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HP PhotoSmart 618

HP's capable mid-level model offers 2.1 megapixels, an optical zoom lens, and ease-of-use.

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Page 3:Design

Review First Posted: 03/19/2001

The third in a family of four HP digital cameras, the PhotoSmart 618 offers both automatic and manual controls, with an impressive range of sophisticated features designed to enhance the photography experience. The smooth-contoured, silver-toned body is very similar in size and shape to a compact 35mm camera, with just enough heft and solidity to give it the feel of a well-built camera. Measuring approximately 5.0 x 2.8 x 2.2 inches (127.5 x 56.5 x 71.5mm), and weighing about 10.6 ounces (300 grams), the 618 could easily fit into a large coat pocket or purse, but it may be more comfortable carried in a small camera bag or hanging around your neck on the accompanying shoulder strap.

Among the first features we noticed on the 618 was its extensive range of external camera controls, which takes many of the functions previously located in the LCD menu, and makes them more easily accessible. A small status display panel on top reports critical information such as Flash, Focus, Self-timer, and Remote modes, plus remaining battery power and the number of shots remaining on the CompactFlash card. This combination of external camera controls and a detailed status display window allows users to save battery power by operating the camera without the LCD monitor enabled.

On the inside, the PhotoSmart 618 features a 2.11-megapixel CCD, 30-bit color depth, and HP's proprietary Imaging Technology, which provides high-performance color balance and demosaicing (the 618's ability to complete missing picture information, or interpolation) as part of the image processing. Normal digicam interpolation estimates the values between the known values in an image, which may or may not accurately represent the missing data. HP claims that their demosaicing process focuses on a larger area surrounding the missing data, and assesses a more likely value, thereby producing less digital artifacts in the final image.

The front panel of the camera is what gives the 618 its classic 35mm styling. The high-quality zoom lens is a Pentax 3x 5.2-16.5mm (34-108mm equivalent), which features a mechanical, retracting lens cover that slides open when the camera is powered on. (We like the idea of the retractable lens cover because it eliminates the need for a lens cap.) The lens also telescopes out from the camera body about an inch when the camera is powered on, and extends and retracts as you adjust the zoom. (Surprisingly, the lens also engages when the camera is in Playback or Review modes.) In addition to the lens, the front panel houses a built-in flash, viewfinder window, JetSend/Digita infrared interface, microphone, self-timer LED, and flash sensor.

The shutter button, which is set on a sloped portion of the top/front panel, is within easy reach of the right forefinger, directly on top of the right hand grip. The hand grip is covered with a leather-like textured surface that provides a good grip for your fingers as they wrap around the camera. The only other feature on the camera's right side is a set of attachment eyelets through which you can thread the provided shoulder strap.

The Mode dial, status display panel, and three control buttons are located on the 618's top panel. The notched Mode dial controls the camera's operating modes (Capture, Playback, Review, and PC Connect), while the control buttons activate the Flash, Self-timer/Infrared Remote, and Focus modes. The status display panel reports a variety of camera settings (see second paragraph above) and enables you to operate the camera in a basic shooting mode without activating the LCD monitor.

The left side of the camera has two compartments, lined up side-by-side, one for the connector jacks and one for the memory card. Both compartments are protected by hinged, plastic doors -- the connector door pulls open at the bottom with a fingernail (even short ones), while the memory door slides outward before it swings open. The larger compartment on the right holds a single CompactFlash card, with a small black button on the end to releases the card for removal. We appreciate the out-of-the-way location, as it allows easy access to the memory card while mounted on a tripod. The smaller left compartment features the A/V Out, DC In, and USB connection jacks.

As mentioned above, the right side of the camera has only a pair of holes for attaching the shoulder strap.

The remaining camera controls, LCD monitor, speaker, and optical viewfinder eyepiece are all located on the 618's back panel. At the top of the panel is the On/Off switch, which controls the camera's power. The optical viewfinder eyepiece features a diopter adjustment dial and two LED lamps that report the camera's status. A solid green LED indicates that focus and exposure are set, while a flashing green LED means that the camera's autofocus system is having trouble focusing. A solid red LED means that the flash is charged and ready to fire. If the red LED is flashing, the flash is either charging, or there's a problem with the camera or memory card (the LCD monitor should then report the error). A tiny orange LED lamp on the left side of the eyepiece lights whenever the camera is accessing the memory card.

The other control buttons on the back panel include a four-way rocker pad, which navigates through menu settings, and the Display, Menu, JetSend (paper airplane icon), Sound, and Zoom buttons. Three soft keys lined up below the LCD monitor change functions depending on the camera mode. Each button's function is displayed in the LCD monitor directly above the button when the mode is activated.

The battery compartment door and tripod mount are the sole features on the 618's bottom panel. Unfortunately, the battery compartment door is too close to the tripod mount to allow quick battery changes while the camera is mounted on a tripod, although this probably isn't a problem for most casual shooters. We did found the battery compartment's spring-loaded door a little tricky to close though. Opening the door is a snap, simply slide the lock button and the door flips open instantly. It's trying to slide the lock button closed again that makes it difficult to close. We found it easiest to rest the top of the camera on a flat surface, then hold down the compartment door firmly with two fingers while sliding the lock button into place.

A tiny IR Remote Control accompanies the 618, with only one small button to trigger the shutter. These remote control units come in quite handy when shooting closeup macro subjects (preventing any blurring from camera movement when you press the shutter button) or when the photographer wants to be in the picture.

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