(CNET.com) -- HP's Photosmart M537 is the archetypal budget camera. It's not particularly large or small, it doesn't look terribly shiny or sleek, and it doesn't have any notably unique features.
This is completely understandable; sub-$150 snapshot cameras don't normally have long zoom lenses, high-resolution sensors, or slim, fashionable bodies.
The M537's simple, unassuming design has few controls and is extremely easy to use.
Its chunky plastic body holds only a handful of large, easily pressed buttons on its back, arranged sparsely around the camera's screen. The camera's menu system is as simple as its interface and offers few shooting options. Once you take your pictures, though, you can use the comfortable directional pad to tap through the various in-camera editing features.
HP designed the M537 to be an affordable budget camera. Its 6-megapixel sensor, 3x optical zoom lens, and 2.5-inch LCD all fit into the mold of an extremely cookie-cutter snapshot camera. Of course, for the price, that's not a terrible thing.
Like all HP Photosmart cameras, the M537 features a generous amount of onboard software features that help make up for the camera's unimpressive hardware. HP's Steady Photo antishake feature boosts ISO sensitivity to force a fast shutter speed in order to reduce blur in photos. It's not as effective as either mechanical or optical image stabilization, especially since higher ISOs bring with them noisier images, but it can help in certain situations.
An onboard red-eye removal function can edit the red dots out of flash-afflicted eyes without the machine-gun burst of flashes some red-eye reduction features use.
Finally, HP's Design Gallery offers a handful of in-camera editing and tweaking functions, though they're much more artistic than useful. It also has a movie mode, but it records only QVGA (320x240) clips at 24 frames per second (fps) compared to most cameras' 30 fps VGA movie modes. The M537 doesn't accept SDHC cards, either, so your choice of storage is limited to 2GB or smaller SD cards.
With no manual white balance, ISO sensitivity, or even exposure controls, the M537 offers few options beyond a small handful of scene presets. It automates the entire shooting process, so it functions as a true "point-and-shoot." This puts the M537 on very similar footing with Olympus' FE-series, another set of almost completely automated budget shooters.
The M537 showed sluggish results in our tests.
The camera took an arduously long 4.1 seconds to start up and capture its first image.
Shutter lag measured 1.1 seconds in our high-contrast test and a full 2 seconds in a low-contrast test, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively.
The camera took 2 seconds between shots, a wait that jumped to 3.2 seconds with the onboard flash enabled.
Only its burst mode showed impressive results for a camera in its price range, yielding full-resolution JPEGs at an average rate of 2.1fps.
Photos from the M537 also fare poorly, with muddled color and softened details. As with many snapshot cameras, photos shot under incandescent light look very warm when using automatic white balance.
Unfortunately, the M537 has only automatic white balance; it lacks the manual and incandescent white-balance modes found on most other snapshot cameras.
This means that your indoor shots--assuming you have incandescent lights inside--will tend to have a funky yellow tint. Besides the color, image artifacts also tend to soften and obscure fine details. We also noticed fringing and oversharpening along the edges of some objects.
The HP Photosmart M537's myriad of onboard image manipulation features might appeal to artistic snapshooters, but its almost nonexistent exposure controls and disappointing performance and image quality make it a poor choice, even among budget cameras.
Consider instead the similarly automatic Olympus FE-230, a solid budget camera that stays in same price range as this HP. E-mail to a friend
© 2009 CBS Interactive Inc. All rights reserved. CNET, CNET.com and the CNET logo are registered trademarks of CBS Interactive Inc. Used by permission.