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Digital cameras are just as much about advanced technology as they are optical quality, so it’s no surprise that big computer and electronics companies like Sony, Panasonic and Samsung can get in on the act. Likewise Hewlett Packard, one of America’s largest computer equipment manufacturers, makes a successful range of compact digital cameras that offer a uniquely high-tech approach to digital imaging.
HP’s corporate slogan is “HP invents”, and when you look at the list of unique features incorporated into the design of the top-of-the-range 6.2 megapixel R717 you know it’s not kidding. Although from the outside it doesn’t look much different to many of the other compact digital cameras on the market, the R717 is packed with advanced technology designed to help you take better pictures. Considering the price tag of just £175, there’s more going on behind its sleek brushed steel face than many cameras costing twice as much.
At the top of the list is HP’s innovative Adaptive Lighting Technology. As I briefly explained in the review of the HP M417 a few weeks ago, this is an image processing technology that is unique to HP, and features in most of the company’s higher-end models.
One of the problems that digital cameras have when compared to their film counterparts is a lack of dynamic range, best described as the ability to capture both shadow and highlight detail in the same shot. Adaptive Lighting overcomes this problem in a simple and ingenious way. When it is activated the camera captures two images of the same scene simultaneously, one exposed for the highlights and the other exposed for the shadows. The camera then seamlessly combines them into one image with greater effective dynamic range than either alone. It’s simple, and as you can see from the accompanying sample shots, it works extremely well, at least under relatively normal circumstances.
The second clever piece of technical jiggery-pokery is the in-camera automatic red-eye removal. Red-eye is most often seen on close-range flash shots of people’s faces. It is caused by light from the built-in flash entering the eye through the night-adapted dilated pupil and bouncing off the blood-rich cornea at the back of the eye.
The R717 can automatically detect the presence of red eyes and paint them over with small black circles. It has to be said that the result isn’t as good as manually correcting red-eye in a good image editing program, but it does work surprisingly well.
That’s not all though. The R717 also has automatic in-camera panorama stitching with on-screen preview, an adaptive white balance system that identifies the type of light being used and automatically compensates to ensure accurate colour balance, adaptive tone mapping which individually optimizes each image for contrast, colour and brightness, and something called ‘automatic adaptive demosaic’, which helps to remove colour fringing from high-contrast edges.
Fortunately all this technology is simple to operate, but if you get stuck or just need some advice on taking pictures the R717 also features a built-in help file, with explanations of all the camera’s controls and how to use them, as well as general tips on picture shooting, printing, downloading and sharing your pictures. This is such a good idea I don’t know why other manufacturers don’t include a similar feature on their cameras.