The latest offering in HP's brand new R-series is the HP Photosmart R707. A sleek and classy 5-megapixel camera with a modern design and stylish exterior. However, the HP R707 does much more than just take pictures. With its three times optical zoom lens and a range of advanced in-camera features, it is meant for photographers who want a point and shoot camera but who at the same time are looking to further improve their photography skills. To this aim the camera analyses your photographs and offers advice on how to improve them. On top of this the HP R707 offers several unique functions such as Adaptive Lighting Technology, automatic - in-camera - red-eye removal and HP's Instant Share feature to instantly print pictures or mail them to friends and relatives, as soon as the camera is connected to a computer.
Using the camera
Before you even think of taking pictures with the HP R707, take time to admire its beautiful exterior. HP have clearly stepped up in build quality and design with this one. The front is a matte, brushed, stainless steel finish with the rest of the camera a rubberised, high impact plastic. On the back there is a 1.5 inch color LCD with all controls nicely arranged around the top and right hand side of the screen. Its durable construction with a unique ergonomic grip and rounded corners feels fantastic and makes it easy to take pictures with one hand. It is small enough to be carried in a purse or trouser pocket without any inconvenience at all.
Power on time is pretty quick. HP cameras have always been quite slow to start up, but the all-new HP R707 is much better in this respect. In about two seconds the camera is ready for action. In burst mode you can take up to three shots at 3 frames per second and when reviewing images in playback mode, touching the shutter button instantly returns the camera to recording mode. Impressive.
The camera menu can be called up by pressing the OK button on the four-way pad to reveal tabs for recording images, playback, HP instant share, set up and a unique help function, which provides up to 30 lines of text on all camera functions or features. A complete in-camera manual so to speak.
There are ten shooting modes, which include fully automatic program mode plus scene modes such as beach and snow, action, landscape, panorama and portrait. However, the HP R707 also has aperture priority (AV) although limited to two options,
wide open or fully closed; document mode and a fully customisable My Mode. Together with noise reduction, five flash modes, a focus assist light and four focus modes - including manual focus - these are pretty advanced features for a point and shoot model. There are 6 white balance settings including manual and three metering modes with the option of bracketing exposures over three stops in 1/3-stop increments. ISO settings range from 100 to 400, while saturation, sharpness and contrast can be set to low, medium or high. A built-in orientation sensor determines how the camera is being held and automatically rotates images if appropriate. There is no full Manual exposure mode in which you can set shutter speed and aperture - but hey, this is meant to be a point and shoot camera remember.
When switching to playback mode the image is shown instantly, however if you want to enlarge parts of an image, it takes about two seconds or so for the camera to load it into memory. Using the zoom button the image can then be enlarged up to pixel level so all image detail is clearly visible. Pressing the OK button on the four-way controller brings up the playback menu. Here you can choose to delete the image; ask for advice on improving it; call up image details; record a short comment with each image and get help in framing a panorama picture. If appropriate the camera will find and correct red-eye in-camera.
In-camera red-eye removal works by analysing an image and locating all the candidate red areas in the photograph. The algorithm then performs a series of tests using up to 60 criteria to determine whether the red eye is actually part of a human eye. These criteria are measured only until a conclusion is reached - so not all tests are performed on each image and it works very quickly. A correction phase then darkens red areas to remove the colour and return the eyes to a more natural colour. The camera then displays a preview image on the LCD screen so you can see where corrections will take place. If you agree with the changes the corrected image will be saved. We tried out this feature several times and have to say that it really makes a significant improvement to people pictures taken in dark surroundings with flash.
Another feature that is unique to the latest HP cameras, is Adaptive Lighting Technology. In images with a high contrast range this works by digitally correcting harsh contrast to make a scene look more like what we see with our own eyes. It brings faces out of shadow and lifts details out of dark backgrounds, so bright and dark areas in a photo are more balanced. This technology can be compared to good old, dodging and burning that takes place in a wet darkroom, where darker parts of an image are given less exposure and lighter parts are burned in by lengthening their exposure time. HP claim that in-camera Adaptive Lighting Technology produces better images than post-processing techniques, since it can apply all crucial lighting information to a photo, which includes image information, together with information about how the camera is being operated, the environment the camera is in and even the characteristics of your individual camera.
ALT should be applied in backlit or outdoor scenes with a mixture of sun and shade, or on cloudy days with a lot of glare. Also landscape photographs with a bright sky and dark objects in the foreground will benefit from it, as well as images taken in locations where flash is discouraged like museums or live performances.
As already mentioned at the top of this review, the HP R707 will actually help you take better pictures over time. In playback mode you can call up the relevant menu section to ask for feedback on pictures taken. This Image Advice feature analyses images for 50 unique problems across five categories. When a potential or actual problem is found, the cause is identified and a suggestion is made to help correct your photographic technique. This advice can be used to improve future images under similar conditions. It helps you to correct common problems and take better pictures so you can actually improve your skills and become a better photographer.
In the box
The HP Photosmart R707 comes complete with two USB cables, one for camera to PC and one for camera to printer, a wrist strap and a very comprehensive, 208-page user's manual. An R07 lithium-ion rechargeable battery is included together with a 3.3 volt AC adapter. The camera uses SD/MMC memory cards but none is included as the HP R707 has an internal memory of 32Mb. However the built in memory is OK for a few snaps but not for serious picture taking, so in our opinion your first accessory to buy should be a large memory card to store your images. HP have tested the camera with cards up to 512Mb, but they claim that capacities up to 2Gb should well be possible. SD cards are to be preferred over MMC cards as the former offer faster writing and reading times.
An optional accessory that might come in handy, is the HP Photosmart R-series dock, which includes an extra R07 battery and which transfers images to your computer or printer at the touch of a button. The dock can also be connected to a TV and by pressing the TV button you can view a big-screen slideshow on your television. Placing the camera in the dock automatically recharges the in-camera battery plus it provides a slot to charge the extra battery at the same time. HP claim that the powerful 1050 mAh battery is good for approximately 200 shots between charges under average use, but careful use of the LCD screen will extend this to about 300 images before a recharge is needed. We managed a bit more than 150 images on a single charge with elaborate use of the LCD screen, to consult menu settings and read help pages.
Software included comprises Arcsoft Panorama Maker 3.5, HP Image Zone, that includes photo editing capabilities and HP Instant Share, which makes it easy to file images, mail them to relatives and friends or print them. HP Memories Disc Creator allows you to create digital photo albums that can be viewed using a DVD player or a PC's CD-ROM drive. Photos can be archived on CD or you can create custom slide shows with music and video.
The f2.8 - f4.9 three times optical zoom lens on the HP Photosmart R707 covers a range of 39 to 117mm in 35mm terms. Images taken with the camera appear clear and bright. There is only little barrel distortion at wide angle, which completely disappears once you zoom in to tele settings. The wide angle setting of 39mm is not really a true wide angle, so reducing distortion should be easier than with say, manufacturing a 27mm lens as featured on some other digital cameras. There is no vignetting in the corners although some chromatic aberration is visible in high contrast situations.
Exposure is spot on most of the time and colours are lifelike and true without being overly saturated. Sharpness is good for a point and shoot camera, although at wide angle some softening is present in the corners at full opening. With the use of smaller apertures, this softening gradually disappears. Considering this, it should be noted that the automatic exposure setting of the HP R707 tends to take quite a lot of images at the lens's widest aperture of f2.8 thereby giving priority to faster shutter speeds. However, since in day to day photography the softening at wide apertures will hardly be noticeable, this is the best option for casual photographers as it helps to avoid camera shake through slow shutter speeds. If you do want to further improve image quality however, you could opt for Aperture Priority in the menu and choose the smaller lens opening for sharper images.
Considering that most holiday snaps or memory shots are not usually enlarged beyond postcard size, lens and image quality are easily good enough for most purposes, and we think that making big enlargements should well be possible with this 5-megapixel camera. In all a good performance from HP.
Those who are looking for a stylish, point and shoot compact could do worse than take a look at the HP Photosmart R707. It is immediately clear that every aspect of the HP R707's exterior has been designed for beauty and balance. Its sleek contoured body, its robust, durable controls on the back and the way they have been fitted flush with the LCD screen make this camera a real gem to look at.
Inside it is full of advanced technologies, many of them exclusive to HP. The Image Advice section in the playback menu really helps to improve your skills. The fact that red-eye can be removed in camera plus the Adaptive Lighting Technology actually help to deliver better images, doing away with the need for much post processing work at the computer. Add to this the easy photo sharing possibilities and you can conclude that HP have truly succeeded in making the HP Photosmart R707 a camera for everyone at an affordable price.