DCRP Review: HP Photosmart R727
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The HP Photosmart R727 ($300) is a compact 6 Megapixel camera with a 3X zoom lens, large 2.5" LCD, and a ton of HP's unique features. These features include in-camera panorama stitching, Image Advice (which tells you how to improve a photo you've taken), Adaptive Lighting (brightens up dark photos), redeye removal, and much more. The R727 has a "little brother" known as the Photosmart R725 ($250), which is the same camera except for its smaller 2-inch LCD.
The compact camera field is a crowded one, so the Photosmart R727 has its work cut out for it. Read on to find out how it fared in our tests!
Since the two cameras share much in common, I will be reusing portions of the R927 review here.
What's in the Box?
The Photosmart R727 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 built 32MB of memory into the R727, which holds ten 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 512MB card as a good place to start. A high speed card does not appear to be necessary.
The Photosmart R727 uses HP's familiar 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 Photosmart R727 turns in above average battery life numbers.
A reminder about proprietary batteries like the one used by the Photosmart R727: First, they're expensive -- almost $50 a pop. Secondly, 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. Then again, very few compact cameras support AA batteries.
When it's time to charge the battery, just plug the included AC adapter into the camera. It takes between two and three hours to fully charge the R07. If you want to charge the battery outside of the camera then you'll need to purchase the Photosmart Quick Recharge Kit, which includes an extra battery, a fast charger, and two camera cases.
As with all ultra-compact cameras, the Photosmart R727 has built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to deal with.
There aren't too many accessories available for the R727. The most interesting is probably the Photosmart 6221 camera dock, which lets you charge the battery, transfer photos to your Mac or PC, and connect to a television (a remote control is included too). In fact, if you want to connect to a TV, the dock is the only way to do it, as the camera doesn't have an A/V out port.
Other accessories include the Quick Recharge Kit that I already mentioned, extra batteries, and a fabulous premium leather case.
HP includes their Photosmart Studio software with the R727. 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.
The only printed documentation included with the R727 is a twenty page "Quick Start Guide", which is very basic. For more details on camera operations then you'll need to load up the full manual, which is on CD-ROM in PDF format. I've knocked Olympus for this for years, and now I get to do the same here too: bad HP!
Look and Feel
The Photosmart R727 is a compact (but not tiny) made almost entirely of metal. While the brushed metal looks nice, be warned that it scratches easily, so take care of your camera. The camera is easy to hold and operate with just one hand, with all the controls in easy-to-reach places. I wasn't a fan of the hard-to-find movie recording button, though.
Now let's see how the R727 compares to other cameras in this class in terms of size and weight:
The Photosmart R727 is one of the largest cameras in its class, with only it's big brother (the R927) and the Fuji F30 being larger. Still, it should fit into nearly all of your pockets without a problem.
Let's start our tour of the R727 now, beginning with the front.
The Photosmart R727 uses the same "folded optics" lens technology as several other ultra-thin cameras. What this means is that most of the lens elements run perpendicular to the front of the lens. Light comes through the first lens element(s), hits a prism, and then continues downward toward the CCD. This is what allows the camera to be so slim. The lens never protrudes out of the body, either.
The lens here is a standard F3.5-4.4, 3X optical zoom model. The focal range is 6.5 - 19 .5 mm, which is equivalent to 39 - 118 mm. The lens is not threaded, nor would I expect it to be.
One thing you need to watch out for on this camera are you fingers: it's very easy to accidentally put them in front of the lens.
To the immediate left of the lens is the AF-assist lamp, which also serves as the visual countdown for the self-timer. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations.
Next up we have the flash, which is fairly large for a camera this size. HP's flash strength numbers aren't terribly helpful, but that's all I've got. They list the maximum range of the flash as 3.0 m at wide-angle and 4.5 m at telephoto, and I'm almost positive that these numbers should be reversed. One number I do believe is the flash recharge time of six seconds. Not surprisingly you cannot attach an external flash to the R727.
The only other thing to see on the front of the camera is the microphone, which is between the HP logo and the flash.
On the back of the camera you'll find a large, high resolution 2.5" LCD display. HP didn't skimp on this screen: it has 203,400 pixels. As you'd expect, everything is nice and sharp. Outdoor visibility was just okay, but low light visibility was much better. Things get noisy and sluggish in low light, but at least you can still see your subject.
As you can probably tell, there's no optical viewfinder on the R727. Whether this is a bad thing sort of depends on your needs -- some people like them, others couldn't care less. If you've been here long enough then you know which camp I'm in. Very fewer ultra-compact cameras these day have this feature, unfortunately.
There aren't too many buttons on the back of the camera, so this section will be quick and painless. Directly above the LCD is the power button, which does just as it sounds. Next up we have the zoom controller, which is unusual in shape. The controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in two seconds. There's no guide on the LCD showing where the zoom is at, which would've been helpful.
Below the zoom buttons is the four-way controller. You'll use this for changing the shooting mode (I'll list those later) and navigating the menus. Below that is the delete photo button.
On top of the camera you'll find the speaker and several more buttons. The buttons, from left to right, include:
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 R727 has a dedicated movie recording button, which means that you never need to change modes in order to record a movie. Unfortunately this button is small and hard to find.
Nothing to see here!
On the other side are the camera's I/O ports, which are kept under a metal cover that could easily break off. The ports here include DC-in (for the included AC adapter) and USB. Unfortunately, the R727 doesn't support the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol, which makes transferring photos and movies to your computer a lot faster.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find the battery and memory card compartment, the dock connector, and a plastic tripod mount. The door over the battery/memory card compartment is fairly sturdy. Do note that you won't 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 R727
It takes around 1.6 seconds for the Photosmart R727 to "warm up" before you can start taking photos.
Be warned: the R727 is one of those cameras which always uses default settings when you power it up. That means that things like ISO sensitivity go back to their factory setting. To avoid this, hold down the center button (Menu/OK) on the four-way controller when turning on the camera -- that will your last custom settings.
No histograms here
Focus speeds were generally very good on the R727. At the wide-angle end of the lens the camera usually focused in 0.2 - 0.4 seconds, with slightly longer delays at the telephoto end of the lens. Once in a while the camera took more than a second to lock focus when the subject was difficult. Despite having an AF-assist lamp, low light focusing was just fair on the R727.
While shutter lag wasn't a problem at faster shutter speeds, it was very noticeable at slower shutter speeds (though you should be using the flash or a tripod in those situations anyway).
Shot-to-shot speeds were decent. Typically you'll wait a little over a second before you can take another shot. If a slower shutter speed is used it may be a bit longer.
You can delete a photo immediately after taking it by pressing the delete photo button. You can also see the "image advice" for that photo by pressing the four-way controller to the right (more on this subject later).
By default the camera has only a few image quality settings available, though more are available via a "custom" setting. The default quality options are:
If you're not happy with those options then you can create your own custom 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 R727 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!
Apologies for the screen shots -- they're photos instead of captures
The Photosmart R727 has a beautiful and easy to use menu system broken down into five parts: capture, playback, design gallery, setup, and help. The one thing I don't like about the menu system is how some commonly used items are buried deep within the 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:
With the exception of the custom white balance option, the R727 is devoid of manual controls.
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's a quick example:
Adaptive Lighting - off
Adaptive lighting - low
Hopefully you can see the difference: the bench and the kitty are noticeably brighter. You can turn things up to "high" if you want, though I found that to be overkill in many cases.
The R727 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. Expect the camera to be locked up for more than ten seconds while the images are being processed. 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.
I have good and bad news about the R727's burst mode. The good news is that it allows you to take four photos in a row at a snappy 2.4 frames/second. The bad news is that the LCD is blacked out the entire time, which makes it awfully hard to follow a moving subject.
|Help for a menu item||One of the items in the separate help menu|
The R727 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.
Looking at the thumbnail above you'll think "wow, the R727 did a great job with the macro test". But view the full size image and you'll see that things aren't always as they seem. Noise levels are unusually high, most notably on the red cloak. That's too bad, since the subject is sharp and the colors look great.
You can get as close to your subject as 10 cm in macro mode. The lens is locked between (roughly) 1X and 2X while in macro mode.
The night shot results were about the same. The camera took in plenty of light, but everything's soft and noisy. Since there's no way to control the shutter speed on the camera you'll have to use the scene modes, and the camera doesn't always pick the best settings for the job (as you can see).
Since I can't control the shutter speed there will be no ISO test in this review.
There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the R727's lens. Barrel distortion makes straight lines look curved, like the flagpole in this photo.
The camera did not have any major problems with vignetting (dark corners) or blurry edges.
With the in-camera redeye reduction feature turned off, the R727 (like other compact cameras) has a big redeye problem. However, turn on redeye reduction and things get a lot better:
Much better! 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. Somehow I think that most people can live with the extra wait.
I was disappointed with the R727's photo quality. While the camera took well-exposed photos with very saturated colors, things are way too noisy. The sky is blotchy, details are muddy, and subjects have a soft look to them. Purple fringing levels were moderate, too. If you're printing 4 x 6's exclusively then none of this matters, but any larger and you'll likely share my disappointment.
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 R727's photo quality meets your expectations.
The Photosmart R727 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 24 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) plus a QVGA (320 x 240) mode as well.
The R727 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. Don't get too excited, though: the quality is pretty lousy.
Movies are saved in MPEG-1 format.
Here's a sample movie for you:
Click to play movie (6.4 MB, 640 x 480, 24 fps, MPEG format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.
The Photosmart R727'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 can be a real lifesaver.
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:
Pretty soon you won't even need your computer anymore...
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 bit more, though there's no exposure info or histogram.
The camera moves through photos instantly -- very nice.
How Does it Compare?
It seems that when HP was designing the Photosmart R727 that the engineers spent a little too much time on bells and whistles and not enough time on photo quality. The R727 has tons of very useful features, but it's photo quality is lacking, which makes this little camera hard to recommend.
The Photosmart R727 is a compact (but not tiny) camera with a stylish brushed metal body. Build quality is excellent for the most part, though the door over the I/O ports could bust off easily, and I'm not a huge fan of the plastic tripod mount either. Like many ultra-thin cameras the R727 has an internal, folded optics 3X zoom lens, but do watch your fingers: they can easily be in your photos. The camera doesn't have too many buttons, which is both good and bad: you won't be confused by all the controls, but you'll have to do more digging in the menu system instead. The R727 has a large, high resolution 2.5" LCD display that's quite easy to see in low light conditions.
The R727 is packed with innovative features -- too many to list here. Some of my favorites include Adaptive Lighting, in-camera panorama stitching, Photosmart Express (photo sharing), and a redeye reduction system that really works. You won't find many manual controls on this camera, though -- in fact, there's just one: white balance. That means that the camera makes its own decisions, which isn't always the best, as the night shot illustrated. The built-in Photosmart Express feature lets you e-mail, print, and share your photos by tagging photos on the camera in advance. Connect the camera to your Mac or PC and the photos are sent to the appropriate destination. The software side is a bit clunky, with a sluggish web-based interface and the fact that e-mailed photos aren't really sent to the recipient -- they go to Snapfish instead. The camera has a decent movie mode, though the frame rate is lower than on most of the competition.
Camera performance was very good. The R727 starts up quickly, focuses without much of a wait, and shot-to-shot delays are minimal (usually). There's a bit of shutter lag when shutter speeds are slow, and I wasn't thrilled with the low light focusing ability of the camera, either. The continuous shooting mode fires off four photos at 2.4 frames/second, but the LCD is dark the entire time, making it hard to track a moving subject. Battery life was above average.
Photo quality is the Photosmart R727's weak spot -- and it shouldn't be. While the camera took well-exposed photos with saturated colors, everything is too noisy. Details are smudged, subjects are soft, and the sky is blotchy, even at ISO 100 (the lowest setting available). Purple fringing was also above average.
There are a few other negatives worth mentioning. Like most of HP's cameras of late, there's no video out port on the camera. Instead, HP expects you to shell out $80 for the optional camera dock. The R727 doesn't support the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, which makes photo transferring a sluggish affair. I also don't like how the camera always resets to default settings when you turn it on, though you can get around that by holding down the "Menu/OK" button on the four-way controller. Last, but not least, HP puts the full manual on CD-ROM, forcing you to open up a PDF file (or print the whole thing) when you have a question about the camera.
While the Photosmart R727 has a very useful set of features, its photo quality lags behind the competition. If you're only printing 4 x 6's then maybe it's worth a look, but otherwise you'll get better photos (but fewer bells & whistles) from other cameras.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other ultra-compacts worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SD600 and SD700 IS, Casio Exilim EX-Z600, Fuji FinePix F30, Kodak EasyShare V603, Nikon Coolpix S5, Olympus Stylus 710, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX01, Pentax Optio T10, Samsung Digimax i6, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T30 and DSC-W50.
There's also the Photosmart R725, which is the same as the R727 except for a smaller LCD.
As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Photosmart R727 and its competitors before you buy!
Photo GallerySee how the photos turned out in our gallery!
Want another opinion?
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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