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May 18th, 2001


HP PhotoSmart 618 and 912 Digital Cameras

Contact And Other Information
Manufacturer: Hewlett Packard
Product Home Page: HP PhotoSmart 618 Digital Camera

HP PhotoSmart 912 Digital SLR Camera


Description: Two digital cameras from Hewlett Packard. The 618 is a typical "point-and-shoot" style camera, while the 912 is more along the lines of a full-featured SLR Camera.
Address: Hewlett-Packard USA
300 Hanover Street
Palo Alto, CA 94304

Price: HP 618 Digital Camera - US$399

HP 912 Digital SLR Camera - US$799

Telephone: (650) 857-1501
Fax: (650) 857-5518
Requirements: Any Mac with a built-in or 3rd party USB port for downloading images.
System Used For Testing: iBook Special Edition, 366MHz, 192MB RAM.
[Review]
To Be Digital or Not To Be Digital - Hewlett Packard's Cameras Help to Answer the Question
by Lisa Hamilton

Introduction

When my 35mm camera started flashing alien symbols, and refusing to take pictures, I discovered that the cost of repairing my camera would be higher than buying a new one. As an amateur, armed with just enough photographic knowledge to be dangerous, I proudly told my husband that I needed a new 35mm camera. Digital photography was not for me. I wanted the "real" thing, which to me was 35mm film. As a computer nerd, he wanted digital, so he began informing me of all the good things about digital photography, and he dared me to try a couple of digital cameras.


The Comparison - Features

What is it that is so appealing to me about film? After spending a couple of months with a digital camera, I'm not sure anymore! I found many advantages to having digital pictures, and with the two Hewlett Packard cameras I tested, I didn't even miss the "feel" of my 35mm camera.

One thing I loved about the digital cameras is how easy it is to share pictures. When we were on vacation, I brought my iBook and my camera, and at the end of the day I connected the USB cable to the camera and the iBook and easily transferred all my pictures. From there, it was so easy to e-mail them friends and family. My family was thrilled to get pictures from our vacation while it was in progress, and it was fun for me to recap each day in pictures.

Another plus is being able to delete pictures. Having a toddler in the house means plenty of photo opportunities, but it also means taking many shots of the back of her head to get the couple that are worth keeping. Sometimes it will take a dozen shots or more to get the one picture I really want, and with the digital camera, I never had to worry about wasting film. I simply shot all the pictures I wanted and either deleted them right away, or deleted them after loading them into the iBook and taking a second look. I don't have to pay to have pictures that I don't want developed, and best of all, I won't have thousands of "bad" pictures stacked up in my desk because I can't bring myself to throw away print pictures. It's easy enough to pick the pictures I do want to save, archive them in my computer, and print the ones I really like.

Not worrying about running out of film is also nice, but you can run out of space on a memory card, so I don't really see this as an advantage for digital photography. Of course it is easy to go through and delete pictures you don't need to save to free up more memory if you need it. It's also easy to carry a spare memory card.

I love to keep scrapbooks and I feared that getting into digital photography would somehow keep me from this hobby, but that isn't true at all. Instead it has actually simplified my hobby. Instead of going through dozens of pictures to pick the 5-6 I want to scrapbook for each event, I can quickly do a slide show on the computer and then just print the ones I want. Print quality has not been a problem with either camera tested.

When I get an urge to unleash my artistic side, I find the black and white and sepia tone options on both cameras I tested to be great fun. Occasional non-color pictures are fun and special to me, but having to buy a roll of 24 exposure film often discouraged me. With the digital camera, it is simple to take a black and white picture, then a color picture, then a sepia-toned picture, and so forth. There is no need to worry about finishing off a whole roll of film. Of course I can also take regular color pictures and then make them black and white, or I can touch up red eyes in a photo, crop a picture, and more. The editing options are just about endless.


Camera Details

As far as the more technical aspects of the digital cameras I tested, both are Hewlett Packard units. Although similar in many respects, they are very different units. The first is the HP PhotoSmart 912. This digital camera functions amazingly like a 35mm SLR camera. The next was the HP PhotoSmart 618, a smaller, point-and-shoot model without the manual options available on the 912.

The 912 just feels fantastic. It looks like a regular 35mm SLR camera and has a very comfortable ergonomic design. The sides are rubbery and easy to hold, and all the controls are in easy reach. The zoom is accessed by twisting the lens, and it will even hold standard 35mm lens filters. It is lightweight and easy to hold steady for good shots. It has a nice size LCD screen to preview pictures, and the screen flips out so it can be viewed from different angles.

The 618 is a much more compact unit. It is a point and shoot design and doesn't have the nice feel of the 912. Using the 618 regularly, I adapted and was able to get more comfortable with it, but I found it difficult to hold comfortably after using the 912. The small size of this camera makes it much easier to carry around than the larger 912. The view screen is the same size, but it doesn't tilt out like it does on the 912.

Both cameras are user friendly. By its nature, the 912 requires a little more reading to really take advantage of all it can do. The manual options on this camera are just like a 35mm SLR and include setting manual shutter speeds, changing flash settings, adjusting exposure, manual focus and more.

The 618 is comparable to a point and shoot 35mm. It focuses for you, but does allow some manual settings. For example, exposure can be set to automatic, aperture priority, or shutter priority. It also includes different flash modes including red-eye reduction, and forced on or forced off.

Both cameras shipped with a 16MB compact flash card, capable of holding about 25 JPG pictures at full (print-quality) resolution, and about 95 JPG pictures at quarter (screen/web-quality) resolution. I found this perfectly adequate for general use, especially in light of the fact that you can delete unwanted pictures on the spot. Larger memory cards will work, of course, and will increase storage capacity accordingly.

Battery life on both of these cameras was fantastic. They each shipped with 4 lithium AA batteries, which lasted for about 3 weeks of fairly aggressive use. I replaced them with rechargeable NiMh batteries, which lasted about the same length of time between charges. Use of the flash and built-in screen dramatically decreased battery life, but I found that using the built-in screen sparingly and viewing pictures on the computer made battery life much less of a concern.

Both cameras are USB compatible and pictures were equally easy to transfer from the camera to a computer. After plugging the USB cable into the camera and the iBook, the flash card was mounted just like any other disk or CD-ROM. I was able to copy, trash, and rename pictures as with any other files on the Mac.

The cameras also have Jetsend infrared for direct printing to Jetsend-enabled HP printers. Both have built in flash, and the 912 also has a hot shoe to fit any standard 35mm external flash. Both cameras fired up quickly, and had excellent shot-to-shot times.


Pictures

The following pictures were taken with the HP PhotoSmart 912 and HP PhotoSmart 618 digital cameras. The flower pictures are taken using macro mode, the building pictures were taken using the zoom feature. Click the thumbnail images for larger, 500-pixel wide versions. Use the additional links below for maximum resolution, 1600-pixel wide versions.

Left Column taken with HP PhotoSmart 618
Right Column taken with HP PhotoSmart 912
Macro Pictures of Spring Flowers

Both cameras perform well and had good results in the three modes tested: macro, distance, and portrait. I believe the clarity and crispness of the macro modes was equal with the two cameras, but the HP912 seems to handle shade better than the HP618.

618flowermacro.jpg
500 pixel view

or 1600 pixel view
912flowermacro.jpg
500 pixel view

or 1600 pixel view
618flowermacro2.jpg
500 pixel view

or 1600 pixel view
912flowermacro2.jpg
500 pixel view

or 1600 pixel view
Close Range Portraits

I felt the two cameras performed equally well in portrait mode in the pictures I compared. As I mentioned earlier, the HP912 does seem to handle shade better in any mode.

618portrait.jpg
500 pixel view

or 1600 pixel view
912portrait.jpg
500 pixel view

or 1600 pixel view
618portrait2.jpg
500 pixel view

or 1600 pixel view
912portrait2.jpg
500 pixel view

or 1600 pixel view
Outdoor Distance Shots

In the distance pictures of the school, it seemed obvious to me that the HP912 reproduced color more accurately. Look at the color detail on the building, the color is much brighter in the picture taken with the HP912.

618school.jpg
500 pixel view

or 1600 pixel view
912school.jpg
500 pixel view

or 1600 pixel view

Features Comparison

HP PhotoSmart 912

HP PhotoSmart 618
  • 2.24 megapixel high resolution sensor
  • 2.11 megapixel high resolution sensor
  • Compact pop-up flash & hot shoe for any standard 35mm flash
  • Built in flash
  • Through the Lens (TTL) viewfinder
  • Optical viewfinder
  • 3x optical, 2x digital zoom
  • 3x optical, 2x digital zoom
  • Orientation sensor so images are displayed right side up
  • Orientation sensor so images are displayed right side up
  • USB for fast downloads
  • USB for fast downloads
  • 2-inch high resolution LCD that flips up
  • 2-inch high resolution LCD
  • Zoom control on lens
  • Zoom control on camera body
  • Manual or auto focus
  • Auto focus
  • Pentax Optics
  • Pentax Optics
  • SLR performance
  • N/A
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to Use
  • Extensive Manual Controls
  • Some Manual Controls
  • Comfortable ergonomic Design
  • More compact, but not as comfortable
  • Time/date stamp
  • Time/date stamp

Conclusion

The analog camera is definitely out, and if money were no object, I would own both of these digital cameras. The 912 is fantastic for really getting involved in the picture taking process, but the 618 is great for keeping in my purse so it is always available for quick pictures. To me the 618 is more portable, and I get more use out of a portable camera that is with me all the time than a fancier camera that sits home for special occasions.

HP PhotoSmart 618 Final Score (Maximum Score is 5 Thumbs Up)
4 Thumbs Up
Pros
  • Compact design; easy to carry design
  • Takes great pictures
  • Convenient automatic and manual modes
  • User friendly
  • Easy to transfer pictures via USB
Cons
  • Hard to hold steady
  • Controls aren't as easy to get to as on the 912
  • LCD panel doesn't tilt

HP PhotoSmart 912 Final Score (Maximum Score is 5 Thumbs Up)
4 1/2 Thumbs Up
Pros
  • Great design - comfortable & easy to hold steady
  • Lots of similar features to a regular 35mm SLR
  • Very easy to transfer pictures - USB
  • Great quality pictures
  • Zoom control on the lens
  • Fast time between taking pictures
  • Auto and manual modes
Cons
  • Bulky for every day use
  • Expensive for someone that doesn't need all the extras



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