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HP PhotoSmart 315

HP's "entry-level+" model offers 2.1 megapixels and ease of use at a bargain price.

Review First Posted: 03/14/2001

MSRP $299 US


2.1-megapixel CCD delivers up to 1,600 x 1,200-pixel photos. (Good for up to 8x10-inch print sizes.)
38mm equivalent lens provides good scene coverage for snapshots.
2.5x digital zoom gets you closer, albeit with lower resolution.
Ultra-simple operation is ideal for entry-level users.

Manufacturer Overview
Hewlett-Packard (HP) is one of the true giants of the information age. Their products range from scientific instruments to personal computers, to the most popular line of laser printers in existence. Along the way, they've developed a popular line of digital cameras, inkjet printers, and scanners intended to make digital imaging accessible to the home and small-office user. They've apparently succeeded well in this, as their PhotoSmart 315 camera (the subject of this review) was the biggest-selling camera in the US in the 2000 Christmas season. In an earlier review, we were very impressed with their PhotoSmart S20 print/film scanner, which produced very high quality images with virtually no tweaking or adjustment.

As noted, the subject of this review is HP's PhotoSmart 315 digital camera, a 2.1-megapixel unit designed to provide ease of use and enough resolution to make good-looking 8 x 10-inch prints. As with its "little brother," the PhotoSmart 215, part of the 315's simplicity derives from the minimal user controls. Functions we're accustomed to seeing on the more advanced cameras, such as exposure and white balance adjustment, are absent on the 315. That said, it still proved quite capable of producing usable images under a wide range of shooting conditions. For those cases where you'll need to tweak your pictures post-capture, we found its software to be both user-friendly and functional. With enough resolution to make reasonably sharp enlargements, the Photosmart 315 could be a good choice for beginning users on a budget.

High Points

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Executive Overview
Catering to the needs of consumers who are looking for a hassle-free, point-and-shoot digicam, the Hewlett-Packard PhotoSmart 315 measures only 5.0 x 2.7 x 1.3 inches (128 x 86 x 33mm) -- an easy fit in a coat pocket or even into a shirt pocket. The accompanying wrist strap makes toting the camera's mere eight ounces (227 grams) a breeze. A step up from the PhotoSmart 215 model, the 315 is equipped with a 2.1-megapixel CCD, delivering up to 1,600 x 1,200-pixel resolution images at three JPEG compression levels. It also includes a JetSend infrared port for wireless communication between the camera and other JetSend devices, such as HP's line of photo printers. JetSend is a useful tool for quick photo printing without worrying about connecting cables or transferring memory cards.

The HP 315 features both a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.8-inch color LCD monitor to aid in image composition. The LCD monitor has no information display, providing a complete view of the image area. The advantage of this is that all the camera settings are reported on the smaller status display panel on top of the camera, so you can efficiently operate the camera without relying on the LCD menu. This is further encouraged by the external controls, which allow you to change the camera's basic settings (image quality, flash mode, and self-timer mode) without activating the LCD menu. The LCD menu itself is a slightly updated version of the one offered on the PhotoSmart 215, with animated icons that move across the screen, and a faster refresh rate.

The camera's 5.8mm lens (equivalent to a 38mm lens on a 35mm camera) features six elements and an automatically controlled aperture (f/2.8-9.8). Though the lens itself doesn't have any filter threads, Tiffen Company makes a lens adapter kit that slides onto the camera and supports Tiffen's macro, wide-angle, and telephoto accessory lenses. Focus is also automatic, with a focal range from 11.8 inches (30cm) to infinity. A sliding lens cover protects both the lens and the optical viewfinder window when it is closed, and when opened, powers on the camera, placing it in Record mode. When the lens cover is closed, pressing the blue Display button next to the LCD engages the Playback mode. Instead of optical zoom, the PhotoSmart 315 offers 2.5x digital zoom, which will increase the size of the subject in the viewfinder, but reduces resolution and image quality, due to the digital enlargement.

Hewlett-Packard has eliminated all exposure worries with the PS 315, offering an uncomplicated user interface like the PS 215, but with several differences and/or improvements. For example, exposure is automatically controlled, but with a shutter speed range from 1/750 to two seconds (giving the 315 a slight edge over the 215 model in low-light shooting). White balance is automatic, as is the camera's light sensitivity, which is fixed at ISO 100. About the only exposure function the user controls is the flash mode, which offers the standard Auto, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, On, and Off settings. A 10-second self-timer allows just enough time for the photographer to jump into the image, with a flashing red LED on the front of the camera counting down the seconds. The user also controls image quality settings, which include Super Fine (1,600 x 1,200 pixels, best quality JPEG), Fine (1,600 x 1,200 pixels, lower quality JPEG), and Basic (640 x 480 pixels).

Images are stored to any capacity CompactFlash (Type I) memory card, and an 8MB card is supplied with the camera. Through the Playback menu, images can be write-protected ("locked"), rotated, set up for printing on DPOF devices, or sent via the infrared port to another JetSend device. A USB cable and two software CDs also come with the camera, for high-speed connection to a PC or Macintosh computer. HP's PhotoSmart 315 software (Windows only) provides limited image downloading, viewing, editing, and printing capabilities, as well as an e-mail function and a Web sharing utility. The second CD holds ArcSoft's PhotoImpression and PhotoMontage applications (Windows and Macintosh). PhotoImpression provides utilities similar to the PhotoSmart software, though with slightly more extensive editing and organization capabilities, and PhotoMontage allows you to create a photo mosaic from hundreds of tiny digital images.

Four AA alkaline batteries are shipped with the PhotoSmart 315. In addition to alkaline, you can also use lithium-ion, NiCd, or NiMH rechargeable batteries to power the camera. An AC adapter is available as a separate accessory (which we recommend for image downloading and reviewing tasks). Hewlett-Packard also offers an optional lithium-ion battery pack, as well as a battery charger.

Designed for the beginning photographer who wants the ease of a point-and-shoot at a very affordable price, Hewlett-Packard's PhotoSmart 315 digicam has a very straightforward user interface. Slightly more sophisticated than the PS 215, the 315 model features more external exposure controls and fewer LCD menu adjustments (using the extra menu space to accommodate animated icons). It measures only 5.0 x 2.7 x 1.3 inches (128 x 86 x 33mm), making it more likely to fit into a pocket, and very lightweight at only eight ounces (227g), without the batteries. A wrist strap is supplied for easy transportation.

From the front of the camera, the lens, built-in flash, optical viewfinder window, flash sensor, and self-timer LED are all visible. The lens and optical viewfinder window are protected by a sliding lens cover, which also serves as the Record mode power switch. When the lens cover is slid open (a vertical blue ridge along the opening seam makes it easy to open and close with the left hand), the camera is turned on and placed into Record mode. Closing the cover shuts off the camera, except when the Playback mode is activated (see Executive Overview). A stubbed rubber finger grip protrudes from the front of the right hand grip, providing a comfortable hold for your fingers as they wrap around the camera body. A nearly invisible infrared sensor is next to the self-timer LED.

The left side of the camera houses the AC power adapter and USB jacks, which are accessible without a protective covering. On the opposite side of the camera is the CompactFlash media slot, covered by a hinged, plastic door that snaps securely into place. The CompactFlash card fits into the slot with the electrodes going in first, and the front of the card facing the front of the camera. A small blue latch pulls out and snaps over the card to hold it into place, then pulls out again to serve as a button, which you push to release the card from the slot. The compartment door has a small metal extension rod near the bottom of the hinge, which serves as the attachment for the wrist strap.

The PhotoSmart 315's top panel features a light-blue shutter button, a small status display panel, and two control buttons that control the Flash, Image Quality, and Self-timer. The shutter button also activates the JetSend infrared function, which communicates with Hewlett-Packard's JetSend-compatible printers and allows you to print individual images wirelessly.

The remaining exposure controls are located on the camera's back panel, along with the LCD monitor and optical viewfinder. The optical viewfinder eyepiece, which protrudes slightly from the back panel, features a fairly high eyepoint for eyeglass wearers. The relatively large LCD monitor takes up the center portion of the back panel, with the Display, Menu, and OK/Arrow rocker pad on the right side. Two small stubbed pads serve as thumb grips for both hands, one on the top right side and the other to the left of the LCD monitor.

Two LED lamps on the back panel report the camera's status. For example, when the green LED next to the optical viewfinder is flashing, the camera's autofocus system is having trouble focusing on the subject, or there isn't enough light for the shot. When it glows a steady green, the camera is focused and ready to expose the image, when it glows red, the flash is recharging, the last photo is being processed, or there is a problem with the memory card (i.e.: it's full, damaged, or missing). The second LED lamp is in the top right corner of the back panel. It glows yellow when the camera is accessing the memory card, which means you should not open the memory card door.

A plastic, threaded tripod mount and battery compartment door are located on the bottom panel of the camera. The plastic battery compartment slides forward and opens outward to access the batteries. Because of the compartment's close proximity to the tripod mount, quick battery changes are impossible when working with a tripod. However, we do appreciate the side access to the CompactFlash slot, which is unhindered by the tripod mount plate. You can also use the AC power adapter on the left side of the camera while mounted on a tripod.

The PhotoSmart 315 features both a real image optical viewfinder and a color LCD monitor for composing images. The optical viewfinder is protected by the sliding lens cover, and thus only offers a view when the cover is open. Though the eyepiece does not feature a diopter adjustment dial, it has a high eyepoint to accommodate eyeglass wearers. Protruding slightly from the back panel, the eyepiece view is visible from a fair distance and should be comfortable for most lenses. The optical viewfinder features a central autofocus and exposure target crosshair to help line up shots. An LED on the eyepiece reports the camera's status, lighting a solid green when focus and exposure are set. A flashing green LED indicates that the autofocus system is having trouble focusing on the subject. The LED lights red when the camera is performing a function or accessing the memory card.

The 1.8-inch, color LCD monitor dominates the center of the camera's back panel, and is made up of 72,000 pixels. When the camera is in Record mode (the lens cover is open), the blue Display button controls the LCD image display, turning it on or off. The LCD monitor does not feature an information display in Record mode. Instead, limited camera settings are reported on the small status display panel on top of the camera, including image quality, flash mode, battery consumption level, and number of available images. An LCD brightness adjustment, available through the camera's settings menu, increases or decreases the LCD brightness for better viewing in a variety of shooting conditions.

The blue Display button activates Playback mode when the camera's lens cover is closed. A limited information display on the LCD monitor reports the time and date that the image was taken, the file number, and the quality setting for just a few seconds when the image is first displayed. Also in Playback mode, the LCD monitor offers a nine image index display, as well as an image enlargement function for close-up viewing of image details.

The 315's built-in 5.8mm lens (equivalent to a 38mm lens on a 35mm camera) features six elements and through-the-lens (TTL) focusing from 11.8 inches (30cm) to infinity. The lens aperture openings, ranging from f/2.8 to f/9.8, are also automatically selected. The lens itself is protected by a sliding cover that also serves as the power switch. When the cover is open, the camera is powered on and placed into Record mode. Likewise, closing the cover shuts the camera off.

Though the 315 does not feature an automatic focus lock function, you can lock it manually. Simply frame the desired portion of the subject in the center of the viewfinder, depress the shutter button halfway, then recompose the shot while depressing the shutter button halfway, and depress it fully to record the image. (This same method can be used to lock the exposure reading.)

The 315 features up to 2.5x digital telephoto, controlled by the Up and Down arrows of the OK/Arrow rocker pad on the back panel. Pressing the Up arrow digitally enlarges the image to 1.5x, 2x, or 2.5x. Pressing the Down arrow "zooms" back out to a normal view. When the digital zoom is enabled, a red border frames the image on the LCD display and the amount of enlargement is reported on the display. (Users should be aware that digital zoom is not the same as optical zoom, since the digital zoom is merely cropping and enlarging the center portion of the CCD. As a result, digitally enlarged images often result in higher image noise and/or softer resolution.)

The 315's lens barrel does not feature filter threads, but an accessory lens adapter is available from Tiffen Company (an accessory catalog accompanies the camera). The lens adapter clips onto the side of the camera body and aligns with the lens opening, accommodating a series of macro, wide-angle, and telephoto lens kits. A set of Tiffen creative filters is also available to add to your creative shooting options.

In an effort to keep things simple, Hewlett-Packard has included very few exposure controls on the PhotoSmart 315, maintaining its position as a simple-to-use, point-and-shoot digicam. Aperture and shutter speed are automatically determined by the camera, and are not reported on the status display panel or LCD monitor. (We prefer to see these settings reported, even if they are automatically controlled, so that we have some idea of what settings the camera has selected.) White balance is also automatically controlled, and the camera's light sensitivity is fixed at an ISO 100 equivalent.

As we mentioned earlier, the LCD monitor does not feature an information display. Instead, camera settings are reported on the top status display panel. Without an information display, you get an unobstructed view of the image composition in the LCD monitor. The other benefit of the status display panel is that you can operate the camera without the LCD monitor, to save on battery power consumption.

Though the 315 does not feature a spot meter or exposure lock function, you can lock the exposure reading in the same manner that you lock the focus, by centering the target portion of the subject in the frame, depressing the shutter button halfway, reframing the subject with the shutter button halfway depressed, and then fully depressing the shutter button.

An Instant Review function automatically displays the captured image on the LCD monitor immediately following the exposure. The display lasts approximately four seconds. You can interrupt the recording and delete the image at any time during the display by pressing the Right or Left Arrow to select "Delete," and then pressing the center of the rocker pad (which also serves as the "OK" button). You can turn off Instant Review through the camera's settings menu (under the Setup option).

In addition to flash mode and image quality, the 315 also offers a 10-second self-timer. Once the timer is enabled -- by pressing the Quality and Flash buttons simultaneously -- a full press of the shutter button triggers the 10-second countdown before the shutter fires. The small, red LED on the front panel flashes slowly for the first eight seconds, then flashes rapidly for the remaining two. The self-timer is automatically canceled after the image is captured. You can cancel the countdown without taking a picture by pressing the Flash and Quality buttons together, or by turning the camera off.

The PhotoSmart 315 features a built-in flash with four operating modes: Auto, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, On, and Off. As with the 215 model, the flash modes are relatively self-explanatory. Auto mode places the camera in control of when to fire the flash, based on the existing lighting conditions. Auto with Red-Eye Reduction works along similar lines, although in this mode the camera fires a small pre-flash before firing the flash at full power, to help reduce the effect of red eye. The On flash mode simply tells the flash to fire with every exposure, and the Off setting completely disables the flash. Hewlett-Packard estimates that the flash is effective up to 9.8 feet (3 meters). The flash icon in the status display panel reports the current mode setting. If the icon is blinking (as well as the LED lamp next to the viewfinder eyepiece), the flash is charging.

Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we now routinely measure it using Imaging Resource proprietary testing.

Hewlett Packard Photosmart 315 Timings
Time (secs)
Power On -> First shot
Not too bad, but slightly slow for a camera with no telescoping lens.
No lens to retract, so no delay before you can return it to your pocket.
Play to Record, first shot
Time until first shot is captured, from playback mode. About average.
Record to play (max/min res)
3.41 (6.10)
Average to a bit slower than average. Time in parenthesis is for full-res image on the LCD (low-res proxy appears first). Low- and high-res files display at the same speed.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
A bit slower than average
Shutter lag, prefocus
A bit faster than average.
Cycle Time, max/min resolution
A bit slower than average, not too bad for an entry-level unit.

Overall, the PhotoSmart 315 was a middle-of-the-road performer in the speed department. Shutter lag was a little long at 1.05 seconds with full autofocus, but a bit quicker than average (0.23 seconds) when the camera was prefocused by pressing the shutter halfway before making the final exposure. Cycle times were a bit slower than average at 5.8 seconds for full-resolution images, but this is far from the slowest we've measured, and really isn't too bad for an entry-level unit.

Operation and User Interface
Like the PhotoSmart 215, the 315 has a very simple user interface, with a few more external controls to access camera features without using the LCD menu. For example, the Menu dial has been replaced with a five-way controller (OK/Arrow rocker pad), and the Flash, Self-Timer, and Quality options have all been removed from the settings menu and added to the external controls. As the LCD menu system is already very limited on the 215, this reduces the 315's Record menu to only three options: Digital Zoom, Set Up, and Review On/Off. It appears that HP took advantage of this limited LCD menu to add some fun, animated graphics. (So fun, in fact, that you may be distracted long enough to miss your shot!)

A small status display panel reports four critical camera settings: Quality, Flash, remaining battery power, and the number of shots left on the CompactFlash card. Combined with the additional external controls, this makes the 315 fairly easy to operate without activating the LCD monitor, thus saving precious battery power.

Control Enumeration

Sliding Lens Cover: This sliding cover protects the lens and optical viewfinder window on the front of the camera. When opened, the camera powers on and enters Record mode automatically. Closing the cover turns the camera off again.

Shutter Button: Located on the far right of the camera's top panel, this blue button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed in Record mode. When pressed all the way, it triggers the shutter to open. In Self-Timer mode, a full press of this button starts the 10-second countdown. In Playback mode, this button activates the JetSend function, which uses an infrared beam to transfer images to other JetSend devices, such as printers.

Flash Button: Also located on the camera's top panel, under the lower right corner of the status display panel, this button controls the flash mode -- cycling between Auto, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, On, and Off. When pressed in conjunction with the Quality button next to it, this button activates the Self-Timer mode. This combination of buttons also cancels the Self-Timer mode.

Quality Button: Directly to the left of the Flash button, this button controls the image quality setting. Choices are Super Fine (1,600 x 1,200 pixels), Fine (1,600 x 1,200 pixels), and Basic (640 x 480 pixels). When pressed simultaneously with the Flash button, this button activates or deactivates the Self-Timer mode.

Display Button: This tiny blue button is on the camera's back panel, at the top right corner of the LCD monitor, and turns the monitor on or off in Record mode. When the camera's lens cover is closed, this button powers on the camera and places it in Playback mode. A second press of the button powers the camera off again.

Menu Button: Just below the Display button on the camera's back panel, the Menu button turns on and off the LCD settings menu in either Playback or Record modes. (NOTE: Pressing this button in Record mode with the LCD monitor switched off does not engage the menu. You have to activate the LCD monitor and then press the Menu button.)

OK/Arrow Rocker Pad: Also located on the camera's back panel, the OK/Arrow rocker pad has four arrows, each pointing in a different direction (up, down, right, left), and a center OK button. In any settings menu, these buttons navigate through menu selections. Pressing the center of the pad confirms menu changes. In Record mode, pressing the Up and Down arrows controls the Digital Zoom function (up to 2.5x). In Playback mode, the Left and Right buttons scroll through captured images. When a captured image has been enlarged, all four arrows can be used to move around within the enlarged image and view each section.

Camera Modes and Menus

Record Mode: This mode is automatically entered when the lens cover is opened. Exposure is automatically controlled, as is white balance. Light sensitivity is set to ISO 100. Pressing the Menu button displays the following choices:

Playback Mode: Playback mode is entered by pressing the blue Display button on the camera's back panel when the lens cover is closed. Images can be reviewed, write-protected, rotated, or set up for printing on DPOF or JetSend devices. The Playback menu offers the following selections:

Image Storage and Interface
The 315 records images to a Type I CompactFlash card. An 8MB card is packaged with the camera, with higher-capacity upgrades available separately. The CompactFlash card inserts into the card slot with the electrodes going in first, and the front of the card facing the front of the camera. The card will not go into the camera the wrong way. A blue button next to the slot releases the card when you're ready to retrieve it.

Never remove the CompactFlash card while the camera is performing any function, to avoid damaging the media. The LCD monitor reports when the camera is accessing the card, but Hewlett-Packard recommends waiting until the camera is powered off to remove it. The 315's status display panel reports the number of available images that the card has room for, next to a small CompactFlash icon. If the icon is blinking, the card is either full or has some type of problem and needs to be checked.

Entire CompactFlash cards cannot be write-protected, but the 315 allows you to protect captured images through the Playback menu. The Lock menu option lets you write-protect individual images, or all images on the card, which protects them from being accidentally erased (except from card formatting).

The 315 features JetSend infrared technology, which allows you to "beam" images to another JetSend device, such as a printer, via the camera's infrared port. The camera can only send photos via the JetSend infrared port, and you can only send one photo at a time. To beam a photo, you simply scroll to the photo you'd like to send, line up the camera's infrared port no further than six inches (15cm) from the JetSend device, and then press the shutter button. The camera's LCD will report that it's looking for the device, then show a status bar of the image transfer once the process begins.

Three JPEG compression levels and two image sizes are available on the 315. Super Fine and Fine quality settings record images at the 1,600 x 1,200-pixel resolution, with two different compression ratios (see chart). The Basic quality setting records 640 x 480-pixel images. Below are the approximate still image capacities and compression ratios for an 8MB CompactFlash card:

Image Capacity vs
Super Fine
High Resolution 1600x1200 Images 10 20
7:1 14:1
Standard Resolution 640x480 Images

A USB cable and two software CDs accompany the PhotoSmart 315, for quick connection to a PC or Mac. Unlike some cameras, the 315 requires that you install its software application to download images from the camera, rather than letting the camera "mount" on the computer's desktop like another disk drive. The software set that accompanies the 315 is slightly more extensive than that shipped with the PhotoSmart 215, and is very easy to use. As we were experiencing severe PC problems at the time we reviewed the 315, we weren't able to download images, however we assume that the software works similarly to that of the 215, which automatically launches the HP photo application when the camera is connected to the computer's USB port. Our Windows problems also prevented us from measuring the transfer speed on the PC, but on a Mac, we measured a download speed of 98 KBytes/second. This is only a quarter as fast as high-end USB cameras we've tested, but it's still fast enough to completely empty an 8MB memory card in a little more than a minute.

Video Out
The PhotoSmart 315 does not have a video output capability.

Four AA alkaline batteries accompany the PhotoSmart 315 for powering the camera. You can also use lithium-ion, NiCd, or NiMH AA batteries, or the accessory AC adapter (which is available separately as an option). As always, we highly recommend picking up a couple of sets of rechargeable batteries and keeping a spare set charged at all times, as well as purchasing the accessory AC adapter, if you plan on downloading images directly from the camera or spending a lot of time reviewing captured images.

The 315 doesn't rely heavily on its LCD display, which is good for power consumption, and since you can control the basic camera functions without resorting to the LCD menu, the 315 should run very efficiently off most battery sources. We also found that the camera automatically shuts the LCD monitor off if a picture has not been taken after 60 seconds. A battery icon on the status display panel reports the approximate amount of battery power consumption. The icon flashes and the camera beeps when the batteries get too low.

Hewlett-Packard also offers a lithium-ion battery pack as an accessory, as well as a battery charger.

Operating Mode
Power Drain
Capture Mode, w/LCD
720 mA
Capture Mode, no LCD
50 mA
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
700 mA
Half-pressed w/o LCD
420 mA
Memory Write (transient)
130/400 mA
Flash Recharge (transient)
(variable, couldn't measure)
Image Playback
380 mA

The PhotoSmart 315 draws a fair amount of power when the LCD is on in Record mode, but when the LCD is off, it is among the most power-efficient cameras we've tested. With good quality batteries, such as NiMH rechargeables, the LCD-off power drain is low enough that you could easily leave the camera on all day without running out of battery power. With the LCD turned on, it's a different story: You could expect about two hours of run time from a set of high-capacity NiMH cells.

Included Software
Packaged with the 315 is a USB cable and two software CDs. The first CD contains HP's 315/315vm/315xi photo imaging software, for Windows only (98/2000/Me/NT 4.0). The second CD contains ArcSoft PhotoImpression and ArcSoft PhotoMontage, for both Windows and Macintosh (OS 8.6 and higher) operating systems. PhotoSmart is essentially a downloading utility that automatically launches when the camera is connected to a PC loaded with the software. PhotoSmart offers basic printing, viewing, and editing utilities, as well as e-mail and image sharing tools for use with the Internet. Though PhotoSmart is not compliant with the Macintosh operating system, Mac users can take advantage of ArcSoft PhotoImpression, which offers similar utilities. PhotoImpression provides downloading, organization, printing, and minor editing utilities for digital images. Images can be organized into "albums," or cropped, rotated, or flipped before being printed. PhotoMontage is a fun, creative application that allows you to create one large mosaic image made up of hundreds or thousands of tiny images. You can use either your own digital images or the application's library of image files to create a montage.

In the Box

Included in the box are the following:

Test Results
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings: For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the PhotoSmart 315's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the 315 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

Overall, the 315's automatic white balance system did a very good job, accurately assessing most of our test lighting situations. The 315 ran into some trouble with the difficult incandescent lighting of the indoor portrait, producing an orange color cast in the flash image and a magenta color cast in the image without flash. Other than the indoor shots though, color looked good and reasonably accurate throughout our testing. The 315 picked up the subtle difference between the red and magenta color blocks on the middle, horizontal color chart of our Davebox target (a common problem area for many digicams), though the two colors are just a shade apart. We did find the larger color blocks of the Davebox to be a little undersaturated though. We also noticed that in high contrast areas, such as the hair strands of the Musicians models and the shrubbery of the House poster, the 315 had trouble reproducing the color gradations. Instead, these areas appeared almost like an illustration, with abrupt changes between light and dark tones. This characteristic was the most serious image-quality problem: Without it, color and tonal handling would have been very good indeed for an entry-level camera.

Optical distortion on the 315 is moderate, as we measured an approximate 0.6 percent barrel distortion. Chromatic aberration is low, showing about two or three pixels of coloration on each side of the black target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

In our laboratory resolution test, we found nothing that would explain the odd tonal breaks we saw in our "natural image" tests, but the PS315 came up a little short on the resolution front. The image was quite soft overall, and the visual resolution tested out at between 450 and 500 lines per picture height in both horizontal and vertical directions, toward the bottom end of the scale among two megapixel cameras we've tested.

We found the 315's optical viewfinder to be a little tight, showing approximately 83.7 percent frame accuracy at both resolution sizes. We also noticed that these images are shifted up and towards the left, with a slight slant toward the lower left corner. The LCD monitor fared much better, showing approximately 94.16 percent accuracy at both resolution sizes. We generally like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, so the 315 does a nice job. (Though there's a very slight slant toward the lower left corner in the LCD shots as well.)

The 315's minimum focal distance of 11.8 inches (30cm) limits its macro capabilities a great deal. Even at the closest focal distance, the 315 captures a very large minimum area of 11.13 x 8.34 inches (282.6 x 211.95mm). Details appear very soft and we noticed the same splotchy color gradation in the high contrast areas. Color balance looks pretty good, and noise is moderately high in the gray background. The 315's built-in flash does a pretty good job with this macro area, though the intensity falls off around the corners and edges. Interestingly, the image details sharpen with the flash exposure, possibly due to the slightly higher contrast ofthe image.

The 315 performs reasonably well in the low-light category, thanks to its maximum shutter speed of two seconds. We obtained reasonably bright, clear images as low as one foot-candle (11 lux). Images were dim but still usable as low as 1/4 of a foot-candle (2.7 lux), but became progressively darker with the lower light levels (though the target remained visible at the 1/16 of a foot-candle (0.67 lux) light level). Noise remained moderately low at the higher light levels, but increased slightly as the light level decreased. To put the 315's low-light performance into perspective, an average city night scene under modern street lighting corresponds to a light level of about one foot-candle, so the camera should handle most such scenes well. The table below shows the best exposure we were able to obtain for each of a range of illumination levels. Images in this table (like all of our sample photos) are untouched, exactly as they came from the camera.

Our feeling about the 315's performance depends a great deal on the print size a user might be interested in obtaining from its images. For printed output up to the common 4x6 size, the softness of its images and odd tonal breaks in fine detail probably won't be very apparent, and the camera's good color and overall tonal balance will shine through. For such use, it would be an excellent choice. Larger prints would call attention to the softness and tonal oddities in fine detail, so we wouldn't recommend it for that usage. All things considered, the PhotoSmart 315 is a convenient, point-and-shoot digicam that takes great pictures (up to 4x6 print size), and at a great price.

With a larger, 2.1 megapixel CCD, and the benefit of HP's wireless JetSend technology, the PhotoSmart 315 is a nice upgrade to the 215. Exposure remains under automatic control, keeping the user interface simple and maintaining the camera's position as a simple-to-use, point-and-shoot digicam. The animated icons of the LCD menu add a touch of fun and fit right in with the 315's user-friendly approach. Overall, the 315 is a good candidate for any consumer who's looking for point-and-shoot simplicity, combined with a low-cost, 2.1 megapixel digicam.

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