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HP Photosmart R817

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder HP Photosmart R817 Compact Camera

HP Photosmart R817
Photograph: Rick Rizner

With its small size and stainless steel shell, HP's Photosmart R817 bears a strong family resemblance to its sibling, the Photosmart R717, a Best Buy recipient. The $349, 5.1-megapixel R817 costs more and has fewer megapixels than the $300, 6.2-megapixel R717, but you do get a longer zoom lens (5X versus 3X) and a larger LCD (2 inches versus 1.8 inches) than with the R717. Unfortunately, the R817's larger screen leaves no room for an optical viewfinder--a fact worth bearing in mind if you expect to shoot in extreme lighting conditions. You'll have to buy an SD memory card separately, but the camera comes with a usable 32MB built in.

On the back of the camera, several dedicated buttons occupy the lower left edge, where you can press them relatively easily with your left thumb. I never got comfortable with HP's banana-shaped zoom control: The little bumps, designed to let you feel each end without looking, left my thumb stinging after extended use. The R817's small mode button, which lets you select among nine different scene modes, sits in the upper left corner--an unusual position. Advanced users can choose shutter-priority, aperture-priority, or full-manual modes for better exposure control. The camera also lets you save your favorite settings in a handy "My Mode."

The R817's menus are easy to navigate, with settings that you can select and adjust quickly. Alternatively, you can drop into a separate screen that presents the options with plenty of help information. The separate Help menu provides basic descriptions of the camera's functions, plus a "Top Ten Tips" list for new owners who are itching to snap some shots right away. From the Playback menu, you can request image advice on shots already taken. This menu explains which features and modes might be useful for improving focus, exposure, depth of field, and so on. I took a couple of intentionally bad shots and the advice I received was pretty good. HP supplies several functions for editing your shots, including simple but effective in-camera red eye reduction.

In our image quality tests, the R817's scores were slightly above average for color accuracy, exposure accuracy, and sharpness. Our flash portrait had especially lifelike colors. We saw noticeable noise in our 8-by-10 prints, however--especially with solid colors.

The camera runs on a lithium-ion battery that lasted for only 175 shots between charges in our tests. The only way to charge it is by first attaching the camera to the docking cradle. The cradle has a USB port for printing and uploading your photos, but it lacks an AV port for displaying images on a TV. Because the R817 sits upright in its cradle, it's a bit harder to use than competing models that lean backward slightly in their cradles.

The HP Photosmart R817 isn't as sexy looking as some point-and-shoots of similar size, but it takes great photos and gives novice photographers a gentle introduction to digital photography.

Paul Jasper

This story, "HP Photosmart R817" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
  • Offers in-camera red-eye reduction like the similar R717, plus a more powerful zoom, but image quality was less impressive.

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