HP Photosmart M417

The HP Photosmart M417 offers five-megapixel resolution for only a little money, making it a decent choice for bargain hunters and beginners, but its pictures are just average.

The M417’s 1.8-inch LCD is bright, but shows some ghosting as you pan. Buttons provide handy shortcuts to common settings, and the M417’s menus are clear and easy to navigate. The camera benefits greatly from a help system that offers guidance on adjusting settings like exposure compensation, and a Help menu that offers the Top Ten Tips (one example: “To extend battery life, turn off the Image Display…”), along with information on shooting modes, camera buttons, and other useful topics. It’s almost like having the user manual inside the camera.

The M417 doesn’t offer an overwhelming assortment of options. In addition to Automatic mode, there are Action, Landscape, Portrait, Macro, and Fast Shot modes. The Fast Shot mode fixes the focus when capturing action shots at a distance. Manual controls include ISO, white balance (though there’s no way to create custom white-balance settings), and exposure compensation (which you access via a menu, but the menu covers much of the image, making it difficult to adjust).

The M417’s startup time is about three seconds and its shutter lag is noticeable (about a second). It’s also a tad sluggish in Playback mode. Its burst mode can take as many as two shots per second for as many as four pictures.

The 3x optical zoom can focus to four inches in Macro mode, but the zoom is disabled. If you aren’t at the widest angle, the LCD displays a message saying that the camera can’t focus. I sometimes got “Focus Too Close” and “Unable to Focus” warnings, even when I framed a picture within an acceptable range.

As for image quality, the M417’s colors were accurate, but its pictures appeared soft and lacked detail. The camera’s ISO setting ranges from 100 to 400, and even at 100 ISO, noise was noticeable. I also noticed some fringing around high-contrast areas. I didn’t have a problem with red-eye, but in the case that you do, a Remove Red Eyes feature claims to remove red-eye (you apply the fix manually to a selected image in-camera). There’s also an Adaptive Lighting feature that lightens dark shadows to bring out details, but in some of my images, it blew out the highlights.

The video from this camera is disappointing. Aside from the low resolution (288-by-216 pixels), the picture is grainy, and hiss spoiled the audio.

The M417 has 16MB of internal memory and takes SD and MMC cards. The card slot is located in the battery compartment; the batteries fall out easily when you open the cover. While most compact digital cameras connect directly to a TV for viewing, the M417 requires an optional dock.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

Beginners will appreciate the HP Photosmart M417’s ease of use and help features, and the price makes this a good choice if you want a budget point-and-shoot camera. But its image quality is only average.

Jury Tests

Color Quality—Accuracy Very Good
Clarity—Detail Flawed
Clarity—Artifacts, Noise Good

Scale = Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, Unacceptable

Specifications

Resolution 5.2 megapixels
Zoom/Focal Length 3.0x Optical (36mm to 108mm)
Maximum Aperture f2.8-f4.8
Size (wxhxd) 4.2 inches x 2.1 inches x 1.4 inches
Weight 5.3 ounces

[ Robert Ellis is a freelance writer, Mac fan, and avid digital photographer. He publishes the blog Futurosity.]

HP Photosmart M417

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