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DCRP Review: HP Photosmart R817  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: August 12, 2005
Last Updated: April 6, 2008

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The HP Photosmart R817 ($349) is a compact 5.1 Megapixel camera with a 5X optical zoom lens, 2-inch LCD, manual controls, and more. The "more" includes a VGA movie mode as well as exclusive HP technologies like Adaptive Lighting, in-camera redeye removal and panorama stitching, Image Advice, and Instant Share. I'll cover all those in detail later in the review.

The R817 has a twin brother known as the R818 ($399). It is the same camera except for its body color (it's sort of a dark gray) and bundle (it comes with an extra battery and a carrying case).

If you're ready to learn about the R817, I'm ready to tell you. Our review starts now!

What's in the Box?

The Photosmart R817 has a good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.1 effective Megapixel HP Photosmart R817 digital camera
  • R07 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • AC adapter
  • Camera dock
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROM featuring HP Image Zone and American Greetings Create and Print Greeting Cards software
  • 199 page camera manual (printed)

HP is one of those companies that builds memory right into the camera instead of supplying a memory card. The good news is that unlike some other camera companies (e.g. Casio), HP actually gives you a decent amount: 32MB. That's still not very much memory for a 5 Megapixel camera, so a larger card is a required purchase. I'd recommend a 256MB Secure Digital (SD) card as a good place to start. While they don't say it outright, HP hints that buying a high speed memory card isn't a bad idea, especially if you use the movie mode.

The Photosmart R817 uses HP's R07 lithium-ion rechargeable battery. This compact battery packs 3.9 Wh of energy, which is about average. Here's how that translates to battery life, with a look at how the R817 compares against the competition:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot A520 300 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z750 325 shots
Fuji FinePix F10 500 shots
HP Photosmart R817 250 shots
Kodak EasyShare V550 120 shots
Konica Minolta DiMAGE X60 150 shots
Nikon Coolpix 5900 270 shots
Olympus Stylus 500 200 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2 390 shots
Pentax Optio S55 230 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W5 420 shots

As you can see, the Photosmart R817 is about average when compared to other cameras in its class.

My usual complaints about proprietary batteries like the one used by the R817 apply here. They're expensive ($50 a pop), and you can't put in a set of alkalines to get you through the rest of the day like you could with an AA-based camera.

To recharge the battery or connect to your computer you must use the included camera dock. It takes a whopping 4-6 hours for the battery to be fully charged via the dock, so patience is required. For faster charging you may want to consider the Quick Recharge Kit ($80) which includes an external charger, extra battery, and travel case.

As I said, this dock also has a USB port for connecting to your Mac or PC. There is no video out port on the camera or the dock, but all is not lost. Purchasing the R series camera dock ($80) gets you that plus a nice remote control (it does everything that the included dock does as well). Of course, I can't help but wonder why they couldn't just put a video out port on the included dock... grrrr.

The R817 has a built-in lens cover, so there is no clumsy lens cap to worry about. While it's not the smallest camera out there, it's still pretty small.

I've already mentioned a few accessories for the R817 and here are three more. The most interesting is an underwater housing ($199), which lets you take your camera up to 40 meters underwater. Other accessories include a weather-resistent "jacket" and a premium case (both $30).

HP includes their Image Zone software for Mac and Windows with the R817. A Windows-only version of American Greetings Create & Print is also included. ImageShare is a pretty capable (and a little buggy) product that can do all kinds of things.

On the main screen you have your typical thumbnail view of your photos. You can add photo libraries on the left side of the window -- well, it didn't work for me, but that's the idea. You can also import photos the camera with a few clicks. Once your photos are in the library they can be edited, printed, shared, stitched (if they're a panorama), or displayed as part of a slideshow.

Double-clicking on an image opens the edit window. Here you can do all kinds of things, including:

  • Removing redeye
  • Cropping and resizing
  • Rotating
  • Adjusting brightness and contrast, adaptive lighting, sharpness, and smoothness
  • Adjusting color temperature and saturation
  • Using a virtual color filter
  • Creating black and white photos
  • Removing dust from a photo
  • Adding special effects

The edit window also lets you see exposure information for the selected photo.

Image Zone also lets you set up the Instant Share services that I'll describe in more detail later. You can tag photos for e-mailing, sharing online, and printing. You can have photos printed through HP's Snapfish service or via a remote network printer. I found the web-based setup interface to be a little clumsy.

When you connect the camera with tagged photos on it, the Instant Share system goes to work. The camera transfers the photos and does the desired actions, which in this case include e-mailing, uploading to an online gallery, and ordering a print.

I thought it was kind of dumb how the same image had to be uploaded three separate times -- once for each action. In addition, photos aren't actually e-mailed to people. Instead they're uploaded to HP's online gallery and a link to the photo is sent to the recipient.

Despite all that HP's done a pretty good job with their software. I think Kodak EasyShare is better, but most people will be happy with how Image Zone performs.

HP makes some of the best camera manuals out there. There are lengthy explanations for everything without a lot of fine print. Heck, there's even a help system in the camera itself. HP has gone out of their way to make this camera easy to use.

Look and Feel

The Photosmart R817 is a compact (but not too compact) camera made of a mixture of metal and plastic. It's well put together and it doesn't feel cheap in the hand. Speaking of hands, it's easy to hold and operate the R817 with just one of them. The controls are well placed and the buttons are just the right size.

Let's see how the R817 compares to other cameras in this class in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot A520 3.6 x 2.5 x 1.5 in. 13.5 cu in. 180 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z750 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.2 cu in. 127 g
Fuji FinePix F10 3.6 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 9.1 cu in. 156 g
Kodak EasyShare V550 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.3 cu in. 143 g
Konica Minolta DiMAGE X60 3.3 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 6.5 cu in. 115 g
HP Photosmart R817 3.6 x 2.2 x 1.2 in. 9.5 cu in. 166 g
Nikon Coolpix 5900 3.5 x 2.4 x 1.4 in. 11.8 cu in. 150 g
Olympus Stylus 500 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.2 in. 10.3 cu in. 165 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2 4.0 x 2.5 x 1.3 in. 13.0 cu in. 178 g
Pentax Optio S55 3.5 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 8.9 cu in. 130 g
Samsung Digimax L55W 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.1 in. 9.4 cu in. 195 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W5 3.6 x 2.4 x 1.4 in. 12.1 cu in. 197 g

While it's not the smallest camera out there, keep in mind that the R817 has a 5X lens where everything else has a 3X lens!

That's enough boring stuff, let's start our tour of the camera now!

Where most cameras have a 3X (or 4X if you're lucky) lens, the Photosmart R817 has a 5X optical zoom lens. This F2.8-4.7 lens has a focal range of 5.8 - 29.0 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 180 mm. The lens is not threaded.

To the upper-right of the lens you'll find both the AF-assist lamp and the microphone. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera to focus in low light situations.

To the upper-left of the lens is the built-in flash. This flash has a maximum range of 3.8 meters at wide-angle and 2.1 meters at telephoto, which is decent. For a little extra "assist" with the flash, HP's Adaptive Lighting system can help brighten things up. More on that later.

The first thing to see on the back of the Photosmart 817 is a 2.0" LCD display. The LCD has 153,600 pixels, which is excellent for a screen this size -- everything is nice and sharp. In low light the screen "gains up" nicely, allowing you to see your subject.

As you can probably tell, there's no optical viewfinder on this camera. Apparently most people don't use them, but I personally like having one. Ultimately the importance of a viewfinder is your decision.

Above the LCD you'll find the speaker and the power switch. To the lower-right of that is the zoom controller, which moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 1.2 seconds. I counted nine steps throughout the 5X zoom range. \

Below the zoom controller is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation and adjusting manual settings.

The four buttons under the LCD are for:

  • Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash off, night)
  • Focus mode (AF, macro, super macro, infinity, manual) - see below
  • Drive (Off, 10 sec self-timer, 2 shot self-timer, continuous) - see below
  • Record/playback - switches between the two modes

Manual focus; center frame enlargement not shown

While I'll cover the macro modes later in the review, I did want to briefly mention the manual focus mode here. When this is activated you'll use the up and down buttons on the four-way controller to set the focus distance. The center of the frame is enlarged on the LCD (though I found it hard to see anything), and a guide showing the focus distance is shown as well. The guide itself is pretty useless, as it only shows where you are between infinity and macro -- not very helpful since there are no numbers shown.

The continuous shooting mode will take four shots in a row at 2.2 frames/second. The frame rate is nice, but the 4 shot buffer is nothing to write home about.

On top of the camera you'll find buttons for shooting mode, shutter release, and movie recording. There are plenty of shooting modes on the Photosmart 817, including:

  • Auto
  • Landscape
  • Portrait
  • Theater
  • Panorama - see below
  • Action
  • Action
  • Beach
  • Snow
  • Sunset
  • Document
  • Aperture priority (Av) - lets you manually select the aperture from a range of F2.8 - F7.6
  • Shutter priority (Tv) - lets you manually select the shutter speed from a range of 15 - 1/2000 sec
  • Full manual (M) - you choose both the aperture and shutter speed, same ranges as above
  • My Mode - stores your favorite settings

The Photosmart 817 has the best panoramic shooting mode in the business. Not only does it help you line up for your photos to be stitched, it can actually stitch them right in the camera! Previous Photosmart cameras could do this as a preview, but the 817 actually saves the panorama so it's ready to share right away.

The 817 has a dedicated button for movie recording. I'll cover the movie mode in detail later in the review.

Nothing to see here!

Nothing here either.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find the dock connector, plastic tripod mount, and the memory card and battery compartment. The plastic door covering the battery/memory compartment is of average quality, and you cannot open it while the camera is on a tripod. As I mentioned earlier, the PS817 can use either SD or MMC memory cards, though HP recommends the former.

The included R07 battery is shown at right.

Using the HP Photosmart R817

Record Mode

It takes the R817 about 2.7 seconds to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. That's about average.

No live histogram to be found

Focus speeds were very quick on the R817, with typical times ranging from 0.1 - 0.3 seconds. Even at the telephoto end of the lens the focus delay was brief. Low light focusing was good thanks to the camera's AF-assist lamp.

While shutter lag wasn't a problem at faster shutter speeds, I did notice a tiny bit of it when the shutter speeds started to near tripod territory (1/30 sec and slower).

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent on the 817, with a delay of about a second before you can take another picture, assuming you've turned the post-shot review feature off.

You can delete a picture as it's been saved to the memory card by pressing the left button on the four-way controller.

The Photosmart 817 has only a few image quality settings available, with more available via a custom function. The default quality options are:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 32MB onboard memory
2592 x 1944
*** 2.4 MB 9
** 1.7 MB 14
2048 x 1536
** 1.0 MB 21
1600 x 1200
** 500 KB 42
640 x 480
** 140 KB 165

If you're not happy with those you can create your own image quality setting. Choose any of the four sizes listed above, and a quality level from one to four stars, with four being the highest quality (least compression). The camera does not support the RAW or TIFF formats.

Images are named HPIM####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

Capture Menu Help screen for exposure compensation

The Photosmart R817 has a beautiful and easy to use menu system broken down into five parts. There's capture, playback, instant share, setup, and help. I'm going to talk about each of those but not in that order. I'll start be telling you about the options in the capture menu:

  • My Shooting Mode - lets you choose any of the shooting modes (listed earlier) to use in My Mode
  • Exposure compensation (-3EV to +3EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Adaptive Lighting (Off, low, high) - see below
  • Bracketing (Off, adaptive lighting, exposure, color) - see below
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Video quality (VGA ***, VGA **, QVGA *) - more on this later
  • White balance (Auto, sun, shade, tungsten, fluorescent, manual) - the manual option lets you use a white or gray card for perfect color in any lighting
  • Autofocus area (Multi, spot)
  • AE metering (Average, center-weighted, spot)
  • ISO speed (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • Color (Full color, black & white, sepia)
  • Saturation (Low, medium, high)
  • Sharpness (Low, medium, high)
  • Contrast (Low, medium, high)
  • Date & time imprint (Off, date only, date & time) - print the date on your photos

Adaptive Lighting is HP's "digital flash" that is now appearing on cameras from Nikon and Casio. It helps to brighten up the dark areas of your photos, especially those areas out of reach of the flash. Since nothing is free in life, there's a tradeoff: adaptive lighting adds some noise to your images. So, does it work? Have a look in this flash shot:

Adaptive Lighting off

Low Adaptive Lighting

As you can see, even at the low setting you can see a difference. It's definitely work checking out if your exposures aren't coming out as bright as you'd like. If you're using a huge memory card, you can use the bracketing feature to always have adaptive lighting versions of your photos available.

Speaking of which, the bracketing features have been enhanced on the R817 when compared to the old R717. You can bracket for adaptive lighting in addition to exposure and color. Adaptive lighting bracketing takes just one shot but then it processes it with the adaptive lighting set to off, low, and high. Exposure bracketing takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure. You can choose from the full exposure compensation range (-3EV to +3EV) and the exposure interval is ±0.3EV. The color bracketing feature takes one photo and then saves it in full color, black and white, and sepia.

I'm going to talk about the in-camera help system now. For every option in the menu there's a help item which describes the option in more detail. In addition to that, there's also a separate help menu chock full of things, some of which you can see listed above. HP's done a great job making this camera really easy to operate, and it's a model of how every camera should be.

Next I want to discuss the HP Instant Share system. Similar to Kodak's EasyShare system, Instant Share lets you tag photos for e-mailing, printing, and sharing. Once you've set up the camera by using the Image Zone software you can enter the Instant Share menu and tag any picture. You can print photos to a local or remote printer, e-mail them (as you see in the screenshots), upload them to HP Photo, or have them printed through Snapfish. And that's all there is to it! Just connect the camera to your Mac or PC and the software does the rest -- it's that easy.

Moving onto the setup menu now for a few more options:

  • Display brightness (Low, medium, high)
  • Camera sounds (Off, low, high)
  • Focus assist light (Auto, off)
  • Instant review (Off, 1-6 secs) - post-shot review
  • Digital zoom (on/off)
  • Date & time (set)
  • USB configuration (Digital camera, disk drive)
  • TV configuration (NTSC, PAL)
  • Language (English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Norwegian, Swedish, German, French, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Russian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese)
  • Move Images to Card - just does as it sounds
  • Reset settings - back to defaults

Well that's about all the menu talk I can stomach, so let's move on to sample photos now.

The R817 did a nice job with our macro test subject. The subject is very sharp and colors are quite saturated. I can see a bit of noise around the ears and in the red areas, but it's nothing horrible.

There are two macro modes on the R817. The minimum focus distance in regular macro mode is 12 cm, and it drops to just 3 cm in super macro mode. Do note that the lens is locked at the full wide-angle position while in super macro mode.

I was not impressed with the R817's long exposure abilities. The good news is that the camera took in plenty of light and there's no purple fringing to be found. The bad news is that the image is majorly noisy. I'm not sure what the deal is here, but I went out on two occasions and got the same results. I'm not sure if this is specific to my camera, but it's definitely much worse than what I'm used to seeing.

As you'd expect, an already noisy image is going to get even worse when the ISO is increased. Here's a look at that. Please note that the fog is actually rolling in during these pictures, so things change a bit in each shot.

ISO 50

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

As you can see (especially if you view the full-size images), things go from bad to really bad quickly. This is not a camera that I can recommend for long exposure or high ISO shooting.

There's just minor barrel distortion at the wide end of the R817's 5X zoom lens. I saw no evidence of dark or blurry corners, either, which is good news.

The R817 performed surprisingly well in the redeye department. There's a bit of redeye here (as well as some flash reflection in the other eye), but it's not bad at all for a compact camera. If you want, you can reduce it even further using the in-camera redeye reduction feature, which resulted in the following:

I don't know about you, but I like the first, uncorrected image better!

With the exception of the night shots I showed above, I was very pleased with the image quality on the Photosmart R817. Images were generally well exposed, with accurate colors and reasonable noise levels. Images are very sharp -- perhaps too much so -- which leads to some "jaggies" along edges and some funny looking trees. If this bothers you, try turning the in-camera sharpening down a notch. Purple fringing was not a problem.

Don't just take my word for all this -- have a look at our photo gallery and print a few photos. Then decide if the R817's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

Until recently, the movie modes on HP cameras have been.... how can I put this... crappy. Well, things have improved nicely since those days, with a the R817 having a very competitive movie mode. You can record video at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with sound until the memory card is full. It takes just 33 seconds to fill up the internal memory at that setting, so a larger memory card is a must for longer movies. A lower quality VGA mode is also available, with more compression and a 24 frames/second frame rate, and that doubles effective recording time. For even longer movies there's a 320 x 240 / 30 fps mode as well.

The R817 is one of a very small group of cameras that allows you to use the optical zoom lens during filming. More than likely though you won't want to, as the microphone will pick up the sound of the zoom motor and it's not the most pleasant of sounds.

The camera also has the ability to save a frame of your movie and enlarge it to twice the resolution of the movie, making it suitable for small prints. Well that's the theory at least -- in practice the frame grabs are pretty awful.

Movies are saved in MPEG-1 format.

Here's a sample movie for you taken at the highest quality setting. Not bad!

Click to play movie (5.6 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, MPEG format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime

Playback Mode

The Photosmart R817 has a playback mode that's a bit unconventional. Basic features like image rotation, voice captions, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll are available. There's no way to protect images from being deleted as far as I know. Slide shows are only available when you use the optional R-series dock. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to modern photo printers.

The zoom and scroll feature lets you enlarge your image and then scroll around in it. This is useful for making sure that your subject is properly focused. Once the camera actually magnifies the image scrolling is very responsive.

I already talked about the in-camera redeye removal and panorama stitching features in the previous section. Another cool feature that I haven't mentioned is the ability to undelete the last photo that you deleted. So if you make a mistake, you can get that image back right away. This only works for the last image that was removed, though.

The Image Advice feature is pretty neat: it tells you ways that you can improve your photos. It actually analyzes the selected image and gives you hints about how to make it better should you choose to reshoot it.

By default the camera doesn't tell you much about your photo, but select the Image Info option in the playback menu and you'll see a whole lot more. It even tells you what zoom position you used!

The camera moves through photos instantly -- very nice.

How Does it Compare?

As long as you don't plan on taking a lot of long exposures, the HP Photosmart R817 is a compact camera that I can definitely recommend. It features a fairly compact metal and plastic body and it's very solid in the hand. There's a large 2" LCD display which "gains up" in low light so your subject is still visible. Instead of the usual 3X lens included with most cameras, the R817 has a 5X lens ranging from 38 - 180 mm.

The R817 is chock full of features for both beginners and enthusiasts. Those just starting out with digital cameras will enjoy the numerous scene modes, easy-to-use menu systems, and in-camera help system. More experienced users will like the manual controls and responsiveness of the camera. The camera has all the major controls including focus, shutter speed, aperture, and white balance. Camera performance is very good, save for a tiny bit of shutter lag at slower shutter speeds. The camera focuses quickly and accurately, even in low light.

Every R817 user will appreciate the exclusive HP features on the R817 including in-camera redeye reduction and panorama stitching, Image Advice, Instant Share, Adaptive Lighting, and more. You can even restore a photo that you accidentally deleted!

Photo quality was very good for the most part, with the camera producing sharp images (probably too much so) with low noise and purple fringing levels. Things go downhill when you do long exposures, though, with photos with very high levels of noise. If you plan on taking lots of these (we're talking tripod shots here), this is not the camera for you. The R817 finally has a nice movie mode -- you can record unlimited video at 640 x 480, 30 frames/second.

The bundle included with the camera is pretty good too, with a decent amount of built-in memory and a nice software package. My only gripes about the software are the sluggish web-based Instant Share interface, and the fact that the "e-mail your photos" feature doesn't actually send the photos -- it puts them online and sends a link instead.

A few random complaints include the basically useless focus distance guide in manual focus mode and the lack of video out support (not to mention slide shows) unless you buy the $80 dock. And speaking of docks, the only way to transfer photos or charge the battery is to use the included camera cradle, which some may not like.

As long as you're not taking multi-second exposures the R817 is a camera that gets my recommendation. It has a ton of genuinely useful features, with very few gimmicks. If you want a compact camera with more zoom than other cameras, check out the Photosmart R817 and it's twin the R818 (which is the same camera but with a different bundle and body color).

What I liked:

  • Good photo quality (though see issues below)
  • Compact body with 5X zoom lens
  • Very good performance in most areas
  • Full manual controls
  • Adaptive Lighting feature brightens up dark areas of your photos
  • Tons of useful features: in-camera redeye removal and panorama stitching, image undelete, Image Advice, and more
  • LCD visible in low light
  • High quality movie mode; zoom can be used in movie mode, though it'll be noisy
  • AF-assist lamp; good low light focusing
  • Very easy to use; Instant Share allows for easy sharing of your photos
  • Above average bundle

What I didn't care for:

  • Images may be a bit too sharp, though it's easy to remedy
  • Majorly noise night shots
  • A bit of shutter lag
  • Manual focus feature could be better
  • Battery charging and photo transfer to a PC requires dock
  • Video out and slide show functions require purchase of $80 dock
  • Can't swap memory cards while camera is on a tripod
  • Web-based Instant Share software a little clunky; photo e-mailing isn't really e-mailing any photos

Other cameras in this class worth a look include the Canon PowerShot A520, Casio Exilim EX-Z750, Fuji FinePix F10, Kodak EasyShare V550, Konica Minolta DiMAGE X60, Nikon Coolpix 5900, Olympus Stylus 500, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ2, Pentax Optio S55, Samsung Digimax L55W, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W5. Do note that most of those cameras only have 3X zooms.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Photosmart R817 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

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Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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