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The R837 takes its style cues from Sony's much more expensive Cyber-shot T-series cameras. Like the T-cameras, the R837's most prominent design aspect is its lens cover, a hard plastic shield that slides down to reveal the lens as well as turn on the camera. The cover protects the camera's lens from bumps and scratches, but its smaller and looser design doesn't look or function nearly as well as those of Sony's T-series. The small, rectangular shield covers only a portion of the camera's length, and its loose sliding mechanism tends to jam when you push down on it from anywhere but the exact center of the cover. This can make turning on the camera with one hand a frustrating task.
The camera's back panel lacks the stylish--and awkward--touches of its front. Rather, it sports a simple, direct layout and a large, 3-inch LCD screen. A large, square directional pad offers access to most of the R837's settings, and HP's signature L-shaped zoom rocker fits comfortably under the thumb. The top edge of the camera holds a sliding mode switch and two smaller buttons for accessing scene presets and flash controls. They're not quite as easy to finger as the directional pad and can prove slightly frustrating if you plan on switching shooting modes often.
The R837 comes loaded with several features for shooting, editing, and organizing photos directly on the camera. The camera's Design Gallery mode can crop, recolor, retouch, and apply a variety of artistic effects to photos. The R837 can also take out red-eye from both people and pets, distinguishing it as the first Photosmart camera to do so; lower-end HP cameras can remove red-eye from peoples' portraits, but they won't fix Rover's peepers.
A tagging system lets you organize your photos on the camera, filing them under any of nine categories, such as Family, Pets, or Vacation, though you can't create a category of your own. You can flag certain photos as favorites, though, so it's easy to mark which shots to keep and which shots to trash. Once organized in the camera, you can upload your photos to your computer and view them, presorted, in the included Photosmart 2.0 image-editing program.
The camera doesn't have many settings beyond sensitivity (aka ISO), white balance, and exposure compensation, though it does include 12 preset scene modes for shooting in different situations. Besides standard shooting modes such as high-speed, portrait, and landscape, the R837 has two panoramic shot modes that can frame and stitch together as many as five shots into a single ultrawide image.
Despite all of its software bells and whistles, the R837 performed sluggishly in our tests. After a 2.5-second wake-up time, the camera rattled off a new shot every 1.6 seconds. Its shutter performed admirably in bright light, lagging only 0.5 second. In low light, however, it took 1.3 seconds to focus and shoot. In burst mode,the R837 captured three shots in 1.4 seconds, for a solid average of 2.1 frames per second.
We were not impressed with the pictures produced by the R837. While noise never reaches horrific levels, thanks in part to the R837's meager top sensitivity of ISO 400, it is more prominent than we typically expect at each of its ISO settings. Even at ISO 100, which should usually be quite clean, we clearly saw noise when viewing images on computer monitors, though this noise likely won't be as noticeable in prints. At ISO 200, noise is markedly worse, slightly obscuring some finer details and sucking some of the detail from shadows. At ISO 400, noise is abundant, becoming especially annoying on computer monitors, though smaller prints will still likely be useable. However, finer details and much of the shadow detail go out the window at ISO 400.
Beyond the noise, image artifacts tended to soften and obscure fine details such as text and hair. We also noticed an excessive amount of fringing, to the point that white objects against dark backgrounds often appeared to have fuzzy pink halos.
HP has learned to do some amazing things with the processing inside its cameras, but sometimes all this processing doesn't help. We feel that the R837 works a bit too hard to make photos look bright and high-contrast, sometimes at the expense of dynamic range, giving its photos an overly two-dimensional, somewhat unreal look. The upside of this is that camera's automatic white balance does an admirable job of neutralizing the color cast caused by incandescent lights. The fluorescent setting also neutralized colors nicely, but ended up blowing out a lot of highlights as well.
The HP Photosmart R837 distinguishes itself with its attractive design and numerous onboard editing and organizing options. Unfortunately, fringing and softening plague its photos, while its wiggly lens cover will quickly get on your nerves. If you absolutely need a budget snapshot camera with a sliding lens cover, the R837 is probably your only option. If the distinctive design isn't your biggest concern, you can easily find a solid, inexpensive shooter to outshine the R837. Consider instead the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 or the Kodak EasyShare C875. They don't have the same sliding style as the R837, but they shoot better photos, and at faster speeds.
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Time to first shot||Shutter lag (typical)|