With all the choices in digital cameras available, what’s so special about THIS one?  I guess it all depends upon what you are looking for in a camera.

First, the HP Photosmart 850 ($499 SRP) has the familiar look and feel of a traditional 35mm SLR.  To many users this may be a comforting feeling. With a familiar look and feel of a traditional 35mm camera, the Photosmart 850 affords the size for a darn fine 8x optical plus 7x digital lens.  From macro close-ups to zoomed images, I was well satisfied with the natural, accurate colors and the image quality.  It is not so hard to find excellence in image quality, however, in other cameras.

It’s the total package that impressed me and, frankly, surprised me.  HP is NOT a camera company, I had thought.  That is what many of you may have thought, too, when considering and shopping for a digital camera.  Sure, you know HP for printers and computers, but they have produced and continue to refine their digital camera line as well.

HP has done a superb job of one of the most important of qualities when it comes to going digital.  This camera is easy to use.  The user interface makes perfect logical sense (at least it does to ME).  The menuing, the setup, everything about this camera makes it a joy to use and an easy choice to pick up again and again when grabbing a camera to use among several I might have around Gadget Central at any given time.  It’s really difficult for anyone who does what I do as Mr. Gadget to be totally objective.  Exposed to and privileged to use lots of different makes and models of digital cameras as I am, I have to think about how an average consumer might perceive a particular camera.

In this HP, there is little doubt, as the good people at HP have taken the steps to give added value to the consumer.  For example, there is an electronic viewfinder, a microdisplay, with battery saving Eye Start feature. Instead of using battery power to keep the viewfinder on when not in use, it starts in the off position.  Then as your face and eye gets near, a sensor switches it on. As you move just inches away, the sensor switches it off again.  Clever!  There is also diopter control for adjustment when using the camera without normally worn corrective lenses.  This feature contributed to what seemed to be longer than expected battery life between recharges.

Take a picture in the portrait mode, that is, with the camera turned 90 degrees to make a photo “the long way” and when reviewing your photos, the camera displays it rotated to normal position for easy viewing in the large or small viewfinder. This is not unique to HP.  It’s just a welcome feature that shows they are thinking about the customer.

This camera was not the fastest to write to its memory card.  I do not actually measure these times, but in my experience it seemed with this camera to take longer than with many others to “finish” taking a picture and then become ready for the next.  There are no consumer digital cameras capable of the rapid-fire picture taking that is possible with traditional 35mm film cameras.  I would rate this camera at less than average in this area – a concern to some and not an issue to others.

The HP Photosmart 850, because it is a “full-size” camera, is able to use four standard AA Alkaline batteries as well as Photo Lithium or NiMH cells.  Many smaller cameras require the use of a proprietary rechargeable battery.   Most users would do well to be prepared with more than one battery or set of batteries, and having to use something proprietary always increases the cost.  In this case, though, I can use my exiting, excellent MAHA Energy rechargeable NiMH cells.

The backlit external two-inch LCD display is neither the largest nor brightest, but it is better than many others I have seen.  It is, overall, just fine, though outside on a bright day you just can’t get one that is too bright, and I wish this one was brighter.  Technology marches on and this too will change as camera makers begin to use other, better technologies for their external camera displays.

The manual pop-up flash does a fine job, at least as good as others, though some may wish for it to automatically pop-up when needed.

I like the software package provided.  There is HP’s own Photo & Imaging software for Windows-PCs and Mac, with HP Share-to-Web software and HP Memories Disc Creator, as well as Arcsoft FunHouse for Windows and Mac, though not for Mac OS X.

PC connection is easy, after loading the PC software. On the Mac, however, a setting must be changed in the camera.  The camera must be set to Disk Drive so Apple’s excellent iPhoto software will recognize the camera when it is plugged in.  This fact reminds us all that reading the manual is a really good idea!  The manual, by the way, is well laid out and easy to follow.

The camera has a particularly handy feature called HP Instant Share, which lets you select images in the camera for automatic processing when it is connected to a computer or to certain HP printers.  For example, I can select images to be printed, including as any as three copies, then connect the camera to the computer or printer, and the selected images will be printed automatically.

I can also select images in the camera to be automatically processed through HP’s email service. When the camera connects to the computer, the selected images are emailed to any email address I specify.  This feature is available for both Mac and PC users.  The email addresses are added to the camera through the computer, and then called up from the camera to “flag” photos.  I do not know how many email addresses the camera can store.  It works great!  On the Mac, however, photos are sent through the default email program on the computer and not through HP’s service.

There is a setting for recording an audio clip up to 30 seconds long with each picture taken.  Video clips with audio, up to 60 seconds long, can also be recorded.  I found this a useful feature, especially when used in conjunction with a 128MB memory card.  I could take lots of photos and some video clips, with space for both.

In addition to the push-here-dummy mode (the one I prefer!) HP provides a range of manual controls – Shutter priority, Aperture Priority, picture modes (Action, Portrait, Landscape) white balance (sun, shade, fluorescent, tungsten, manual), Metering (spot, CW, average).  Absent from manual mode is the ability to manually focus. The range of manual exposure controls also includes ISO speed, EV compensation, and resolution of either 4MP for 2272×1712 images or 1MP at 1136×848, with three levels of compression.  The higher the quality, the larger the photos and the more memory each photo requires.

One of the most outstanding characteristics is the information in the display.  It is presented so the user can actually understand it!  Among the obvious and welcome messages: “UNABLE TO FOCUS” (While in Macro mode), and “AUTO FLASH” (after the flash release allows the pop-up flash to pop-up, ready for use).

To sum it up, I applaud HP for this effort.  There was nothing I did not like.  If you are in the market for a full-featured, full-size 4MP camera, this HP Photosmart 850 will be a fine choice.

For best pricing, shop online!  Try pricegrabber.com, nextag.com, bizrate.com, streetprices.com, and any other place you can find.

More information is at www.hp.com or call 1-800-HP-INVENT (1-800-474-6836).

Pin It on Pinterest