HP Photosmart R717
At a Glance
HP Photosmart R717 Compact Camera
This feature-rich model comes with in-camera image advice and red-eye reduction, with extensive help menus.
With its rubberized black body and brushed-metal face plate, the 6.2-megapixel HP Photosmart R717 bears a marked family resemblance to its 5.1-megapixel predecessor, the R707. However, it upgrades many of its older sibling's features.
Like the R707, the R717 lets photographers select from several different scene modes. The usual suspects--including portrait, action, and landscape, plus panorama and the user-configurable My Mode--remain. The R717 adds a Museum mode, which takes flashless photos and silences the usual camera sounds.
The long, banana-shaped zoom-control button resides on the back. Because it sits in a shallow indentation--a trough it shares with the direction and Menu/OK buttons--we found it a bit awkward to use. Our most successful technique was to run the side of a thumb along it, a motion better suited to a dial than to this smooth and strangely shaped button.
The R717's easily navigated menus borrow many useful features from the R707. For example, you can set HP's Adaptive Lighting function at high or regular levels to even out images with very light and very dark areas. We found it useful for capturing objects in a bright greenhouse window and for reducing flash glare on glassware photographed in a dark room. The HP Instant Share feature lets you set up profiles for printers and e-mail addresses; by tagging photos for these destinations while the shots are still in the camera, you can subsequently send the images out within minutes of sitting down at a PC. The in-camera red-eye reduction is simple and effective, as well.
From the R717's Playback menu, a user can request image advice on shots already taken. It displays text that explains which features and modes might be useful for improving focus, exposure, depth of field, and so on. The separate Help menu provides basic definitions and instructions, plus "Top Ten Tips" for the new owner who's itching to snap some shots. Although none of this replaces the manual, it's certainly helpful for getting up to speed.
The quality of the R717's photos impressed us, as it produced some of the sharpest images we've seen from a point-and-shoot. Colors looked attractive, though a bit more oversaturated than the actual hues. We also saw a little speckling--possibly the result of oversharpening--on our color-distortion tests. These were minor weaknesses, however, and we gave the R717 an overall image-quality rating of Very Good.
The Photosmart R717 runs on either a rechargeable lithium ion battery (included in the box) or a disposable Duracell CP1 battery--good to carry in your camera bag in case the rechargeable dies sooner than you expected. Tested with the rechargeable battery, the R717 lasted for 227 shots, or a period of just over 2 hours--about average for the point-and-shoots we've tested recently.
The R717 ships with no media for its SD Card slot, but the 32MB of internal memory suffices for taking a few high-res test shots on your way to the electronics store to buy media. A USB cable is included in the box for connection to a PC or to a PictBridge-compatible printer, or you can opt for HP's $80 Photosmart R-series cradle.
This product was not in stores at the time we tested it. HP assured us that we had a production model (we do not test beta products for our Top 100 charts), and that the R717 would be available for purchase April 4, 2005.
Extensive in-camera coaching and some convenient extra features make the easy-to-use HP Photosmart R717 a great choice for an ambitious beginner.