The LCD monitor screen is a bit on the small side for a modern camera, but considering the budget price tag perhaps a 1.5in screen is all one should expect, however at least the M417 makes good use of it, and in a rather unexpected way. The menu system has the usual range of features you’d find on any budget snapshot camera, including EV compensation, ISO settings, white balance and colour mode, but at the end of the list is another unique HP feature and again something so simple but intelligent that it’s astonishing that it isn’t present on every digital camera. It has a help menu, offering advice on how to use the camera, including explanations of all the controls, shooting modes and accessories, how to shoot pictures and movies, how to manage batteries, how to copy and print images and much more.
These are just text files and take up very little space in the camera’s memory, but they are an invaluable aid for the novice photographer. Very few people will even read the manual, let alone carry it about with them, so it makes perfect sense to build the manual into the camera. It’s got a display screen anyway, so why not use it?
In general performance, unfortunately the M417 doesn’t shine as brightly as it might. It takes a yawn-inducing four seconds to start up, and in burst mode it can only manage to shoot four frames in four seconds – it would seem that four is the magic number as far as HP is concerned. In normal mode it can only manage a shot every 2.5 seconds, and if Adaptive Lighting is used this drops to a lengthy four seconds (yep, four again), due to the processing time required. The one-button video mode is quick and easy to use, but sadly the results are fairly poor, managing only 320 x 240 at 15fps, although it will at least shoot until the memory card is full.
But it’s picture quality, always the final criterion for any digital camera, that is unfortunately the M417’s Achilles heel. Although the results from the Adaptive Lighting technology are impressive from a technical standpoint, the actual images can become very noisy as the camera increases the gain on the CCD to catch shadow details. Other images shot without the Adaptive Lighting also show signs of excessive noise reduction, with blurred out fine detail and some distinctly odd colour artifacts. Images containing bright highlights also have an unacceptable level of purple fringing.
Despite these rather serious flaws, the camera does have a number of good points. Focusing is very quick and accurate, colour rendition is accurate and exposure is also precise. The Adaptive Lighting technology could, under the right circumstances, create a very good picture, but the trick is to only use it when you need it.
All in all, the M417 isn’t a bad camera at all. It is well made, easy to use and has several very clever features not seen on any other camera at this price. It’s just a shame that picture quality is so disappointing.
As a beginners camera, the M417 has much to commend. It’s cheap, well made, has a good if rather basic specification, and sports several technical innovations that will help the novice user to take better pictures. The Adaptive Lighting technology still needs a little work, but it can produce very good pictures in circumstances that would defeat a normal camera. Shame about the image quality though.