Steve's ConclusionThe HP PhotoSmart C500 produces good pictures but the overall operation of the camera is far from robust. The camera takes about ten seconds to "boot up" because it is controlled by the Digita Operating System. This is a good thing and a bad thing. The good: You can download all kinds of camera control scripts online as well as future upgrades to the entire operating system. The bad: Digita seems to make all of the camera operations slower than cameras that don't use it.
HP includes a nice package of hardware; the camera, 16MB CF card, 3 NiMH batteries and a rapid charger, lens cap (with keeper string), USB cable for PC and Mac, serial cable for PC (not for Mac), video out cable, neck strap and software bundle. The software for the PC/Windows users is quite adequate, you get the PhotoSmart C500 Photo Imaging Software, Ulead's PhotoExplorer, PhotoImpact 4.2 & COOL 360. Adobe Photo Deluxe Business Edition comes with the model C500xi package only. For the Mac user you only get Digita Desktop from Flashpoint - as far as I know, I'm a PC user and I can't tell if anything else is on the Mac CD - this is what the documentation tells me.
For a manual you get a "Basics" guide (30 page pocket size thing) and a foldout Quick Start sheet. Inside the Basics guide in about a dozen places it tells you to go online to find the Full Manual, an Adobe Acrobat PDF file. Needless to say if you aren't online, you're out of luck as far as the real manual goes.
I was quite amazed to see that the camera only used three AA batteries as the power source. Most other cameras use four batteries and they're pretty hard on them if you use the LCD often. It was no big surprise that the C500 goes through a set of fully charged batteries fairly quickly, especially if you use the LCD and motorized zoom a lot. I think that once you do use the LCD you probably won't want to use it very often -- its refresh rate is incredibly slow. For playback it is OK but it makes you wonder if your pictures are as bad as they look on the screen. Thankfully, once you download them into the computer they look a LOT better than they way they did on that little LCD.
Possibly the most annoying thing about the C500 is the shutter lag. Outdoors in the bright sunlight where most cameras would focus the fastest, it took nearly 2 seconds before it locked the AF. After getting the focus lock it took another second and a half after pushing the shutter button fully before the picture was captured. With a shutter delay of this length grabbing a shot of anything that is moving fast is nearly impossible. The shutter lag time was just as bad indoors when using the flash.
There are some good qualities to this camera. The USB port functions as it should, the download speed was comparable to other USB-enabled cameras that we have tested recently. The Eye Start feature is really cool. When the camera is turned on and has gone to sleep all you do is put it up to your face and it "senses" this and turns the camera back on again. If you happen to have one of HP's JetSend-enabled printers then you will be able to print pictures right out of the camera without plugging in a cable. You can also "share" pictures back and forth between two cameras using the invisible infrared beam.
The image quality is good, the color, saturation and sharpness is about average when compared to all the other 2 megapixel cameras we've used. I was surprised at how small the file sizes were for even the highest quality 1600 x 1200 pixel images. It has no uncompressed mode or movie mode. Low light performance is about what you would expect from a camera with a low sensitivity rating of ISO 80. The "Handheld" option limits shutter speeds to 1/8 sec or faster, turning this options off gives you access to shutter speeds out to 2 seconds. You cannot select shutter speeds or aperture values, this is an automatic camera.
Given the current MSRP and street price of this camera I cannot give it very high marks for consumer value. You'd do better to grab up a Nikon 950 or an Olympus C- 2020 for less money. I hope I'll have better things to say when the new PhotoSmart C912 SLR comes out, it looks like it could be a good camera.
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