HP aren't really one of the first names that would spring to mind when thinking about digital cameras. However, having invested 125 million US dollars on research and development for their digital imaging products, they are obviously serious about competing with the more established brands. With this particular model, the Photosmart 812, HP have stressed that it is designed for "Families and individuals who are looking to take, store and share high-quality digital photographs simply and conveniently". This intended ease of use is a key feature of this camera.
- 3x zoom f/2.6/f/4.8, 7.6-22.8mm (37-111mm 35mm equivalent)
- 3.92 megapixels
- Uses Secure Digital cards
- ISO 100, 200
- Optical and LCD viewfinder
- Movie Capture mode
- Uses two AA batteries
- HP Photosmart 812 Camera 352-399.90
- HP Photosmart 8881 digital camera dock: 59
- HP Photosmart 812 Camera and dock 449
The Photosmart 812 is very compact and fits into a trouser pocket quite well. All the controls are sensibly placed but don't offer the quality feel of some more expensive cameras such as the Pentax Optio 430.
In fact, the overall feel of the camera is quite cheap and build quality is below average amongst most other 4 megapixel digital compact cameras available. With the supplied 16 megabyte SD memory card we were only able to store around five photos at the highest quality setting. This meant frequent trips back to the PC to upload the images and clear the card, which got a little irritating.
In terms of operating speed the Photosmart 812 only scores average points. Write times are quite slow, as were focussing speeds.
The menu system is very basic, but through the use of animation's and a responsive feel, the menu is very pleasant and straightforward to use. However, there are far less settings available than we are used to seeing, even compared to far cheaper digital cameras. This may be beneficial for those people wanting the most straightforward user interface (point and click), but for anyone wanting to have control over various absent settings, the chances are you'll be left dissatisfied.
|This is the main menu screen. It allows you to playback the photos you've taken. It also lets you delete images and format the card. You can choose an image to magnify or rotate and there is a camera setup option.
||This is the camera setup option. Here you can alter the quality level, set audio recording and sounds on or off and set the date and time. There are also USB, TV and language settings.
||This is the Instant share menu. It lets you print 1 or 2 copies of the current image or e-mail it to someone.
HP Instant Share
This is an excerpt from the Photosmart 812 press release:
"HP's exclusive Instant Share technology is a brand new feature for digital cameras and is an excellent example of capitalising upon technological expertise to create unique product benefits. Instant Share has been developed to save time on-line and keep family and friends in the frame. It automatically e-mails preselected shots to friends and family as soon as the camera is connected to the computer."
The Instant Share technology on the Photosmart 812 can be utilised through the supplied USB cable, or with the optional base pictured above. The camera connects to the base through the illustrated slot. When not in use, this slot is covered by a removable (easily lost) rubber cover.
The instant share features are outlined in the previous Menu system section of this test. Because they are a heavily promoted feature of this camera, we thought them worthy of more than a cursory glance.
The above screen shot shows the status of the Instant Share actions. Taking over six minutes to send two photos to the HP service for my specified e-mail recipient is not my idea of saving time on-line. This was done on a fast ADSL connection, on a standard 'dial-up' connection it could have taken up to an hour. The reason for this slow speed, is the camera software sends the full-size copy of the photo. To get around this problem you could take the photos in the lowest quality mode, so the file sizes would be much smaller, but then if you want to print that photo you've created another problem, as the quality is insufficient! It would have been much more sensible, in my opinion, for the HP software to have an option to re-size the photo to something like 500 pixels wide, so that the file could be uploaded and viewed quickly on the web.
The photos are sent to the eshare.hpphoto.com web-site, which then e-mails the recipient to tell them they can view them, and that they will be available for approximately three months.
The Photosmart 812 isn't the most feature-rich camera available and only has three modes. Because some of the more common mode functions such as preview, are combined in the main menu there are even less than normal. The modes are:
Still: For taking still pictures, reviewing and deleting.
Self-timer: Sets a delay of 10 seconds before the picture is taken.
Video: Lets you record a video clip with sound for up to 60 seconds.
Supplied in the box are two non-recheargable lithium batteries, which lasted well. Using alkalines with digital cameras isn't really recommended, instead Nimh recheargables offer some of the best performance available. If you're not sure about the different types of batteries, we have a battery buyers' guide. Only needing two AA batteries, it is easy enough to carry a spare set in your pocket, on those occasions where you'll be shooting a lot and may exhaust one pair.
Hidden under a rubber flap are connections for USB and power in. Provided in the kit is a cable that allows you to connect the Photosmart 812 camera to a HP Deskjet or Photosmart printer that have USB connections. It can also be used to connect the camera to a TV but you must buy a custom cable for this. It's pretty much a standard feature of digital cameras these days and it's a shame HP can't include the cable as part of the kit. The optional base includes a cable for the TV-out capability.
LCD Screen and Viewfinder
Typical of some lower end digital cameras, the LCD screen on the Photosmart 812 is next to impossible to see in bright sunlight. When indoors, or in darker conditions, it is clear and detailed. The Viewfinder is also basic, and doesn't provide any diopter adjustment for spectacle wearers.
For a four megapixel digital camera, the Photosmart 812 is priced towards the lower end of the market. Combining this fact with the lack of settings available we didn't have high expectations for image quality.
Although there were aspects of our test images that were quite impressive, overall the feeling was one of disappointment. For anyone serious about photography, or intent on learning how to take good photos, the lack of exposure compensation, metering and advanced focussing options would be a problem.
Macro focusing was very poor and slow, as was focussing in general. In bright sunlight I wasn't able to check the LCD to see if the subject was in focus, so was only able to see the disappointing result when the image was uploaded to the PC.
The metering system performed quite well with only the occasional disappointment. The automatic white balance setting also gave little cause for complaint. Image noise was often visible, but within tolerable limits. A more concerning problem was a stippling/loss of detail in some darker areas.
For this test we updated the cameras firmware to the latest version, as of 8th July 2002.
The Photosmart 812 metering system was quite good for a cheap four megapixel model. However this image shows us a negative aspect of this camera's image quality. There is a subtle grain effect in the shadow areas and some of the darker grass blades are affected too. These are most noticeable when zoomed in at 100% on a monitor, and on a small 4x6 print would be harder to spot. The blown up area below illustrates this.
In this example a reasonable focus has been attained. The image is not as sharp as we'd like and the same grain/loss of detail is present.
This is a close-up crop from the image above.
The Photosmart 812 white-balance system performed well in most of our test shots. The metering system was also generally reliable.
This close up crop of the image above shows the less than ideal image quality the Photosmart 812 is capable of. There is some very visible image noise (at ISO 200) and detail is lost, with the image appearing soft overall.
The Photosmart 812 is something of a unique camera, it offers features few cameras can match and lacks important features that the majority of digital cameras have.
The image quality provided is below average, but for those who rank ease of use as an utmost priority, it might be sufficient. For those people, this camera will provide an average, slightly overpriced means of taking and storing digital images.
For anyone with even a basic idea, or a desire to learn basic technical aspects of photography, such as exposure compensation, focussing and metering, we'd strongly recommend looking elsewhere.
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