HP R817 Digital Camera

Pocket-lint is among the first in Europe to get access to the new R817 5 megapixel digital camera from HP. So does it build on the popular R707 range or should Hewlett Packard stick to the photo printers and business desktop machines? We climbed a volcano to find out- but unlike Dangerman adventures, brought it back to tell the tale

HP is continuing its push its into the digital camera market with little sign of stopping and it’s easy to see why. The more digital photos taken, the greater chance someone, like you, is going to want to print them out. As Hewlett Packard offers a bigger range of photo printers than ever before, the compelling reason to get you taking those pictures in the first place is blatantly apparent.

In steps the R817, a small compact camera that tries it’s hardest to stand alongside the Canons and Nikons of this world. The body and design, while reduced considerably since the last outing in the R707, is still a tiny bit chunky and clunky. Thumb groves have been carved out of the design making it comfortable to hold, but for some reason we could never get past the image of a clay model still sitting in the studio waiting for approval. That’s not to say its bad. It’s just not spectacular.

The front of the camera offers the 5x Pentax optical zoom lens - more than most, and the rear houses the 2.5in screen, which while large, isn’t sun reflective. What makes matters worse is that like many camera manufacturers, HP has opted not to include an optical viewfinder. Take this model to the beach, or anywhere sunny for that matter, and you’ll be finding yourself shooting pot luck.

Get past the design and the camera is geared toward the digital camera newcomer. The list of scene modes is as long as your arm as is the cameras built in features. 15 optimised shooting modes including action, landscape and ‘burst’; get great results at concerts and plays with theatre mode.

HP pride themselves on making things easier for those who don’t necessarily know how to and the inclusion of red-eye reduction, imaging enhancing and other such gems is welcomed.

New to the R817 is the ability to take panoramic images and then stitch them in-camera negating the need for software and a nearby PC. On its own the idea doesn’t seem like something digital photographers are screaming out for, but then add it to HP’s new Photosmart 385 printer that can print 10cm x 30cm panoramic prints direct from a memory card and you can see why the option and technology suddenly increases in usefulness.

Images are saved down onto the camera’s 32Mb of internal memory - never enough - and the quality is as you’d expect for a 5 megapixel camera in this class. The Pentax lens does its job and the results are bright and crisp. Skin tones, masses of the same colour and contrasting edges don’t show any major issues on our test shots. However, a faster shutter reaction time would have been helpful (we tried taking a picture of a whale surfacing for air and it ended up being a bit hit and miss as to whether or not we got the shot- unlike the glossy ad campaign for a rival brand).

Verdict

So should you be ditching the Canon compact and becoming a HP photographer? If you are new to digital photography it's certainly worth a look as the consumer angle is very refreshing. The camera will happily give you image advice on the shots you've taken, plus includes a manual in the camera for any simply queries and the whole approach to the menu system is one of ease.

Combine this with the ability to print panoramic shots straight to a printer to re-live that APS experience, but with a better quality print, and HP is offering a really good package here.

However, for the more advanced photographers out there looking for a good field camera it's probably best to stick with a model from the big boys.