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

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally Posted: Wednesday, June 5, 2002

Last Updated: Saturday, September 28, 2002

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I didn't actually come up with the idea of doing this comparison until I had started writing the Photosmart 812 review. Then it hit me: hey, I've got two inexpensive 4 Megapixel cameras that also have docking stations. Why not combine the two?

So, based on the very popular three-way review I just did (PowerShot S330 vs. DiMAGE X vs. Coolpix 2500), I'm back with a look at the HP Photosmart 812 ($499) and the Kodak EasyShare DX4900 ($399). Both are 4MP, both have optional docks ($79), and both are easy to use. The Photosmart has a 3X optical zoom lens, while the DX4900 has a 2X. Which camera is the better choice? Find out now!

What's in the Box

HP Photosmart 812

The bundles on both these cameras vary depending on whether you buy the dock or not. Therefore, items that only come with the dock are in bold. Here's what you get:
  • The 3.9 (effective) Mpixel HP Photosmart 812 camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital (SD) card
  • Photosmart 8881 camera dock
  • 2 AA lithium batteries (non-rechargeable)
  • 4 AA NiMH batteries (rechargeable)
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable (one to PC, one to printer)
  • A/V cable
  • 83 page camera manual (printed)
  • CD-ROM with HP photo imaging software (more on this later)

While the dock is certainly not required, it does add rechargeable batteries and the useful video out feature. The dock does triple duty: battery charging, photo transferring, and TV viewing.

Front of the dock

As you can see, the camera goes backwards into the dock. Looks kind of funny. The buttons below are used for transferring/printing (left) and TV viewing (right).

Ports on back of the dock

On the back of the dock, you'll find ports for DC in, TV out, and USB for the printer and the computer. One thing about both of these docks (HP and Kodak) is that they must be powered in order to transfer photos.

If you don't get the dock, you're stuck with throw-away lithium batteries. If you get it, you get four 1600 mAh batteries. Since the camera only uses two of them, that's not a bad deal. HP did not provide any numbers on battery life, but it didn't seem too bad in regular usage.

One thing that could use some improvement is the included memory card. A 16MB card fills up very quickly when your images are 4 million pixels. I'd recommend buying another 64MB card (Secure Digital or MultiMediaCards work) when you want to get serious with the Photosmart 812.

As far as accessories go, you can get an adapter mount ($19.95) which lets you use a number of accessory lenses and filters, all of which are made by Tiffen. Since the lens is not threaded, the lens adapter attaches to the tripod mount. No external flash options are available.

The Photosmart 812 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to worry about.

The manual included with the camera is quite good -- lots of big descriptive paragraphs and a minimum of "notes" in fine print at the bottom of the page.

Kodak EasyShare DX4900

The DX4900 has a very similar bundle to that of the Photosmart 812. Again, items included with the dock are in bold. Here goes:

  • The 4.0 (effective) Mpixel Kodak DX4900 camera
  • 16MB CompactFlash card
  • EasyShare camera dock
  • CR-V3 lithium battery (non-rechargeable)
  • NiMH battery pack (rechargeable)
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • 95 page camera manual (printed)
  • CD-ROM with Kodak picture software (more on this later)

Since I received my DX4900 review unit, Kodak made some major changes to the EasyShare dock. I will be talking about the old dock -- the changes on the new one are :

  • Allows consumers to upload their digital images at the touch of a button
  • Enhanced battery charging.

The old-style dock. At least the camera is facing the right way on this one

Like on the Photosmart dock, the Kodak dock will transfer photos and recharge the battery pack (1600 mAh). It doesn't hook into your TV, but it's not a big deal since the camera already does. Supposedly the new EasyShare software will let you print and e-mail photos as well, but I didn't have that. I'll talk more about software later in the review.

Like HP, Kodak includes a skimpy 16MB card with the DX4900. Buy a 64MB card and you'll be set, at least initially. The battery deal is the same as on the HP camera -- throw-away AA's without the dock, rechargeables with it. The DX4900 uses two AA batteries. No word on battery life here either, but again, in my limited real world use, it seemed average.

The DX4900 has an equally impressive set of accessories as the Photosmart 812. You can get close-up, telephoto, and wide-angle lenses for it. You'll need a conversion lens adapter (32 -> 37 mm) in order to use them. There are no external flash options here either.

Like with the HP camera, the DX4900 has a built-in lens cover. It fact, it's part of the power switch mechanism.

The Kodak camera manuals are always easy-to-read and well presented, and that's the case here.

Winner: Tie
It's pretty obvious that these two cameras were made to compete with each other. Their bundles are almost the same. The Kodak camera has a slight advantage in having video out on the camera itself, rather than just the dock.

Look and Feel

Kodak DX4900 (left) and HP Photosmart 812 (right)

The shot above (along with the first one on this page) should give you an idea about how these two cameras compare to each other in size. You can see the lens advantage the HP camera has. Let's go on a detailed tour of each of these cameras now.

HP Photosmart 812

The Photosmart 812 is a fairly standard-looking small camera. The body appears to be made of metal and a little plastic. It's smaller than the DX4900, and less bulky too (not that the 4900 is really bulky). It's easy to hold and fits into almost any pocket.

The official dimensions of the 812 are 3.7 x 1.6 x 2.8 (LxWxH) inches, and it weighs 199 grams empty. While it's a bit thicker than the Canon S330 Digital ELPH, it weighs less.

Let's start our tour of this camera, beginning with the front.

The Photosmart 812 has the same Pentax 3X optical zoom lens that is found on the Pentax Optio 330/430. This F2.6 lens has a focal range of 7.6 - 22.8 mm, which is equivalent to 37 - 111 mm. The lens is not threaded, but you can still use lens accessories via the tripod mount (explained earlier).

Just above-right from the lens is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.5 - 2.8 m at wideangle and 0.5 - 2.0 m at telephoto. Again, there are no external flash options for either of the cameras in this review.

To the northwest of the lens you'll find the microphone and the self-timer lamp. If you're looking for an AF illuminator to help out with focusing in low light situations, you won't find one here.

Here's the back of the camera. The Photosmart 812 has a 1.5" LCD, fairly common for a camera of this size. When outdoors in bright light, it was almost unusable -- worse than the LCDs found on other digicams.

Just above the LCD is the optical viewfinder. It's decent sized for a small camera, but it lacks diopter correction for those with poor vision (like me!). Nose smudges on the LCD may be a problem if you use your left eye with the viewfinder.

To the right of the optical viewfinder are two buttons and four lights. The buttons are for flash and macro mode, with the lights corresponding to each, as you can see. I guess this is HP making up for not putting an LCD info display on this camera, but I'd still like to have one.

Moving over to the right, you can see the zoom controls. One thing that HP likes to talk about is that the 812 is ready to shoot at any time. So if you're in playback mode, the menus, or whatever, pressing the zoom controls will operate the zoom and get the camera ready to photograph. This takes some getting used to, especially if you've been using digital cameras for a long time, like me. The zoom mechanism itself is a bit noisy but smooth.

Looking to the right of the LCD, there are several buttons, including:

  • Display (on/off) - turns the LCD on and off
  • Instant Share - see software section later in the review
  • Menu

There's also the four-way switch to the right of that. The center button will put the camera in playback mode, as well as acting as the "OK" button in the menus.

On the far right is the door for the SD/MMC card slot. The light above it turns on when the card is being accessed.

I've already mentioned the lack of an LCD info display on this camera. What you will find on the top of the camera is the speaker, mode dial, shutter release button, and power button. There are three choices on the mode wheel: movie mode, self-timer mode, and record mode.

On this side of the camera, under a rubber cover, you'll find the I/O ports. I guess I sort of lied earlier when I said that the basic camera doesn't have video out. Actually, it does. The problem is that HP sells the needed cable as an optional accessory. The other ports here are USB (it shares the same terminal as video out) and DC in for the optional AC adapter.

Here's the other side of the Photosmart 812, you'll find the SD (Secure Digital) card slot. The 812 does not support MultiMediaCards! The plastic door seems sturdy enough. (Updated 9/29/02)

Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. The battery compartment, docking contacts, and tripod mount can be seen here. While I'm no metallurgist, I think that tripod mount is plastic.

Kodak EasyShare DX4900

The DX4900 looks just like the other cameras in Kodak's DX series of cameras. It's a big larger and more "plasticky" than the Photosmart, but it's still pretty small. It will fit in most pockets.

The dimensions of the DX4900 are 4.6 x 1.7 x 2.6 inches and it weighs 225 grams empty.

The DX4900's big disadvantage (in my opinion) versus the Photosmart is its smaller lens. The DX4900 has an F2.8, 2X optical zoom lens with a focal range of 7.3 - 14.6 mm. That's equivalent to 35 - 70 mm. Unlike the Photosmart, the DX4900's lens is threaded.

Just above the lens are two little holes: one is the self-timer lamp, the other is the light sensor. Nope, no AF illuminator here either.

The flash, over to the left, is further from the lens than on the Photosmart, so I predict better red-eye performance on the DX4900. The working range of the flash is 0.5 - 3.2 m (wideangle) and 0.5 - 2.3 m (telephoto).

There isn't a whole lot to see on the back of the camera, especially compared to the Photosmart.

The LCD (also 1.5") isn't spectacular either - it's hard to see outdoors and the frame rate can be choppy at times. Be sure to avoid using the power saver mode, as it cuts the frame rate in half making it real choppy.

Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is about the same size as the Photosmart's. Like that one, there's no diopter correction, and nose smudges on the LCD can be a problem if you use your left eye.

Over on the right side of the LCD, you'll find the four-way switch plus the select and menu buttons.

The four-way switch is used for menu navigation as well as controlling the zoom. The zoom moves a bit slowly for my taste, but it's quiet. The select and menu buttons are used for -- guess what -- menu navigation. The select button is also used for turning the LCD on and off.

Hurrah! An LCD info display is such a nice treat these days. It's a shame to see so many camera manufacturers no longer including this valuable feature on their cameras. The LCD info display shows you the cameras current settings, without needing to turn on the main LCD. This, in turn, saves battery life.

To the right of that are three buttons:

  • Flash
  • Macro / Landscape focus
  • Self-timer

Continuing to the right, you can see a very plastic mode dial, with record, playback, and setup modes on it. What, no movie mode? That's right!

Above that is the shutter release button. I wish it had a bit more "play" than it does. If that doesn't make sense, go use one and maybe you'll see what I'm saying.

On this side of the DX4900, you will see the power switch and I/O ports. The power switch is attached to the lens cover, so it swings that open and turns on the camera. When you turn off the camera, the lens retracts and then the cover automatically closes.

The I/O ports include USB and video out. There is no support for an AC adapter on this camera.

On the other side of the camera is the CompactFlash slot. The included 16MB card is shown here. I found the door covering the CF slot to be flimsy.

Here's the bottom of the DX4900. Here you'll find the battery compartment, plastic (I think) tripod mount, CF card eject switch, and the contacts for the dock. The DX4900 uses two AA-sized batteries. The CF card really flies when you eject it, so be careful.

Winner: HP Photosmart 812
While the DX4900 gets major points for having the LCD info display, the fact is that the Photosmart has a larger lens, a microphone, a slightly better LCD, and overall superior build quality. It's a smaller camera too.

Continue to page two for more on using these two cameras >>

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