Review: Two Cheap Four Megapixel Cameras
Photosmart 812 / Kodak EasyShare DX4900
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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
LCD in record mode. These didn't capture well,
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.
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.
speed is pretty sluggish as well. Expect a wait of nearly five seconds
before you can take another shot.
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:
shots on 16MB card
(included with camera)
2272 x 1712
2272 x 1712
1136 x 848
1136 x 848
is no TIFF or "RAW" mode available on the Photosmart 812.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
DX4900 has quite a few choices for resolution and quality. Here's
shots on 16MB card
(included with camera)
2448 x 1632
2448 x 1632
1800 x 1200
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.
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.
you'll see in the next section, the DX4900 has a lot more controls
than the Photosmart. Even control over the shutter speed!
Despite its smaller file sizes, the Kodak DX4900 has many
more controls, faster auto-focus, and more image quality choices
than the HP.
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:
image (current, all, format card)
(see chart in previous section)
recording (on/off) - record up to 30 sec of audio per photo
(High, low, off) - phony shutter sound, beeps, etc.
& Time (set)
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
configuration (NTSC, PAL)
(English, Deutsch, Español, Français, Italiano)
menus are also pretty fancy looking, but more importantly, there
are actually some exposure controls here. Let's get right to it:
compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/2EV steps)
balance (Auto, daylight, tungsten, fluorescent) - what, no cloudy
or manual options? Oh well.
mode (Color, black & white, sepia)
quality (see chart in previous section)
metering (Multi-pattern, center-weighted, center spot)
(Sharp, standard, soft)
speed (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
speed (Auto, 0.7 - 16 seconds) - wow!
& Time stamp - several formats available
is also a setup menu (accessed via the mode wheel) which lets you
set the date/time, beep volume, digital zoom, etc.
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).
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
No contest here. The Kodak has the manual controls that the
HP camera lacks.
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.
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.
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
HP Instant Share
of the really unique features of the Photosmart 812 is the "Instant
Share" system. This lets you :
your photos to friends
your photos to an HP website so they can be shared
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.
last thing: the 812 has a cool effect on the LCD when you delete
just like record mode!
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.
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
the DX4900 doesn't have a true 4/9 thumbnail mode, you can quickly
zoom through thumbnails while the menu is open.
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.
you want more information about a photo, just choose the Picture
Info option from the menu and you'll get just about every statistic
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.
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.
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 Photo Imaging Software
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).
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.
the images are downloaded, the included ArcSoft PhotoImpression
software will run and you can edit your images.
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.
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 Picture Software
will again mention that the Kodak EasyShare software is getting
totally revamped, so what I reviewed here will be outdated shortly.
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.
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.
on the info button back at the main window will show you all the
information you ever wanted about your photo.
the edit button will allow you to make all kinds of changes to your
image. They're conveniently listed in the screen shot above.
in all, the software isn't bad at all -- and the new version should
be even better.
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.
to page three for more tests and the conclusion >>