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As I have occasionally mentioned in the past, one of my more unusual hobbies is collecting old digital cameras. I don't mean the real antiques, but rather the relatively neglected models from five or so years ago, which often turn out to be surprisingly good second-hand bargains. I have a whole (big!) box full of these cameras, and even that is now long past being anywhere near large enough for my collection. It's a fun hobby, though, and it's always interesting to get hold of a camera you haven't used before and put it through its paces.
And such a one is the HP Photosmart 433, which dates from 2003-4 but which in all honesty looks a couple of years older than that. It is a basic point-and-shoot, two-AA battery powered, three megapixel model, and given its looks you are really not going to fool anyone that you are using anything better. I have to admit that I really don't like the styling at all; the brick-like shape isn't *that* bad, and the sliding lens cover is acceptable (though Olympus did it better) but even though it's not all that large really, the 433 seems quite unwieldy both to the eye and in the hand. The specs claim it weighs 200 grams, which is indeed heavier than even many modern zoom cameras.
Right then, on to the special features. You can attach audio clips to still photos, which can be handy, and... er... well, that's about it for extras, really. Well, okay, there was a dock for charging and suchlike, but I've never actually seen one. Otherwise, to find anything of real interest you'd need to count things like the 3x digital zoom, which nobody really should as it's a pretty pointless feature at the best of times. Unsurprisingly, there is no optical zoom at all, so you are stuck with a fixed focal length equivalent to 36mm on a film camera. Worse, it's a fixed focus lens (rather than autofocus) and so anything less than about a metre away is unlikely to come out well.
The rear of the 433 continues its rather unimpressive feel. Oh, there are plenty of buttons - eight of them, if you count the two zoom buttons, which as I say are really rather pointless - but they're not that well laid out, and they don't feel all that secure. (Actually build quality as a whole is not brilliant, though it's not as bad as on some cameras I've seen.) The LCD screen is the usual size for older cameras of 1.5 inches, which would be okay despite its rather blurry resolution if you didn't keep having to turn it on by pressing the "Live View" button. The manual (which is, surprisingly perhaps, very comprehensive) warns you in no uncertain terms that using the screen runs down the batteries - which it does, but the optical viewfinder is pretty dingy, so I don't think it's really worth the bother.
Although, as I said, there's not much exciting in terms of controls, you do get a modicum of choice as to how you take your photos. There are the usual exposure compensation and white balance settings (there's no manual white balance, but then I wouldn't have expected one on a camera like this), and you can choose to set the ISO - though the manual doesn't seem to like the idea of users doing this, sternly pointing out that "[t]he Auto setting works the best"! There's also a movie mode, which is not great even by the standards of the day, offering 320x240 at 20 fps; interestingly it uses MPEG1 compression, which helps a bit in terms of saving space on the (SD format) memory card.
The Achilles heel of many cheap cameras is what actually matters most, ie photo quality, and unfortunately that is the case with the 433. Even at the top (three star) quality setting, the results really are not up to scratch. Of course it is the case that a bad workman blames his tools, but while the most important piece of equipment in photography is the person pressing the shutter button, I think most people would be dissatisfied with the results from this camera. They're not very sharp and the colours are washed out and lacking in punch, with even photos in bright sunshine looking as though they were taken on a misty day.
It would be wrong to say that the HP Photosmart 433 is a complete disaster, since it is not quite that bad, though it is outclassed by many, many other cameras of the same age. It is nevertheless better in terms of results than a toy camera, and possibly its simplicity and lack of zoom lens to get damaged would make it suitable for a child's first camera - although the fiddly LCD and control buttons might well prove frustrating. However, I would certainly not recommend paying over about £10 for one if it comes up on eBay, since even at that price there are better cameras than this about. Unless you have a really good reason to get this (such as collecting old cameras!) then it is not recommended.