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HP PhotoSmart 215

HP's entry-level model offers ease of use for beginning shooters.

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Review First Posted: 3/10/2001

Executive Overview

The HP PhotoSmart 215 is designed for those consumers who want an easy-to-use, point-and-shoot digital camera, without having to fuss over exposure controls. The 215's simplified user interface and automatic exposure controls give consumers just that -- straightforward digital photography with no hassles. Measuring approximately 5 x 1.5 x 3 inches (127 x 38 x 76.2mm), the 215 has a smooth silver finish and is just about the right size to fit into a large coat pocket or purse. A small wrist strap accompanies the camera for a little extra security.

The Camera's simple design features very few external controls and an uncomplicated LCD-based menu system. The 1.3-megapixel CCD produces images as large as 1,280 x 960 pixels, with three JPEG quality settings available. On the back panel is a smallstatus display screen directly over the 1.8-inch color LCD monitor. The status display reports camera settings and enables you to operate the camera with the LCD monitor switched off, thus conserving battery power. The real image optical viewfinder has a high eyepoint which should be comfortable for most eyeglass wearers. You can also compose images with the rear LCD monitor on, which provides an unobstructed view of the image composition (all camera settings are reported in the status display panel only). An interesting feature of the PhotoSmart 215 is the ability to customize the Welcome screen, which appears on the LCD monitor whenever the camera is powered on. Through the Playback menu, you can choose one of your own images to appear when the camera is activated, giving the 215 a more personalized feel.

The 6.68mm lens (equivalent to a 43.4mm on a 35mm camera) features a focus range from two feet (60cm) to infinity in normal mode, and from four inches to three feet (10cm to 1 meter) in macro mode. Focus is automatically controlled, as is the lens aperture, which ranges from f/2.8 to f/8. A 2x digital telephoto digitally enlarges the center portion of the CCD image, resulting in slightly softer resolution and a more pixelated final image. While the 215's lens does not feature filter threads, an accessory lens adapter mount is available from Tiffen Company, accommodating macro, wide-angle, and telephoto lens kits, as well as a series of creative filters.

The HP 215 features complete automatic exposure control, with shutter speeds ranging from 1/750 to 1/3 second, and automatic white balance settings. The CCD's light sensitivity is set at ISO 100. The user has control over Flash settings, Digital Zoom (2x), Image Quality, Macro mode, and the Self-Timer. An Instant Review function automatically displays the digital photograph immediately after capture on the LCD monitor, giving you the option to delete the image before it records to the memory card. (This function can be disabled through the settings menu.) The 215's built-in flash operates in Auto, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, Fill Flash, and Flash Off modes, with an effective flash range from two to eight feet (0.6 to 2.5 meters). These limited exposure options reduce the camera's low-light capabilities, but should handle most reasonably bright shooting conditions.

Three JPEG quality settings are available on the PhotoSmart 215 -- Super Fine, Fine, and Basic. Both Super Fine and Fine quality settings record images at the 1,280 x 960-pixel resolution, while the Basic setting records images at 640 x 480 pixels. Images are saved to a CompactFlash card (Type I), and a 4MB card accompanies the camera. Through the Playback menu, images can be "locked" to protect against accidental deletion (except through card formatting).

A USB cable and software CD provide high-speed access to a computer for downloading images. The software CD contains ArcSoft PhotoImpression 2000, ArcSoft PhotoMontage 2000, and HP camera drivers. Unfortunately, the software is compatible with Windows systems only, so Mac users will need to purchase separate software and a card reader to download images (Hewlett-Packard's website does not offer Macintosh camera drivers). PhotoImpression 2000 provides a nice offering of image downloading, organizing, editing, and printing utilities, while PhotoMontage 2000 is a more creative application, allowing you to create a large, mosaic-type image from hundreds or thousands of tiny images (either from your own collection or from the program's library).

Four AA alkaline batteries power the PhotoSmart 215, and Hewlett-Packard warns against using any rechargeable batteries. A set of batteries comes with the camera, but the AC adapter is available as an accessory item (and one we highly recommend for image playback and downloading).

With its limited features and exposure controls, the PhotoSmart 215 is a great digicam for those consumers who want a straightforward, easy-to-use digital camera. There are only a few decisions to make, such as whether or not to use the flash, digital telephoto, or macro modes, keeping the 215's operation very simple. Small and portable, the PhotoSmart 215 offers hassle-free operation for most average shooting conditions. The availability of Tiffen accessory lenses and filters is a plus, extending the camera's shooting options to include telephoto and tighter macro photography.


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