HP R927 Overview
By: Dan Havlik
Review Date: 10/06/2006
Long known for its printers, Hewlett Packard has been slowly building a reputation for making stylish, easy-to-use digital cameras that come packed with features. The latest flagship to be launched in HP's Photosmart camera line is the R927 which not only boasts 8.2 megapixels, it features an array of unique functions and helpful in-camera tips designed for beginners.
Along with the serious resolution, the R927 employs the sturdy stainless steel construction that HP is known for, a 3x optical zoom, a huge 3-inch LCD screen, and a friendly interface that leads you to an array of in-camera artistic editing functions from the useful to the downright bizarre. I've been a fan of HP Real Life technologies -- a suite of automatic in-camera picture correction functions -- since trying out the HP R707 two years ago and have found HP's Automatic In-Camera Red-Eye Removal to be about the best anti-red-eye technology on the market. With the latest round of Photosmarts, HP has added to that in-camera functionality with HP Design Gallery, a new suite of in-camera artistic effects and borders including a much talked about "Slimming" function which will reportedly take as much as ten pounds off your subject's physique. The R927 also features HP's revamped Instant Image Advice System which offers the user in-camera tips on what went wrong with a picture and how to correct it the next time.
But while HP's Photosmart series has been known for great ease-of-use and functionality, image quality has never been much to talk about on these models. Does the HP R927 with its 8.2 megapixel sensor have what it takes to change this reputation? Read on to find out.
HP R927 User Report
Same Steely Good Looks. When it revamped the design of Photosmart cameras two years ago, HP's stylish, metallic R-series of cameras helped change the perception that the company was the "ugly duckling" of digital camera world. Though the new R927 doesn't break any new ground like its progenitor the R707 did back in 2004, it slims down its ergonomic shape slightly while maintaining its rugged but lightweight exterior. This latest R-series flagship is actually a little more square than other HP cameras with the top left corner, as seen from the rear, not rounded off as on other models.
At 3.8 x 2.4 x 1 inches (96 x 62 x 26 millimeters), the HP R927 is a little bigger than its advertised "pack of cards" size, but not by much. It's certainly small enough to fit in a handbag or backpack with the steel chassis feeling like it could take some serious jostling without a problem despite being relatively lightweight at just 7.48 ounces (212 grams) with the battery and SD card. The recessed area on the bottom of the HP R927 front is both eye-catching and functional, giving your fingers a more comfortable and firmer grip on the camera's body while adding an attractive swerve to the frontplate so the R927 doesn't look boxy. All in all, the HP R927 is comfortable to hold, if a little weighted toward the left side (from the rear) of the camera. This is mostly due to the whopping 3-inch LCD display which takes up the majority of the back of the camera. Because the screen is so big, there's no room for an optical viewfinder -- something that's increasingly rare.
Whopping LCD. Without having to increase the camera's size further, three inches is about as large as you can go with an LCD screen on a compact camera. Some manufacturers have been putting these huge screens on their cameras without increasing the resolution, which gives you a larger, but considerably softer image. Thankfully, HP hasn't gone that route, giving the LCD on the HP R927 a decent resolution of 230,400 pixels.
Images looked good in playback, and the HP R927's 170-degree viewing angle was helpful for showing and sharing shots with others -- which is really the best thing about having a screen this large. Live preview, however, was more hit or miss with the screen showing lots of fuzzy noise when composing in low light. The LCD was also slow to gain up in less than ideal lighting conditions and in lower, candle-lit settings, the screen stayed almost completely dark, so shooting with the flash was almost like shooting blind.
Menus looked great, though, and were extremely easy to read. Because the menu system uses a frame setup, HP has cleverly kept the live preview on part of the large LCD so you can make changes to the settings without losing the real-time picture. Smart thinking on HP's part and a good use of the HP R927's extra screen area.
Good Speed for a Consumer Camera. Unlike Canon with its DIGiC II or Fuji with its RP Processor II, HP doesn't overtly brand the processor in its digital cameras; but it might consider doing so, because it performs very well. The HP R927 has good overall speed for a consumer camera and was able to power on to first shot in just 2.3 seconds and shut down in 1.6 seconds, according to our test results.
Shutter lag at both wide angle and telephoto zoom settings was also quite good on the HP R927, and "prefocus" times (half-pressing and holding down the shutter button before the final exposure) were fast as well, with a shutter delay of just 0.185 second. Shot-to-shot cycle times were speedier than average, at about 1.03 seconds for large/fine JPEGs, though the camera only captures three frames at this rate. Continuous-mode speed is about average, at about 1.57 frames/second, for up to three shots in succession.
The HP R927's flash recycling time was about average too, at six seconds. Connected to a computer, download speeds are fairly fast -- even though it's rated as a USB 1.1 connection while many other cameras are now offering USB 2.0 connections.
The only serious speed issues I had with HP R927 was its tendency to flutter loudly when it could not lock in its autofocus system; and its slow capture-to-playback speed when shooting in lowlight without a flash. (The later issue is probably due to the camera's noise reduction mode, where the camera takes what's called a "dark frame" to later subtract the sensor's inherent noise from the original exposure.)
Bottom line, the Photosmart R927 is responsive enough for most family photo opportunities, though its maximum burst rate in either standard shooting or continuous modes is a bit low.
Inconsistent Image Quality. Though there's a lot to like in the form and functionality of the HP R927, image quality was not as good as should be expected from a flagship R-Series model with a 8.2-megapixel sensor. The R927's HP-branded 3x optical zoom (f/2.8-f/5.0) covers the equivalent of a 35-105mm range, which is fairly typical among digital cameras of its class. Results were good at the wide angle, according to our test results, with minimal corner softness, though barrel distortion was surprisingly high. Distortion was not a problem at the telephoto end though. Similarly, chromatic aberration was high at wide angle but less noticeable at telephoto.
The HP R927's maximum 8x digital zoom results in a maximum image resolution of 432 x 320 pixels, which helps minimize the effects of digital enlargement on the final image. Fine details are strong, though resolution does suffer from digital zoom.
The HP R927's Adaptive Lighting setting -- which brightens dark areas -- should be used sparingly, since it seemed to aggravate this problem further. Though no one wants dark pictures, they certainly don't want flat images either. Overall, pictures with the HP R927 lacked pop despite the camera's default pumping of color saturation, particularly the reds and blues. This oversaturation did have at least one negative effect -- it made Caucasian skin tones appear a bit flushed and pink.
Low-Light Shooting Not Up to Par. With many top-of-the-line compact digital cameras pushing the envelope with higher ISO ratings and technologies to reduce camera movement, the HP R927 plays it pretty conservatively with selectable ISO of only 100, 200, 400, and Auto. Noise levels were somewhat high in the R927's images, with moderately high noise even at ISO 100. The noise pattern increased in brightness as the ISO setting increased, becoming very high at ISO 400, with significant blurring. The camera also does not have any dedicated image stabilization features.
Getting Creative. With the HP R927 -- as with many of HP's digital cameras -- capturing the picture is only half the fun. Though most digital cameras on the market have some sort of basic in-camera editing features, such as cropping and trimming, I can't think of another brand out there that has such a variety of creative functions for tweaking your images right in the camera. Much of what's offered in HP's Design Gallery could easily be accomplished with the most basic image editing software like Photoshop Elements, but that's hardly the point. Because HP has included them right in the R927 with a very simple interface that lets you see the effect on your image even before you apply it, beginning photographers are probably more likely to use these in-camera editing effects.
The process is simple. Scroll through to an image you'd like to modify, hit the HP R927's menu button and then toggle over to the Design Galley Menu. Move down to Apply Artistic Effects, hit OK, and after a few seconds you'll be presented with 13 effects to choose from: Ink Dots, Cartoon, Watercolor, Center Focus, Posterize, Retro, Soft Glow, Vintage, Slimming, Sky Color, Ground Color, Kaleidoscope, and Solarize. Some of the effects are cheesier than others, but a few produced cool results -- Ink Dots, Cartoon, Watercolor, and Posterize were my personal favorites.
Though much has been mentioned in coverage of the HP R927 about the Slimming feature, I found it produced very inconsistent and often bizarre results. While it slims certain parts of an image other parts get elongated almost like a funhouse mirror. In one shot, my friend's head shrunk but the rest of his body blew up like a balloon. If you're looking to make a portly loved one feel better about themselves make sure you use this feature carefully!
The HP R927's Image Advice system, while definitely directed at beginning users, offers helpful advice about your pictures after you take them. If a shot comes out blurry, for instance, a pair of glasses will appear at the bottom of the screen indicating that a tip is available to help you correct future images under the same conditions. When I purposely took a blurry shot in low light, the camera advised me that I had the flash turned off and I should use a tripod the next time.
Battery life on the HP R927 was about average with camera's proprietary Lithium-ion battery able to capture up to 200 shots on a single charge, according to CIPA standards.
The Bottom Line
Though image quality on the HP R927 would not please a more advanced photographer -- which is disappointing considering that it has an 8.2MP imaging sensor -- entry-level users may be able to overlook this deficiency since this sleek but rugged camera has a lot to offer in the way of ease-of-use, in-camera editing and helpful real-time photography advice. If you want to print anything over 4x6 or plan to shoot in less than ideal conditions, this digital camera is not recommended for you.
- 8.2-megapixel CCD (effective) delivering image resolutions as high as 3,296 x 2,480 pixels.
- 3x optical zoom, equivalent to 35-105mm on a 35mm camera.
- 3-inch color LCD monitor 230,400 pixels of resolution.
- 8x digital zoom.
- Auto, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual exposure modes, custom "My Mode", plus 12 Scene modes.
- Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 16 seconds.
- Built-in flash with two modes.
- Aperture range from f/2.8 to f/5, depending on zoom position.
- 32MB internal memory (23MB usable for image storage) and an SD card slot.
- Power supplied by rechargeable Li-Ion battery pack (charger included) or optional AC adapter.
- Compatible with HP Photosmart docks (HP Photosmart 6220 Digital Camera Dock included).
- HP Photosmart Share software included on CD-ROM.
- 24fps VGA(640x480) Movie mode with sound.
- HP Real Life technologies including Red-Eye removal, Adaptive Lighting, Design Gallery, Panorama assist and in-camera stitching, and Image advice.
- Burst shooting modes.
- Adaptive Lighting, Exposure, and Color Bracketing.
- Directing printing to PictBridge printers.
- 10-second Self-Timer and double-shot Self Timer for delayed shutter release.
- Voice Memo mode for recording audio captions.
- White balance (color) adjustment with six modes, including a manual setting.
- Adjustable ISO with three sensitivity settings (100, 200 & 400) and an Auto mode.
- Average, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering options.
- Color, Saturation, Sharpness, and Contrast adjustments.
- USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included).
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- HP Photosmart R927 camera
- HP Photosmart 6220 Digital Camera Dock with AC adapter
- HP Photosmart Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery
- USB cable
- Quick Start Guide
- Warranty/Regulatory brochure
- CD with HP Photosmart software for Microsoft Windows and Macintosh, and User Guide
- Wrist strap
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card, 256MB as minimum
- Second rechargeable battery
- Soft camera case
There's a lot to like on the HP R927 including a stylish but sturdy stainless steel design, a huge 3-inch LCD with decent resolution, and good overall speed for a consumer camera including virtually no shutter lag when you pre-focus. Best of all about the HP 927 -- as with many models in HP's Photosmart series -- is its extensive feature set. HP's helpful Real Life technologies include one of the best Red-eye removal features I've used along with a very fun new Design Galley function that lets you tweak your images in a variety of ways without the need of a PC or additional software. The R927 is also very simple and intuitive to use with an easy-to-read menu system and a straight-forward layout. The HP R927 has a lot of features a beginning photographer could definitely use including ample scene modes and easy-to-use Bracketing functions. Best of all is the HP R927's revamped Image Advice function which comments on your pictures after you've taken them, and offers suggestion on how to make them better the next time.
So, you might say, what's not to like?
Well, image quality for one...and that's a big one. Though the HP R927 is advertised as having an 8.2MP imaging sensor, I found picture quality did not live up to this billing. For starters, images had an overall softness to them that was disappointing. Dynamic range was also not good enough on a camera in this class, with images frequently overexposed and flat. Color lacked crispness, and Caucasian skin tones came out oversaturated and slightly pink. The HP R927's low-light capabilities were also sorely lacking with light sensitivity adjustable only to an unusually noisy ISO 400 setting. While the flash on the HP R927 was extremely powerful, I found that it was often too powerful, knocking out whatever atmosphere there was in a night scene with a flash of bright light. While there's clearly a lot to like on the HP R927, image quality just isn't up to snuff and we cannot make this a Dave's Pick.