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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.

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 3/26/2001

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.

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