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Feature Article
Kodak DC280 Digital Camera & HP P1000 Photosmart Printer

July 1, 2000
By Scott Lewis

I have always wanted a photo capable printer since color ink-jet printers first started appearing on the market. I have had access to a scanner of one type or another for about 4 years now. But I have not been impressed with the quality of printers for reproducing photographs in the home market.

That is, until I saw the results from Hewlett Packard’s latest photo “smart” printers. But the decision to buy was cinched when we saw that these printers accepted SmartMedia & Compact Flash cards that let you print pictures from a digital camera without a PC.

Kodak DC280 Zoom

I played with a friend’s digital camera a couple of years ago. I took pictures of my Ford Explorer with it for this web site. The quality of those pictures was acceptable for web pages and e-mail, but not much more. That was then, this is now. Two years makes a huge difference. Current digital photography is becoming viable to replace traditional film photography.

When my HP OfficeJet 710 died, I started looking for a replacement inkjet printer. When I saw printers that worked directly with digital cameras I decided that a digital camera would be better than getting a scanner; which I used 95% of the time to scan snap shots.

The Kodak seemed to have almost everything I wanted. In fact, when checking prices and specs the only thing I wish the DC280 had was more optical zoom. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The DC280 is a very simple to use point and shoot style camera. The basic equipment list includes:

DC280 Camera
32MB Compact Flash Card
2X Optical & 3X Digital zoom (for total 6X zoom)
USB & Serial Cables
4 AA Alkaline batteries
4 AA Ni-MH batteries and charger
RCA Video out cable
Software

When we opened the package and saw the alkaline batteries we thought this was a really nice touch. Since the Ni-MH batteries needed time to charge, the alkalines allowed us to start using the camera immediately without searching around for batteries. Nice touch, Kodak!

Another nice touch was the memory. The camera was supposed to come with a 20MB CF card. Inside the box was a note from Kodak apologizing for a shortage of the 20MB CF cards and telling us they supplied a 32MB card for our trouble. Now that is my kind of apology. Again, nice touch, Kodak!

Although I am the type that doesn’t bother reading the manual, I highly suggest you do. This camera is so simple to use, but it might elude you how to do some things without reading the manual. For example, the digital zoom. It only works when you turn on the LCD display while shooting. This is just a one button operation, but you won’t know how easy it is unless you read the manual.

The DC280 takes two resolutions of pictures (1760x1168 and 896x592). The high resolution is supposed to be enough for 8x10 prints. The low resolution works great for 4x6 printing, and they look extremely close to real photographs. I have printed a couple of 8x10s from the low resolution images. Results were good, but could be a little better. If you know you want 8x10s then set the camera for high resolution. However, if you take a lot of low resolution snapshots, you should be able to get a decent 8x10.

The camera has three levels of quality for pictures. The quality determines the amount of compression used to store the pictures in memory, and does not effect taking pictures. The higher the quality, the fewer pictures the camera will store in the memory card. But with higher compression comes a slight loss in the quality of the image as it is stored.

With the included 32MB CF Card the DC280 will hold approximately 50 high resolution, high quality pictures. It will right around 385 low resolution, “good” quality pictures. Picture quality is called Best, Better, and Good. Dare they say low quality? I tend to leave the camera on low resolution/high quality for approximately 140 pictures, more than enough for my. However, if I went on an extended vacation without a computer I would likely by another memory card.

Operating the camera is so easy. However, it is not without its flaws. I mentioned above I would prefer more optical zoom, maybe in my next digital camera. That is not truly a flaw, but something I really would like. Ironically the DC240, almost exactly the same except it’s a cheaper 1.3 megapixel camera, has a 3X optical zoom. Go figure. By the way, the DC280 is a 2 megapixel camera.

The biggest flaw with the DC280 is the menu on the camera’s LCD display. It could use a lot of improvement. Basic use is easy enough. Just scroll though menu items and select the item you want. It is the order in which they are laid out that bothers me. The menu always starts at the top. I think it should start with the item you last adjusted. Also, there seems to be little thought in the order the items are listed. I would assume resolution and picture quality should be at the top of the list, since they would be adjusted most often. Instead they are a few items down the list. This would not matter if the menu would remember you are changing between resolutions and left that item highlighted.

This means you can expect to spend a fair amount of time scrolling through the menu if you like to adjust your pictures frequently, as I do.

The next flaw lies with action photos. The camera is slow to recycle. It can take three to four pictures in reasonable succession, but it cannot take them in a rapid fire situation. Also, once it is trying to process 3 or more pictures, it seems to wait until it is finished before letting you continue. Some cameras, including Kodak’s more expensive DC290, have burst modes. This takes a batch of pictures all at once. This would be a great feature. Currently I can survive without that feature. Once again, in my next camera.

Lastly, the camera takes too long to zoom in and out digitally. While at Sea World I needed near full zoom to get close pictures of Shamu while on the other side of the stadium, but needed almost no zoom when he came around to the side of the stadium I was on. I was not able to change the zoom fast enough and have ended up with some great pictures of Shamu’s belly.

The RCA video out is used to display images on a TV. This is great when I visit my in-laws and want to show them the latest pictures of their grandchildren. Having the USB connection makes transfers to a PC a snap. Even the highest resolution pictures only take a few seconds each to transfer from the camera. (Note: I find it a fair amount faster to transfer pictures to my computer through the camera’s UBS connection than using the memory slot in the printer reviewed below.)

The software bundle includes Adobe PhotoDeluxe Business Edition (both PC & Mac versions of the software are bundled with the camera). I don’t care for it and don’t recommend installing it. I have successfully used Pant Shop Pro to maintain my digital library and find it more than good enough.

Overall, I love this camera. It is easy to use. The rechargeable batteries last a long time (longer than regular alkaline batteries). It takes great pictures. If it were faster and had more lens options I would never need another camera.

Hewlett Packard P1000 Photosmart

Digital cameras will never be able to threaten film photography unless you can get good quality prints. The inkjet market has been touting photo realistic capabilities for years. But they have never been close enough to matching film pictures. Until now.

HP’s Photosmart printer series is the first real threat to film the company has delivered. With a resolution of 2400x1200 on special photo paper, the P1000 prints 4x6 snapshots that look extremely close to real photos.

Special to HP’s Photosmart series is the ability to insert SmartMedia and Compact Flash memory cards directly into slots in the printer. This allows you to print photos without using a PC. Also, using the USB connection the printer can act as a memory card reader. If you already have a digital camera that uses either memory, but has a serial connection, this is a great plus. It saves you the expense of buying a separate memory card reader. The USB connection means transfers to the computer through the printer are plenty fast (though, as noted above, not as fast as USB transfers using the camera itself).

The P1000 is also a traditional inkjet printer that is rated at 600dpi and 11ppm. That speed is a bit of a stretch. It is only for draft quality, and better print modes are around 5ppm or less. Always pay attention to the fine print when comparing specs.

If you do a lot of two sided printing you might want to consider the P1100 printer. It does duplex printing automatically (by flipping the paper over internally). As an added bonus the P1100 has some level of networking built in. I do not have any experience with this so it is up to you to decide if that feature is something to shop for.

The Photosmart printer can print an index sheet of thumbnails as well as print 4x6 and 8x10 pictures. It has a separate tray to hold 4x6 paper. This is extremely convenient with the amount I have been using the printer.

I have printed a number of 8x10’s (actually the paper is 8-1/2 X 11, but you get the idea). Sometimes the results look too good. I have noticed that people sometimes look like they were layered on the paper. Almost like they were cut and pasted from another picture. However, I am 99% sure this is due to the images I was printing from the camera. The camera has a soft setting that is supposed to soften the edges in pictures. I am sure this will change things.

HP provides a printing software package. It can be used to print standard size prints on *-1/2x11 photo paper. What this software does is print 2 5x7 prints on one page, or multiple 4x6 and wallets pictures on one page. The number of combinations are extreme. And they don’t have to be of the same picture. You can print a slew of different pictures in many combinations of sizes to maximize your investment in photo paper. However, the software has one great flaw, no white space. All pictures are printed but up against each other. This may help get the most out of your paper, but unless you are an expert with scissors you will mostly not be able to get perfect cutouts. In the future I am going to play around with added a few pixels of white border to my images, and use the HP software to print. I think that will make a great system. Until that time I am successfully printing with Paint Shop Pro.

My experience with the P1000 has been excellent. Its black text is very sharp and is good enough to replace my LaserJet during the time we will be building our house. We are moving into an apartment. I need to save space wherever I can, so I lent my LaserJet printer to my in-laws until our house is finished.

Conclusion

Overall I am extremely impressed with my digital camera and photo printer choice. Having the ability to take high quality pictures without the expense of developing (this is only economical if you pick and choose the pictures you print) will hopefully rekindle my love of photography. It was the expense that dosed the flame in the past.

If all goes well, I will make sure my next digital camera has aperture and time exposure settings that can be manually set. Ultimately, I would like remote control of the shutter and the ability to connect the camera to a telescope for sky and astronomy photography.

I give it about 3 years before that is affordable.
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