
1/433s at f4.2, ISO 100, Full auto mode, digital flash
Above is the shot without "digital flash". The mountain is well exposed, but
the trees in the foreground are rather dark. Below is the same shot, but this
time with digital flash enabled. As you can see, the exposure on the mountain is
the same , but the trees are now lighter and show much more detail. These images
are exactly as they came out of the camera except for resizing. No color or
density corrections have been made.
1/480s at f4.2, ISO 100, Full auto mode, digital flash
Conclusion - digital flash works and can be an effective
I started out with a fully charged set of Rayovac 1600mAh NiMH
cells. These powered the camera for 10 days during which time I filled a 128MB SD
card with 44 images. I shot more than that (maybe 55) but I deleted some of the
images. I also reviewed the images on the camera LCD display. I only used flash
for one shot. The in camera battery indicator showed that there was still some
battery capacity left (~10%).
This isn't bad performance. Higher capacity NiMH cells are
available (up to 2000mAh) so you can do better with better batteries. As
mentioned earlier, AA photo lithium batteries (which HP supply with the camera)
last significantly longer, but at around $12 for a set of 4 they can be expensive
if you use the camera a lot. NiMH batteries are much more economical, but you'll
probably want to have a spare set available if you're shooting in the field a
HP literature gives the following information on energy consumed by various
operations in terms of shots:
(1 shot = 1 no live view/zoom/strobe picture)
Boot (zoom camera) = 0.5 shots
Zoom (full) = 0.5 shots
Strobe (full) = 0.5 shots
Live Preview (5 seconds) = 0.5-1.0 shots
Video (5 seconds) = 3 shots [think of a 60 second clip as 36 shots!]
Instant Review (2 seconds) = 0.1 shots
Stuff I liked
I liked the digital flash which does a good job in bringing up
the detail in darker areas of the image. The wide range zoom (37mm-300mm 35mm
equivalent) was nice too. Generally exposure seemed accurate. Since there is no
histogram display you can't tell exactly when you have the best exposure, but you
can get a reasonable idea from the image playback. Exposure compensation is
available in full auto, aperture priority and shutter priority modes (there is no
fully manual mode). I used the camera in full "idiot mode" most of the time (full
auto with default settings) and in general the camera did a pretty good job.
Stuff I didn't like quite as much
The view in the viewfinder freezes while AF is operating, so it
makes tracking a moving object a little tricky. One you have AF lock the view
becomes "live" again, but you can have a second or so of dead time during AF.
Normally this isn't a problem, but I'm spoiled by my EOS 10D I guess!
I'd like to have seen some sort of "RAW" mode which saved the
full 12-bit data produced by the sensor, but I guess that the typical purchaser
of this camera probably wouldn't miss it. Again I'm somewhat spoiled by using a
The supplied image editing software leaves something to be
desired. It's OK for very basic adjustments and printing but you won't
be happy with it if you want to any real image processing. Every camera will turn
out some images that need some processing. I expect to process just about all my
shots, but I know some consumers are used to film, where "what you see is what
you get" (with a little help from the printer!). For example take a look at the
following two images:
On the left is the image from the camera. It would have benefited
from a little + exposure compensation and perhaps a manual white balance, but it
was a grab shot on full auto and this is what I got. On the right is the
processed image - lightened and shifted a little to green - and it looks pretty
good. This processing was done in Picture Publisher 8.0 but it could have been
done with almost any basic image editing program on the market - commercial,
shareware or freeware. However it was impossible to get this degree of correction
using the HP supplied software. Not all images need correction of course, but for
those that do, you'll probably need to use something other than the software that
Stuff I didn't test
Since I don't own a compatible HP printer, I didn't test any of
the "print from camera" functions which are available. I didn't test the HP
Instant Share functions either which allows you to automatically send your images
to preset destinations (email addresses or websites) whenever you connect the
camera to your computer.
Image quality is pretty good. I know that's very subjective but
here's an example of the same scene shot at 300mm (35mm full frame equivalent)
taken using the HP945 and an EOS 10D using a 75-300IS lens. Both were shot using
a tripod at an aperture of f5.6 and a shutter speed around 1/60 at ISO settings
of 100. The EOS 10D image was processed to be as close to the HP945 image as
possible in terms of density and color. The 10D image was also sharpened since in
camera sharpening is very mild in the 10D. The HP945 image is straight out of the
camera with no corrections. It looks like the default settings use fairly
The full frame image from the HP945 (no corrections). The red
box sections are shown below at full size
As you can see, in the center of the image the quality of the
HP945 shot stands up well when compared to the shot from the EOS 10D. This is a
very good result.
Towards the edge of the image, and on high contrast features, the
HP945 doesn't do quite as well. Color fringing is observed and the effects of
more aggressive sharpening are evident. There may also be some DOF issues at play
here since the smaller sensor of the HP945 results in significantly greater DOF.
However remember we're comparing a 6.3MP SLR system (body + lens) costing $2000
with a much smaller and lighter 5MP digicam costing around $500. No, it's not as
good as a DSLR, but it's still quite decent.
Some geometric distortion can be seen as shown in the images
As is clear from the images, at the shortest focal length (37mm
equivalent for full frame 35mm) significant barrel distortion is present and is
quite visible in images which contain straight lines near the edges of the image
(architecture for example). However it's not always noticeable as can be seen in
the two examples shown at the bottom of this article which were shot at this
focal length. At 300mm equivalent focal length, distortion is lower and is
pincushion in nature. Again, though visible in images with straight lines near
the edges, this degree of distortion may not be noticeable in most "real" images
as can be seen in the "garden" shot which appears above.
As with all digicams using small sensors and hence small pixels,
noise starts to show up as the "ISO" speed is increased. The following 3 images
show the noise levels at ISO 100, 200 and 400
Though it's not really a fair comparison, the 10D noise levels
are shown below. These samples are 100% crops from the full image.
This pretty clearly shows what happens when pixels become very
small - noise goes up. This isn't just a feature of the HP945, all cameras using
very small pixels - which pretty much means all small non-SLR digicams - show
similar noise levels. It's one of the tradeoffs you have to make. In actual use
(when not imaging a grey card!), noise is less noticeable. Here are a couple of
100% crops from shots made at ISO 400 with the HP 945. As you can see, the noise
is much less obvious than the grey card test.
Here are a few more sample images. All were shot in full auto
mode except for the waterfall which was shot using aperture priority. All images
were shot with "normal" settings for saturation, contrast and sharpness with
centerweighted average metering and auto white balance. These images link
to medium size versions. One link is given to a full size image. Please limit
downloading of the large image since it places a significant load on the server,
but if you need to see full size image quality, feel free to download it.
I liked the camera. It does a creditable job as a "do it all"
pocket digital camera with a 37-300mm zoom and sufficient manual control to allow
the creative photographer to override the fully auto functions. Exposure
compensation, shutter and aperture priority, digital flash, manual white balance
selection and average/center/spot metering give enough flexibility to enable you
to get the image that you want if and when you don't like the results you get in
fully auto mode. The HP945 would be a good choice for those looking for a high
end consumer digital camera and especially for someone interested in shooting
sports or nature where the 300mm effective focal length would be very useful. It
also makes a good "backup" digital for more advanced shooters using a DSLR as
their primary camera.