HP Photosmart R817
Review Date: October 4th 2005
Ease of Use
HP have retained the stylish good looks of its camera range with the Photosmart R817, which with a mainly brushed aluminum body looks as good in real life as it does in all those glossy product shots. The R817 definitely stands out from the crowd in terms of design. The aluminum body is susceptible to finger prints and scratches though. A textured matt black plastic which runs around the top, left edge and bottom of the camera finishes it off. If the appearance of your digital camera is important to you, then you won't be disappointed with the HP Photosmart R817.
The HP Photosmart R817 is quite a lot smaller than the older R707 and R717 models, and is therefore perfect for carrying with you in a trouser pocket or handbag. Even better, despite the smaller body the R817 has a larger 5x optical zoom lens, although the HP designers have had to remove the optical viewfinder to achieve this. Despite most of the body being made from aluminum, the HP Photosmart R817 is still quite a light camera at 160g without the battery fitted, which is good if you want a camera that is easy to carry around.
The HP Photosmart R817 is very comfortable to hold thanks to an innovative zoom button design (which is also used on the other R-series and M-series models). The HP designers have placed a large curved recess just where your right-hand thumb naturally sits, with the zoom button arching round in a 70 degree curve at the top of the recess. This design makes the camera easy to grip and also very easy to operate the zoom. I've not seen anything like before so kudos to HP for trying something a little different (and making it work).
|Arrow Pad / Menu/OK Button||Zoom Lever|
Other nice external features that tie in with the whole HP ethos of ease of use are the separate shutter buttons on the top of the camera, a large one for still images and a smaller one for movies. At first I was a little confused as I struggled to find anything to do with starting movies in the menu system or scene modes - then I realised that pressing the smaller movie shutter button simply starts recording a movie, while pressing it again stops the recording. This makes switching between taking still and moving images very quick and intuitive. Just make sure that you set the video mode to your preferred quality setting via the menu system before you start recording.
There are 4 buttons below the LCD screen on the rear of the R817 which carry on HP's approach of removing menu items and making them accessible via external buttons. Activating the various flash settings, focus modes and timer options is as easy as pressing the appropriate button to cycle through the available choices. The only exception is the Mode button, which HP have curiously located on the top of the camera, maybe in an effort to separate it from the rest of the controls and give it more prominence. I would have preferred to see it on the rear of the camera along with the other buttons. All 11 external controls are clearly labeled using industry-standard symbols and terminology. Despite being quite small, the camera body feels well-designed and not at all cluttered. The only element that worried me slightly was the plastic battery/memory card door, which didn't sit flush with the metal body.
If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the comprehensive and easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. For more experienced users, a quick look through the manual for the few functions that are not so self-explanatory (like HP's unique InstantShare and Adaptive Lighting features) is all that's needed.
|Flash / Macro/Manual Focus / Self-Timer/Burst Mode / Camera/Play||On/Off Switch|
As well as the useful manual, HP have added something to the Photosmart R817 that I have only seen on a few digital cameras (most of them from HP!) - a context sensitive help option built into the menu system. It perhaps doesn't sound like much, but if you're using a menu option for the first time and you're not quite sure what it means, having the option of reading an explanation in clear English (or whatever language you choose) on the camera's LCD screen is a great idea. You may not use the help system when you are more familiar with the camera, but in those first few weeks it could mean the difference between successfully taking a photo or not. Another great feature is Image Advice. Accessed via the Play menu option, Image Advice gives you helpful tips on the current image. For example, when taking a photo with a slow shutter speed and no flash, the camera explains why the image may be blurry and offers advise for keeping the picture sharp. If you're an experienced photographer you will probably never use this option, but for the beginner it is another example of how HP is attempting to make photography more accessible.
HP have also gone a step further with the Photosmart R817 by adding a whole menu dedicated to providing extra essential information, called somewhat unsurprisingly the Help menu. There are 16 options dealing with a variety of topics, from Top Ten Tips to Using Shooting Modes and Printing Images. It's essentially like having a miniature version of the user manual in your camera, and although not quite as useful as the context sensitive help or Image Advice options, still a welcome addition that can only make the R817 even easier to understand and use.
Less helpful is the manual focus mode. Although many photographers may never use this feature, the people who are interested will probably end up joining them anyway, as it is not very well implemented. You use the up and down buttons to set the focus distance, which is represented by a vertical scale on the LCD screen with an infinity symbol at one end and macro symbol at the other. There are no distance markings, so you have to rely on the center of the screen to judge the focus, which is enlarged to assist you. Unfortunately it's quite pixellated and also rendered in black and white, whilst it takes ages to go from one end of the scale to the other. A welcome move by HP to include the manual focus mode, but unfortunately it's not realised very well.
A few final annoyances are centered around the docking system that HP offers. Or rather what it doesn't offer. Included with the R817 is a cradle, which you must use to transfer photos onto your PC and charge the battery. That's my first, albeit minor, complaint. More seriously is the lack of any way to view your images on a TV set or watch slideshows - you can only access these options if you purchase the R-Series dock. Most other cameras in this class have these features built-in to the camera, so it just seems to me like a way for HP to make some extra cash.
|Shutter Button / Video Button||Mode Button|
The menu system of the HP Photosmart R817 is as well designed as the exterior of the camera. It uses an intuitive tabbed interface with 5 options at the top of the screen, Capture, Playback, Instant Share, Setup and Help, which are represented by easily understandable icons, with up to 18 options per tab to scroll through. The 2 inch LCD screen of the HP Photosmart R817 has a slight negative impact on using the menu system, as only 5 options are displayed onscreen, meaning that you have to scroll up and down quite a lot. There is, however, a useful symbol next to each menu option to help indicate what it does, and the font is large and clear, which ensures that the HP Photosmart R817 menus are easy to access and use overall. There are a couple of features buried in the menu system that I would have liked to be accessible via an external button, namely ISO speed and exposure compensation. Having to open the menu system every time you want to change these frequently-used settings slows down the operation of the camera.
So the HP Photosmart R817 is comfortable to hold, easy to operate and has a simple to use menu system, but what is it like to actually operate and take a photo? The start-up time from turning the camera on to being ready to take a photo is average at 2 seconds, whilst it takes about 3/4 second to zoom from the widest focal length to the longest, and back again. Focusing is very quick in good light and the camera happily achieves focus indoors or in low-light situations due to the focus assist lamp. The visibility and refresh rate of the 2 inch LCD screen are perfectly acceptable. It takes about 0.5 seconds to store an image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card. In continuous mode (called Burst mode) the camera takes 4 photos at 2.2 frames per second, but subsequent shots in the same sequence are taken and recorded much more slowly, and if the "Processing..." message is displayed you can't take another shot. All in all the HP Photosmart R817 is above average in terms of operational speed.
Once you have captured a photo, the HP Photosmart R817 is pretty good when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails, zoom in and out, add an audio clip to each image, delete an image and rotate an image. There are also quite a few playback features that I haven't seen before on other digital cameras. A menu option called Remove Red Eyes does exactly what it says (although the process does take about 15 seconds), and the Image Advice option analyses the current image and suggests if anything is wrong with it and what you can do to take a better picture next time. When shooting in Panorama mode, an option called Stitch Panorama allows you to join together up to 5 images in-camera - you don't even need a computer! Another unique playback feature is Undelete Last, which restores the last photo that you deleted - handy if you have accidentally deleted something that you really wanted to keep.
The Image Info menu option toggles on and off detailed settings information about each picture, such as the aperture, shutter speed and lens focal length setting, and there is a small histogram which is fairly helpful in evaluating the exposure. Missing features include locking images so that they can't be deleted, slideshows (only available if you buy the R-Series dock) and more options for manipulating images in-camera. Through HP's Instant Share feature, you can designate images to be automatically sent to a particular location, like email or an online photo album, when you download them.
On the whole the HP Photosmart R817 is an extremely easy to use digital camera, with a well-designed exterior and menu system and some innovative and very useful features.
PhotographyBLOG is a member of the DIWA organisation. Our test results for the HP Photosmart R817 have been submitted to DIWA for comparison with test results for different samples of the same camera model supplied by other DIWA member sites.