Reviewing my childhood digital camera, the HP PhotoSmart C200
Updated: Feb 15, 2019
The HP Photosmart C200 holds a special place in my photography heart. This camera was for my family the first experience they had with a digital camera. Before our family had this camera we would use cameras sparingly due to the cost of film and development. My parents didn’t have any good cameras. My mom owned a Vivitar PS40, a cheap point-and-shoot at the time. When we got our C200 we almost immeadeatly started shooting a constant stream of pictures with this camera. We took pictures of everything in our lives. This camera was even with my father when he hiked to the top of Mt Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous US.
Since we already had a color printer it was revolutionary for us when we started printing pictures at home. Even though the photos we printed left a lot to be desired, it was exciting to be able to produce a photograph and print it at home for pennies.
The PhotoSmart C200 was Announced in August of 1999, just in time for the millennium and a new era of photography. This camera was HP’s fourth attempt at getting the digital camera right. The c200 shares a lot with it’s two true predecessors, in fact the earlier Photosmart C20 looks to be almost identical to the C200. The camera would debut at only $400. If you look at another post here reviewing the Argus DC3200 you would see that at the time the C200 was released there were other cameras like the DC3200 that were also boasting 1MP resolution. The C200 has a growing but tough market to push into. The c200 has a resolution of 1152x872, a f=6mm /F2.8-F11 lens, bigger and better than many in its class. The digital shutter was capable of anywhere from 2s to 1/500s.
You can really see how ergonomics were a major priority in the design of this camera. Like the c20 the C200 answers the problem of shape in a camera needing to somehow go from being generally a rectangle for utility, to the shape of the human hand for comfort and grips’ sake. By creating a gentle “S” shape to the camera with a bulge on the left side, ones hand feels natural gripping the camera. Strategic rubber helps with the grip. On the right side is the movable power switch which covers the lens when not in use. The power switch slider has grooves for grip. This was a good design choice because it helps keep fingers away from blocking the lens. Several contemporaries to the C200 that I’ve used had a problem with fingers wanting to rest in front of the lens
For storage the camera uses Compact Flash. The camera came with an 8MB card but even back in 1999 an upgrade to something like 32MB would have been very affordable. This cost would quickly be offset by the lack of need for film.
Power for this camera is supplied by 4 AA batteries. The thing that was always annoying about old digital cameras was the need to constantly replace batteries. The c200 has a very well designed system though that allowed for the batteries to last a very long time. The C200 that I bought took 60 images with no signs of the battery being low. The impressive battery life is no doubt in part thanks to the system designed by Konica. The same company that merged with Minolta. The camera also has chips from NEC and Ricoh. HP was smart and knew that they didn’t have the skill-set needed to reinvent the camera, so they took from good stock to design their own unique camera.
Shooting with this camera feels strange. There is no clicking sound of the shutter but rather the digital shutter silently fires, followed a second later by a beep to confirm the image was taken. The lack of feedback and delays between pushing the button and hearing the beep leads to many missed or blurry pictures. Also frustrating is the 7 second interval between shots. The camera is limited to an ISO of only 100. The viewfinder has a cross-hairs which is kind of useless but looks cool.
There is live view on this camera but it is very choppy and blurry. Still this camera manages to produce some decent pictures once you get used to its limitations.
If you give this camera a chance it can take some pretty remarkable photos by 1999 standards.
By all means if you come across one of these cameras it's worth picking up. As far as vintage digital cameras go this is a great specimen from 1999. It holds a special place in my camera collection.