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HP PhotoSmart 912

HP and Pentax team up to make a true SLR digicam with Pentax lens, HP color wizardry, and ample features.

Review First Posted: 3/26/2001





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MSRP $799 US

 

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2.24-megapixel CCD delivers up to 1,600 x 1,200-pixel photos.
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SLR viewfinder shows you exactly what the camera sees.
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3x optical zoom lens by Pentax delivers high-quality optics.
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Flashpoint's Digita operating system adds programmability and lots of features.


Manufacturer Overview
Hewlett Packard (HP) is one of the true giants of the information age. Their products range from scientific instruments to personal computers, to the most popular line of laser printers in existence. Along the way, they've developed a popular line of digital cameras, inkjet printers, and scanners intended to make digital imaging accessible to the home and small-office user. HP has apparently succeeded well in this, as the PhotoSmart 315 camera was the biggest-selling camera in the US in the 2000 Christmas season. In an earlier review, we were very impressed with the PhotoSmart S20 print/film scanner, which produced very high-quality images with virtually no tweaking or adjustment.

The subject of this review is HP's PhotoSmart 912 digital camera, a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) design developed in cooperation with Pentax Corporation, a well-known camera manufacturer with a longstanding record of experience and skill in optics and conventional film-based cameras. The SLR viewfinder allows you to look through the same lens the camera uses to take the picture, so there's none of the usual problems with "viewfinder parallax" to skew your framing. What you see is what you get! Aside from the SLR design, the PhotoSmart 912 is a full-function, 2.2-megapixel camera, with good color and image quality, and a lot of flexibility thanks to its Flashpoint Digita operating system. (Digita provides a platform through which users can actually program their own camera functions. Check http://www.flashpoint.com/ for more information and links to the tools you'd need.) Overall, HP has created a very feature-rich SLR digicam, at a price far below what other true "optical" SLR digicams typically sell.


High Points



Executive Overview
Similar in size and appearance to a large 35mm SLR camera, the PhotoSmart 912 is the top-of-the-line model among Hewlett-Packard's recent PhotoSmart digital cameras (seventh in the PhotoSmart digicam family). It offers significantly more features than the most recent introductions we've tested (the PS 215, 315, and 618), including a Manual exposure mode, SLR optical viewfinder with data display, and a wide range of ISO settings. Though it's certainly not a pocket camera -- measuring a hefty 5.6 x 3.6 x 4.1 inches (143.5 x 90.5 x 105mm) -- the PS 912 is still lightweight for its size, at approximately 19 ounces (540 grams) without batteries.

The 912's design features more external controls than the 618 model, with a larger status display panel, a pop-up flash and external flash hot shoe, plus two Mode dials: One for selecting Capture, Playback, Review and PC modes (just like the PS 618), and a second dial that provides access to all of the Exposure mode settings that were previously part of the LCD menu. The camera's through-the-lens (TTL) optical viewfinder displays exactly what the lens is seeing, with an information readout at the bottom that shows shutter speed and aperture settings in some modes, plus the number of remaining images.

The viewfinder eyepiece has a rotating bezel, which serves as a diopter adjustment dial to accommodate eyeglass wearers. As a consequence of its Single Lens Reflex (SLR) design, light can enter the eyepiece and affect the exposure, causing streaks or blurs. Thus, when the camera is used on a tripod (without your eye pressed against the viewfinder eyepiece), you need to affix a tiny plastic clip over the viewfinder eyepiece. While you can always use your thumb or hand to shade the eyepiece, we'd have liked to have seen some solution other than an easily-lost clip for these situations.

The two-inch LCD monitor is quite flexible, as it can be rotated 90 degrees up and off the camera's back panel, providing a chest-level viewing angle reminiscent of the old twin-lens reflex cameras. Limited LCD readouts report current soft key functions and any pertinent camera messages, while the majority of the camera's information is shown in the status display panel on top of the camera (great for operating without the LCD monitor).

The 912 features a Pentax 3x, 8.2-25.8mm lens (equivalent to a 34-107mm lens on a 35mm camera), with adjustable apertures from f/2.5 to f/11. Focus ranges from 1.64 feet (0.5 meters) to infinity in Normal autofocus mode, and from 0.33 to 1.97 feet (0.1 to 0.6 meter) in Macro mode. Manual focus changes the focal range to 0.33 feet (0.1 meter) to infinity, with the current focal distance displayed in the upper left corner of the LCD monitor. Focus can be set to Wide or Spot area settings, Continuous focus, or a manual focus lock by pressing the shutter button halfway before an exposure. In addition to the 3x optical zoom (set by turning the zoom ring that surrounds the lens barrel), the 912 also provides up to 2x digital enlargement, which is activated by zooming past the normal telephoto range. (Users should be aware that digital zoom is not the same as optical zoom, since the digital zoom is merely cropping and enlarging the center portion of the CCD. As a result, digitally enlarged images often result in higher image noise and/or softer resolution.)

In addition to a fully Manual exposure mode, the 912 offers Auto, Program AE (P), Aperture Priority (Av), Shutter Priority (Tv), Landscape, Portrait, Close-up, Night, and Action exposure modes. Automatic mode keeps the camera in control of all exposure settings, while Program AE puts the camera in charge of aperture and shutter speed only. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes allow the user to select the available exposure setting while the camera chooses the best corresponding value to achieve a good exposure, and Manual mode puts the user in charge of both aperture and shutter speed.

The 912 also provides additional control by using the Exposure Compensation adjustment from -3 to +3 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-half-step increments. The EV Bracketing function takes a series of three images at different exposure levels, allowing you to choose the best overall exposure from the group.

White Balance can be set to Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, Fluorescent, or 5,500K settings, and ISO (light sensitivity) can be set to Auto, 25, 50, 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents, depending on the exposure mode. Meter reading options include Spot, Average, or Center-Weighted metering, or you can maintain a single exposure reading for 20 seconds by pressing the AE Lock button (regardless of capture mode). The Color mode option provides three recording options: Full Color, Black and White, or Sepia tone.

The 912's built-in flash operates in Auto, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, and Forced On with Red-Eye Reduction modes, which are chosen by pressing the Flash mode button on top of the camera. The external flash hot shoe, protected by a small black plastic cover, accommodates a variety of auxiliary flash units, making it very versatile in low-light shooting conditions.

The Timer mode button on top of the camera offers three exposure options: Self-timer with a 10-second countdown (after pressing the shutter button), standard Remote Control, and Remote Control with a three-second countdown. Both Remote modes are triggered by the accompanying Infrared (IR) Remote Control device, which communicates with the IR sensor on the front of the camera. All three options can be used to delay the shutter release until the photographer steps into the picture, or to trigger the shutter mechanically, so the photographer doesn't cause camera shake while depressing the shutter button.

In addition to a standard One-Shot exposure mode, the 912 also offers Continuous shooting and Time-Lapse photography. Continuous mode takes an unlimited series of images in rapid succession for as long as the shutter button is held down (or until the memory card runs out of space). In Time-Lapse mode, the camera takes a preset number of images at specified time intervals. You can also record up to 45 seconds of sound to accompany each captured image, or series of images (such as Continuous and Time-Lapse images), or use the Image Stamp function to print text or logo watermarks on your images (a selection of logos is available for download from HP's website).

The 912 has two image viewing modes that are selected through the Mode dial: Playback and Review. The Playback mode provides information about each image in an overlay bar across the top of the screen, including the image number, the date and time it was recorded, aperture (f/stop) setting, shutter speed, and shooting mode. You can expand the information overlay to a third row of data, which includes the ISO, lens length, metering, and exposure mode settings. The center soft key underneath the LCD monitor is used to zoom in and out of an image for closer inspection. The other two soft keys are used to edit and exit menu options. There is only one menu in Playback mode, the Play Settings.

The Slideshow submenu allows the user to determine the content and duration of a slide show, whether the sound is turned on or off, and whether the slide show stops after one play-through, or loops for continuous play. Playback rate can also be determined, as well as the video connection (NTSC or Pal) format and overlay options.

In Review mode, the Edit menu allows you to delete images, link them together as groups, write-protect individual images, and categorize them by subject (Scenery, Vacation, Friends, etc.). A Print Order Form menu sets up images for DPOF printing, and a Transmit menu allows the user to send images via the 912's infrared port from Camera-to-Camera, when used with other HP Digita-enabled digicams, and from Camera-to-Printer, when used with an HP JetSend-enabled printer. Finally, a Find menu enables the user to search through stored images by Date or Category.

An NTSC video cable is provided to connect the camera to a television (PAL for European models), where images can be played back using all of the functions in the 912's Playback and Review menus. A USB cable is also supplied to connect the camera to a computer for downloading captured images.

Two software CDs include HP's Photo Imaging software, ACDSee Systems Viewer, a PDF copy of the User's Guide, plus ArcSoft PhotoImpression and PhotoMontage software programs. HP's Photo Imaging software provides minor editing, organizing, printing, and Web sharing utilities, while ACDSee offers more in-depth organization tools (both programs are Windows only). The ArcSoft PhotoImpression software (Mac/Windows) provides similar image editing, organizing, and printing tools. ArcSoft's PhotoMontage (also dual platform) creates large images from mosaics of hundreds or thousands of smaller images.

The 912 is powered by four AA batteries, and a set of alkaline batteries accompanies the camera. You can also use NiMH rechargeables, or purchase HP's optional Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery pack or the optional AC adapter.

Overall, we enjoyed shooting with the 912, especially with the fully manual exposure control. The extensive external controls enable you to rely less on the LCD monitor, saving battery power and time. The TTL optical viewfinder is a nice bonus, as is the adjustable LCD screen. With a large variety of preset exposure modes, plus the semi and full manual controls, the 912 is perfectly suited for a wide range of consumers, from novices to more advanced photographers. The 912 has a lot to offer, and, judging by the popularity of Hewlett-Packard's other PhotoSmart models, we think it will do well.


Design
Sporting a body design similar to that of a traditional 35mm film camera, Hewlett-Packard's PhotoSmart 912 offers the highest level of exposure control in the PhotoSmart line to date (March 2001). Its matte-black exterior is accented by brushed silver panels -- each covered with a myriad of clearly labeled control buttons and dials, effectively reducing reliance on the LCD monitor and its menu system.

Measuring 5.6 x 3.6 x 4.1 inches (143.5 x 90.5 x 105mm), the 912 is too large to store in a pocket or purse. In fact, based on the size and weight (19 ounces / 540 grams without batteries) we suggest investing in a small camera bag to provide additional protection and convenience. When you're actively shooting, the accompanying neck strap is styled to comfortably support a its bulk.



The high-quality Pentax 3x zoom lens dominates the front panel, sharing the space only with a Command wheel, microphone, IR Remote Control window, and JetSend infrared window. The 2.5-inch lens barrel features a notched, rubber finger grip that rotates right or left to control the optical zoom. Turning and holding it to the right after the optical zoom has reached the end of its range engages the 2x digital zoom. The entire front panel of the camera is covered with a black rubber-like coating that wraps around both ends of the camera. A large, curved hand grip provides a comfortable grasp on the right side, with sculpted finger rests on the front and back of the camera.



On the right side of the camera is the CompactFlash compartment, which is protected by a hinged, plastic door, with a wide opening that provides plenty of room to insert or remove the memory card. A small, red LED lamp just to the rear of the top of the compartment lights when the camera is accessing the card, letting you know that you shouldn't open the compartment or turn off the camera (when you're in a capture mode). A small gray button inside the compartment ejects the card when you're ready to remove it. Above the door is one neck strap attachment eyelet, which sits next to the AE Lock button on the top of the back panel.



The connector compartment, which houses the USB, A/V out, and DC In jacks, is located on the left side of the camera. A flexible rubber flap covers the compartment, and is connected to the camera by a small rubber hinge. Though it appears to offer good protection for the jacks, the rubber cover can require a significant amount of manipulation to close again, as the corners are very difficult to pop back into place. We eventually got it closed, but it was a bit of a hassle until we got used to it. Above the connector compartment is the second neck strap attachment eyelet.



The contours of the 912's top panel are designed to provide maximum space for the many control buttons. The large Exposure Mode dial on the left offers 10 different exposure options, and includes a notched edge to facilitate turning. Directly to the right is the Pop-Up Flash button, which activates the Pop-up Flash. On top of the flash unit is an external flash hot shoe, which is protected by a small black plastic cover that could be a challenge to track down if separated from the camera. The shutter button, power switch, and status display panel are on the far right side, easily within reach of the right forefinger. The status display panel reports camera settings, such as file quality and size, autofocus area, flash mode, battery status, and remaining pictures, as well as various exposure settings. To the left of the status display is a series of small control buttons that are used to select the Image Type (shooting mode), Timer mode, Auto Focus Area, and Flash mode.



The remaining camera controls are on the 912's back panel, along with the optical viewfinder eyepiece and LCD monitor. The through-the-lens (TTL) optical viewfinder has a diopter adjustment dial, provided in the form of the plastic bezel surrounding the eyepiece. The bezel turns back and forth to adjust the focus for eyeglass wearers. A small plastic clip (not shown) is provided to shade the eyepiece when the camera is used on a tripod. (To prevent stray light entering the eyepiece from affecting the picture.) This clip is tiny and easily lost: We'd have greatly preferred some sort of on-camera shutter or other arrangement for shading the eyepiece when needed. Directly below the eyepiece are the Speaker, JetSend button, and four-way Arrow Rocker Pad, surrounded by the Camera Mode dial, which controls the camera's main operating modes. The two-inch LCD monitor sits on a panel that lifts up 90 degrees to provide a chest-level viewing angle. Three buttons along the top of the LCD monitor control the Menu, Display, and Sound options, while the three soft keys along the bottom of the LCD monitor change functions depending on the camera mode. The two remaining controls, on the top right side of the back panel, are the Exposure Compensation (AV) and AE Lock buttons.



The 912 features a reasonably flat bottom, except for some light ridges surrounding the metal threaded tripod mount. Centered directly under the lens, the tripod mount is just a hair too close to the battery compartment to allow access to the batteries while the camera is mounted. The battery compartment is covered by a hinged, plastic door with a sliding lock button. Sliding the button backward allows the compartment door to snap open, while pushing the door closed again snaps the lock back into place. The battery compartment comes with an AA battery adapter inside, which can be popped out to accommodate the optional HP Li-Ion battery pack.



A tiny IR Remote Control unit is provided with the 912. About the size of a stick of gum, the Remote Control has only one button, which releases the shutter when the camera is in Remote Control or 3-Second Remote mode.


Viewfinder
The 912 features a Through The Lens (TTL) optical viewfinder, following the traditional 35mm SLR design, as well as a two-inch LCD monitor for composing images. The optical viewfinder eyepiece is surrounded by a round plastic bezel, which not only serves as an eye rest, but also as the diopter adjustment dial to accommodate eyeglass wearers. A series of dots on the back side of the bezel indicate the degree of correction. There isn't as much room for wearers of thick eyeglasses (when compared to other PhotoSmart models), because the corners of the view begin to disappear immediately after moving back only slightly from the eyepiece.

The viewfinder display features a set of autofocus and autoexposure target marks, as well as an information readout along the bottom. This small LCD information display reports the shutter speed, aperture, flash status, exposure compensation, AE lock (when used), number of pictures remaining (depending on the exposure mode), and whether or not the image is in focus.

As we mentioned earlier in this review, one consequence of the SLR viewfinder design is that stray light entering the viewfinder eyepiece during the exposure can cause ghosts or streaking in the final image. In normal use, this isn't a problem, since your eye will block any extraneous light from entering the eyepiece. When the camera is mounted on a tripod though, light can enter, particularly if the light on the subject is coming from behind the camera. To avoid ghostly blobs in images shot from tripods, HP provides a small plastic clip to cover the eyepiece in such situations. This is such a small item that it could easily be lost, but fortunately, HP's neck strap provides a compartment for storing it when not in use.



Also on the 912 is a two-inch, low-temperature, polysilicon, TFT, color LCD monitor comprised of 130,338 pixels. The LCD and surrounding panel lift up off the back and flip upward about 90 degrees for better viewing. A Display button just over the LCD monitor controls the image display. An information overlay reports the soft key functions (the three keys along the bottom of the LCD monitor), and reports camera information such as error messages. This information display is canceled by pressing the bottom center soft key, labeled "Overlay."

The Status function (activated by pressing the far right soft key during normal image display in Capture mode) pulls up a full screen display of the camera's settings, including Resolution, Quality, White Balance, EV Compensation, ISO Speed, and AE Metering mode. This is useful when you want to double-check exposure settings, without having to fish back through the menu screens.


In Playback mode, the top overlay bar provides capture information, including the image number and the date and time it was taken. The bottom center soft button is a playback zoom function, which enlarges captured images to 2x for close-up viewing of fine details. The button on the left plays a slide show of the captured images, while the button on the right Expands and Collapses groups or sequences of images stored on the CompactFlash card. Playback mode offers only one menu of "Play Settings" which determines Slideshow content and duration, Playback rate for Time-Lapse and groups of images, and sets the Video Out preference to NTSC or PAL.

The Review mode has its own notch on the Mode dial. Instead of an index display, it automatically displays small thumbnail images along the top of the LCD and a larger thumbnail of the selected image below it. Next to the larger thumbnail is a text area that provides the image number, date and time it was taken, and group name if one has been selected. This is the mode where most of the Review functions are set, with Edit, Print Order Form, Transmit, and Find menus. The center soft key is used to delete an image, the left button to mark an image for printing.

In our testing, we found the 912's optical viewfinder to be pretty accurate, offering 90-91% frame coverage relative to the final exposure. The LCD was even more accurate, at 96-98% coverage. Both viewfinders are better than average in terms of their accuracy.


Optics
The built-in Pentax 3x 8.2-25.8mm lens is equivalent to a 34-107mm lens on a 35mm camera. The glass lens has eight elements in seven groups, with one aspherical (distortion correction) element. The apertures range from f/2.5 to f/11, under automatic or manual control. A zoom ring around the lens barrel controls the optical and digital zoom. A spring-loaded plastic lens cap protects the lens, locking inside the lip of the lens barrel when it snaps into place. A set of 49mm filter threads (also inside the lip of the lens barrel) accommodates a variety of accessory lens kits and filters.

At first contact, we found the operation of the zoom ring to be rather disconcerting - It doesn't directly actuate the lens' zoom elements, but rather just controls an internal motor to zoom the lens toward wide or telephoto settings. Really, this is no different than the more typical toggle button on other cameras we've tested, but somehow the presence of a ring on the lens led us to expect it to work the way the zoom lenses on our 35mm cameras do. Like many cameras, the zoom lens on the 912 doesn't have a truly continuous range, but rather moves in small steps from one focal length to the next. (That is, the lens elements appear to zoom smoothly, but the zoom motion will only stop at certain predefined settings.) In the case of the 912, there appear to be a total of 15 steps of zoom in the range from wide angle to telephoto. This is more than many cameras we've tested, but it still doesn't permit absolutely precise setting. (This is a small matter for most users, but we've always found it to be an annoyance - We hope by chiding the manufacturers gently, they'll be motivated to provide zoom lenses with truly continuous actuation.)

Auto or Manual Focus is selected with the left soft key below the LCD monitor. The focal range differs depending on the focus mode -- Auto Focus mode is 1.64 feet (0.5 meters) to infinity, and Manual focus mode is 0.33 feet (0.1 meter) to infinity. Manual focus is controlled with the right and left arrow keys, and the focus distance is reported in the top left corner of the LCD monitor. For Macro subjects, the focus range is 0.07 to 1.97 feet (0.02 to 0.6 meters) in Auto Focus mode only. You can also adjust the autofocus mechanism to AF Lock (sets focus with a press of the shutter button), or Continuous AF (stays in focus continuously), through the Photo Assist submenu in the Capture settings menu.

Though the 912 doesn't offer a true focus lock button, you can manually lock focus by framing the desired portion of the subject in the center of the frame, pressing the shutter button halfway, and then recomposing the shot while keeping the shutter button pressed halfway. Focus is locked until the shutter button is fully depressed or released.

In addition to the AF Focus menu control, you can change the portion of the subject that the autofocus system bases its focus on (in all exposure modes except Auto). The Auto Focus Area button on top of the camera alternates between Wide (default) and Spot focusing. The Wide setting bases focus on a large area in the center of the viewfinder, while the Spot setting judges focus from the very center of the image.

In addition to the 3x optical zoom, the 912 also provides digital zoom up to 2x, which is activated by zooming past the optical zoom range with the zoom ring. The camera's instruction manual reports that the Digital Zoom includes 1.2, 1.5, and 2x settings, though these figures aren't reported on the LCD screen and it's a little difficult to control the amount of Digital Zoom. Instead, a magnifying glass with a plus (+) sign appears in the top right corner to indicate that digital zoom is in use. (Keep in mind that digital zoom only crops and enlarges the center portion of the CCD image, usually resulting in a loss of image quality in the form of lower resolution or excess image noise.)

In our testing, we found the 912's lens to be of good quality, showing almost no loss of sharpness in the corners of the frame. Overall sharpness was a little low, most likely due to conservative in-camera sharpening of the digital images. Optical distortion was fairly high at the wide angle end of the lens' range, where we measured 0.91% barrel distortion. (A bowing out of straight lines along the edges of the frame). At the telephoto end though, distortion was almost unmeasurable. Chromatic aberration was also fairly low, with about three pixels of faint coloration on either side of the black lines in our resolution target, at the extreme corners. This distortion was almost invisible though, because the coloration was so slight. Overall, a good performance.


Exposure
The 912 offers a full range of exposure controls, including a fully Manual mode. The Exposure Mode dial on top of the camera sets one of 10 different exposure modes, including the standard Auto, Program AE, Aperture Priority (Av), Shutter Priority (Tv), and Manual modes, plus special preset modes for Portrait, Landscape, Close-Up, Action, and Night shooting. The 912 also features a significant number of external camera controls, allowing you to operate the camera without the LCD monitor or menu system for the majority of shots.

A small status display panel on top of the camera reports all the major camera settings, including Capture mode, Auto Focus Area, Flash mode, Self-timer/Remote mode, battery status, and the remaining pictures, as well as various exposure settings, depending on the options available. Being able to operate the camera without the LCD monitor saves on battery power and time, as you're not having to scroll through numerous screens of menu options.

The basic exposure mode, Auto Exposure, is marked on the Exposure Mode dial with a highlighted green box. In Auto Exposure mode, all of the exposure settings are automatically set by the camera. The only user-controlled settings in Auto mode are File Type, Quality Level, Resolution, and Color. In standard Program AE mode, the camera controls both the shutter speed and aperture settings, while the user maintains control over Exposure Compensation, EV Bracketing, White Balance, AE Metering, and ISO Speed.

In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, you set the designated exposure variable, while the camera chooses the best corresponding setting. In both modes, turning the Command wheel (shown above) on the front of the camera changes the available exposure setting. As you'd expect, Manual mode gives you control over both shutter speed and aperture, as well as the remaining exposure settings. Turning the Command wheel on its own changes the shutter speed in Manual mode. To change the Aperture, you simply hold down the AV button while turning the Command wheel. In all modes, apertures range from f/2.5 to f/11, and shutter speeds range from 1/1,000 to four seconds.

The 912 offers a handful of preset scene exposure modes, including Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Action, and Night. In all of these modes, the camera automatically controls the exposure settings, leaving the photographer to control flash, zoom, file size, and quality. Portrait mode employs a larger aperture setting to decrease the depth of field, which keeps the subject in sharp focus and blurs the background, placing all the emphasis on the subject. Landscape mode fixes the focus at the infinity setting and uses a smaller lens aperture to capture a greater depth of field (keeping the background and foreground in sharp focus). Because the mode uses a smaller aperture setting which requires a slower shutter speed, a tripod is recommended to prevent blurring from camera movement. Close-up mode optimizes the camera for close-up, macro subjects, and automatically switches to the Macro Focus range. Action mode optimizes the camera for shooting fast-moving subjects, such as sporting events, using a fast shutter speed to freeze action. Night mode uses slow shutter speeds to allow more ambient light into dark images. When the flash is activated with Night mode, the camera synchronizes it with the end of the exposure.

An Instant Review function automatically displays the recently captured image on the LCD screen for a few seconds while the image is being written to the memory card. You can delete the image on the spot by pressing the soft key labeled "Delete" before the image disappears. You can turn the review function off through the camera's settings menu, or set the length of time that the Instant Review is displayed on the monitor.

In Program AE, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority exposure modes, Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -3 to +3 exposure values (EV) in one-half-step increments, by holding down the Exposure Compensation (AV) button and turning the Command wheel. An exposure compensation adjustment bar appears in the top status display panel, showing the amount of EV adjustment. In Manual exposure mode, the adjustment bar remains on the status display panel, reporting the amount of over or under exposure. An AE Lock button (AE-L) on the back panel locks the exposure for 20 seconds (even after you fire the shutter), or until the AE Lock button is pressed again.

The default setting for the Metering mode is Average, which takes readings from throughout the image area and averages them to determine the best exposure. Metering can also be set to a Spot or Center-Weighted metering mode through the AE Metering submenu under Auto Assist in the Capture settings menu. Spot metering mode takes the exposure reading from the very center of the image, and is useful for backlit or high-contrast subjects, where an averaged reading may have trouble determining the correct exposure. Center-Weighted metering takes several readings from a large area in the center of the image, then averages them to find the best overall exposure. If you aren't sure of an exposure, the EV Bracketing function takes a series of three pictures, one at the current meter reading, one overexposed, and one underexposed by one or one-half EV step set under EV Bracket (Auto Assist submenu) in the Capture settings menu. (Note: there may be an extended delay between the second and third exposures.)

White Balance is also adjustable under the Auto Assist menu, with five options: Auto, Daylight, Tungsten, Fluorescent, or 5,500K. An ISO setting adjusts the camera's light sensitivity, with 25, 50, 100, 200, and 400 ISO equivalents. Color options are selected in the File submenu under the Capture Settings menu. Options include Full Color, Black and White, and Sepia modes.

A Timer mode button on top of the camera controls the camera's timer and remote capture modes. One press of the button enables the Self-Timer mode, which counts down 10 seconds before taking the exposure, once the shutter button is fully depressed. A second press of the control button puts the camera in Remote Control mode, which works with the accompanying IR Remote Controller, allowing you to trigger the shutter remotely with no delay. The final option is the 3-Second Remote mode, which counts down from three seconds once the shutter button on the remote control is pressed. A fourth press of the Timer Mode button places the camera back into normal exposure mode.


Flash
The 912 features a built-in, pop-up flash as well as a hot shoe for connecting an external flash. The pop-up flash is released by pressing the Flash button directly to the left of the flash compartment. The Flash mode button, on the right side of the compartment, controls the operating mode, cycling between Auto, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, and Forced On with Red-Eye Reduction. (Closing the Flash unit places it in Forced Off mode.) In Auto mode, the camera determines when to fire the flash, based on existing light conditions. Forced On fires the flash with every exposure, regardless of light level. Both Red-Eye Reduction modes fire a small pre-flash before firing the full flash with the exposure. This reduces the occurrence of the red-eye effect, caused by a reflection in the subject's pupils. In our testing, we found the 912's flash power to be brightest eight to 10 feet from the target, with a slight decrease in intensity at each additional foot of distance. The largest decrease in intensity occurred between 14 and 15 feet. The flash was still effective at 15 feet, though the intensity was greatly diminished.

The external flash hot shoe on top of the camera features a small black protective cover that slides in and out of place. When the hot shoe is in use, the cover can be stored in one of the compartments of the neck strap, to prevent loss. The 912 is compatible with most standard flash units, though the flash must feature automatic control with its own light sensor. The camera must be set to Manual exposure mode, and the internal, pop-up flash must be closed.

Sound Recording
A tiny microphone on the front of the camera enables the user to record up to 45 seconds of sound per captured image. To record sound in Capture mode, the Instant Review function must be turned on in the Preferences menu (Display submenu). Once an image has been captured, you press the Sound button on the camera's back panel while the review screen is active. The amount of available recording time appears on the LCD monitor, and the camera records sound until the Sound button is pressed a second time. (For best results, make sure to talk into the microphone on the front of the camera.)

After you've finished the recording, you can use the soft keys below the LCD to play back or delete the recording, or exit the Instant Review screen. You can also record sound in Playback and Review modes, by selecting the image to which you'd like to attach the recording, and following the same procedure as above. In addition to One-Shot images, you can attach sound clips to the final image of a Continuous series or the first image of a Time-Lapse series.

Special Photography Modes
The 912 offers three main photography modes: One-shot, Continuous, and Time-Lapse. The Image Type button on top of the camera controls the photography mode, cycling between the three. The One-shot mode is the default setting, capturing a single image with one press of the shutter button. In Continuous mode, the camera captures a rapid series of images for as long as the shutter button is held down, or until the memory card runs out of room. You can use the flash in Continuous mode, but this increases the shot-to-shot cycle time as you have to wait for the flash to charge between shots.

Time-Lapse photography mode allows you to capture up to 1,000 images in a series, at specific time intervals (from 15 seconds to 24 hours). Shooting begins with a single press of the shutter button and ends when the preset number of images is reached (you can cancel the mode at any time by pressing the Stop soft key). The actual number of images that can be recorded depends on the amount of available space on the CompactFlash card.

Image Stamp Menu
An Image Stamp menu in the 912's Capture menu allows you to add text or a logo to captured images. Using the Date & Time submenu you can opt to have the date, time, or both stamped on the image. The Text submenu allows you to print your own messages on the image, by scrolling through and selecting individual letters from the alphabet. In both Date & Time and Text menu options, you can designate the placement of the text in the frame, the transparency of the words, the text color, and the background color. The Logo submenu allows you to download preset logos from the Hewlett-Packard Web site (www.hp.com/photosmart) and paste them into one of the four corners of the picture.


Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we now routinely measure it using Imaging Resource proprietary testing.

Hewlett-Packard PhotoSmart 912 Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
4.85
About average.
Shutdown
~0.0
No lens to retract, so no delay before you can put it away.
Play to Record, first shot
1.32 - 0.58
Time until first shot is captured, from Playback mode. Time varied somewhat from test to test, but overall is quite fast.
Record to play (max/min resolution)
1.9 (9.1)
1.4 (3.9)
Pretty fast. (Times shown are for first view (low-res) and full-res view.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.55
Quite fast! (Pentax knowhow in the lens design?)
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.53
About average. (Surprisingly, not much faster than autofocus.)
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.16
A fair bit faster than average.
Cycle Time, max/min resolution
2.2/2.2 (11-20)
Fairly quick for the first 2-3 exposures (buffer memory), then variable and rather slow for subsequent shots.

Overall, the PhotoSmart 912 was a fairly responsive camera, with excellent shutter lag characteristics (noticeably better than most of the competition). Interestingly, shutter delay with manual focus was no faster than with full autofocus, resulting in average speed for manual focus operation and very fast for autofocus. When prefocused with a half-press of the shutter button, lag time was also faster than average, at only 0.15 seconds.

Cycle times were a bit more problematic. An internal buffer memory kept the cycle time to only 2.2 seconds for the first three shots in any resolution mode, but occasionally, we measured only two shots at high resolution. After that, cycle time varied radically, ranging from 11 to 20 seconds between shots. We found that if you wait for the buffer to clear (on the order of 20 seconds if you've just captured three shots in rapid succession), you'll be able to capture three more shots in rapid succession. We'd like to see the buffer clear a little more quickly, but the roughly 2.2-second cycle time, when buffer space is available, is faster than average for this class of camera.

In Continuous shooting mode, the camera snaps three pictures with an interval of just 1.8 seconds between them. Interestingly, cycle times for low-resolution files are actually a little slower than for high-resolution. Apparently, the 912 captures images at the full sensor resolution all the time, and downsamples them in the camera if the lower resolution option is selected. This produces high-quality low-res files, but at the cost of additional processing time.


Operation and User Interface
At the outset, the PhotoSmart 912's user interface may appear complicated, given the two mode dials and multiple external control buttons. However, we found the camera operations to be very straightforward, and the external controls are a nice bonus, as they are all well marked, and when combined with the LED status display panel, they provide access to most critical functions without having to go through the LCD menu system. Within the menu system itself, the Digita operating system used by the PhotoSmart 912 provides a very simple user interface, with functions made very clear by plain-English names and menu entries. As such, it is very approachable by novice photographers. More experienced users may be frustrated by the need to page through multiple menu screens to access fairly commonly-used functions, such as ISO adjustment, metering modes, etc.

The menu system follows the same format established in earlier PhotoSmart digicams. Menus are navigated using the four-way Arrow Rocker Pad, with multiple layers that can be somewhat time-consuming to navigate. However, we appreciated the rotating LCD panel, which lifts up off the camera back, and extends outward 90 degrees.

The User's Manual is included in PDF format on one of the camera's two software CDs. While the full manual is much too lengthy to print out, a handy Quick Start Guide also accompanies the camera. It's not nearly as detailed as the manual, but the Quick Start Guide does include a full listing of each camera control and its functions.


Control Enumeration


Shutter Button: Located on top of the camera, on the right side, this large unmarked button sets focus and exposure when depressed halfway. When fully depressed, the button activates the shutter to record the exposure. When the Self-Timer mode is enabled, pressing the shutter button activates the 10-second countdown.


Command Wheel: Just below the Shutter button, on the front side of the camera, this horizontal notched dial adjusts the designated exposure variable in Aperture and Shutter Priority modes. In Manual mode, turning the wheel by itself sets the shutter speed, while holding down the AV button as you turn the dial sets the lens aperture. In Program, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority modes, turning the dial while holding down the Exposure Compensation (AV) button adjusts the exposure compensation. The Command Wheel can also be used to scroll through the Capture, Playback, and Review menus, and to scroll through captured images in the Playback and Review modes.


Zoom Ring: This large, rubberized ring encircles the lens barrel, controlling the optical and digital zoom. Turning to the left zooms to wide angle, and turning to the right zooms to telephoto. Turning beyond the optical telephoto automatically engages the digital zoom function.


Power Switch: Directly to the right of the Shutter button, this switch turns the camera power on and off.


Pop-Up Flash Button: Located on the left side of the pop-up flash compartment, this button releases the flash into its operating position. (Closing the flash disables it.)


Image Type Button: The first in a series of four buttons on top of the camera (just to the left of the status display panel), this button sets the photography mode, cycling between One-Shot (default), Continuous, and Time-Lapse modes.


Timer Mode Button: Located behind the Image Type control, the Timer mode button cycles through the Normal (no icon), Self-Timer (Clock), and Remote Control (Remote icon) capture modes. When the Remote Control mode is activated, the Remote LED lamp on the front of the camera begins flashing.


Auto Focus Area Button: Just below the Timer mode button, the Auto Focus Area button controls the autofocus area, setting it to Wide Area (full frame w/bracket icon), which focuses on a large center portion of the viewfinder, or Spot (full frame w/square icon), which focuses on the smaller center spot in the viewfinder. In Auto exposure mode, the Auto Focus area is fixed to the Wide Area setting.


Flash Mode Button: The last in a series of four buttons on top of the camera, this one controls the four Flash operating modes, cycling through the following: (corresponding icons include an Eye for Red-Eye Reduction, Lightening for Forced Flash, and Lightening/A for Auto Flash mode)



Exposure Mode Dial: Positioned on the far left side of the top panel, this dial controls the camera's exposure mode:



Diopter Adjustment Ring: Doubles as the bezel surrounding the viewfinder eyepiece. This ring not only cushions the eye when using the optical viewfinder, but it also rotates right or left to adjust the viewfinder focus for eyeglass wearers.


Menu Button: Positioned over the top left corner of the LCD monitor, this button activates and deactivates the LCD settings menus in Capture, Playback, and Review modes.


Display Button: Located over the top center of the LCD monitor, this button controls the LCD image display, turning it on or off.


Sound Button: Positioned over the top right corner of the LCD monitor, this button activates the audio recording feature, which allows you to record up to 45 seconds of sound to accompany an image. In Record mode, the sound function only works when Instant Review is enabled. In Playback and Review modes, pressing the button pulls up the sound recording icon, and begins recording sound until the button is pressed a second time.


Exposure Compensation (AV) Button: Located in the top right corner of the camera's back panel, this button controls exposure compensation. When pressed in Program AE, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority mode, available settings are changed by turning the Command wheel. In Manual exposure mode, lens aperture is set by pressing this button and turning the Command wheel.


AE Lock Button: Directly to the right of the Exposure Compensation (AV) button, this button locks the exposure reading for 20 seconds, regardless of whether or not the image is captured. Pressing the button a second time (before the 20 second period ends) cancels the mode.


JetSend Button: Situated just below the viewfinder eyepiece, this button features a flying paper airplane symbol. In Playback or Review modes, pressing the JetSend button allows you to send the currently selected image to another JetSend device, via the infrared port on the front of the camera. In Record mode, pressing the JetSend button sends the last image captured.


Camera Mode Dial: Encircling the Four-Way Arrow Rocker Pad, this notched dial sets the camera's operating mode. The following options are available:



Four-way Arrow Rocker Pad: Located in the center of the Camera Mode dial, this large button features an arrow in each direction (up, down, right, left). In any settings menu, these arrow keys navigate through menu options. In Playback and Review modes, these arrows scroll through captured images.


Soft Keys: Along the bottom of the LCD monitor, these three buttons perform a variety of functions, depending on the camera mode and menu setting. In standard Capture mode, the far left button controls the Focus mode, alternating between Auto and Manual (AF and MF) focus. The central button deactivates and reactivates the information overlays, which provide a variety of notations, depending on the current camera mode. On the far right is the Status button, which pulls up a page of the camera exposure settings, including Resolution, Quality, White Balance, ISO Speed, AE Metering, and AF Range. When the Capture settings menus are displayed, the buttons' functions change, allowing you to edit menu options or exit the menu screen.

In Playback mode, the center soft key controls the 2x playback zoom, digitally zooming in and out of the captured image. In both Playback and Review Menu modes, the soft keys allow you to edit menu options or exit the menu screens. In Review mode, the far left key marks (selects) images, and the center key deletes the currently selected image. If a soft key does not have a label, the key is inactive.


CompactFlash Release Button: Hidden inside the CompactFlash compartment, this gray button releases the CompactFlash card and pops it up slightly so that it can be removed from the slot.


Open Battery Switch: Located in the center of the battery compartment door, this button locks and unlocks the battery compartment.

AA Battery Adapter Release Switch: Inside the battery compartment, this switch releases the AA battery adapter.


Camera Modes and Menus

Capture (Record) Mode: Accessed by turning the mode dial to the green camera symbol, Record mode sets up the camera for capturing images. The Exposure Mode dial on top of the camera controls the exposure mode, selecting between Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program AE, Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Close-up, Action, and Night. The following exposure options are available through the Capture settings menu (some settings may not be available, depending on the exposure mode):


Playback Mode: The traditional playback symbol (a rectangle surrounding an arrow) designates Playback mode on the mode dial. Here, you can scroll through captured images, play them back in an automated slide show (when the Slideshow menu is activated), or enlarge captured images to 2x. Pressing the menu button displays the following options:


Review Mode: This mode is indicated on the Mode dial by a rectangular box with smaller boxes inside, representing the index view format that it employs. In Review mode, images can be viewed, edited, and organized. The Review settings menu offers the following options:

PC Mode: This mode enables the camera to connect to a computer via the USB interface.



Image Storage and Interface
The 912 records images to a Type I or II CompactFlash card, and a 16MB card is packaged with the camera. Upgrades are available separately, however the camera is not compatible with the IBM MicroDrive. (It apparently doesn't provide power on a particular pin that the MicroDrive needs. We're not sure why HP elected to not support the MicroDrive, but power consumption is certainly one possible explanation.) The CompactFlash card inserts into the card slot with the electrodes going in first, and the front of the card facing the front of the camera. The card will not go into the camera the wrong way. A gray button next to the slot releases the card and pops it up slightly when you're ready to retrieve it.

Never remove the CompactFlash card while the camera is performing any function, to avoid damaging the media. The LED above the card slot lights red when the camera is accessing the card. The 912's status display panel reports the number of available images on the card; when a flashing "000" appears on the display panel, the memory card is full.

Entire CompactFlash cards cannot be write-protected, but the 912 allows you to protect captured images through the Review settings menu. The Edit menu (Protect submenu) can be used to write-protect individual images, or any marked images on the card, which prevents them from being accidentally deleted or manipulated in any other way (except by formatting the card). The Review menu also provides Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) printing utilities, camera-to-camera and camera-to-printer image transfer, and image search functions. The Edit menu enables you to link images by group and/or categorize them by subject (such as "Vacation" or "Pets".) The Find menu allows you to search stored images by date and category. The 618 also provides Image Stamping tools (through the Capture menu), which allow you to add text, a logo, or the date and time to an image.

The PhotoSmart 912 features JetSend infrared technology, which allows the user to "beam" one image at a time from the 912 to other JetSend devices, such as HP cameras and printers, via the infrared port. To beam a photo, you simply choose the image you'd like to send from the installed memory card (Review menu), line up the camera's infrared port so that it's no further than six inches (15cm) from the JetSend device, access the Transmit submenu, choose either the Camera-Camera or Camera-Printer option, and press the shutter button. The camera's LCD will report that it's looking for the device, then show a status bar of the image transfer once the process begins. The 912's infrared port also hosts the Digita image transfer process, which communicates to other HP Digita cameras. The Camera-Camera option of the Transmit submenu enables the camera to send and receive image files from any other Digita camera.

Three JPEG compression levels (Best, Better, and Good) and two image sizes (1,600 x 1,200 and 800 x 600 pixels) are available on the HP 618. There's also an uncompressed TIFF mode. Below are the approximate still image capacities and compression ratios for a 16MB CompactFlash card:

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
TIFF
Best
Better
Good
High Resolution 1600x1280 Images 2 14 28
53
Approx.
Compression
1:1 5:1 11:1
20:1
Standard Resolution 800x640 Images
10
54
96
159
Approx.
Compression
1:1
5:1
9:1
15:1

A USB cable and two software CDs also accompany the 912, for quick connection to a PC or Mac. The 912 is a "storage class" USB device, which means that it can connect to late-model Macs and Windows Me or 2000 machines with no special driver software. Connected to our G4 Macintosh, we found the 912's USB port to be unusually fast, with a data transfer rate of 694 KBytes/second. This is pretty much at the top of the field for data transfer speeds: There'll be no need for an external memory card reader with the 912!


Video Out
The 912 is equipped with an A/V Out jack in its connector compartment, and US and Japanese models of the camera are packaged with an NTSC video cable. European models come with the appropriate PAL cable, with an NTSC or PAL video option selectable in the Playback menu. Once connected, the television acts as a larger version of the 912's LCD monitor, with all the functions available in Playback and Review modes.


Power
Four AA batteries power the PhotoSmart 912, and a full set of alkaline batteries accompanies the camera. You can also use lithium or NiMH AA batteries. Hewlett-Packard offers an optional rechargeable Li-Ion battery and a battery charger, as well as an optional AC adapter through its website. As always, we highly recommend picking up a couple of sets of rechargeable AA batteries and keeping a spare set charged at all times. If you plan on downloading images directly from the camera or spending a lot of time reviewing captured images in the camera, the accessory AC adapter is also a good idea.

The 912 features a Sleep Timeout option under the Capture settings menu (Preferences>Display submenus) which can be set from 30 seconds to five minutes. This option helps save battery power by shutting off the camera after a specified period of inactivity. When shooting in Time-Lapse mode, the camera automatically shuts the LCD monitor off between shots with long intervals. Also through the Preferences>Display submenu, you can turn off the Live View function, which saves battery power by keeping the LCD monitor display off when the camera is powered on (requiring you to press the Display button to activate the LCD). A battery icon on the status display panel reports the approximate amount of available battery power. The icon flashes and the camera beeps when the batteries are very low.

HP estimates that a new set of alkaline batteries should produce between 45 and 180 shots (depending on the camera settings), or approximately 75 minutes of image review time. Alternatively, a new set of lithium batteries should provide between 120 and 640 shots, or around 180 minutes of playback time. The table below shows the power consumption numbers we measured for the 912 in our laboratory tests. (NOTE: These figures were obtained at the external power adapter rating of 9 volts. The current drain increases as the supply voltage is decreased, meaning that power could drain nearly twice as fast at the roughly 4.8 volt battery voltage level.)



Operating Mode
Power Drain
Capture Mode, w/LCD
550 mA
Capture Mode, no LCD
210 mA
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
540 mA
Half-pressed w/o LCD
200 mA
Memory Write (transient)
320/560 mA
Flash Recharge (transient)
960 mA
Image Playback
320 mA

While the power drain we measured at the external power jack was fairly low, the PhotoSmart 912 is a relatively power-hungry camera. Also, it seems to like a healthy voltage from its batteries, which may further shorten battery life with NiMH rechargeables. (NiMH rechargeable cells only produce about 1.2 volts apiece when fully charged, as compared to 1.5 volts for alkaline cells.) Given this high power drain, we question HP's figure of 75 minutes of operation in Playback mode with alkaline batteries. (We'd estimate about 75 minutes of operation for high-capacity NiMH batteries, but not for alkalines.)

In use, the SLR viewfinder is a great help in keeping the rear-panel LCD display turned off, which greatly extends the battery life. As always, we strongly recommend purchasing at least a couple of sets of NiMH batteries and a good charger, so you can always have a fully charged set of batteries on hand.

About Batteries
We've gotten so many emails about power issues for digicams, that we're now inserting this standard notice in the reviews of all AA-powered cameras on our site: Don't even *think* about using alkaline AA batteries in a digicam! Despite their being packed in the box with many cameras, they simply don't have the juice to handle typical digicam demands. (Even the "high power" ones the battery manufacturers say are designed for devices like digital cameras.) Spend the $35-40 or so it takes to get a set (or two) of high-capacity NiMH rechargeable batteries and a good charger! The few dollars up front will save you literally hundreds of dollars in the long run, not to mention the hassle of wimpy batteries running out in the middle of the action. We suggest you buy two sets of batteries, so one can always be in the charger, ready to go, and so have two sets available for longer excursions. Good brands of batteries include Maha (our favorite), GP, Kodak, and Nexcell. Also, buy the highest capacity AAs the manufacturer makes, the few extra dollars for the extra capacity is usually well worth it. Getting a good charger is critical though, almost more so than buying good batteries. We recommend the Maha C-204F (see the photo at right), the charger we use the most in our own studio. - Read our review of it for all the details. Or, just click here to buy one, you won't regret it.


Included Software
Packaged with the 912 are a USB cable and two software CDs. The first CD contains HP's Photo Imaging software (for Windows 98/2000/Me/NT 4.0 only), ACDSee Systems Viewer (also Windows only), and a copy of the User's Guide for both Macintosh and Windows users. The second CD contains ArcSoft PhotoImpression and ArcSoft PhotoMontage for both Windows and Macintosh (OS 8.6 and higher) operating systems. HP's Photo Imaging Software is essentially a downloading utility that offers basic printing, viewing, and editing utilities, as well as e-mail and image sharing tools for use with the Internet and HP's Cartogra Web site. The ACDSee Systems Viewer provides more in-depth organizing utilities, allowing you to create image albums and listen to the recorded sound clips. Though these applications are not compliant with the Macintosh operating system, Mac users can take advantage of similar utilities with ArcSoft PhotoImpression, which also provides downloading, organization, printing, and minor editing tools for digital images. Images can be organized into albums, or cropped, rotated, or flipped before being printed. PhotoMontage is a fun, creative application that allows you to create one large image made up of a mosaic of hundreds or thousands of tiny images. You can use your own digital images or the application's library of images to create a montage.


Included Hardware
Included in the box are the following:



Test Results
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings: For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the PhotoSmart 912's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the 912 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

Overall, the 912's white balance system did a pretty good job, though it had some trouble with our household incandescent lighting as well as the bright sunlight of the outdoor pictures. During the majority of our testing, the color balance was always either slightly warm or slightly cool, never dead on what we'd consider neutral. Still, overall color looked pretty good in most shots, with good accuracy. Saturation was a little weak, particularly in the Indoor portraits, never to the point we'd consider detrimental in typical shooting conditions. We noticed that bright red values, such as the red flower in the Outdoor Portrait and the large, red color block of the Davebox, often had a pixelated appearance along the edges, and a slight loss of detail. (A fairly common digicam limitation.) The other large color blocks of our Davebox test target showed good hue accuracy, although with slightly reduced saturation. The 912 did a good job of distinguishing between the red and magenta color blocks on the middle, horizontal color chart (another common problem area for many digicams), and picks up the variations of the Q60 chart all the way to the "B" range (albeit with very dim color variations). We also noticed a hazy cast in many of our test shots, that subdued the color. Still, the 912 does a pretty good job.

In our laboratory resolution test, the PhotoSmart 912 produced clean detail out to about 650 lines per picture height in both horizontal and vertical directions. The image is fairly "clean", in that noticeable aliasing doesn't begin until 700 to 750 lines. The image is once again soft, as we observed in our other tests, but takes sharpening well in Photoshop or other imaging program.

Optical distortion on the 912 is fairly high at the wide angle end, where we measured approximately 0.91 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto setting produced much better results, as we only measured one pixel of pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration is fairly low, showing about a three pixels of faint coloration on each side of the black target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

We found the 912's TTL optical viewfinder to be only a little tight, though still reasonably accurate, showing approximately 90.4 percent of the image area at wide angle. Frame accuracy was approximately 93.2 percent at the telephoto end. (Frame accuracy was the same for both resolution sizes). The LCD monitor was also a little tight at the wide angle end, showing approximately 96.3 percent of the image area, at both resolution sizes. (These shots of the viewfinder accuracy target look a little different than normal, because the 912's 4:5 image aspect ratio means that the bold vertical lines at the right and left hand edges of the frame are cut off. This is normal for cameras with this aspect ratio.) The LCD's frame accuracy was slightly higher at the telephoto end of the zoom range, where it showed 98.3 percent of the final image area. Since we like to see LCD viewfinders as close to 100% frame coverage as possible, the 912's LCD does quite well in this respect.

The 912 performed very well in the macro category, capturing a very tiny minimum area of just 0.62 x 0.50 inches (15.78 x 12.62mm). Definitely one of the smallest macro areas we've seen in a while. Detail and resolution both look great, with a lot of the fibrous detail of the dollar bill visible. Printing details on the bill are slightly soft, but still well defined. Color looks reasonably accurate as well, though slightly greenish. Noise is low, and scarcely visible. The 912's built-in flash does a surprisingly good job of throttling down for the macro shot, though with slightly uneven distribution at such a close range. An orangish hot spot dominates the top right corner of the image, with the greenish tint increasing in rest of the image. Still, a very nice job overall.

In our testing, we found the 912's flash power brightest from eight to 10 feet from the target, with a slight decrease in intensity at each additional foot of distance. The largest decrease in intensity occurred between the 14 and 15 foot distances. The flash was still effective at the 15 foot distance, though the intensity was quite dim. HP doesn't state an official range for the flash in their documentation for the camera, but we'd rate it at about 10 feet.

The 912 had a little trouble in the low-light category, producing the brightest, clearest image at the eight foot-candle light level (88 lux), which is the brightest light level in the series. We found similar results for the 100, 200, and 400 ISO settings, the only major difference being the noise level. At all three ISO settings, the eight foot-candle (88 lux) image shows very hot white values which seem to glow slightly. This odd highlight trait disappears with the lower light levels, however. We also noticed a strange blue cast to a couple of the images, namely the four foot-candle light level (44 lux) at 200 ISO, and the two foot-candle light level (22 lux) at 400 ISO. Images were still usable at the two and four foot-candle light levels, though somewhat dim. The target remained visible as low as 1/16 of a foot-candle (0.67 lux), however, noise levels increased dramatically. Noise was surprisingly high with the 100 ISO setting, and only increased with the 200 and 400 ISO settings. However, at all three ISO settings, the highest noise occurred with the darker light levels, from about two foot-candles on down. (We direct readers to Mike Chaney's excellent Qimage Pro program, for a tool with an amazing ability to remove image noise without significantly affecting detail.) To put the 912's low-light performance into perspective, an average city night scene under modern street lighting corresponds to a light level of about one foot-candle, so most average nighttime city shots will require use of a flash.

The 912 performed pretty well throughout our testing. Despite slightly flat color and a milky haze in some images, the 912 does a good job of reproducing color and interpreting most light sources. (The slight milkiness could be easily dealt with using QBeo's PhotoGenetics program, which we highly recommend for applications such as this.) The camera does better than average in the macro category, and has a nice complement of manual exposure controls (including a wide array of ISO settings). Most low-light situations will require the use of a flash, but the 912's built-in flash should be up to the challenge. We think the 912 does a pretty good job for its 2.24 megapixel class.


Conclusion
With the addition of a fully manual exposure mode, TTL optical viewfinder, more extensive exposure controls, and more external camera controls, the 912 provides a much more sophisticated user interface than other HP PhotoSmart models. Its varying levels of exposure control make the PS 912 suitable to both beginning and advanced digital photographers, with an easy-to-use fully automatic mode and a manual mode that allows the user to make all of the exposure decisions. The 912 produces exceptional color and image quality, with a high-precision 3x zoom lens, and a 2.24-megapixel CCD that is capable of producing prints as large as 8 x 10-inches (and larger. Based on HP's popularity in the digicam marketplace, and the relatively low price point, we feel that the PhotoSmart 912 should do well in the advanced digital SLR market.


<<PhotoSmart 912 Sample Images | Additional Resources and Other Links>>

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