**The 2.0-inch LCD is the most dominant feature on the back face of the Photosmart M527. It has a large frame which fans out smoothly to connect with the rest of the camera body. This design is a great improvement over that found on the lower-end M425, allowing the user more room to hold the camera while placing controls away from the LCD and in a space which is both more convenient and logical.
Above the LCD, the user will find a small sliver of an On/Off button with a blue LED on the left that signals the current power state of the camera. The On/Off control would be greatly improved if moved to the top of the camera and increased in size for an easier and faster start-up. To the right of the LCD screen and the On/Off button, the user will notice a shallow depression which contains a zoom toggle in the upper left corner. This zoom toggle is interesting in design: it is shaped like an L which has been rotated 90 degrees clockwise.
Beneath the zoom toggle, nestled in the lower half of the thumb rest depression, is the four-way controller which is also well sized and easy to recognize and control. In the center of the four-way control is the Menu/OK button for the camera, another impressively sized control with well labeled attributes. Beneath the four-way control and near the base of the camera, the lozenge-shaped horizontal trash button is labeled clearly and will allow users to instantly dispose of unwanted photos during review without having to navigate multiple menu structures first.
The only feature on the right side of the camera is the eyelet for an optional wrist strap. The eyelet is nearly flush with the camera body, eliminating any real chance that this will snag or catch when being removed from a pocket or carrying bag.
**The left side of the HP Photosmart M527 has a vertical port cover towards the bottom. This port cover is constructed out of the same material as the camera body, a material which seems to be plastic, although HP representatives stated otherwise. The port cover is sturdy and swivels on an attachment point found at its top. It snaps securely closed via a latch located at the bottom. Opening this port cover gives users access to the USB and the DC In ports for the camera. The top of the camera curves down onto the left side, allowing for a comfortable gripping area for the left hand. Users who aren’t paying attention may mistakenly cover the microphone positioned nearby.
**The top of the M527 features three buttons which have been placed in a horizontal line running from the left side to the center of the camera. The far left button controls the flash menu, the center button proffers up the Photo Express Menu for simple sharing and printing of images, and the third button controls whether the camera is in Shooting or Playback mode. Moving to the right of these controls is the large and comfortably set shutter button which, although unlabeled, is intuitively placed. Towards the back of the camera and slightly right of the shutter, users will find the Record mode button. Hitting this will cause the screen to go black and refresh before the M527 records video clips to either optional SD memory cards or internal memory.
There are several features located on the base of the M527, along with the expected and centrally positioned tripod mount. Not surprisingly for a camera in this price point, HP went with a plastic tripod mount instead of a metal mount like the one on the R927. Most plastic tripod mounts, unfortunately, strip easily with continual use, something to consider if you plan on mounting this camera.
Moving towards the back of the camera, the user should find a port for an optional wireless or cabled dock. This connecting point allows users to upload images, direct print still images, and view digital video and still shots on a TV or PC monitor. Still, optional accessory docks will need to be purchased to engage in these operations. Beneath the right-hand "grip" and located alongside the port and tripod mount, the locking battery and memory card port cover is carefully constructed and appears to be able to withstand heavy use. The port cover features a secure locking device which should competently protect memory cards and batteries when the camera is both in use and in travel. The port cover has a strong hinge located on its interior and runs from the front to the back of the camera body. Opening the port cover reveals the AA battery ports and memory card slot positioned alongside each other. Enough room exists between these features for access without hassles or complications.
**There is no viewfinder on the M527, but then again, there are no viewfinders on any of the models released by HP at CES 2006. This is probably because viewfinders on lower priced point-and-shoot cameras are restricted by price and shape, which limits their usefulness and quality. Instead, users will need to rely on the 2.0-inch LCD positioned on the back of the camera body.
The HP Photosmart M527 is equipped with a 2-inch, 115,000 pixel LCD which is outlined by a small black frame atop a raised silver frame. This screen is certainly functional, but the lower resolution makes it difficult to differentiate between quality and poorly captured images when reviewing them in-camera. The menu structures that were so legible and easy to navigate at 3 inches on HP’s Photosmart R927, became more laborious when reduced to half the resolution and an inch smaller LCD on the M527.
Solarization also occurred at more extreme viewing angles.
**The flash settings for the HP Photosmart M527 may be accessed by pressing the flash button located on top of the camera. This button is positioned for simple and quick access. Once the Flash menu has been opened, users are presented with symbol and text descriptions, allowing them to switch the flash settings from Auto, Auto with Red-eye Reduction, Flash off, and Flash on. The flash range for the M527 is 12.5 ft. in wide and 6.9 ft. in telephoto. The flash is placed fairly close to the center point of the lens barrel, offering users a less harsh and shadowed illumination.
The HP Photosmart M527 is equipped with a telescoping and thus retractable 6-18mm 3x optical HP Precision lens. The telescoping feature on this camera will prevent most users from accidentally covering or obscuring the lens during shooting; other cameras HP has offered this year offer recessed, fixed lenses. The aperture range on the M527 provides users with settings of f/2.8 in wide to f/4.8 in telephoto.
Model Design / Appearance
The materials used in the construction of the HP Photosmart M527 camera body were not listed within the camera specifications, and when asked, HP representatives stated that this model and the M425 were both constructed of a metal alloy. However, upon handling and examination, it didn’t really appear as though this camera was actually constructed of metal. It seemed to be built either partially or entirely from plastic components. It will be good to examine both of these cameras and their full manufacturing details in the office, for the final say. Check back soon for details.
In terms of form, the HP M527 isn’t going to win innovative design awards. It has the standard automatic point-and-shoot silver camera body of budget digital cameras. The shape of the camera is a rounded rectangle, with edges smoothed through a series of curved planes. The design is utilitarian and, aside from the right-hand grips’ scalloped shape, this camera remains understated. The controls on this camera are all about function, and the menu system and navigation structure are proof of that philosophy. Standard, simple and unfettered, the exterior of the camera is sensible and intuitive, a certain relief for the nervous beginning or leisure photographer.
Size / Portability
The HP Photosmart M527 isn’t a petite camera. It’s thicker than models in the R-series, and while still definitely light at 4.9 ounces, the camera is large enough to probably require a carrying case rather than a back pocket. The dimensions for the M527 are 3.82 x 1.42 x 2.48 inches. The snapping plastic port cover should provide added protection to these potentially delicate features. There is a lens barrel ring that extends slightly out from the camera, though there aren’t features which extend far enough to catch on fabric or other materials when the R527 is pulled from storage.
**The handling for the HP Photosmart M527 was neither poor, nor exceptional. The rounded rectangular frame featured no ergonomic benefits, but it was thick enough to feel as though a grip could be had upon the entirely smooth surface. The scalloped right-hand grip was the only real surface intended for clutching and even then it felt as though the camera could benefit from a textured surface. The microphone, positioned near the left edge of the camera, could potentially be muffled by careless fingers. The flash is positioned away from fingers however, and the control buttons are well placed for activation in both shooting and review modes.
Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size
HP has kept the number of controls to a minimum, which is tough to do when camera sizes are shrinking, but LCDs are growing. The options offered by the M527 are well labeled with large symbols or text, and have enough room to be well sized and spaced for comfortable navigation. The only control which could benefit from redesign is the On/Off switch. This control is a horizontal sliver, and oftentimes was overlooked or accidentally pressed by random fingers when navigating the menus.
The menu structure for the M527 is identical in font, style and structure to all the cameras released by HP at CES 2006. The M527 provides users with list menus that display either live views or previously recorded images when in main menus, depending on whether the camera is in playback or shooting mode. Most menu settings come with a help feature which allows users to further familiarize themselves with the control options and settings within the in-camera menus. In addition to individual help menus, HP has provided an entire Help Menu section which should cover most basic shooting problems that may be encountered by point-and-shooters out in the field and away from user manuals and help guides. The menus are easy to navigate and move through, though unfortunately a delay exists when the camera transitions from the playback menus and the Capture Menu.
The following menus are located via three separate controls: the Capture Menu, Design Gallery Menu and Photo Express Menu. The Menu/OK button will open the menu structure within the Capture Menu, while the up arrow will prompt the camera to display the Shooting Mode menu.
Capture Menu - The Capture Menu allows the user to alter parameters which directly influence the image prior to capturing. The Shooting Mode menu offers options, including preset features and focal settings. It also provides access to manual controls like ISO or Exposure Compensation. The only submenu which offers live views of image alteration is the Exposure Compensation setting, which provides instant visual feedback on the effects of setting adjustment. The following settings are provided in the Capture Menu: Shooting Mode, Image Quality, Date and Time Imprint, Exposure Compensation, White Balance, ISO and Exit.
Design Gallery Menu - The Design Gallery features are provided as an opportunity to manipulate images postproduction in-camera. These features include corrective measures and image effects settings in multiple submenus. The following settings are available: Remove Red-eye, Apply Artistic Effects, Modify Color, Add Borders, Rotate, Record Audio, Move Images to Card and Exit.
Photo Express Menu - Once images have been captured and altered users will find that the Photo Express Menu will facilitate the movement of images from memory card to a number of different of destinations. These pertain to the following settings: Print, Buy Prints Online, Share Menu Set-up and Exit. This menu, while not a one-button system, is surely uncomplicated, and the features found here are covered within the in-camera Help Menu discussed below.
Help Menu - The Help Menu provides an abbreviated list of options which will inform users about the general functions and parameters of the camera. This feature is one of the more complete Help modes found on a less expensive point-and-shoot camera. The Help Menu covers the following topics: Top Ten Tips, Camera Accessories, Camera Buttons, Using Shooting Modes, Using Design Gallery, Sharing Images, Printing Images, Recording Audio Clips, Recording Video Clips, Reviewing Images and Video, Deleting Images, Transferring Images, Managing Batteries, Getting Assistance, Camera Shortcuts, About and Exit.
Ease of Use
The HP M527 aims to please with its ease of use first and foremost. It provides logical menu options that provide image and text descriptions of most of the settings. The few external controls are well labeled, placed and sized; allowing for activation without strain or misapplication. The four-way control allows for concise movement through the menu structure and the print and share system appear to be as basic and straightforward as possible. The only live preview available for manual modes appears with the Exposure Compensation feature, which is appreciated, although it would be nice to see a live view with the white balance. As it is, the White Balance menu provides thumbnails which are meant to visually indicate situations of appropriate usage.
The only real problem with ease of use on the HP M527 existed with the LCD, which would transition to black when switching between Playback and Shooting menus. Adding to this slow refresh time was the slow rate at which images were saved to disk; oftentimes more than ten seconds were needed between the shot being taken and when the Playback Menu could open.
Interestingly, the auto mode for the HP Photosmart M527 also provides the most access to manual control settings. The auto mode can of course be used as a fully automatic setting with all image parameters dictated by the camera. Flash settings may still be manually controlled when shooting in Auto Mode; the control for this feature is found on the top of the camera body.
The M527 allows manual control over exposure compensation and ISO, while users are able to set preset options for white balance. Refer back to the full review to see how Auto Mode manages to hold up when tested for noise levels and color accuracy.
The Movie mode on the M425 is entered through an external control on top of the camera, a design decision which makes quick switches from still to video possible. When deactivated, the camera returns to regular still image shooting mode. Movie Mode shoots QVGA video (320 x 240) at a reported 30 fps. It was hard to tell whether that given frame rate was accurate with such a small screen. Digital video clips are recorded with simultaneous audio, which would be more admirable if it was actually possible to listen to audio while the video clip is still in-camera. This omission of an in-camera speaker seems odd considering the emphasis on in-camera editing functionality being placed on these products by HP.
Drive / Burst Mode
The burst mode for the M527 is located within the Shooting Mode menu, accessed by entering the Capture Menu. Burst Mode setting will provide a thumbnail and a description upon an opaque background, detailing how this function works when shooting with the M527. This camera shoots at a rate of 2 frames per second for 3 frames prior to saving to memory card. The Self Timer setting allows users to set the camera to take a single picture following a 10 second delay.
The user of the HP Photosmart M527 enters the Playback Mode by either pressing the Shooting/Playback mode button on the top of the camera body or by entering the Design Gallery menu via the Menu/OK button. Several Playback functions regarding the printing and sharing of images are accessible through the Photo Express Menu, also accessed through a button on the top of the camera. Once the user enters the Design Gallery they will be able to control and manipulate some image parameters regarding color, image effects like kaleidoscope, and corrective red-eye measures. Images may be rotated in Design Gallery, but unfortunately they cannot be cropped.
It is possible to recording audio clips and save them to selected images with the use of the Record Audio feature found in the Design Gallery menu. However (and oddly enough), the user will not be able to hear this audio, or the audio recorded on video clips, when watching these features as there is no in-camera speaker on the M527. By using the zoom toggle users will be able to either view images in playback zoom or multi-up format. A note of warning: playback zoom on a 2-inch, 115K pixel LCD leaves much to be desired in terms of clarity. To delete images in Playback Mode, the user must select the image to be disposed, and then select the trash button located on the back of the camera beneath the four-way controller.
**Custom Image Presets
**The custom image presets are located within the M527’s Capture Menu, underneath the Shooting Mode menu, as Preset Shooting Modes. These are settings tailored to react to image capture in a specific manner.
The HP Photosmart M527 features options of: Action, Auto, Beach and Snow, Burst, Fast Shot, Landscape, Macro, Night Portrait, Portrait, Self Timer and Sunset. These options are enough to cover the basics without being overwhelming; the menu list was terse enough to be navigated with speed and efficiency. The settings were fast to engage, and moving in and out of the menu produced no problems during shooting.
Manual Control Options
HP’s M-series of digital cameras does not offer many manual functions. This will be fine for the timid or inexperienced point-and-shoot user, but users who will want to learn more as they shoot will eventually find the lack of options disheartening. The user of the M527 may control and alter settings pertaining to ISO and exposure compensation, while AF mode and white balance choices rely on preset options.
The HP Photosmart M527 will allow the user to switch between two focal modes, Normal and Macro AF. Since there is no manual focus on this camera model, users will need to rely solely upon the auto focus settings. The AF settings are located within the Shooting Modes submenu of the Capture menu. Users are presented with shooting modes with thumbnails and descriptions of each setting’s general purpose. Within this menu users will also find the Macro Mode setting for the M527.
*There is no manual focus setting available on any of the cameras released within HP’s M-series at this time. Not that this is a huge loss; the R927 had manual focus but its adjustment method left much to be desired. (Look through our First Impressions Review for the HP Photosmart R927 for more details.) The M527’s preset shooting modes like Macro and Landscape should help users who want a bit more depth of control when shooting with the M527 and, considering the market this camera is designed for, that will be enough for most.
The metering settings on the M527 are unfortunately entirely automatic, a design choice which can greatly limit the ability for users to creatively react to lighting situations which are less than perfect. The M527 shoots with a Center-weighted Auto Exposure Metering System, which registers the whole scene in part, but gives priority to lighting specifics located at the center of the proposed image. This means that both multiple lighting sources and backlit subjects will be problematic for this metering system to accurately gauge and react to. Other camera manufacturers attempt to counter-act this problem by providing spot and matrix metering to better fine tune this system.
There is one exposure control available on the HP Photosmart M527; users can operate the exposure compensation settings for this camera from the Capture Menu. Adjustment is accomplished through a horizontal sliding scale that is positioned in the center of the LCD screen and overlays a live view. The live view feature is useful for novices as well as more experienced users as a means of instant feedback. The scale itself is a little substandard, allowing users to control the EV scale with a range of +/-2 EV with 0.5 stop increments throughout. 0.3 stop steps are more common. The aperture and shutter speeds for the M527 are fully automatic and will not be accessible to the user.
The white balance mode provides a handful of preset options along with a fully automatic system for shooting. The white balance settings are located within the Capture Menu as a white balance submenu. This submenu offers no live view, though it does feature short textual descriptions along with thumbnail images of when each setting could possibly be engaged. The settings it provides beside Auto mode are: Sun, Shade, Tungsten and Fluorescent. Users can find a fuller overview in the Help menu which will inform them on the functions and importance of white balance when shooting photographs.
The white balance settings are a bit underwhelming and leave certain situations wholly untouched. Also, the lack of a manual white balance setting is unfortunate; this is one of the last manual settings that should be sacrificed in the name of lower prices.
The ISO settings are located within the Capture Menu as well. The ISO menu is not a live view menu either, although this opaque menu does feature a text description, further help, and a series of thumbnails illustrating the function of manual ISO settings. Once within this menu, users will be able to scroll and select among the following options: Auto, 100, 200 and 400 ISO. This menu seems somewhat truncated, even for this lower price range, when competing manufacturers are more often offering settings that bracket one or both ends of the scale, even if resolutions are compromised.
**The shutter speed range for the M425 is completely automatic and will capture images at speeds from 1/1000th of a second to 2 seconds. With slow speeds of only 2 seconds, users may find that images captured in lower light situations are underexposed and should have been captured with extra illumination or the in-camera flash. The camera should perform without problem when shooting in well-lit situations.
The aperture settings, like the shutter speed settings, are fully automatic. Consumers looking for manual control over these settings within the HP camera line will find that they will need to look towards the R927 to finally attain these features in full manual functionality. The automatic aperture range for the HP Photosmart M527 is f/2.8 to f/8 in wide and f/4.7 to f/7.6 in telephoto, and is identical to the range found on the less expensive M425.
**Picture Quality / Size Options
**The Image Quality settings for the HP Photosmart M527 are located within the main Capture Menu. Once the Image Quality setting has been selected users will be able to select settings which vary from full resolution to television display. The HP M527 has settings for 6 MP Best, Normal 6 MP, 4 MP, 2 MP, VGA, and Help. The Help setting will inform users as to the proper settings and information regarding Image Quality, and how altering these settings will better improve their digital shooting experience.
Picture Effects Mode
The Picture Effects modes for the HP M527 produce results in postproduction image editing that are varied at best. Intended to replace PC editing software programs, the finesse and quality of these settings vary from feature to feature. Also, although placed within the same Design Gallery menu, the features found on the M527 and those found in the R-series are drastically different, with a truncated smattering of options remaining on this lower-priced model.
Users of the M527 can enter these menus by entering the Design Gallery menu and opening one of the following options.
The Artist Effects Menu allows users to use these features: Posterize, Soft Glow, Slimming and Kaleidoscope. Of all four features, Kaledioscope produces the most interesting results, while the Slimming feature places the photographic subject in the center of the frame and then engages in a fun house stretching effect. Hopefully this is intended as a whimsical effect; it’s too crude to be taken seriously. When using these Artist Effects settings, photographers are provided with a thumbnail of their image to better judge the results of effect application.
Another submenu with the Design Gallery allows users to alter the color of the photograph, providing them with these options: Black and White, Sepia, and Black and White Tints. As the options are scrolled through, each effect is applied to a thumbnail of the photograph. These settings are fairly standard on all point-and-shoot digital cameras, even within this price range, and the more advanced settings that existed in the R927 are removed from this model.
Finally, the least successful of the three submenu options is assuredly the Add Borders option, which allows users to choose the shape, though not the color or parameters of a digitally added border. This setting provides users with thumbnails of their photograph, and as users scan the menu, each menu setting appears superimposed upon the image. The settings in this mode ar:e Soft Edge, Inset Border, Oval, Circle, Rectangle, Rounded Rectangle and Square. This mode often inaccurately framed the image, tending to over crop images and producing small centered images with odd border colors. The border colors, automatically chosen by the camera, varied according to the content of the image; though, my self portrait attempts always seemed to garner a pink border, regardless of my background. At least the manipulated images are saved in addition to the original.
Saving images to memory tended to take longer than expected with both this camera and the M425, and it isn’t the most effortless of processes. Although a compelling and interesting step away from time-consuming PC software editing, these features have by no means attained a professional level of control.
*One of the major selling points for the cameras released by HP this year at CES 2006 was the great in-camera editing options. The features on the most expensive model released, the R927, could be said to provide a challenge to PC image editing programs, but the M-series models produced this year fall short of the challenge. This model does provide color alteration, borders, and a handful of artistic effects, although the actual offerings are exceptionally truncated versions of those found on the $399 R927.
With no option for cropping in-camera, and a lack of real preset options, users will need to resort to loading the HP Photosmart software for Macintosh and Windows which should provide options for users beyond those found in-camera. It is possible to direct print or upload images onto the Snapfish website immediately from the camera, and this system appears to be designed for straightforward simple functionality. Check back to see how well the software performs during our on-site testing.
Jacks, Ports, Plugs
The HP Photosmart M527 features a port cover located on the left side of the camera. Beneath this port cover are two ports which allow users DC In or USB access for the camera. The battery slots and memory card slot are located beneath a locking cover on the base of the camera body. The M527 can also be placed on a WiFi or cabled dock for printing, sharing and uploading; however, these docks would need to be purchased in addition to the camera itself. The camera only comes with a USB cable in-box.
Direct Print Options
This camera is capable of direct printing. By accessing the Photo Express menu through the external control, users are immediately entered into a basic and straightforward menu structure. Users can dictate which images to print, share, delete and control. While not one button printing, this feature isn’t far off, and is certainly not complicated. WiFi connection is possible; however, the separate purchase of additional WiFi dock is essential. Direct printing functions the same way.
*The batteries for the M527 are located beneath the locking port cover positioned on the base of the camera. The M527, unlike the R-series by HP which uses lithium-ion, needs AA batteries, which will require users to carry extra batteries during longer shooting sessions and make sacrifices in camera weight (though it won’t be more than a few ounces heavier). Lithium-ion batteries are lighter.
The M527 comes with 16 MB of internal memory, which will handle less than ten full-size images prior to being used up. Interestingly, during playback mode this camera will display the number of images that can fit, using current image specifications. There is an optional SD memory card slot located beneath the same cover which also contains the AA batteries. This port is easy to access and will easily allow users to insert or remove memory cards as needed.
***Snapfish* - Snapfish is a web service provided by HP that allows users to upload still images and digital video clips to the Internet for a nominal monthly or yearly fee. Users can then choose to select and order images as wanted. These images may also be made available to approved members and guests of the user. Snapfish only charges the publisher of the images and not the viewers, so invitations to friends and loved ones can be endless.
The HP Photosmart M527 manages to provide a number of interesting features along with a 6 MP CCD and automatic red-eye reduction during shooting, all for a price which will be affordable to even the budget consumer. Its marketed strengths are its actual strengths; it offers users useful help menus and provides a number of options for users in regards to printing, sharing and publishing images both on the internet via Snapfish and within their home.
The camera definitely does have some problems, however, such as the delay in saving images to memory card and the underwhelming LCD. The purchase of an optional WiFi dock will certainly improve functionality, and in most instances the use of postproduction image processing in a PC may be necessitated, even if the Design Gallery options are still employed. With further investment in their in-camera editing functions, and improvement with LCD quality and camera design, HP could have made a camera that clearly set itself apart from others within this price range.
Who It’s For
Point-and-Shooters - This camera, like all cameras found currently within the M-series, is intended primarily for this shooting audience, with presets and auto control featured throughout most areas.
Budget Consumers - The M527 could be an option for the budget consumer due to the lower price range that this camera falls within.
Gadget Freaks -The gadget freak won’t find this simple, easily structured point-and-shoot camera to be a desirable item to lust over.
Manual Control Freaks - With control of only exposure compensation and ISO, the manual controller isn’t going to find the features provided on the M527 to be alluring.
Pros / Serious Hobbyists - There is no reason for the pro or serious hobbyist to shoot with this camera.
**The HP Photosmart M527 will provide consumers with a 6 MP CCD, 3x optical zoom, 2-inch LCD, and features which are commonly found on other cameras within this price range. There are a few features which set this camera apart from other manufacturers’ offerings. The inclusion of an extensive Help structure and a basic simple external and internal navigation structure assures that users will be able to navigate all menus without needing to constantly refer to the User’s Manual or other resources.
The auto mode is capable of either controlling all features or allowing partial user access to settings of exposure compensation and ISO. That is not an extensive list of manual controls and a manual white balance feature would be a laudable addition. However, this camera really is intended for the audience that seeks quality results without user input.
The addition of settings like Artist Effects menu and the Automatic Red-eye Reduction setting will give this camera a slight advantage over the competition. Other settings like the Add Border feature, while well intentioned and interesting, still do not manage to attain consistently acceptable results. For camera users seeking a no-frills digital camera with point-and-shoot capabilities, standard well sized external controls, and expansive help features with text and image examples, the M527 could be an interesting candidate to re-examine—but we can’t say so for sure. Visit us later for our image testing results and full review.
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