The Design Gallery menu offers different photo effects, including the highly publicized "Slimming" effect for the portly. One of the downsides to the menu system is that when engaged, the menu defaults to the second menu, the Design Gallery, instead of the first menu, the Capture menu. Users can, however, access the shooting modes through a dedicated mode button on the 4-way controller.
The options for setting controls are as follows:
The Help menu features detailed explanations to assist users. Users will not need to look at their manual again with the Help menu. Each section contains extensive details. The sections are as follows: 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, Reviewing Images and Video, Deleting Images, Transferring Images, Managing Batteries, Getting Assistance, and Camera Shortcuts. For people who hate reading manuals or lose them, the menu on the M527 is perfect. With detailed modes and functions, the camera gives ample explanation for each feature. The functions read more like an intro photo class than a standard point-and-shoot. For example, the landscape mode states, "high f-numbers for more depth of field." However, for those not interested in f-stops or shutter times, the added text could be annoying. For first-time users of the camera or photography in general, the menu is very helpful. Although the camera comes with a thin pamphlet guide, no manual is necessary. **Ease of Use**For first-time users, the HP Photosmart M527 is fairly easy to use. Anyone with computer literacy will find the camera easy to navigate, due in large part to the menu system and help function. For no-fuss point-and-shooters, however, the extra text is simply photo jargon. The text is easy to read with white lettering on various colored backgrounds. The camera itself is physically easy to handle, although a bit too heavy at times. The camera also provides previews for LCD brightness and special photo effects without having to alter the original file. Photo quality, however, is another story.
**Auto Mode**In the auto shooting mode, users still have control over ISO, white balance, and flash settings, for semi-manual and fully automatic shooting. In the auto mode, users can also set the ISO, white balance, and flash to the auto default function. Even in the auto mode, users may have to change the flash settings indoors because the camera does not set an auto flash with backlighting, resulting in photos that are too dark. The other option is to bump up ISO settings. Either way, the auto setting is problematic indoors and requires some more fancy work. The auto mode captured both static and moving subjects just fine. Users do not have to worry about blurry images when photographing walking persons or moving cars in good lighting. **Movie Mode**The movie mode records at 20 fps with QVGA resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. The zoom locks in the movie mode, which makes shooting at various distances difficult. For recording your child’s game from the bleachers, users can zoom before recording has started, after shooting starts the zoom becomes locked. Users can also change ISO and white balance before recording. The movie mode’s audio works effectively, picking up street noise and even the sound of the button to end the video. Users, however, can shut camera sounds off before recording. One of the more significant problems of the camera was banding captured in movie mode. In both outdoor and indoor high contrast situations, the camera captured off-colored vertical lines across the video images. Still images did not record banding. At 20 fps and 320 x 240 pixels, the video is fine for sending an email to the grandparents but won’t look good played back on a television. Most point-and-shoots now carry 30 fps capabilities at a full VGA resolution of 640 x 480 pixels. The video films smoothly enough with steady hands but can be choppy when shifting the camera. **Drive/Burst Mode**The burst mode captures images at 2 fps with a 3-picture maximum. The speed certainly isn’t incredible, and the 3-shot max on the burst mode is very disappointing. If the action being photographed lasts more than a second and a half, there will be trouble. The HP Photosmart M527 takes quite awhile to process the images and write them to the memory card. No flash is available in the burst mode. **Playback Mode**The playback mode is one of the better features of the HP Photosmart M527. The camera comes with plenty of built-in editing functions which anti-desktop users will like. Users can select post-production editing tools such as red-eye reduction and photo effects. Colors can be changed, borders can be added, images can be rotated, and audio can be attached to a still image file in the camera. The camera also has a nine-frame thumbnail view and fast one-to-one image transitions. Unlike other point-and-shoots, the HP M527 quickly scrolls through images, frame by frame for rapid review. Unfortunately, there are no fancy slideshow presentations with this camera. Users can also view video on the spot but because the camera lacks a speaker, users will have to do without the sound when viewing movies.** ****Custom Image Presets**The M527 has 11 preset shooting modes, excluding auto mode: Macro, Burst, Sunset, Beach & Snow, Night Portrait, Action, Portrait, Landscape, Fast Shot, and Self-Timer. The camera includes the standard modes of other entry-level cameras for basic portraiture and landscape photography, while adding a few popular modes for sports and family vacationing. Some may wonder, however, what the difference is for action and fast shot modes; the two modes overlap. The action mode is ideal for sports, functioning with a faster shutter speed. The fast shot is set at a low ISO for bright situations and has a fixed focus. In general, the number of presets is fair enough for well-rounded automatic shooting. To access the presets, users will have to select the shooting mode internally since the camera lacks the mode dial seen on semi-manual point-and-shoots. Users have two options. The quickest way to access the shooting modes is through the "mode" option on the 4-way controller. The other round-about way is through the menu.
**Manual Control Options**The HP M527 has minimal manual control with options to change white balance, ISO, and flash settings in most shooting modes. For point-and-shooters looking to upgrade to a camera with more manual control, the M527 provides at least some support with its limited, introductory manual functions. **Focus***Auto Focus*The HP Photosmart M527 has two auto focus modes: a normal default mode and macro mode. The normal mode focuses from 0.5m to infinity (1.64ft. – infinity) at the widest focal length. In the telephoto mode, the camera focuses from 0.6m to infinity (2ft. – infinity). For close-up shots, the HP specification sheet states that the macro mode focuses from 0.12-1m (5.72 in. – 3.28 ft.). During test shots, however, the camera focused more effectively in normal auto focus mode over the macro mode. When set to macro mode, the auto focus sometimes prevents shooting even within focusing range past 6 inches. The text "Unable to Focus" appears on the LCD screen, at which point, multiple depressions of the shutter button are required before focusing. The "Unable to Focus" phrase will be a common sighting: the camera displays it often in low light when the auto focus has some trouble. The M527 has one focus point at the center. The center focus is highlighted by guidelines: green when effectively focused and red when the camera is unable to focus. *Manual Focus*The HP M527 does not have manual focus, which most point-and-shooters prefer although some entry level cameras are increasingly including the manual function. For users who want manual focus, the step-up model HP Photosmart R927 has it, but for double the price. **Exposure**Users can manually control exposure compensation on the M527 but not much else. Users can change the exposure in 2EV steps by ½ stops, although most cameras have 1/3 exposure increments, a minimal difference in exposure range. The LCD shows a linear scale in which users can change exposure up or down using the 4-way controller. In addition, the camera has a helpful guide below the scale that shows arrows to indicate which selected buttons make the image brighter or darker. Users will also benefit from the live preview that shows the incremental exposure changes. **Metering**The HP camera only has one metering system, a TTL center-weighted auto exposure meter. Although many cameras include three metering systems such as matrix or spot metering, this camera’s sole metering system has trouble reading light situations outside of the center as well as backlit subjects. For users concerned with more precise metering, HP offers multiple metering systems in the Photosmart R927 with center-weighted, spot, and average AE metering. **White Balance**The HP Photosmart M527 has four white balance settings besides Auto: Sun, Shade, Tungsten, and Fluorescent. Although some point-and-shoots offer multiple fluorescent settings, this camera does not. Even with the limited preset options, the HP M527 covers the basics for everyday situations. The HP M527, as expected, does not have a program or manual white balance setting. The camera does have textual descriptions that explain each white balance setting, such as the exposure compensation. For instance, under the "Shade" setting, a brief guide "Outdoors in shade or at dusk" explains the function. This is consistent with the helpful HP menu system in the rest of the camera.
**ISO**The ISO range on the M527 is a disappointing 100 to 400. Besides the auto setting, the camera’s limited range is trounced by other point-and-shoots that have sensitivity ranges up to ISO 800 or 1600. When users change the ISO settings, a textual description follows each setting making it easier for beginning photographers to decipher ISO. In addition, each setting shows an imitation preview icon of a preset HP picture. For example, the ISO 100 setting picture shows that a woman riding a bicycle will be blurred. Like the rest of the control options’ text explanations, the ISO descriptions are very helpful. **Shutter Speed**The HP Photosmart M527’s shutter speeds range from 2 seconds to a fast 1/1000th of a second. The shutter speed, however, is set completely automatically. The camera includes a fast shot shooting mode and an action shooting mode in which users will have to guess what the exact speed is. We can guess that the night mode automatically selects a time of 2 seconds for dark photos. Most point-and-shooters probably prefer the guesswork to be taken care of regardless. The M527 has the same shutter speeds, along with aperture range, as its less expensive HP counterpart, the M425. **Aperture**Like the shutter speed, the aperture is set automatically on the M527. The camera has a fair f-stop range: f/2.8-f/8.0 in wide and f/4.7 to f/7.6 in telephoto. [title page="Image Parameters"] **Picture Quality/Size Options**The HP camera has simplified ratings for the following picture options: Best 6MP, Normal 6MP, 4MP, 2MP, and VGA. There are compression options for the top resolution but none for the other image sizes. The menu gives brief, helpful explanations to each setting. For example, the menu indicates that the VGA is best suited for emailing. **Picture Effects Mode**The picture effects Design Gallery is one of the more interesting features on the entry-level M527, filled with fun tricks for playing with pictures post-capture. For users who want the special effects in lieu of computer photo editing software, the Design Gallery offers a fair amount of options. Like many other point-and-shoots, users can change portrait images taken with flash with the Remove Red Eyes function. The more unique features of the HP camera are called the Artistic Effects. For users who want to pull a Katie Couric, the camera comes with a Slimming function. As the name implies, the function is intended to trim down the waist line by distorting the photo. Other artistic effects include a Posterize function for an Andy Warhol/Marilyn Monroe effect, Soft Glow for a gauzy look, and Kaleidoscope for matched reverse images in four directions. The M527 comes with a Modify Color menu to change images to black and white, sepia, or black and white tints, and a bronze tone that combines both. Although newer point-and-shoots offer red and green options, the color changes cover the basics. For users looking to make direct prints, the Add Borders function creates digital mattes on the images: Soft Edge, Inset Border, Oval, Circle, Rectangle, Rounded Rectangle, and Square. Although most photo realists would snub their noses at the special effects, those looking for a different take on photos might be interested in the picture effects mode. Called the Design Gallery, the picture effects are made to be pseudo artistic. Who knows how often users will make oval-shaped photo prints, but HP, for better or worse, sets itself apart from other manufacturers with its picture effects.
**Connectivity***Software*The included HP Photosmart Premier program has plenty of viewing, editing, printing, and sharing options, which may help or hinder the target audience of beginning users. Even simply uploading the photos, users are faced with three direct choices: Quick Print, sharing through Snapfish.com, or transferring photos to the computer. For users who enjoy complete control, the software offers lots of options. For those who hate choices, the options are too many. The software could end up being a decision-maker’s worst nightmare with its overwhelming number of options. Once users choose to transfer images from the camera to their computer, users have 6 main options: View, Edit, Print, Create, Share, and an interesting Backup feature for saving images to CD. The tiny folder tab headings are located on the top of the interface and could be improved upon with larger tabs. Each heading has a plethora of subcategories to choose from. In View, users can preview their images as moderately sized thumbnails in a complete view, selected folders, or recently used images, among other choices. In addition, there is a linear filmstrip on the bottom the screen. Users can also view image information such as aperture and ISO, as well as slideshows. Many viewing options overlap; this section would have been improved with only a few basic choices. Users encounter the same multiple choice problem when editing. Instead of all editing functions under one heading, users must oscillate between Basic and Advanced options, which contain choices within choices. Most editing tools show live previews that help the user decide. Finally when users edit, they must select to accept or cancel each change, making the editing process longer than need be. But for organizational types who like complete control, the software might be appealing. Users again have a healthy number of choices for printing, ranging from images 2 x 2 inches to a full 8 x 10. There are various print layouts for at-home printing. Not surprisingly, there is also a direct option for sending photos to the HP-owned Snapfish for sharing and printing. Users can also print proof sheets for still photos and the first scene of video clips. For the creative type, the software also has eight Create options to make calendars, flyers, greeting cards, and photo gifts through Snapfish. *Jacks, Ports, Plugs*The HP Photosmart M527 has two side ports: a USB port with an included cord to transfer images and a power adapter port that does not include a connecting cord. Hidden underneath a plastic door, the ports are protected from debris. For users looking to view their photos on their TV, they will have to buy an additional HP M-series 6220 digital camera dock, not included in the package. The M-series dock recharges batteries, transfers photos to a desktop, and allows connection to view images on the TV. The optional dock is $39.99. *Direct Print Options*Like most point-and-shoots, the M527 has direct printing capabilities. The camera is compatible with PictBridge printers, including the HP-recommended 4 x 6 print compact Photosmart 335 printer and the 8-ink color HP Photosmart 8450. The camera has a convenient designated button on the top of the camera to access the Photosmart Express menu. Although the function will not directly send photos to print since it lacks wi-fi capabilities, the function does tag which photos you want to print before connecting to a printer. Users can select up to 99 copies of an image. Once the camera is placed on an optional dock, users can send their photos to automatically print or share online. *Battery***The HP Photosmart M527 takes two AA alkaline batteries (included), NiMH, or photo Li batteries. Unfortunately the camera does not come with the optional M-series Photosmart 6220 dock which recharges the batteries. For an added $39.99, users can recharge the batteries on a dock. For vacationers without access to docks or electrical outlets, the AA batteries can be found at any convenience store and are a good choice. Users can take up to 180 shots on alkaline, 380 shots on NiMH, and 600 shots on Li batteries, according to the HP spec sheet. *Memory*The Photosmart M527 has 16MB of internal memory. The camera is compatible with SD cards, although some newer cameras now take higher memory storage SDHC cards. **Other Features***Sound recorder* – Users can record sound, separately from the video function. The M527 can record audio to be attached to a still image. Users should be mindful to turn off camera button sounds before recording audio. *Snapfish* – The HP-owned online sharing site Snapfish is readily available for connection throughout Photosmart Premier software. Users can share images online or create photo gifts using the software and Snapfish connection.
**Value****The HP Photosmart M527 is currently priced at $149.99 with HP’s online rebate offer, previously priced at $169.99, according to the website. For the economical price tag, HP’s M527 is one of the cheapest 6-megapixel cameras in the market. The camera has a standard 3x optical zoom but a small 2-inch LCD. Buyers should beware though; what consumers save in dollars, they lose in photo quality. **Comparisons **Olympus* FE-170* – Introduced just last month at $149.99, the Olympus FE-170 shares the current price of the HP M527. Both cameras tote 6-megapixel sensors and 3x optical zoom lenses. It is a toss-up for the two equally priced cameras. Users will find the Olympus model has digital image stabilization and a larger 2.5-inch LCD over the 2-inch LCD of the HP. However, the FE-170 has a movie mode at 320 x 240 at 15fps under HP’s slightly faster 20fps. The Olympus also has less internal memory at 10MB instead of HP’s 16MB. Both cameras have built-in help guides. *Kodak EasyShare C743* – The new Kodak EasyShare C743 camera was introduced last month for $199.95. For $50 more than the current price of the HP M527, users will get a greater 7.1-megapixel count over the HP’s 6 megapixels. If customers are willing to shell out the extra bucks, they will find a bigger LCD with Kodak’s 2.4-inch monitor over HP’s 2-inch screen. The Kodak camera also has improved video at 640 x 480 at 30fps. Both cameras have 3x optical zoom lenses. *Casio Exilim EX-S600* – At a pricey $299.99, the Casio S600 has an equal 6-megapixel count and 3x optical zoom ability, but a slightly larger 2.2-inch LCD. For users interested in getting an entry-level camera with anti-shake DSP, the Casio camera will cost double the currently reduced price of the HP camera. *Nikon Coolpix L6* – Priced at $199, the new Nikon Coolpix L6 shares the 6-megapixel count and 3x optical zoom of the HP M527. For an extra $50, users can get the larger Nikon 2.5-inch LCD and an expanded ISO sensitivity range up to 800 ISO as opposed tp HP’s 400 ISO. In addition, the Nikon camera has a one-touch button for face-priority auto focus. *Pentax Optio E10* – At the retail price of $199, the 6-megapixel Pentax Optio E10 has the same megapixel count and 3x optical zoom like the HP M527. For the extra $50, users will get a larger 2.4-inch LCD. The Pentax, however, has a limited sensitivity of 200 ISO, while the HP has a range up to 400 ISO. Both cameras have movie modes with resolutions of 320 x 240 pixels at 20 fps. The Pentax has less internal memory at 10MB compared to the HP’s 16MB. *HP Photosmart E327* – For users who want to find the cheapest camera, HP offers the E327 for $50 less than the M527. Sacrificing resolution, users can purchase the 5-megapixel E327 currently at just under $100. **Who It’s For***Point-and-Shooters* – The M527 is geared for the point-and-shooters. With mostly automatic features and limited manual functions, the entry-level camera will suit this group the best. *Budget Consumers* – At a rebated price, the Photosmart M527 is tailored for the thrifty buyer. Shoppers will be lured to the camera by one of its best selling points – the price. *Gadget Freaks* – Techies would most likely not find the barebones HP M527 too alluring. They, however, might enjoy playing with the Design Gallery effects, particularly the highly publicized Slimming function. Otherwise, gadget freaks might look elsewhere to satisfy their gadget needs. *Manual Control Freaks* – Consumers looking for manual control would not be interested in the M527 with its limited controls. Those looking to control focus and exposure might aim for the next series up, the HP Photosmart R725 or the R727. *Pros/Serious Hobbyists* – Professionals or serious hobbyists would not even give the entry-level HP M527 camera a second look.
** ****Conclusion **The HP Photosmart M527 is definitely one of the cheapest cameras around, especially with HP’s recent rebate, an offer ending at the end of the month, according to the HP website. At $149.99, the low price is the camera’s best selling point. Unfortunately, the Photosmart M527 is not the prettiest camera with its thick, heavy body. If consumers are not concerned with looks, users will find that the 6-megapixel camera has a 3x optical zoom lens, 2-inch LCD, and interesting photo effects. Geared for point-and-shooters, the entry-level camera does offer some fancy tricks. Besides the economical price, consumers may be swayed by the gimmick of the slimming photo effect, among other Design Gallery functions. Love it or hate it, HP’s photo effects are worth mentioning. As other point-and-shoot cameras continue to move towards non-computer editing, the Photosmart offers built-in functions for direct printing. For those simply looking for the cheapest 6-megapixel digital camera, the HP Photosmart M527 fits the bill but at the sacrifice of photo quality. Consumers can find better quality elsewhere but for a bigger price tag.
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Karen M. Cheung
Karen M. Cheung is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.See all of Karen M. Cheung's reviews
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