DCRP Review: HP Photosmart 935
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: July 7, 2003
Last Updated: July 7, 2003

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The Photosmart 935 ($449) is HP's first 5 Megapixel camera. While at first glance, it may look like just another compact 5 Megapixel camera, the 935 has two features that really make it sound out. For one, the HP Instant Share system allows you to "tag" photos for printing [at home or online], e-mailing, and sharing online. The second feature is one I've never seen before: an in-camera help system. More on both of these later.

How does the 935 compare with other 5MP compact cameras? Find out in our review!

What's in the Box?

The Photosmart 935 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.1 (effective) Mpixel Photosmart 935 camera
  • 32MB Secure Digital card
  • Two AA Lithium batteries (non-rechargeable)
  • Wrist strap
  • Dock insert
  • USB cables (one for computers, one for printers)
  • CD-ROM featuring HP Photo & Imaging software and drivers
  • 116 page camera manual (printed)

The Photosmart 935's bundle isn't wondrous, except for the included software, which I really like.

HP includes a 32MB Secure Digital (SD) card with the camera. That's enough to get started with, but you'll want something larger right away. The 935 supports both SD and MMC cards; SD cards come as large as 512MB as of this writing.

You're on your own when it comes to batteries. HP includes two throwaway (or should I say, recyclable) AAs with the camera. Since the camera uses only two batteries, picking up a four pack of NiMH rechargeables plus a faster charger seems like a wise idea to me. HP does not publish any data about expected battery life. From my usage, it seems to drink batteries... either that or my batteries don't hold much of a charge anymore.

The 935 supports HP's new Photosmart 8886 camera dock ($79). This is probably the nicest camera dock out there.

If you buy the camera dock, you'll get two NiMH rechargeable batteries, plus everything you see above. The camera dock has three functions:

  • Share photos and videos (when connected to your computer)
  • Recharge batteries (NiMH only)
  • Remote control photo viewing on your TV

The dock has two buttons on it: save/print and TV. The ports on it include video out, USB 2.0 high speed, and DC-in. Note that the only way you're going to view photos on the TV is by purchasing the dock. The camera itself does not have video output.

I'll have more on the sharing features of the camera a bit later.

Other camera accessories include an AC adapter ($49), plus two accessory kits. Accessory kit Y1789B ($49) includes a camera case, battery charger, and 4 NiMH batteries. Accessory kit C8889A ($79) includes all of that plus a car power adapter and 32MB SD card. (I just love HP's model numbering).

The Photosmart 935 has a built-in lens cover. As you can see, this is a pretty small camera.

The area where HP's Photosmart cameras really shine is in the software department. HP's Photo & Imaging Software is for Mac OS 8/9, Mac OS X, and Windows. Combined with the Instant Share system on the camera (more on that later), HP has created a system that lets you easily share photos in a number of ways.

Above is the main part of the software, known as HP Gallery, where you can view and edit photos. The software can do basic photo editing like adjusting contrast, sharpening/blurring, and removing redeye. You can crop and rotate photos as well.

The most impressive parts of the software package are the photo sharing tools. You can share photos via prints, websites, e-mail, or even CDs, all using the HP software.

Selecting a few photos are clicking on the E-Mail button brings up this screen. The software will downsize the photos for you and send them to your e-mail program.

Printing photos is very easy as well, as the screen shot above details.

If you've got a CD-R/RW drive, one of the coolest features it he ability to create a CD with your photos.

Using the HP Memories Disc Creator Software, you can make a Video CD containing your photos. They are presented as a slide show, and you can even pick a song from your MP3 collection to use as background music. The whole process takes just a few minutes, and then you've got a CD you can share with friends and family. The catch is that you need a fairly modern DVD player to read these discs (most computers can see them), and the Video CD quality isn't the greatest. Still, it's a nice product to include with the camera.

All of this software is Mac OS X native, by the way. You will need to change the USB mode to "Disk Drive" using the setup menu, in order for your Mac to see the camera.

The camera manual is well laid-out and easy to read, with lots of detail. It's not overly technical (they don't tell you what changing the aperture does, nor what the available values are, for example) but it's still better than average.

Look and Feel

The Photosmart 935 is a compact, plastic camera that easily fits in your hand. Despite its plastic construction, the camera feels solid. Controls are well-placed and you can operate the 935 with ease with just one hand.

The official dimensions of the camera are 3.8 x 2.6 x 1.8 inches (W x H x D, excluding protrusions), and it weighs 225 grams empty.

Let's start our tour of the Photosmart 935 now, beginning with the front.

The Photosmart 935 uses an F2.6, 3X optical zoom lens, made by Pentax. The lens has a focal range of 7.6 - 22.8 mm, which is equivalent to 37 - 111 mm. The camera does not support add-on lenses.

To the upper-right of the lens is the built-in flash. The working range of the flash varies: it ranges from 1.3 - 2.5 m at wide-angle and 2.5 - 5.1 m at telephoto (both depending on the ISO setting). The 935 does not support an external flash -- not surprising for a compact camera.

To the upper-left of the lens is the self-timer lamp, with the microphone just left of that. I was disappointed to see that HP left out an AF-assist lamp on this camera, after having one on the Photosmart 850.

The 935 has an average-sized (for a compact camera) 1.5" LCD display. The LCD is high resolution and images are nice and sharp. The brightness can be adjusted in the setup menu.

Directly above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is fairly large for a small camera. There is no diopter correction feature, though. To the upper-right of that is the power button.

Continuing to the right, we find the zoom controller, which moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in under two seconds.

To the right of the LCD are three buttons: record (turns LCD on/off), playback, and Instant Share.

What is Instant Share? It's a system, similar to Kodak's EasyShare system, that lets you "tag" photos for e-mail and printing. Press the button, and you'll be presented with this screen:

You can choose to print a photo (to select HP printers), or mark it for e-mailing. After setting up your e-mail contacts in the software on your computer, they'll be on the list in the menu. Just choose the recipient, and next time you connect to your Mac or PC, it'll be sent. You can add individual addresses, or set up a group distribution list.

Back to our tour now. To the right of those three buttons is the four-way switch, with the "ok" button in the middle. The four-way switch is used for menu navigation as well as adjusting the exposure compensation (-3.0EV to +3.0EV in 1/2EV increments).

To the right of the four-way switch you can see the plastic door that covers the memory card slot, along with a card access light.

Up on top of the Photosmart 935, we find the mode wheel, focus, flash, movie, and shutter release buttons, and the speaker.

The mode wheel has five choices:

  • Action mode
  • Landscape mode
  • Portrait mode
  • Auto record
  • Aperture priority mode

The aperture priority mode will let you select an aperture manually, and the camera will choose an appropriate shutter speed. By changing the aperture you can adjust the depth-of-field. I wish the 935 had shutter speed control as well, since most of the competition does. Also, the aperture choices are very limited; you'll get just two values (high and low) to choose from.

The focus button will allow you to set the focus to macro or infinity. The flash button moves between off, fill flash, and slow sync. Redeye reduction is turned on in the record menu. Press either of these and the LCD shows you the current camera settings and shots remaining:

The movie button (bottom right) is a little strange. As you can see, there's no movie option on the mode wheel. So you just press the movie button to start recording, and press it again when you're done. If the memory card fills up first, the movie will stop recording.

On this side of the camera, you'll find the I/O ports, which are protected by a rubber cover. The ports include USB 2.0 (high speed) and DC-in (for optional AC adapter). If you thought the Photosmart 850 was bad, with HP making the video out cable optional, the 935 is even worse. The camera doesn't even have a video out port, and if you want to hook into a TV, you need to buy the $80 camera dock.

Over on the other side, behind a plastic door, is the SD/MMC card slot.

You can also see the 32MB SD card that is included with the camera.

Finally, here's the bottom of the Photosmart 935. The battery compartment is on the left, and it holds just two AA batteries. Just to the right of that is where the dock connector is. A rubber cover protects it from dirt and dust.

To the right of that is the plastic tripod mount, which is neither centered, nor inline with the lens.

Using the HP Photosmart 935

Record Mode

The Photosmart 935 takes over 4.5 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting. The camera does not turn on the LCD by default -- you must hit the "record" button to turn it on.

Focus speeds are about average. It takes 1/2 sec for the camera to focus in good lighting, and longer if it has to "hunt". I was a bit disappointed with its performance under indoor lighting. The 935 couldn't focus on my computer setup a few feet away under a pretty bright light. In dim light, locking the focus was a rare occurrence.

Press the shutter release fully and the picture is taken after a slight lag.

The 935's shot-to-shot speed is good: it's about 2 seconds before you can take another shot. One thing to keep in mind is that there is always a post-shot review on this camera -- there's no way to turn it off. You can half-press the shutter release to go back to taking pictures while the last one is shown on the LCD.

After a picture is taken, you can press the OK button to delete it, before it is saved to the memory card. If you want to record up to 60 seconds of audio along with your image, keep the shutter release button held down when you take a picture.

The Photosmart 935 is one of those cameras that is always ready to shoot. Whether you're in playback mode or the menus, you can still operate the zoom and quickly get back to shooting with just a half press of the shutter release button.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the 935. HP uses a "star system" to represent compression. Here are the available choices:

Resolution Compression Approx. File Size # shots on 32MB card
(included)
5MP
2608 x 1952
Best (***) 2.6 MB 11
Better (**) 1.3 MB 23
Good (*) 600 KB 48

1MP
1296 x 976

Best (***) 1.3 MB 23
Better (**) 600 KB 48
Good (*) 300 KB 96

There's no TIFF or RAW mode available on this camera. The camera names files as HPIMyyyy.JPG, where y = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the numbering even if you erase the memory card.

The Photosmart 935 has a very attractive, intuitive menu system. It's the first menu system I've used with a built-in help system, too!

What a great thing to have for beginners. One thing I've learned is that the average person has no idea what ISO sensitivity, metering, and resolution is. Each menu option has its own help option which describes what the various options do. Kudos to HP for this feature.

One annoyance to note: the camera does not store the current settings when you turn off the camera. However, you can get back to them easily by holding down the "OK" button when you turn on the camera. Note to HP: make this a menu option in the future.

Anyhow, here's a look at the menus:

  • Self-timer (Off, on, on w/2 shots) - the 2 shots option takes one photo, then another 3 seconds later. Weird.
  • White balance (Auto, sunlight, shade, tungsten, fluorescent, manual)
  • AE metering (Average, center-weighted, spot)
  • ISO speed (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Color (Full color, black & white, sepia)
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • Resolution (2608 x 1952, 1296 x 976)
  • Compression (Best, better, good)
  • Saturation (Low, medium, high)
  • Sharpness (Low, medium, high)
  • Contrast (Low, medium, high)

As you can see, the PS 935 has manual white balance control. Use it to get perfect white balance in any lighting. I was disappointed that the 935 lacks the full manual controls of the PS 850.

In addition to that menu, there's also a setup menu, with these options:

  • Camera sounds (High, low, off)
  • Date & Time (set)
  • USB configuration (Digital camera [PTP], disk drive [Mass Storage]) - If you're using a Mac, you need to use Disk Drive mode.
  • TV configuration (NTSC, PAL)
  • Language (English, Deutsch, Español, Français, Italiano)

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The 935 did a decent job with this shot. The colors aren't perfect, but they're close enough. One thing that I noticed in the full-size image are some "jaggies" on the edges. You should be able to spot them too. The focal range in macro mode is 14 - 70 cm at wide-angle, and 40 - 70 cm at telephoto, which isn't spectacular. The camera will flash a warning message on the LCD if you are too close to the subject.

I was fogged in at the usual locations, so it was back to City Hall for the first time in months. "Decent" is also the word that I'd use to describe this shot. Purple fringing is fairly low, but noise levels are higher than I would've liked (especially for a 1/2 sec exposure at ISO 100). I was a little frustrated with the 935 on an earlier night photo outing to Treasure Island. The camera picked a shutter speed that was way too long (8 seconds, when it really needed half of that), which did not give good results. I wish the camera had real shutter speed control.

Compact camera + redeye = not surprising. The flash is very close to the lens, which is often a cause of nasty redeye like this. You can fix it pretty well in software.

The distortion test shows minor barrel distortion and just a slight hint of softness in the corners.

Overall, the Photosmart 935's photo quality was quite good, with nice color, exposure, and sharpness. The only real issues I could find were slightly higher-than-average noise levels and occasionally softness in the corners. Purple fringing was not a common problem. Have a look at the photo gallery to see for yourself.

Movie Mode

The Photosmart 935 lets you record movies, with sound, for up to 2 minutes.

Movies are saved in MPEG format, at the rather unusual (and small) resolution of 288 x 208 @ 15 frames/sec.

Unlike with the Photosmart 850, HP has disabled the zoom during filming on the 935. That's a good thing, believe it or not.

Here's a sample movie for you:


Click to play movie (2.4MB, MPEG format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The 935 has a pretty basic playback mode, aside from the Instant Share stuff I described earlier. Three pretty standard features not found here include image protection, slide shows, and thumbnail mode. The camera does have DPOF print marking, audio recording (up to 60 secs), and zoom and scroll.

The magnification feature lets you blow up the picture to 4.5X (and nothing in between), and then scroll around in the zoomed-in area. Enlarging the image takes a long time (esp. compared to other cameras I've used recently), but after that, it's smooth scrolling.

The 935 also allows you to rotate pictures on the camera -- a feature not found on the 850.

Another nice feature is the picture info option, which is in the menu. It shows you exposure info for the selected photo.

The 935 moves through images very quickly, especially considering that they are 5.1 Megapixel.

How Does it Compare?

While not a great camera for enthusiasts like yours truly, beginners will appreciate all the effort HP put into making the Photosmart 935 a very easy-to-use camera. Despite having a few manual controls, the 935 is a point-and-shoot at heart. Where the camera really shines is with the HP Instant Share system, which lets you mark photos for printing and e-mail. It doesn't get any easier than that. With the optional camera dock and remote control, you can share your photos from the comfort of the couch. The unique in-camera help system is a nice bonus. Photo quality on the 935 is very good, though certainly not class-leading. Downsides for this camera include the lack of an AF-assist lamp (and subpar AF performance), the low resolution movie mode, the lack of a video out port on the camera (HP wants you to buy the camera dock). I also have to knock HP for not storing camera settings automatically (you have to hold down the OK button to recall them). One other thing I noticed: battery life didn't seem that great.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Excellent Instant Share system + software bundle
  • In-camera help system is a nice touch
  • Manual white balance + limited aperture control
  • Optional camera dock great for showing off photos
  • USB 2.0 support

What I didn't care for:

  • No AF-assist lamp
  • AF performance could be better
  • Movie mode resolution is lower than average
  • Some noise, jaggies, softness in corners of images
  • Camera doesn't store settings by default
  • Battery life seems worse than average
  • No video out port on camera
  • Redeye

Other compact 5 Megapixel cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot S50, Casio QV-5700, Konica KD-500Z, Kyocera Finecam S5, Minolta DiMAGE F300, Olympus C-50Z, Pentax Optio 550, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P92, DSC-P10, and DSC-V1.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Photosmart 935 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photo quality stacks up in our photo gallery!

Want another opinion?

Read a review of the Photosmart 935 at Steve's Digicams.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests for personal camera recommendations.

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