HP PhotoSmart 620 Review
The HP PhotoSmart 620 is an entry level 2.1 Megapixel 3x zoom compact digicam with a MSRP of $199 (as of 08/2002). It is the littlest brother to the Photosmart 720 (3.15 Megapixel and 3x zoom) and the Photosmart 812 (4 Megapixel and 3x zoom.) The Photosmart 620 offers a combination of good image quality with 'point -N- shoot' ease of use. There are no advanced camera modes, this is simply designed to be a snap shooter's camera.
The 620 is equipped with a 3x Zoom, 5.4 to 16.2mm lens (equivalent to 35-105mm on a 35mm camera), with a fast F2.8 maximum aperture which makes it a better than average performer in fairly low-light situations. It does fail to focus in VERY dim scenes as there is no focus assist illumination that some makers are including. A continuous auto focus down to less than 4 inches (10cm) allows you to shoot impressive close ups of small objects (see Sample Photos page.) The lens exhibits the usual amount of mild barrel distortion in full wide angle like most in its class. When you turn off the camera the zoom lens ratchets into the camera and you attach the clip-on lens cap. The cap can be attached to the body with the included lanyard to prevent its being misplaced.
The start-up time from turning on the camera until the first picture can be snapped is a little above average at 7 seconds. It's shot- to- shot time is a little less than 4 seconds and with flash its admirably about the same. It does not have a continuous mode but I was able to take 3 frames in 11 seconds, one after the other, until it filled the buffer and after 13 seconds of "processing," I could take one more frame. It took 25 seconds of image processing time to clear the buffer totally(non- flash and in Best quality setting.) It has a digital 4x zoom feature to quadruple the focal length of it's 3x optical zoom lens at the severe expense of image quality. Most digicam owners experience digital zoom once and realize it's shortcomings.
Small cameras also mean small LCD displays, the HP 620 isn't the smallest but the LCD is on the smaller end of the current spectrum. It has a 1.5-inch color LCD display for viewing and reviewing your images. The refresh rate when used as a viewfinder (requires manually turning it on each time) is very close to real time, there is no smearing or herky-jerky motion when panning. It is somewhat bright but I wouldn't say it's any easier to use in the bright sun than most other LCD displays that still have a highly reflective surface. The optical viewfinder is the best choice for most picture- taking tasks other than 3.9" minimum close-ups. It saves your battery power and allows the camera to be put up to your eye which is the way most of us are used to holding a camera. The optical viewfinder shows about 90% of the captured image but offers no viewfinder information other than a set of cross-hairs for focus area marks.
The HP 620 is powered by four AA size batteries. I used the camera with a pair of 1800mAH NiMh type rechargeable batteries and was unimpressed with the runtime even with the color LCD not turned on too often. The AA alkaline batteries that come with the camera serve well as emergency back-ups as the NiMh's have 3-5 times the power. The optional HP 8881 Digital Dock includes a set of NiMH batteries and charges them whenever the camera is docked. The buttons on the front of the dock let you quickly download images to the computer, output to a HP photo printer or display a slide show on your TV set. You could easily fill a 64MB size SD memory card with an all-day visit to your favorite park using a couple sets of NiMh batteries but keep the alkalines in the camera bag as a backup set and remember this LCD is a serious power monger - extra batteries are your friend.
In THREE STAR (Best:1632x1232,low image compression) mode the max. file size is about 900KB, in TWO STAR (Better:1632x1232, high compression) about 500KB and in ONE STAR (Good: 800x600) images are about 80KB. It also records up to thirty second 320 x 240 silent movie clips and no longer do you have to go into a menu and change the exposure mode to switch to movie capture. One shutter release for stills and an adjacent button for start and stop of movies -- kudos to HP for adding this useful feature. Another advantage was the removable Secure Digital card capability. Many cameras in this price point (under $200) do not have removable memory but force you to download to a computer when you fill the resident memory. The HP 620 comes with an internal 8MB memory and accepts up to the 128MB Secure Digital cards. A 'must have' accessory would be to add a 64MB card.
Overall the image quality of the HP620 was impressive. Outdoors a wide angle lens will "see" a lot of bright sky and the metering system tends to underexpose foreground objects. This was infrequently the case with this camera. The Auto White Balance (AWB) is accurate and does excel in comparison to other cameras in this price point.
If you want a $199(08/2002), no frills, no fuss digicam that is capable of making very nice 4x6" up to full frame 8x10" prints with 'point -N- shoot ease, then the HP 620 may be just what you are looking for. The price point and simple image quality are the attractions and should attract many 'snap shooters' this fall.
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