Conclusion - Pros

  • Good colour, good use of dynamic range
  • Accurate metering
  • Good auto white balance under natural or incandescent lighting
  • Images look good reduced to XGA or less
  • Relatively low noise levels (especially at ISO 100)
  • Compact and light weight, feels fairly robust
  • Very easy to use, super-simple interface and point-and-shoot functionality
  • Only requires two AA batteries, good battery life
  • Movie clips include audio, 5 second audio annotations can be attached to images
  • Rotation of actual image in-camera
  • Automatic lens cover

Conclusion - Cons

  • Very poor LCD brightness for live view in daylight
  • Soft images (a combination of a below average lens and low in-camera sharpening) *
  • Thin-line purple fringing around white overexposed areas of the image
  • Colour shift on almost or just-over-exposed areas of the image
  • Very poor JPEG compression, large JPEG files with lots of artifacts (especially at 1136 x 856)
  • Only compatible with SD cards (no support for cheaper MMC)
  • Slow AF compared to other modern digital cameras (1.5 sec+ plus is normal)
  • Slow write times (approx. 90 KB/sec)
  • No white balance selection
  • No exposure compensation
  • No control over image processing (sharpening, contrast, colour etc.)
  • Price

* Improved with new firmware (v1.00.11) although still not as good as the competition

Overall conclusion

Here's my rating of the HP PhotoSmart 812: (4 megapixel ultra-compact)

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Construction 8
Features 4
Image quality 7
Lens / CCD combination 6
Ease of use 8
Value for money 6

The 812 is the perfect example of a digital camera brought to market too early. There are lots of things that are neat and nice about this camera, the user interface is very easy to understand and the automatic colour and tonal balance work well. Take the camera out on a shoot and you be frustrated that the LCD monitor is so difficult to use. When you get back with your images they will look fine at monitor resolutions (XGA / VGA) but get up close and you'll start to notice that they are in fact pretty soft. This camera really could have done with another few months of development.

HP has obviously felt the pressure from the market to come up with a camera which has a 'big megapixel count', unfortunately for the 812 it hasn't paid off. This camera would have been a much better camera with a lower megapixel CCD (2 or possibly 3 megapixels), it then wouldn't have been pushing the lens so hard and processing times would have been cut down.

It's a good attempt at a small easy to use digital camera, but to me at least it doesn't deliver on its image quality promise. This camera feels like a "proof of concept" rather than a finished product. Lets hope the next HP digital camera is better.

Update August 2002: Having now updated this review with the results of a camera with the new improved firmware I can report that image sharpness has been improved. That said the camera still doesn't produce the kind of sharp, clean and detailed images we would expect of its four megapixel label.

Below Average

So which one should I buy? A question I get asked several times a day, and I wouldn't like to say. In a new addition to my reviews (after the amount of feedback I normally get) I've added a link to a specific forum in which you can discuss the review or ask me specific questions which I've not answered in these pages.

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