One of last year’s hottest products was the excellent Olympus Mju digital camera range, specifically the 300, 350 and 400 models. They were sleek, sexy, took great pictures and had one unique selling point: they were splashproof. You could take them out in the rain, use them in the spray of a sailing boat or simply pass them around at a nightclub without fear of ruining the delicate electronics inside.
Naturally other camera manufacturers are keen to emulate Olympus’s success, so this year several weatherproof models have been launched in time for the Summer holidays, including the Ricoh 400G, the completely waterproof Pentax Optio WP and 43WR, further models in the Olympus Mju range and this, the HP Photosmart M22.
Available for under £85, the 4.0 megapixel Photosmart M22 is one of the lowest-priced major brand cameras on the market, which makes its watersports credentials all the more impressive. It is also the smallest and cheapest camera to feature HP’s Adaptive Lighting technology and in-camera red-eye reduction.
The M22 is described as weatherproof, which is not the same as waterproof. While Pentax’s outstanding Optio WP can be immersed at depths of 1.5m for up to 30 minutes, the HP M22 is only able to withstand splashes, rain and spray, but even that will be an advantage if you lead an active lifestyle. It has a reasonably sturdy aluminium body, the controls are all rounded and recessed, and when not in use the lens is protected by a sliding cover, which also doubles as the on/off switch.
The LCD screen is slightly recessed, but not sufficiently to protect it from scratches or fingerprints. Due to the size and simplicity of the camera the controls are easy to operate one-handed, although despite its small overall size the M22 is not particularly a slim camera and makes quite a bulge in a shirt pocket. However this does make it easier to grip than some competing models, helped by the concave thumb grip on the back panel.
Budget cameras like the M22 often have the same CCD sensor as more expensive models, but the manufacturers save money on lenses, processors and LCD monitors, which are usually of much lower quality. The M22 has a 1.5in LCD monitor that looks positively tiny compared to the 2 and 2.5in monitors on cameras I have reviewed recently. It has a display resolution of 280 x 220, offering up just 61,600 pixels, about half the resolution of most other camera monitors. The lack of sophistication in the camera’s electronics is revealed by the very noticeable lag in the on-screen image, and the very poor low light performance.
Unsurprisingly the camera has no AF illuminator, so framing shots in dimly lit conditions is almost impossible. The screen is also quite dim and difficult to see in bright sunlight, which limits the camera’s usefulness as an outdoor sports model, especially since it doesn’t have an optical viewfinder. Even with the monitor brightness set to maximum I found it very difficult to frame subjects in bright conditions, and missed several good shots because I simply couldn’t see what I was aiming at.
The lens, always the most important single component on any camera, is also of rather inferior quality. It is equipped with a very small fixed-length F2.8-6.5 lens equivalent to approximately 36.5mm on a 35mm SLR. In other words there is no optical zoom on this camera. It does have a 6x digital zoom, but as I’ve explained in previous reviews this is best avoided. Even on quite sophisticated cameras digital zoom degrades the image quality by enlarging the pixels in the centre of the frame and discarding the rest.