Published on September 26, 2012 4:55 PM

HP Returns to the Camera Market ... Kind Of

At last week's Photokina camera and photography show, we spotted four HP-branded cameras. So five years after giving up on this particular product sector (in Europe, at least), could the American tech firm be back in the game? Well, not quite, as these cameras have been made under licence for HP by Vistaquest, a firm that specialises in making unbranded products and waterproof snappers for kids.

In the early days of digital cameras, the first truly affordable consumer compacts arrived on the market boasting 1-Megapixel sensors, 2x zooms and 1.8" screens. Among the first manufacturers to launch into this fledgling product sector was Hewlett-Packard, alongside the likes of Epson, Kodak, Casio, Canon and more.

Fast forward to 2012. It's been five years since HP last made a digital camera, as the Photosmart range was quietly shelved in the autumn of 2007. However, four new HP cameras are now due to launch. And yet HP's stand at this year's Photokina was entirely dedicated to print solutions, with not a digital camera in sight. Curious! Anyway, after a quick tour of the hall for smaller manufacturers, we found the said devices on the Vistaquest stand.

So while these cameras may be HP-branded, HP isn't actually building them itself. That's being taken care of by Vistaquest, a small tech manufacturer that's making and distributing these products under a global licensing agreement with HP.

According to the rep we managed to corner, the idea is to make a set of "not too low-cost" cameras—classic entry-level models, in other words.

The range comprises two (or possibly three) HP compacts, two mini-bridges (no viewfinder) and a camcorder.

The s510 has a 16-Megapixel sensor, a 5x zoom lens and films 720p HD video. However, there's no real stabilisation system (apart from digital stabilisation) and it only has a 2.5" screen with pretty tight viewing angles.

The s520 has a bigger, but not necessarily better, screen, as well as an 8x zoom. We should point out that Vistaquest/HP didn't give us any equivalent focal ranges for its cameras' lenses, but we'd guess the wide-angle will be equivalent to around 26 mm.

The d3000 is a bridge with a 21x zoom that runs on standard AA batteries. Thankfully, this model get optical stabilisation, although it's still pretty basic on the whole.

The d3500 is the highest-end model in the range, boasting a 36x zoom, a regular camera battery and a 14-Megapixel sensor. However, there's still no sign of Full HD video. The camera interface is very reminiscent of last year's Fujifilm cameras, especially with that characteristic on/off switch. You certainly get a lot of zoom with this camera, but its screen is still pretty poor and there's no viewfinder—lining up a shot at arm's length at an equivalent focal length of around 800 mm may prove somewhat tricky ...

A model know as the p550 with a 16-Megapixel sensor and a 12.5x zoom lens we already know only too well was also on the stand but didn't feature in the product catalogue we were later given—mysterious.

Finally, HP is also outing a camcorder, the t250, with a 5-Megapixel sensor and a 5x zoom. It films in Full HD resolution at 30 fps.

All in all, when you think that the original HP Photosmart cameras were innovative devices at the cuting-edge of a new product sector, the 2012 range pales into insignificance. But Vistaquest is aware of this, and is counting on HP's brand image in the US to pull it through. The firm isn't expecting sales to be quite as high in Europe.

> Compact and Bridge Camera Reviews
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