Review: HP Photosmart 850
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, November 17, 2002
Monday, December 9, 2002
Photosmart 850 is an impressive camera for a number of reasons.
Most of them revolve around its $499 price. The 850 features a 4
Megapixel CCD and a very nice 8X optical zoom lens. It also uses
HP's Instant Share system, which lets you share photos in many ways
-- but more on that later.
the Photosmart 850 worth a look? Find out in our review.
in the Box?
Photosmart 850 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
3.94 (effective) Mpixel Photosmart 850 camera
Secure Digital card
Lithium batteries (non-rechargeable)
cables (one for computers, one for printers)
featuring HP Photo & Imaging software
page camera manual (printed)
Photosmart 850's bundle isn't great, except for the included software,
which I really like. Since I like to complain, I'll get my gripes
out of the way first.
first complaint is about the skimpy 16MB Secure Digital card that's
included. You'll soon want a larger one, and I recommend 64MB at
the very least. The 850 works with both SD and MultiMedia (MMC)
number two is regarding batteries. You get four throwaway lithium
batteries in the box. You'll want to buy two sets of NiMH rechargeables
as soon as possible. HP did not publish any data about battery life
on the Photosmart 850.
third complaint is one I've never had to make before. Believe it
or not, HP does not include an A/V output cable with the 850, even
though there's a port for it on the camera body. Instead, you have
to buy it yourself -- though I can't seem to find a price anywhere.
I have to wonder, though, how many people out there actually use
the video out cable?
Photosmart 850 support's HP's Photosmart 8881 Camera Dock ($80),
which let's you charge batteries (not the included ones, of course)
and easily transfer photos. It's certainly not a requirement though.
accessories besides the video cable and dock include an AC adapter
and a camera accessory kit (includes case, NiMH batteries, charger,
and AC adapter). I'm not aware of any add-on lenses for the 850.
850 includes two USB cables. One is for connecting to a Mac or PC,
and the other is for hooking into any USB-enabled HP printer.
Photosmart 850 includes a lens cap with retaining strap. As you
can see above, it's a good-sized camera.
area where the Photosmart 850 really shines is the software bundle.
HP's Photo & Imaging Software is for Mac OS 8/9, Mac OS X, and
Windows. Combined with the Instant Share system on the camera (more
on that later), HP has created a system that lets you easily share
photos in a number of ways.
is the main part of the software, known as HP Gallery, where you
can view and edit photos. The software can do basic photo editing
like adjusting contrast, sharpening/blurring, and removing redeye.
You can crop and rotate photos as well.
most impressive parts of the software package are the photo sharing
tools. You can share photos via prints, websites, e-mail, or even
CDs, all using the HP software.
a few photos are clicking on the E-Mail button brings up this screen.
The software will downsize the photos for you and send them to your
photos is very easy as well, as the screen shot above details.
you've got a CD-R/RW drive, one of the coolest features it he ability
to create a CD with your photos.
the HP Memories Disc Creator Software, you can make a Video CD containing
your photos. They are presented as a slide show, and you can even
pick a song from your MP3 collection to use as background music.
The whole process takes just a few minutes, and then you've got
a CD you can share with friends and family. The catch is that you
need a fairly modern DVD player to read these discs (most computers
can see them), and the Video CD quality isn't the greatest. Still,
it's a nice product to include with the camera.
of this software is Mac OS X native, by the way. You will need to
change the USB mode to "Disk Drive" using the setup menu,
in order for your Mac to see the camera.
850's manual is easy to understand, but skips over a lot of the technical
detail. For example, it talks about aperture priority mode but doesn't
tell you what the available aperture choices are.
Photosmart 850 is a fairly large camera, made mostly of plastic.
Don't expect to put this one in your pocket. Controls are well laid
out, and it is easy to hold. In terms of build quality, it seems
pretty solid for a plastic camera.
dimensions of the 850 are 4.3 x 3.0 x 3.0 in (WxHxD), and it weighs
300 grams empty.
The Photosmart 850 is just a little larger than
the Olympus C-720/730 Ultra Zoom
start our tour of the Photosmart 850 now, beginning with the front.
the biggest feature on the Photosmart 850 is its 8X optical zoom
lens, which is manufactured by Fuji. This F2.8-F3.1 lens has a focal
range of 7.6 - 61 mm. For some reason, HP hasn't published a 35
mm equivalent focal range, but it's something like 37 - 300 mm (more
or less). The lens is threaded, for what seems like 49 or 50 mm
attachments. HP doesn't seem to offer any lens accessories, though.
the lens is the pop-up flash. HP did not provide any info on the
working range of the flash. No external flash options are available.
to the left of the flash is a little hole for the microphone.
on the top-right of the photo is a special treat: an autofocus illuminator!
This red/orange lamp helps the camera's contrast-detect focusing
system work in low light. Now if only all cameras offered one of
last item is HP's rather misleading label on the front of the camera.
First, they list the resolution as 4.1 Megapixel. That's the total
pixels on the CCD. In reality though, the effective resolution is
much less -- 3.94 Megapixel. Hopefully HP will be more honest about
the resolution on future cameras, like the other manufactures have
been for over a year. Also, the 56X zoom label takes the 7X digital
zoom into account... that too is kind of misleading in my opinion.
Photosmart 850 has a large, high resolution LCD display. At 2 inches,
it's larger than those found on other cameras. Images on the LCD
are bright and fluid in most cases. The exception is when light
levels are low -- the camera brightens up the image at the expense
of refresh rate.
other big zoom cameras, the 850 uses an electronic viewfinder, or
EVF. The EVF is a little LCD screen that you view as you would a
regular optical viewfinder. Like the main LCD, the EVF is bright
and fluid. Also like the LCD, expect things to get choppy in low
light. I think people will still prefer this over an EVF that is
unusable in the dark.
EVF has a diopter correction knob cleverly integrated with the rubber
eyepiece. You just rotate the eyepiece to bring things into focus.
Another nice feature is an "eye start" feature that detects
when your eye is up against the eyepiece, thus sparing the battery
when you're not using it. It did get a little wacky on me a few
times when I had glasses on, though.
EVF cannot be used in playback mode -- you must use the main LCD.
That's not a problem here!
the right of the LCD are three buttons. The top one turns the LCD
on and off (it's off by default), the middle one enters playback
mode, while the bottom one is for Instant Share.
is Instant Share? It's a system, similar to Kodak's EasyShare system,
that lets you "tag" photos for e-mail and printing. Press
the button, and you'll be presented with this screen:
can choose to print a photo or mark it for e-mail. After setting
up your e-mail contacts in the software on your computer, they'll
be on the list in the menu. Just choose the recipient, and next
time you connect to your Mac or PC, it'll be sent. I think beginners
will really enjoy this feature.
to our tour now. To the right of those three buttons is the four-way
switch, with the "ok" button in the middle. The four-way
switch is used for menu navigation as well as adjusting the exposure
compensation (-3.0EV to +3.0EV in 1/2EV increments).
the top-center of the picture lies two more buttons, this time for
flash and macro mode. The flash options are auto, auto w/redeye
reduction, forced, night (slow sync), and night w/redeye reduction.
final item on the back of the Photosmart 850 is the zoom controller.
You can move from wide-angle to telephoto in just two seconds. Unfortunately,
the zoom is just one speed so being precise can be challenging.
the top of the camera, you can see the flash release button, mode
dial, and shutter release button. The mode dial switches between
standard record, self-timer (10 second), and movie modes.
the mode dial is the speaker.
always like to see LCD info displays on top of the camera, but since
you're looking at an LCD one way or another, there's really no need
for it here.
this side of the camera, you'll find ports for USB, video out, and
DC in. As I mentioned, the video out cable is optional.
can also see the rubber ring on the lens barrel. It doesn't turn
or have any function.
on the other side, behind a somewhat flimsy plastic door, is the
SD/MMC card slot.
can also see the 16MB SD card that is included with the camera.
here's the bottom of the Photosmart 850. The battery compartment
is on the left, and it holds four AA batteries. Just to the right
of that is where the dock connector is. A rubber cover protects
it from dirt and dust. To the right of that is the metal tripod
mount, which is inline with the lens.
the HP Photosmart 850
its long lens, the 3 second startup time for the Photosmart 850
is impressive. When the camera doesn't have to use the AF illuminator,
autofocus times are good -- about 0.5 - 1 second. Even if it does
have use the illuminator, it doesn't take much longer to lock focus.
lag speeds vary depending on the shutter speed used. In good lighting
the shutter lag is minimal. In lower light, the shutter lag is quite
noticeable, so those shooting in lower light may want a tripod or
a very steady hand.
speed is very good as well. With the post-shot review turned off,
expect a wait of just over two seconds before you can take another
shot. After a picture is taken, you have the option of deleting
the picture as it's being written to the card.
Photosmart 850 is one of those cameras that is always ready to shoot.
Whether you're in playback mode or the menus, you can still operate
the zoom and quickly get back to shooting with just a half press
of the shutter release button.
here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on
shots on 16MB card
2272 x 1712
1136 x 848
no TIFF or RAW mode available on this camera. The camera names files
as HPIMyyyy.JPG, where y = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the
numbering even if you erase the memory card.
Photosmart 850 has a very nice looking, intuitive menu system. One
thing that did annoy me though was the inability for it to remember
settings when the camera was turned off. I'd at least like to have
11/18/02: Want to recall the settings you last used?
Hold down the "OK" button while starting up the Photosmart
850. I'd rather have it as a menu option, but this is better
than nothing. Thanks to Mark Ferguson for the tip!
here's a look at the menus:
Priority - you choose aperture from F2.8 - F12.4
Priority - You choose shutter speed ranging from 16 - 1/2000
balance (Auto, sunlight, shade, tungsten, fluorescent, manual)
metering (Average, center-weighted, spot)
speed (Auto, 100, 200)
(Full color, black & white, color)
(2272 x 1712, 1136 x 848)
(Best, better, good)
you can see, the Photosmart 850 has manual control of shutter speed,
aperture, and white balance. I'm glad to see that HP is putting
these controls on their cameras. If I recall, the Photosmart 812
didn't have any white balance controls at all. Or exposure compensation,
for that matter.
thing missing on the 850 is any kind of continuous shooting.
to that menu, there's also a setup menu, with these options:
- Audio record
(on/off) - if this is on, you can add 30 second voice annotations
to each picture
- Instant review
(Off, 2, 4, 6 secs)
- Camera sounds
(High, low, off)
(on/off) - turns the EVF eye sensor on/off
- Date &
- USB configuration
(Digital camera [PTP], disk drive [Mass Storage])
- TV configuration
(English, Deutsch, Español, Français, Italiano)
enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.
Photosmart 850 did a very nice job with the macro test. The image
is plenty sharp, and nicely focused. Colors are very saturated as
well... the real figurine isn't quite that blue and red. The focal
range in macro mode is 10 - 80 cm. One thing to note is that the
lens won't go any further than 3.5X while in macro mode.
night shot was fairly good as well. If I could take the picture
again, I probably would use a slightly faster shutter speed, as
this one is a bit overexposed. You can definitely see some purple
fringing in this shot. Thanks for manual shutter speed control,
you can take low light shots with ease. Just remember to use a tripod.
the redeye shot this time, I enlisted my dad, who has been recovering
from surgery at home (so I took his picture before he could escape).
As you can see the Photosmart 850 did a fine job with the redeye
test -- nothing to see here!
say that I was very pleased with the photo quality on the Photosmart
850. The color and exposure were both very good, and I must admit
I was surprised by that. The two photo quality issues I noticed were
"jaggies" on the edges of some of my photos, and the chromatic
aberrations (purple fringing) that are "par for the course"
on big zoom cameras. I didn't have time to take as many pictures as
I would've liked, but I am definitely happy with what I did see. Have
a look at the photo gallery and see if
you agree with me!
Photosmart 850 lets you record movies, with sound, for up to 60
seconds. Movies are saved in MPEG format -- I believe this is the
first non-Sony camera I've seen to use this format.
are saved at the rather unusual resolution of 288 x 208.
know how cameras that record sound with movies never let you use
the zoom during filming? The Photosmart 850 shows you why. Believe
it or not, you can use the zoom during recording... and well, I'll
let the sample movie speak for itself.
to play movie (2.6MB, MPEG format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
850 has a very basic playback mode, aside from the Instant Share
stuff I described earlier. All you can do is view pictures, delete
them, and magnify them (what I call zoom and scroll). There's no
slide shows, no thumbnail mode, and no real info about your photos
magnification feature lets you blow up the picture to 4X (and nothing
in between), and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. It takes
a few seconds for the 850 to blow up the image, but after that,
it's smooth scrolling (bad pun, I know).
you can't rotate photos in playback mode, it's not a big deal -- the
Photosmart does it automatically.
850 moves through images very quickly, especially considering their
size. The only way to get any real information is to enter the menu,
and even then, it's not much (see the menu screenshot above).
Does it Compare?
Photosmart 850 is HP's best camera yet, in my opinion. It gives
other "big zoom" cameras a real run for the money. Speaking
of money, at $499, the 850 is a great value for a 4 Megapixel camera
with an 8X zoom lens. It's a shame the bundle is so poor, with a
small memory card, no rechargeable batteries, and an A/V cable that's
sold separately. But in terms of features, the 850 shines. You get
manual shutter speed, aperture, and white balance controls. You
get an AF illuminator. And the Instant Share system paired with
HP's software can't be beat. The photo quality was also impressive.
It's not as good as the best 4 Megapixel cameras, but I'd be happy
with it. The only other negative is allowing the zoom to be used
during filming (never thought I'd say that). But all in all, the
Photosmart 850 is well worth a look if you want a camera with a
lot of pixels and a lot of zoom, for not a lot of money. (That's
a lot of lots!)
good photo quality
Megapixels, 8X zoom for $499? Wow.
Instant Share system + software bundle
viewfinder is choppy, but usable, in low light
an AF illuminator lamp
of manual controls
I didn't care for:
chromatic aberrations + jaggies in photos
bundle, aside from software
+ audio recording in movie mode = major lens noise
other cameras with a big zoom and 3+ Megapixels include the Fuji
DiMAGE 7Hi, Nikon
Coolpix 5700, Olympus C-720
Ultra Zooms, and the Sony
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out
the Photosmart 850 and it's competitors before you buy!
how the photo quality stacks up in our
a review of the Photosmart 850 at Steve's
welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests
for personal camera recommendations.