The HP R817 digital camera is a mid-range compact unit aimed primarily at consumers and casual photo-snappers; despite not being high-end, it's packed with a nice mix of features and functions. There's even a waterproof acrylic case available for these smaller HP digital cameras, which enables incurable shutterbugs to extend their range underwater.
But first, the camera. The HP R817 features a nominal resolution of 5.25 MP (2668x1970 pixels) with a usable resolution of 5.13 MP (2616x1960 effective pixel count). The built-in CCD is a 1/2.5" sensor that supports decent snapshot and photo quality, though it doesn't compare with a full-size sensor that you'd find in higher-end digital cameras (like the Canon EOS 5D SLR we also review in this buyer's guide).
The camera comes equipped with a small zoom lens that supports 5x optical zoom and 8x digital zoom for a total maximum zoom of 40x. Focus settings supported include normal, macro, super macro, infinity and manual. Apertures range from f/2.8 to f/8 in wide angle mode, and from f/4.7 to f/7.6 in telephoto. With a focal length of 4.8 mm to 29 mm, the lens is equivalent to a 36 mm to 180 mm zoom lens on a true 35 mm camera. It supports ISO settings of 50, 100, 200 and 400, plus an auto exposure setting mode, which is adequate for most indoor and outdoor photography needs (but again, not what you'd find on a more expensive camera, be it digital or film).
The camera comes with 32 MB of flash RAM installed, and accepts add-in Secure Digital (SD) up to 2 GB, or MultiMediaCard (MMC) memory modules sized up to 256 MB. The built-in memory can store anywhere from 176 images at the lowest resolution (VGA with two-star compression at 150 kB each) to as few as 10 images at the highest resolution (5 MP with three-star compression, 2.5 MB each). Perform the same divisions into the size of your add-in memory module to calculate its overall image storage capacity.
There's also a built in flash, with extra settings for day, night and red-eye control, above and beyond the basic on-off controls. The camera also supports numerous picture modes including action, landscape, portrait, beach, snow, sunset, and so forth, but defaults to auto picture mode select (as it does for most other user-manageable features). White balance settings include sun, shade, tungsten, fluourescent and manual (but there appears to be no white balance correction capability). Color controls include full color, black and white, sepia tones, and color bracketing as well. You'll also find numerous so-called "smart features" on this camera, including adaptive lighting, red-eye removal, panorama stitching, and more. HP even includes its own Photosmart Premier software, so that Windows or Mac users can edit photos on their computers using HP Photosmart Share technology.
The clear acrylic Scuba Underwater Camera Case is designed to work with any of the HP Photosmart cameras, and is rated for depths up to 130' (40 m). We tried it out in a local swimming pool and it worked fine, though we certainly couldn't try shooting at anything approaches the limits of its depth rating. It accommodates the camera's controls nicely, and it's easy to insert the camera and seal it in to keep it safe and dry underwater. Though you may be tempted to consider buying this snazzy case for those who own other digital cameras, be warned that only Photosmart offerings are warranted to work inside its clear plastic and fluorescent yellow interior (it wouldn't accommodate a Canon A80, for example). Best check things out first, or think again! The camera-case combination makes a nice gift for somebody who's an avid snorkeler or scuba diver.
By itself, the camera is an adequate mid-range digital unit that should meet or exceed the needs of most amateur photographers. It's certainly great for casual snapshots, and works as well under the waves as on land if you include the case with the camera; you can of course also buy the case for somebody who already owns a Photosmart camera. Expect to pay about $300 (MSRP) for the camera, a further $200 (MSRP) for the case. Santa, with his more serious commercial connections, might be able to get a deal on buying both together, but despite our best efforts, however, your humble reviewers could not. But it still is an angelic combination, as Teresa demonstrates.
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