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A miracle cure? Redeye removal camera comparison

Everybody talks about redeye, but (other than that nasty preflash thing) nobody has done anything about it. Until now. These two digital compacts are the first to use software as virtual visine. Does it work? First, let’s test the cameras…

HP downsizes & upgrades the 5-shooter
An update of the well-regarded Hewlett-Packard Photosmart 935 (reviewed October 2003), the $350 R707 is a clean-sheet design in a more compact body with a striking metal face plate.

Despite its slab-sided appearance, the R707 has enough subtle curves-notably the finger rest on the front, and the thumb indentation on the back-to give it a nicely ergonomic feel. The rubberlike charcoal-gray cladding on the back may look forbidding, but we like it. It prevents reflective glare from the camera back when you use the viewfinder.

While the HP finder has higher magnification (larger image) and a bigger exit pupil (disappearing image if you don’t keep your eye centered) than the Nikon, the image is a bit blurry at all focal lengths. We’d also like a bigger LCD monitor than the 1.5-inch one on the R707.

Control buttons are arrayed neatly around the top and right side of the LCD, which keeps them out of the way of your left hand but still within easy reach. The zoom toggle is cleverly located in the thumb indentation.

The R707 is essentially an automatic. Besides plain-vanilla auto, you can use a top button to scroll through nine other auto modes including panorama stitching and a user-setting memory. Aperture-priority is the bare-bones variety with a choice of only two f-stops (i.e., big and small) at any focal length. And exposure compensation must be accessed through the menu. Like many cameras, the R707 goes automatically into digital zoom at the top limit of the
optical zoom, but unlike many cameras, you can’t lock out digital zoom.

The menu system is a strong point. The screens are crowded but readable, and with one additional button press you can call up contextual help for any control on the menu. A separate help menu is concise and written in plain English.

Besides in-camera redeye removal, the R707 has another software fix. Called Adaptive Lighting, this setting will, on the fly, brighten the shadows in a contrasty scene to bring them closer to the highlights. You can select two levels of shadow brightening. The fix adds about two seconds to the image processing time, but the camera has sufficient buffer that it doesn’t add to the click-to-click time (about 2 sec) unless you are taking pictures fast enough to fill up the buffer. (In our shooting, this took about five frames.)

The fix works very nicely. HP does warn that you may see some noise in brightened shadows; we found the noise levels at ISO 100 weren’t much higher than what was already there.

The HP’s autofocus uses a wide-area central AF zone, with pretty good sensitivity to horizontal as well as vertical/oblique detail, although it would occasionally be fickle.The HP also uses a hard-working Li-ion rechargeable-it’s the same size and capacity as the Nikon’s, although they are not interchangeable.

Images from the R707 show extremely high resolution, about average for a 5.1MP camera, and decent contrast. Color accuracy was remarkably good-the best score of any camera to date-but noise proved a buzzy fly in the ointment. It was already moderate at ISO 100, quickly hit the threshold of unacceptable at 200, and was really bad at ISO 400.

Conclusion: Stylish camera solves two vexing gremlins for snapshooters.

Nikon 00-Series Goes 5MP
Nikon’s philosophy with the 5MP, $500 Coolpix 5200 is simple: Don’t mess with success. It follows the same general style and control layout of previous 00-series Coolpixes like the 2100, 3200, and 5100. And why not? The little grip bump is very comfortable to hold; shutter button, zoom buttons, and jog dial are well positioned; and control sequences are straightforward.

The 5200 is mostly an all-auto camera; besides program, it has settings on the mode dial for portrait, action, landscape, and slow-sync flash. Scene mode adds 11 more, such as fireworks, beach/snow, and panorama stitch. No manual settings, but you can vary exposure up or down in 1¼3-EV steps.

In these days of big, big LCD monitors, the 5200’s 1.5-in screen seems small, although readouts and menus are quite readable. The viewfinder, however, needs work. It has low magnification and a small exit pupil.

The autofocus can detect detail over most of the frame area, and you can let the camera pick the focus point or adjust it yourself. It’s reasonably fast in bright to medium light, but does need vertical or oblique detail to lock onto. A bright red focus-assist beam helps in low light, but AF does slow down.

The Li-ion slab battery is a welcome feature: it keeps the camera shooting a good long time, and saves space over AAs. With the extra power, you can take more of the extremely high-quality images that the 5200 captures up to ISO 100. Color accuracy and resolution are at the top for this category, but image quality takes a hit from increased noise levels at ISO 200, and are at unacceptable levels by ISO 400.

Conclusion: An easy-to-like point-and-shoot that should be on the very, very short list of anyone who does a lot of people snapshots.

Short answer: Both the Nikon’s and HP’s redeye eliminators work well, but differently. The Nikon removes redeye on the fly, as the picture is being stored. The HP is a fix that you apply to a picture in playback.

There are other differences. Nikon takes a belt-and-suspenders approach: when you engage redeye elimination, it also activates a preflash. (The total number of preflashes is thus two, as the 5200, like many digital cameras, ordinarily uses a single preflash to determine exposure.)

Using the redeye elimination added about a second to the click-to-click time of the 5200, to 3 sec from 2, which isn’t bad at all.

The HP R707, on the other hand, operates conventionally in capture. Like the Nikon, it uses a single preflash in simple autoflash to monitor exposure, and will add an additional anti-redeye preflash on demand. If, when you look at your pictures in playback, you find redeye, you can go into the menu and engage redeye elimination. It takes just seconds to fix a picture. You can run the redeye fix any time after you take the shot.

One thing we found-no surprise here-is that preflash alone can’t eliminate redeye. It simply makes it less noticeable by reducing the size of the subject’s pupils. With redeye elimination, preflash does make the final pictures look more natural.

If we had to choose one system, we’d pick the Nikon. You can set it and forget it, and it didn’t add appreciably to shooting lag. But we wish we could turn off the preflash, which, as you know, can cause blinking or looking away from the camera. Our two young subjects were well practiced at keeping their eyes open through multiple flashes. With the HP, we could turn off one of the preflashes to reduce chances of “blinkers.”

If we had our druthers, we’d have elements of both systems in one camera: selectable preflash, and choice of redeye removal on the fly, or afterward.

Download our Certified Test Results: HP Photosmart R707 and Nikon Coolpix 5200
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