DCRP Review: Two Cheap Four Megapixel Cameras
HP Photosmart 812 / Kodak EasyShare DX4900

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3

Taking Pictures

HP Photosmart 812

It's not easy to test how quickly the 812 starts up, since the LCD display never turns on be default. But I'd estimate that it takes over 4 seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting.


LCD in record mode. These didn't capture well, again.

The Photosmart suffers from worse than average auto-focus and shutter lag. Focusing (when the shutter release button is pressed halfway) takes over a second in all cases. In addition, the camera had great difficulty focusing in lower light. This happened both in my night shot (of the skyline) and my red-eye test. The camera couldn't focus and wouldn't take the picture. The DX4900 did not have the same problem in those situations.

There is also noticeable shutter lag which occurs between the time the button is fully pressed and the photo recorded. What this means in real life is that you can often "miss the action" because the camera is too slow.

Shot-to-shot speed is pretty sluggish as well. Expect a wait of nearly five seconds before you can take another shot.

HP uses a "star system" (similar to what Toshiba does) to describe photo quality. When you select a quality (which requires a trip deep into the menus), the camera tells you that three stars is good for prints and one star is good for e-mail. Here's a look at the quality choices:

Resolution Approx. file size # shots on 16MB card
(included with camera)
****
2272 x 1712
2.5 MB 5

***
2272 x 1712

1 MB 14
**
1136 x 848
500 KB 28
*
1136 x 848
250 KB 56

There is no TIFF or "RAW" mode available on the Photosmart 812.

The Photosmart is a point-and-shoot camera if there ever was one. White balance? Nope. Continuous shooting? No. Exposure compensation? Forget it. This is is a real turn-off for me, especially things like white balance. I couldn't do all my product shots in this review without white balance controls -- in fact I have to use "manual" white balance to get things looking halfway decent.

Another thing -- the Photosmart has a variable ISO range of 100-400. So when it needs to, the camera cranks up the sensitivity, which can make images noisy.

Kodak EasyShare DX4900

The DX4900 is about as slow as the Photosmart 812 when it comes to startup time. It's a shame because the lens has a lot less distance to travel. Expect a wait of over four seconds.

On the other hand, the DX4900 focuses much faster. When you press halfway on the shutter release button, it will almost always be less than one second before the focus is locked. Too bad Kodak couldn't do the same with the shutter lag -- it's about as bad as the HP camera.

Shot-to-shot speed was equally sluggish -- over 4 seconds between shots. Only the Kodak camera gives you the ability to delete a photo as it's being written to the card -- a feature that's all too uncommon these days.

The DX4900 has quite a few choices for resolution and quality. Here's a look

Resolution Approx. file size # shots on 16MB card
(included with camera)

4.0 MP

2448 x 1632

1240 KB 12

4.0 MP
(high compression)

2448 x 1632

640 KB 25

3.1 MP

2160 x 1440

964 KB 16

2.2 MP

1800 x 1200

689 KB 23

1.0 MP

1224 x 816

341 KB 46

Ok, a few notes on those file sizes. Your results will vary. Some test shots I took had much smaller file sizes than what is above (which is from Kodak). Also, you're probably wondering why the 3.9 (effective) MPixel Photosmart 812 had a 2.5 MB file size while the 4.0 MPixel DX4900 is about 1/2 of that. We'll save that discussion for later.

There are actually two different 1.0 MP choices -- one regular, one "burst" mode. In burst mode, the camera will take 12 pictures in "quick succession". The HP camera has no continuous shooting mode.

As you'll see in the next section, the DX4900 has a lot more controls than the Photosmart. Even control over the shutter speed!

Winner: Kodak DX4900
Despite its smaller file sizes, the Kodak DX4900 has many more controls, faster auto-focus, and more image quality choices than the HP.


Menus

HP Photosmart 812

The Photosmart has some of the best looking menus I've seen. Unfortunately they're pretty limited. As I mentioned in the previous section, there aren't any controls over exposure. Most of the items in the menu are for playing back your images. And here they are:

  • Play audio/video clip
  • Delete image (current, all, format card)
  • Magnify image
  • Rotate image
  • Camera settings
    • Quality (see chart in previous section)
    • Audio recording (on/off) - record up to 30 sec of audio per photo
    • Sounds (High, low, off) - phony shutter sound, beeps, etc.
    • Date & Time (set)
    • USB configuration (Digital camera, disk drive) - what this really means is PTP versus mass storage device. PTP works for Mac OS X and modern versions of Windows. You may need to use the mass storage setting for older versions
    • TV configuration (NTSC, PAL)
    • Language (English, Deutsch, Español, Français, Italiano)

And that's it!

Kodak EasyShare DX4900

Kodak's menus are also pretty fancy looking, but more importantly, there are actually some exposure controls here. Let's get right to it:

  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/2EV steps)
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, tungsten, fluorescent) - what, no cloudy or manual options? Oh well.
  • Color mode (Color, black & white, sepia)
  • Picture quality (see chart in previous section)
  • Exposure metering (Multi-pattern, center-weighted, center spot)
  • Sharpness (Sharp, standard, soft)
  • ISO speed (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Shutter speed (Auto, 0.7 - 16 seconds) - wow!
  • Date & Time stamp - several formats available

There is also a setup menu (accessed via the mode wheel) which lets you set the date/time, beep volume, digital zoom, etc.

When you set the ISO to Auto, the camera will move between 100 and 400. I like to keep it set at 100, because at higher ISOs, the images get noisy (grainy).

It's so nice to see manual control over shutter speed on a low-cost camera. This should really help out with night shots -- just remember that tripod.

Winner: Kodak DX4900
No contest here. The Kodak has the manual controls that the HP camera lacks.


Viewing Pictures

HP Photosmart 812

The 812 is somewhat unique -- it's not on the mode dial, and you can get out of it by pushing almost any button. To enter it, you hit the blue "OK" button in the center of the four-way switch. Another interesting thing is that the camera displays a special screen when you reach the end of the photos you're viewing.

Aside from that, playback mode is pretty basic: you can only delete, rotate, or magnify your images. The magnify feature (what I call zoom and scroll) zooms in 4X and lets you smoothly move around in the zoomed-in area. Don't use the zoom buttons to do this, as you'll end up back in record mode. I made this mistake several times.

The camera moves through the images in playback mode quickly. You get very basic information about your photo at the bottom the screen. There is no feature on the camera for showing 4 or 9 thumbnails at once.


HP Instant Share

One of the really unique features of the Photosmart 812 is the "Instant Share" system. This lets you :

  • Print your photos
  • E-mail your photos to friends
  • Upload your photos to an HP website so they can be shared

Obviously this all happens when the camera is connected to a computer (or printer). You have to use HP's service for the e-mailing portion. Once things are setup, you can actually pick a photo and choose who will receive it via e-mail. Next time you hook into your computer, off they go.

One last thing: the 812 has a cool effect on the LCD when you delete a photo.

Kodak EasyShare DX4900


Looks just like record mode!

The DX4900 has a more elaborate playback mode. First, to get there, you use the mode dial. Once there, you'll find slide shows, zoom and scroll, DPOF print marking, image protection and detailed picture info. What you won't find is image rotation.


Playback menu

The zoom and scroll feature lets you zoom into your photo 2X or 4X, and scroll around in it. The scrolling was much faster on the Photosmart camera.

While the DX4900 doesn't have a true 4/9 thumbnail mode, you can quickly zoom through thumbnails while the menu is open.

The camera moves through the full-sized images quickly. A low resolution version is shown instantly, with a higher resolution image showing up a moment later.

If you want more information about a photo, just choose the Picture Info option from the menu and you'll get just about every statistic possible.

The DX4900 doesn't have the fancy Instant Share system that the HP camera has. The new EasyShare system (which I did not test) will allow you to e-mail photos and make prints, but this is all done in software rather than in-camera, like on the Photosmart.

Winner: Kodak DX4900
While the Instant Share feature is nice for some people, the Kodak still wins for having a superior playback mode. More options and more information about your photos are available with the Kodak.


Software

Since this isn't usually something I cover, I'm going to keep this brief. I will be covering the Mac versions of the software, since that's what I use. I assume the PC versions will be very similar, if not identical. All three software packages are compatible with Windows 98, 2000, ME, and XP.

HP - HP Photo Imaging Software

The HP software is Mac OS X native, a nice touch. In order to get the software to see the camera, though, you'll need to switch into "disk drive" USB mode (via camera setup menu).

When you connect the camera (with or without the dock), the photo unload software will run. You can have it unload the photos automatically if you wish.

After the images are downloaded, the included ArcSoft PhotoImpression software will run and you can edit your images.

ArcSoft's PhotoImpression can do just about everything you could possibly want to do to your photos, with a pretty easy to use interface too. That includes color controls, redeye reduction, effects, captions, and more. It is also Mac OS X native.

The only problem I had with the whole thing was the long wait for PhotoImpression to actually load the images. It took forever.

If you've marked any photos for e-mailing or printing, this will also happen during the unloading process. E-mailed images can be sent in three sizes (see above). Your e-mail program will sent them automatically if you wish. You must setup the e-mail destinations in the software, which then transfers that information to the camera.

Kodak - Kodak Picture Software

I will again mention that the Kodak EasyShare software is getting totally revamped, so what I reviewed here will be outdated shortly.

The Kodak Picture Software is not Mac OS X compatible. It's actually a program made (I assume) using Macromedia Director. But that doesn't mean that it's stripped.

Here is the main screen you'll see when you first load the software. You can scroll through your images at the bottom. Basic tools like zoom, rotating, info, and delete are at the right. The functions on the left are fairly self-explanatory.

Clicking on the info button back at the main window will show you all the information you ever wanted about your photo.

Clicking the edit button will allow you to make all kinds of changes to your image. They're conveniently listed in the screen shot above.

All in all, the software isn't bad at all -- and the new version should be even better.

Winner: Tie
This is almost a draw. The HP's software is more modern (Mac OS X compatible) and you can mark images for e-mailing in the camera itself. The Kodak software is no slouch either, and stands to improve when the new software is released shortly. So I'm calling this one a tie.

Continue to page three for more tests and the conclusion >>

All content is ©1997 - 2002 The Digital Camera Resource Page. All Rights Reserved.
Reviews and images from this site may NEVER be reposted on your website or online auction.
All trademarks are property of their respective owners.

Comments should be directed to Jeff Keller.