Many manufacturing collaborations take place, which are usually so subtle that you would never know whos involved with who. In this case HP have taken a completely different view. HP, well know for their computer technology, have joined forces with Pentax, well known for camera and lens designs, and theyve been blatantly obvious about it. So you get a camera body with HP on it and a lens inscribed with Pentax. You can also buy the Pentax version, which looks just the same accessories. The duo have also created a fixed mount SLR too, but this test is on the compact C618.
The camera looks very similar to a conventional 35mm model. Chunky handgrip, control dial on the top, built-in flash and protruding zoom lens.
It has a solid feel casing and the handgrip helps to balance it in the hand. The viewfinder is bright and clear, making it easy to compose pictures and the LCD can be used if you prefer to see a real time view. The optical finder, like all non-SLR cameras is offset from the lens so you have to allow for this when shooting close ups. Its not that accurate either. When shooting tightly framed compositions at infinity you end up with about 20% more subject around the edges. This can be cropped off in the computer but you are wasting valuable pixels. You can, of course, allow for this when taking the photo, but you shouldnt have to.
A nice touch is the protected LCD screen. Many digital cameras have a bare LCD screen, which soon gets marked, especially when you catch it with your nose when looking through the viewfinder or fingers when holding it. The HP has a plastic cover, which cleans easily. Its also quite bright.
HP have always strived for simplistic operation, which has followed through in their various camera developments, this camera continues in the same approach large icons and simple menus you cant go wrong. From the menu you can select features, such as image quality and exposure mode, using large buttons. Flash modes and focusing buttons are on the top panel. The flash kicks in automatically when needed but you can turn it off. Exposures using flash are good, providing you stick well within the specified guidelines of about five metres.
The 3x zoom lens adjusts through its 5.2 to 16.5mm range smoothly offering the 35mm equivalent of 34-108mm, and the autofocus is accurate a typical quality Pentax optical performance. The close focus isnt as good as the best, but, at 10cm, its certainly no slouch.
Using it at the telephoto setting lets you get a bit further away from the subject too.
HP have pumped a lot of effort into the electronics technology. In todays market, a 2.14 million pixel CCD model is seen as a little lacking at this price point but the way HP bring the image to the CCD compensates for the lack pixels in sharpness and colour accuracy. As a result photographs are vibrant and pleasingly sharp.
The camera comes with a USB cable and images can also be downloaded using the older serial cable. Alternatively use the CompactFlash card and a reader to access pictures from your computer. HPs image transfer software has some great features to organise pictures once theyre on the PC and there are several basic editing functions too so you can adjust the colour balance, sharpness before you print out. The printing feature lets you organise images on one sheet to make the most of A4 paper.
Its not the smallest model or the highest spec, but the performance is good and the operating system excellent. If you can live without 3 million pixels this is well worth considering.