DCRP Review: HP Photosmart R927
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The HP Photosmart R927 ($399) is a compact 8.1 Megapixel camera filled to the brim with unique features. When I say "features", I'm not talking about the R927's 3X zoom lens or huge 3-inch LCD. Rather, I'm talking about the various bells and whistles on the camera, many of them exclusive to HP. They include Adaptive Lighting (a kind of "digital flash"), Image Advice (tells you how to improve your photos), in-camera panorama stitching, an elaborate help system, and much more.
Of course, none of these features matter if a camera can't take good quality photos. Does the Photosmart R927 give you toys AND great photo quality? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The Photosmart R927 has a good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
HP is one of those companies that builds memory right into the camera instead of supplying a memory card. They've put 32MB of memory into the R927, which holds just seven images at the highest image quality setting. That means that you'll want to buy a memory card right away, which drives up the purchase price of the camera a bit. The camera uses Secure Digital memory cards (MMC cards work too), and I recommend a 1GB card as a good place to start. A high speed card does not appear to be necessary.
The Photosmart R927 uses HP's R07 lithium-ion rechargeable battery. This compact battery packs 3.9 Wh of energy, which is about average. Here's how that translates to battery life on the camera, and how that compares to other cameras in this class:
As you can see, the R927 turned in pretty average battery life numbers. That big 3-inch screen loves to drink batteries, so pick up a spare battery.
Speaking of which, I feel obligated to remind you about my usual complaints about proprietary batteries like the one used here. They're expensive ($47 a pop), and you can't put in a set of alkalines to get you through the rest of the day like you could with an AA-based camera.
To recharge the battery or connect to your computer you must use the included camera dock. It takes 2-3 hours to full charge the battery. If you want to charge the battery outside of the camera then you'll need to buy the external quick charger, which is only available as part of HP Accessory Kit for R-seriesApril 6, 2008t;travel pouch" and an extra battery.
As you can see, the camera dock has ports for power and USB. There's no video out port on the camera or the dock, and the only way to get one is to pony up for the $70 R-series camera dock (anyone seeing a pattern here?), which also includes a remote control.
The dock uses the old USB 1.1 protocol, so file transfers to your computer are sluggish.
As with all ultra-compact cameras, the Photosmart R927 has built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to deal with.
The accessory selection for the R927 is pretty small. HP offers extra batteries ($47), the accessory kit and dock that I mentioned earlier, and a soft case ($20).
HP includes their Photosmart Studio software with the R927. Windows users will get Photosmart Premier if their PC is modern, and Photosmart Essentials if it's a little out of date. I'll be covering the Mac version of Photosmart Studio here.
On the main screen you have your typical thumbnail view of your photos. Importing photos from the camera is easy, and you can organize them into folders. The size of the thumbnails can be adjusted with the slider in the lower-right corner. Double-clicking a photo shows it full size by default, though you can also have it go to the edit screen instead.
Other options on the main screen include printing and sharing (more on this below), slideshows, and panorama stitching.
The edit screen lets you do all this and more:
The edit window also lets you see exposure information for the selected photo.
The Photosmart Share application sets up the Photosmart Express feature on the camera (which I'll describe later). You can tag photos for e-mailing, sharing online, and printing. You can have photos printed through HP's Snapfish service or via a remote network printer. I found the web-based setup interface to be a little clumsy.
When you connect the camera with tagged photos on it, the Photosmart Share system goes to work. The camera transfers the photos and does the desired actions, which in this case include e-mailing, uploading to an online gallery, and ordering a print.
I thought it was kind of dumb how the same image had to be uploaded three separate times -- once for each action. In addition, photos aren't actually e-mailed to people: instead, they're uploaded to Snapfish, and a link to the photo is sent to the recipient.
HP definitely took a step backward in the documentation department on the Photosmart R927. Now you only get a basic 21 page manual in the box, with the full manual on CD-ROM (it was printed previously). The quality of the manuals hasn't changed -- they're still excellent and user friendly. The R927 also has a in-camera help system that I'll talk about later.
Look and Feel
The Photosmart R927 is a compact (but not tiny) metal camera. The camera is very well put together, though the brush metal surface scratches very easily. The controls are well placed for the most part, though the on/off button is hard to find and the zoom controller takes some getting used to.
Let's see how the R927 compares to other cameras in this class in terms of size and weight:
As you can see, the R927 is one of the largest and heaviest cameras in its class. It should still fit in most of your pockets just fine, though.
Enough about that, let's start our tour of the camera now.
The Photosmart R927 has a fairly standard issue 3X zoom lens, though it's a bit slower at the telephoto end than similar lenses, with a maximum aperture range of F2.8 - F5.0. The focal range of the lens is 7.5 - 22.5 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. The lens is not threaded (nor would I expect it to be).
To the upper-right of the lens you'll find the AF-assist lamp (also used as the self-timer countdown) and the microphone. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera is a focusing aid in low light situations.
Next to the HP logo is the built-in flash. HP is really vague about the working range of the flash, other than to say that the maximum range is 4.8 meters at both the wide-angle and telephoto ends of the lens. The typical flash charge time is 6 seconds. You cannot attach an external flash to the R927.
The main event on the back of the R927 is its 3-inch LCD display. HP cut no corners here -- it's absolutely stunning to look at. There are 230,400 pixels on the screen, so everything is nice and sharp. Outdoor visibility was decent, and low light visibility was very good, though a bit grainy.
As you can probably tell, there's no optical viewfinder on the R927. In fact, no camera with a 3" LCD has one. Whether this is a problem is really up to you -- some people (like me) want them, others could care less.
There aren't many buttons on the camera, which is both good and bad. The good news is that you won't spend a lot of time hunting for the right button to press. The bad news is that you'll have to spend time going through the menus instead.
Anyhow, to the right of the LCD you'll find the zoom and four-way controllers. The zoom controller moves the lens between wide-angle and telephoto in a very snappy 0.9 seconds. I counted seven steps in the 3X zoom range.
The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, working with manual controls, and also for selecting a shooting mode and deleting a photo. I'll describe all of the shooting modes a bit later in the review.
On top of the camera you'll find a whole bunch of buttons plus the speaker. The buttons, from left to right, are:
I have a few comments on some of those items before we go on. The auto macro mode is what you'll want to use if you're not sure if you need macro mode or not (the camera will decide for you). The manual focus feature lets you use the four-way controller to set the focus distance. While the camera does enlarge the frame (as poorly shown in my screenshot above), the focus distance meter borders on useless, since there are no units of measurement to be found.
The Photosmart Express feature is similar to the EasyShare system on Kodak cameras. It allows you to tag photos for printing (via a local printer or Snapfish), e-mail, and sharing. Before you can use this feature you must first use the software on your Mac or PC. Once that's done and you've synced the camera, you can then tag to your hearts content. As I said earlier, photos aren't actually e-mailed directly to your recipient: rather, they're send to Snapfish, and the e-mail contains a link to that gallery.
The R927 has a dedicated movie recording button, which means that you never need to change modes in order to record a movie.
Nothing to see here!
Nothing here either. The lens is at the full telephoto position in this photo.
On the bottom of the R927 you'll find the battery and memory card compartment, the dock connector, and a metal tripod mount.
The battery didn't like to stay in its slot -- it kept trying to pop out. The door that covers it is quite flimsy, as well. You should be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.
The included R07 battery is shown at right.
Using the HP Photosmart R927
It takes 1.9 seconds for the Photosmart R927 to turn on and prepare for shooting. That's pretty good.
I don't like how there's no indication of the current zoom setting; there's no live histogram either
Focus speeds were generally good on the R927. At wide-angle it typically took 0.2 - 0.4 seconds for the camera to lock focus, and the telephoto end wasn't much worse. Low light focusing was above average.
While shutter lag wasn't a problem at faster shutter speeds, I did notice a bit of it when the shutter speeds started to near tripod territory (1/30 sec and slower).
Shot-to-shot times were variable. When fast shutter speeds are used, the delay is about a second. If shutter speeds get into the tripod territory that I just mentioned then it can be 3-4 seconds before you can shoot again (probably due to noise reduction).
After the photo is taken you can press down on the four-way controller to delete it. By pressing to the right you can jump right to the Image Advice feature that I'll talk about in the playback mode section below.
By default the camera has only a few image quality settings available, though more are available via a custom function. The default quality options are:
See why you need to buy a memory card?
If you're not happy with those you can create your own image quality setting. Choose any of the four sizes listed above, and a quality level from one to four stars, with four being the highest quality (least compression). The Photosmart R927 does not support the RAW or TIFF formats.
Images are named HPIM####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.
Now, onto the menus!
The Photosmart R927 has a beautiful and easy to use menu system broken down into five parts: capture, playback, design gallery, setup, and help. My main complaint about the menu system is that 1) some items are hard to get to (lots of button-mashing required just to change exposure compensation) and 2) there's no easy way to "back out" of a menu.
I'm going to talk about the capture, setup, and help menus here, saving playback and design gallery for later. Here's what you'll find in the capture menu:
There are quite a few shooting modes on the Photosmart R927, and three of them offer manual control of shutter speed and/or aperture. The aperture priority mode lets you select the aperture manually, with a range of F2.8 - F8.5. In shutter priority mode you select the shutter speed, with a range of 16 - 1/2000 sec. In full manual (M) mode you pick both the shutter speed and aperture. The My Mode stores your favorite camera settings so you don't have to select that every time you turn on the camera. In My Mode you select which of the shooting modes you want to use.
Adaptive Lighting is HP's "digital flash" feature, which brightens up dark areas of your photos. It comes in handy when you take pictures where the flash doesn't cover the whole frame, or when your subject has a strong light source behind them. The catch (and there always is one) is that noise levels will be increased a bit.
Here are two examples of how this feature performs. The first shot is without Adaptive Lighting, while the second one has it set to "low".
|Adaptive Lighting is good for brightening up flash photos...|
|... and underexposed shots, as well|
As you can see, it works quite well!
The R927 has three different exposure bracketing modes. You can bracket for Adaptive Lighting, exposure, and color. Adaptive Lighting bracketing takes just one shot but then it processes it with the adaptive lighting set to off, low, and high. Exposure bracketing takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure. You can choose from the full exposure compensation range (-3EV to +3EV), with exposure intervals of ±0.3EV, ±0.7EV, or ±1.0EV. The color bracketing feature takes one photo and then saves it in full color, black and white, and sepia.
Watch out when you use that Adaptive Lighting bracketing feature -- you won't be able to take another picture for about thirteen seconds while the camera is "processing".
The burst mode takes three shots in a row at 1.6 frames/second. Unfortunately the LCD is off during shooting, which makes this feature pretty much useless.
|Help for a menu item||One of the items in the separate help menu|
The R927 has an excellent in-camera help system. A brief description of each menu item is displayed in the main menu, and for more details you can select that item and choose "Help". In addition, there's also a separate help menu chock full of tips and techniques for taking better photos. HP should be commended for making their cameras easy to use.
Now here's a look at what options you'll find in the setup menu:
Enough about menus, let's talk about photo quality now.
At first glance, the R927's macro shot looks amazing. Enlarge it, though, and you'll see quite a bit of noise. That's too bad, because the camera did such a nice job with the color and sharpness. Whoever came up with HP's auto white balance should receive a Nobel Prize -- I've never been able to use the Auto setting on the macro shot before.
You can get as close to your subject as 12 cm in macro mode. Do note that the lens can't move past around 1.5X or 2X while in macro mode.
The results for the night shot were similar to those for the macro shot. Things look good until you view it at full-size. Once there you'll find plenty of noise and some purple fringing as well. The camera did take in plenty of light, though, thanks to its manual control over shutter speed.
I tried to take the usual ISO night shot sequence but the camera was not cooperating: even if I set it to ISO 400, it would still use ISO 200 or less. Bizarre.
There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the R927's 3X lens. For a great example of what barrel distortion looks like in real world photos, take a look at this shot. Vignetting (dark corners) and blurry corners were not a problem on the camera.
By default, redeye is a problem on the R927. However, it has a powerful in-camera redeye removal system that you be used automatically. Here's how well that feature worked (same photo):
That's a lot better if you ask me. The downside with the automatic redeye reduction is that it slows down the shot-to-shot times a bit while the camera is processing the photo.
Photo quality on the Photosmart R927 is a mixed bag. On the positive side, the camera took well-exposed photos with vivid colors and good sharpness. However, images are fairly noisy (especially in sky and shadow areas), and purple fringing is higher than average. Both the noise and purple fringing are visible when printed at 8.5 x 11, though only if you look closely. Since the Adaptive Lighting feature boosts noise levels even higher, you'll want to keep to smaller prints of photos taken with that feature.
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery -- printing the photos if you can -- and decide if the R927's photo quality meets your expectations.
The Photosmart R927 has a pretty nice movie mode. You can record video at 640 x 480 (24 frames/second) with sound until memory fills up. That takes just 33 seconds at the highest quality setting, so you'll want a large memory card for longer movies.
Two other video quality modes are also available. There's another VGA mode (with more compression, I guess) plus a QVGA (320 x 240) mode as well.
The R927 is one of a very small group of cameras that allows you to use the optical zoom lens during filming. More than likely though you won't want to, as the microphone will pick up the sound of the zoom motor and it's not the most pleasant of sounds.
The camera also has the ability to save a frame of your movie and enlarge it to twice the resolution of the movie. Unfortunately, the quality is pretty awful.
Movies are saved in MPEG-1 format.
Here's a sample movie for you:
Click to play movie (7.3 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, MPEG format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Photosmart R927's playback mode is excellent, with two menus full of features. Basic features include slideshows, image cropping and rotation, playback zoom ("zoom & scroll"), and voice captions.
You can remove redeye (if you didn't turn on auto redeye reduction) in a pinch, and even undo the changes if you don't like them. If you took a panoramic sequence of photos earlier, you can stitch them together right on the camera.
One very useful item is the "undelete last photo" feature, which may save a marriage or two.
The Image Advice feature is pretty neat: it tells you ways that you can improve your photos. It actually analyzes the selected image and gives you hints about how to make it better should you choose to reshoot it.
In the Design Gallery menu you'll find all kinds of bells and whistles, including the redeye reduction, rotation, and cropping tools that I already mentioned. The other features include artistic effects (e.g. ink dots, watercolor, vintage, and the now famous "slimming" effect), color effects (e.g black & white, sepia, color filters), and borders (e.g. soft edge, burn edge, oval)). Here are two examples:
|Kaleidoscope effect||Burn edge border|
I like those!
By default the camera doesn't tell you much about your photo, but select the Image Info option in the playback menu and you'll see a whole lot more. It even tells you what zoom position you used!
The camera moves through photos instantly -- very nice.
How Does it Compare?
The HP Photosmart R927 is a compact 8 Megapixel camera that has some very compelling features as well as some annoying flaws. If you're not making large prints, it's not a bad choice, though there are better cameras out there.
The R927 is a compact (but not tiny) camera made of brushed metal. It feels solid in the hand and it's well put together, save for the door over the battery/memory compartment. The battery didn't like to stay in its slot, but I figure that it's just my camera with that problem. The R927 has a beautiful 3 inch LCD display that has average visibility outdoors and very good (but grainy) low light visibility. The LCD has good resolution, so images are nice and sharp. There's no optical viewfinder on the camera, though. In order to charge the battery or transfer photos to your computer you'll need to use the included camera dock, which many will find to be a hassle. If you want to view photos on your television you'll have to drop eighty bucks for the fancy R-series camera dock.
If there was ever a camera that deserves the cliché "chock full of features", the R927 is it. It has scene modes, manual controls, and multiple help systems. Want to add borders around your photos? Done. Want a photo of your cat turned into a Seurat painting? No problem. The camera's Adaptive Lighting system will brighten up your dark photos, though you'll be restricted to smaller print sizes. The Image Advice features gives you hints about improving photos that you have taken, and you'll find a help screen for each menu item (and then some). Photos can be tagged for e-mailing, printing (locally or through Snapfish) or online sharing. I don't care for how the photos aren't directly e-mailed to the recipients, though. If you want to record movies, the R927 does that too, though not as well as the competition. While it records at 640 x 480, the frame rate is slower than on the competition. Unlike most cameras you can zoom during filming on the camera, but you'll hear the noise of the zoom motor in your movie.
Camera performance was good in most areas. The R927 turns on quickly, focuses without much of a wait, and is ready to take another photo right away (unless the previous photo had a slow shutter speed, or if Adaptive Lighting bracketing was used). I did notice some shutter lag, but only at slower shutter speeds. The Photosmart's burst mode was nothing to write home about, taking three photos in a row at 1.6 fps with the LCD dark the entire time. Battery life was average for this class, meaning "not great".
Photo quality turned out to be the R927's weak point. While the camera took well exposed photos with vibrant colors, I was disappointed with the amount of noise and purple fringing on my photos. While these issues won't make a difference if you're making 4 x 6 inch prints, you will notice them in 8 x 10 prints or when viewing them onscreen. Redeye will not be a problem if you turn on the camera's software-based redeye reduction system, though that will slow down shot-to-shot times a bit.
There are a few other negatives worth mentioning. For some reason I was not able to take high ISO shots in shutter priority mode -- the camera always chose a different value. The manual focus feature could be improved upon, as some numbers on the focus distance guide would be helpful. It would've been nice to make commonly used functions more accessible (such as exposure compensation), instead of burying them in the menu system. The R927 doesn't support the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, which means that transferring photos to your computer will be slow. And finally, the full manual is on CD-ROM, something which I never like.
If you want a camera that's easy to use and takes photos best suited for small prints then I'd recommend looking at the Photosmart R927. If you're going to be making larger prints, the noise and purple fringing will be an issue, so I'd probably look at other cameras. Same goes for those who like burst modes: since the camera's LCD is dark during continuous shooting (and there's no optical viewfinder), it's kind of hard to follow your subject!
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other ultra-compacts worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SD630 and SD700 IS, Casio Exilim EX-Z600, Fuji FinePix V10, Kodak EasyShare One and V603, Nikon Coolpix S6, Olympus Stylus 710, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX01, Pentax Optio S6 and T10, Samsung Digimax i6, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-N1 and DSC-T30.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Photosmart R927 and its competitors before you buy!
Photo GallerySee how the photos turned out in our gallery!
Want another opinion?
Read another review at Steve's Digicams.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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