DigitalCameraReview.com
HP Photosmart R717 Digital Camera Review
by ssbihli -  7/24/2005
Introduction

The HP Photosmart R717 is a serious attempt by a long-time computer manufacturer to make all aspects of digital photography enjoyable. This 6 MP compact camera goes beyond traditional digital photography and basic image editing and integrates itself with a host of online web services, in-camera help functionality, and external printers to bring the full spectrum of digital photography to life. Thoughtful design went into this camera and it shows. Novices will be thrilled with the built-in help functionality, automatic red eye removal, and a host of other features.

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Specification Highlights
6.2 Megapixel CCD - Effective
3x Optical, 8x Digital zoom
LCD: 1.8" diagonal (130,572 pixels)
ISO: 50 -- 400 + Auto
Shutter: 16 -- 1/2000 sec
Movies: Up 320 x 240 @ 30fps
Media: SD or MMC (32MB integrated in camera)

Features

As digital photography has matured the expected set of default features built-in to each camera has blended together. Most cameras now have optical and digital zooms, multiple flash, scene, and movie modes as well as similar user interfaces for accessing these features. HP is looking beyond the basics of digital photography -- which the R717 does well -- to make the entire photography experience from photo to print or distribution a pleasant experience.

One of HP's differentiating features for this camera is an Adaptive Lighting setting, which attempts to correct a common problem experienced by many budding photographers. How many times have you taken a picture of a family member standing in front of a bright window? The result more times than not is a highly exposed window and a greatly underexposed daughter or son. Or have you taken a photo of an object lit by a sunset on one side and obscured in deep shadows on the other? HP Adaptive Lighting attempts to find those underexposed areas of high contrast images and automatically brighten them.

In the two images below of the tower, it's quite obvious how Adaptive Lighting has improved the image of the tower with better contrast and warmer, more accurate colors. However, the sky's blue color is a bit washed out. As the tower was the focus of the image, I was pleased with the outcome and the fact that the Adaptive Lighting did not add much noise to the image. In the second two images, Adaptive Lighting had a negative affect on the image by making it appear more washed out without greatly enhancing the detail in darker areas of the image. Overall, Adaptive Lighting is a plus for the new photographer. However, if you're not getting the results you expect, it can always be disabled easily through the menu system of the camera.

 
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Another interesting feature that can only result in thinking to yourself: 'Duh, why didn't they think of that before' is the automatic red eye removal. After taking a photo resulting in red eyes, you can place the camera in Playback mode and have the camera automatically search out and destroy those troubling retinas. Clever.

Finally, it's worth noting the help system integrated into the R717. Users can quickly lookup tips on using the camera and its different modes. Much of the cameras functionality is accompanied by optional help screens to guide the consumer in using a particular feature. This is indeed handy for users new to the digital camera world. Any transition from film to digital can be heartburn inducing for a new user. HP has gone a step beyond to take this transition seriously resulting in well laid out menus and a surprisingly helpful Help system.

Camera Design

The R717 is a handsome, if boxy, combination of brushed silver and gunmetal-colored plastic. It weighs 8 oz with its proprietary battery installed. It's comfortable enough, but a tad heavy when compared to other cameras of this size. Fit and finish is excellent. With year of experience designing user interfaces for printers, this HP camera's buttons and controls a solid feel.

Separate buttons for the shutter release and the starting and stopping of a movie recording sit side-by-side. While clever in that you don't have to spelunk through menus to find the movie mode, I bet you dollars to donuts there are hundreds of owners out there with short movies of the family that resulted after asking a stranger to take a photo. The movie button is flush with the body and the photo shutter button sticks out (and is larger), but I've made the mistake a few times.

The rest of the interface is well laid out with separate buttons for macro mode, flash settings, and timers. Zooming is accomplished through a macaroni shaped rocker button. Finally, a 4-way circular rocker button along with an OK' button in the middle makes navigating menus a snap.

There are a couple of positive and negative items to note with the camera design. First on the bright side, switching scene modes is accomplished through a single button on the top of the R717. If you're in Action mode and opt to leave it for some reason, it could take you up to 11 more button presses to get back.

Second, the R717 has 32 MB of memory built-in. This means you are never without the capability of snapping a picture. It's not much memory, but it will be good for 9 -- 6 Mp photos or 16 -- 4 MP photos.

On the flipside, there is no TV-out feature for connecting the camera directly to a television for a slideshow. I've found this feature to be quite useful when traveling as you can have fun remembering you day or week back in the hotel room. All hope is not lost, but you'll need to purchase an HP R-Series dock. The camera snaps into the dock which connects to a computer for easy image transfer as well as direct connectivity to a television to view slideshows. And if you don't have a computer, the R-Series dock allows you to connect the R717 directly to any printer (HP) that support the PictBridge feature for direct-to-printer printing.

The other downside of the R717 is cycle time between photos. In both 4 MP and 6 MP modes, I found myself waiting upwards of 10 seconds for the image to be written to internal memory. The LCD will show a live view before the photo has completed writing tricking you into believing it's safe to take the next photo. But, alas, pressing the shutter only results in the word Processing' showing up on the LCD. Fast action, or slow action for that matter, will not be a forte of the R717.

Image Quality and Performance

Image quality on the camera is good. Many images had warm, rich colors and good focus and sharpness. See the Cherry Picker and cans of food below. Some images felt like the camera almost focused on the right spot, but missed. The Parking Meter image below is a good example. The camera focused on the right meter, but the overall image wants for more clarity.


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Noise levels of the images are another story. They were simply too high and present in many photos. Even on bright days when the camera would choose a lower ISO level most even colored portioned of an image (blue sky, paint on a car, etc.) were dotty and mottled. The same image taken with the Canon Powershot A95 resulted in smoother colors, more even gradients, ultimately less overall noise.

Movie mode on the R717 is very good. By very good, I mean it will capture video at 30fps. The result is smooth and worth watching on a television. The only knock against it is that it captures the video at a paltry 320 x 240. Given the price point of the camera, it's still exciting to see HP not choose to skimp and only provide 10 or 15 fps.

Extended Specifications (From hp.com)

Resolution: 6.2 MP (2864 by 2160) effective pixel count
Lens System: HP Precision Lens; 24x total zoom; 3x optical zoom; 8x digital zoom; 8 to 24 mm focal length; approximately 39 to 117 mm (35 mm equivalent); f2.8 to f4.8 m (wide); f4.9 to f8.4 m (telephoto)
Scene Modes: Auto (default), Action, Landscape, Portrait, Beach, Snow, Sunset, Aperture priority, Panorama, Document, Museum, My mode
Viewfinder: Optical
Image Features: Manual controls: EV Compensation, Image Quality, White Balance, ISO Speed, AE Metering, Color, Saturation, Sharpness, Contrast, AE Bracketing, HP Real Life Technologies including: HP Adaptive Lighting, HP In-Camera Red-Eye Removal, HP In-Camera Panorama Preview, HP Image Advice, HP Noise Filter, HP Adaptive Demosiac, HP Vignetting, HP Preferred Photo Reproduction
Storage: Secure Digital (SD), Multimedia Card (MMC) with 32 MB built-in
AE Metering: Center-Weighted (default), Average, Spot
Focus settings: Normal focus (default), Macro, Infinity and Manual Focus
Shutter Speed: 16 sec. - 1/2000 sec.
Sensitivity: Auto (default); ISO 50, 100, 200, 400
Flash: Auto (default), Auto with red-eye, Flash on without red-eye, Flash off, Night with red-eye
File Format: JPEG, MPEG-1
Storage: SD or MMC card (32MB integrated in camera)
White Balance: Auto (default), Sun, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Manual
Battery: Proprietary rechargeable
Dimensions: 3.88(L) x 1.39(W) x 2.36(H) inches
Weight: 6.3 oz. (excluding battery and media)

Conclusion

The HP R717 is a solid entry-level camera. It has an excellent help system to guide beginners, a polished fit and finish, and good to very good image quality. However, this camera's rating has more to do with the overall end-to-end photography experience it can provide when combined with other HP products. Features like automatic red-eye removal and Adaptive Lighting assist the novice in taking above average photos. HP Instant Share simplifies photo distribution, posting, and printing. The optional docking station and PC software will let you organize photos, print directly to HP printers, and view slideshows on your television. Finally, HP's online photo sharing service allows for mass photo sharing and high-quality printing.

If you look at this suite of products and services as a whole, the R717 suddenly becomes intensely attractive and a highly recommended product. If you are considering the R717 as a standalone camera with no interest or money to spend on accessories, the R717 is still a good buy.

Pros
6 MP great for large format photos
Easy to use
Excellent integration of the camera with computers, printers, online services, and television with the right accessories
Good image quality

Cons
Images have a tad too much noise in the them
Cycle times between photos is slow

Recommended For
Consumers new to digital photography with an interest in exploring all aspects of digital photography: editing, printing, online sharing, and emailing