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HP Photosmart M437

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HP PhotoSmart M437 - Digital camera - compact - 5.0 Mpix - optical zoom: 3 x - supported memory: SD

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      27.05.2011 13:35
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      Stick to printers, HP

      == Introduction ==

      It's a little odd, when you think about it, that a manufacturer as established and accomplished in terms of making colour printers as HP has not been more successful in the digital camera market. After all, the two items complement each other very nicely. Why the relative lack of success should be I don't know; it can't simply be the presence of established names from the film era such as Canon and Nikon, as the likes of Samsung and (especially) Panasonic have managed to surmount that particular obstacle.

      == Looks and handling ==

      The Photosmart M437 is a fairly simple, five-megapixel model that was considered entry-level even on its release four years ago; it cost about £80 at the time. It's not exactly a model that you'd call sleek or stylish, its rather angular looks giving is a brick-like feel somewhat at odds with an actually reasonably compact size. Something about the front-on appearance doesn't appeal to me; there's an uncomfortable feeling that this is a computer peripheral rather than a piece of photographic kit in its own right. It rather feels that way in the hand, too: it's not fragile exactly, but it's certainly not rock-solid.

      My main gripe with the handling, though, comes around the back: although the range and positioning of buttons is reasonable, I find almost all of them uncomfortable to use. The zoom control, a strange "round the corner" affair, is perhaps the worst, but several of the others are also unpleasant. They're nearly flush with the camera body, I suppose both for aesthetic reasons and to prevent accidental operation, but really if HP wanted to do that they should have rowed back on making the controls quite so small and fiddly.

      == Optics and performance ==

      The M437 has a bog-standard 3x f/2.8 to f/4.8 zoom lens, with a film equivalent range of 38 to 114 mm. This makes it pretty useless for wide-angle work, but for everyday use with portraits, landscapes and so on it's fine. The lens movement itself is acceptably smooth but rather noisy, with something of the irritating screechy whine common to a lot of cheaper digicams' lens motors. (HP, naughtily, advertised the M437 as having a 15x zoom, skimming over the fact that digital zoom is generally a waste of space.)

      The camera's LCD is two inches in size. That was acceptable for 2007, if already beginning to seem a little bit outdated. Still, you don't get to see a great deal of information superimposed on it in any case: as there's so little manual control of the camera's settings, not much more is needed than an indication of how many shots are left on your SD card and whether or not the flash is on or you're running out of battery. Don't expect miracles of the screen itself: it's not as laggy as some I've seen at this end of the market, but nor is it the fastest, sharpest LCD around.

      This is a frustratingly slow camera, and in that sense (as in one or two others) reminds me somewhat of models made five years earlier. There's a very irritating delay between pressing the power button and the camera actually switching on, and the HP also suffers from worse shutter lag than was the norm by 2007. A couple of seconds between shots doesn't sound much, but if you're used to today's snappy snappers then it may drive you up the wall.

      == Features and settings ==

      This won't be a very long section, because the M437 is very much a "point and shoot" affair, with even fewer options for user control than most budget cameras. Not only can you not control the ISO - which is annoying, but perhaps expected on a model like this - but there aren't even any user controls over white balance and exposure compensation! It's staggering that a camera released as recently as 2007 doesn't even provide a quick way to make photos taken with indoor light look a bit less orangey. This alone makes the M437 no use if you like taking pictures indoors under artificial lighting.

      So, what can you control for yourself? Precious little, frankly. There are a handful of scene modes available from the main menu, and these are rather predictable: landscape, portrait, sunset and so on. They are worth using, in the absence of anything better. There's a standard 10-second self-timer, and moreover a better macro mode than is sometimes found on bottom-of-the-range digicams. It will focus down to around 5 cm, which is not going to get anyone dancing in the streets but is better than some of the rubbish I've seen elsewhere; there are cameras around that can't focus closer than 20 cm!

      Almost despite themselves, HP did include a couple of more interesting features on the M437. There's a basic burst mode, which is however limited to three shots; a less dreadful than might be expected movie mode (only 320 x 240 resolution, but a full 30 fps); and an extremely basic anti-blur system as a separate "Steady Photo" scene mode. As is generally the case with digital anti-blur, all this does is to increase the ISO and therefore select a faster shutter speed at the expense of worse image quality thanks to higher noise.

      == Photo quality ==

      As in so many other areas, the HP fails to set the world on fire in this category. Five megapixels is quite enough to produce beautiful on-screen pictures and more than acceptable printouts at standard postcard size, but this camera doesn't really illustrate that very well. Often cheap cameras will give results that are rather soft and fuzzy in the corners. This one doesn't... but that's only because they're soft and fuzzy everywhere! They really are much too soft, and unfortunately all sharpening on the PC does is to make things look harsh and jagged.

      Colour is very muted, and if you're used to the bright tones of a Canon or a Fujifilm then you may find things seeming uncomfortably washed out. It might be easy to compensate for this with a little careful adjustment of the exposure compensation and saturation settings... except, of course, that the M437 doesn't have either! This is one reason why even if you don't like complexity in your camera controls it's not usually a good idea to go for a model that takes away your options quite this much.

      == Consumables ==

      A simple camera should be simple to maintain, and here HP have done the sensible thing and gone for the popular budget combination of AA batteries and SD memory cards. (There is 16 MB internal memory for emergencies, but I can't see any reason to use that.) Slightly to my surprise, the M437 does support SDHC cards as well; the (fairly clear if rather padded out) manual suggests that cards must have capacities of no more than 8GB; for some bizarre reason, the camera cannot support more than 4,000 photos of any size on one card.

      Battery life is a bit disappointing, really. A camera as simple as this, with a relatively small screen, should be able to eke out even a pair of alkalines for a reasonable period, yet I had trouble in getting to 100 shots even with limited flash use. Naturally the use of NiMH rechargeables improved things, but not enormously, and I'd certainly recommend taking a spare pair with you if you're at all likely to be using the camera throughout a day.

      == Buying and verdict ==

      These cameras are not hugely common nowadays; the only one I could find on eBay just now was an unsold example being advertised for spares or repair. My gut feeling is that not very many of the things have survived, since they just don't have that reassuring feel of solidity you get from a better digicam. Mine was another job-lot special, but frankly I wouldn't pay double figures of pounds even for one in mint condition. Even if you like HP as a brand, the M437 is simply outclassed, and as such is unlikely to satisfy. ..

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    • Product Details

      It's easy to shoot beautiful photos with Photosmart M437 Digital Camera, which packs 5 megapixels and 15x total zoom (3x optical, 5x digital) zoom. Just grab it and start snapping; you'll love the easy-to-use buttons and menus. It's also a cinch to view your images, thanks to a 2" display. And there's so much more with this Windows Vista ready camera: red-eye removal, the ability to add borders, and the ability to record videos and print individual frames from them.