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HP Photosmart R817 Digital Camera Review
by ssbihli -  10/24/2005
Introduction

The HP Photosmart R817 will satisfy families looking for an easy-to-use point and shoot digital camera. With each iteration of HP's camera line the specifications improve and the user interface simplifies. This digital camera sports a 5 megapixel CCD, a 5x optical Pentax zoom lens, a large 2" LCD. The only downside is the usual (unfortunately) softness and noise present in images when zoomed. For the 4x6 printing crowd, the R817 will fit in a pocket of purse, zoom in on details, and never confuse the least competent photo taker.

HP photosmart R817

Specification Highlights

Features

The R817 has integrated the standard set of HP features and scene modes. HP has been steadily adding and refining its set of proprietary technologies to make digital photography easier and the odds of taking a high-quality photo greater. With the R817 you can expect:

When you look at the sum of these features, it's clear that one of HP's strategies is not to force the consumer to own a PC for photo retouching and printing. It's an expense and a complexity many families don't want to deal with. By incorporating the most common editing features into the camera or the printer, HP can satisfy this segment of customers. However, if you are interested in storing and editing photos on a PC or Mac, the R817 comes with HP's weighty software install.

The R817 all sports a number of manual controls should you choose to go that direction. You can set ISO, bracketing, AE metering, auto and manual focus modes, shutter speed, and aperture. While there are a plethora of manual controls, if you really need and expect to have that much control over a camera, look elsewhere. This camera is built for the automated crowd.

Like most point and shoots, the R817 integrates a number of scene modes. These include:

Camera Design

The R817 is compact and nice looking. Similar to the R717 it is made of brushed aluminum and a gunmetal-colored plastic. It has a solid feel at a bit less than 7 oz with the proprietary battery installed. An indentation on the rear of the camera for the user's thumb gives it an unexpectedly nice feel to hold and shoot with one hand.

HP photosmart R817

The overall user interface of the cameras buttons are very well laid out. With one hand you can hold the camera, shoot a photo or a movie, zoom in and out with your thumb, and access the menu system through the four-way rocker and Menu button. A neat row of buttons along the bottom access flash, focus, shooting/timer, and playback modes. Pressing any of these buttons present an easy to read and interpret list of options.

Earlier in the review I mentioned that each iteration of HP camera has a slightly more refined interface. When changing the most common of options like flash mode, this becomes very apparent. No longer is the user shown a list of hard-to-read options and icons. The user is shown large icons in a neat row with a description below it. This will definitely appeal to those who have shied away from the digital scene.

The R817 also comes with 32 MB of internal memory so that you are never without. This is good for 15 5MP photos. It's not much, but it's usable. You'll also find the camera ships with a dock for recharging and connectivity to a PC, Mac, or PictBridge camera.

Image Quality and Performance

Image quality on the R817 is no better and no worse than previous compact models we've reviewed from HP. 4x6 photos and most 5x7 will print with no issue. However, when compared at a zoomed level side-by-side with Canon Powershot A95, a favorite of mine, the flaws of the R817 are apparent:


Shot with Canon A95 [larger] [fullsize]


Shot with HP R817 [larger] [fullsize]

Startup, focus, and recycle times are all average to good for a camera in the price range. Pre-focusing on your image is always recommended though not always possible. Expect a quarter to half second delay when trying to capture a fast-action shot.

The 5x optical zoom is a breath of fresh air. Breaking the mold of most compact digital cameras which stop at 3x, the R817 allows for more detail at greater distances. The 8x digital zoom is not even worth mentioning since digital zoom is worthless for gathering more detail.


Wide Angle [larger] [fullsize]


Full Optical Zoom (5x) [larger] [fullsize]


Full optical and digital zoom (40x)

Movie mode is a bit weak given that the R817 is a 2005 model. It can muster 30 fps, but only at QVGA size (320 x 240). Many cameras in this price range are capable of 640 x 480.

Finally, macro mode can focus on objects 1 inch away. I found the images to relatively sharp and pleasant.


Macro [larger] [fullsize]


Macro [larger] [fullsize]

Extended Specifications (From hp.com)

Conclusion

The R817 is the successor the R717. While the R817 has one fewer megapixels, the addition of the 5x optical Pentax lens and refined user interface make up for it. While the Pentax lens may take slightly sharper photos, noise continues to be an issue for people wanting the best image quality for their money.

At the time of this writing, the R817 can be had from Internet sites for around $225 after rebates. Given the simplicity of the camera, its very good user interface, PictBridge capability, plethora of scene modes, ability to share photos by email easily, and integrated HP technologies, I would recommend the R817 as I did the R717. If you come across a Canon camera in the same price range and the feature set appeals to you, it's likely you'll get better images from the Canon. However, if HP would step up to the plate on the noise levels in some of its images, HP could be a leading player in the digital camera market.

Pros

Cons

Recommended For
(Same as R717) Consumers new to digital photography with an interest in exploring all aspects of digital photography: editing, printing, online sharing, and emailing