If HP's fall cameras inspire a sense of déjà vu in you, you're not alone. For the most part, they're just me-too upgrades to the last batch. For instance, the top-of-the-line Photosmart R967 improves--and I use the term loosely--on the underwhelmingby bumping it up to 10 megapixels and adding high-ISO-based image stabilization. First, does anyone care about 10 megapixels in a snapshot camera? Second, offering a mode that bumps up to ISO 400, increases the shutter speed, and overprocesses the heck out of my photos--the typical form of digital image stabilization used by HP, Kodak, Fujifilm, and so on--doesn't really win any points with me. Tack on the R967's wimpy 3X zoom lens, almost-there 24fps VGA movie mode, and inflated $449 price tag, and I can almost predict the lukewarm reception it will get when the line ships in September.
And that's the top of the line. The rest of the new models aren't nearly as exciting. The Photosmart R827 ($299) is a 7-megapixel version of the R727 with more of the Real Life technologies built in, such as in-camera red-eye removal. Another 7-megapixel model, the M627 ($229) adds a few of the Real Life technologies as well. Finally, the E427 ($129) combines 6 megapixels and a fixed focal-length lens.
Granted, HP's big push this year is ease of use, and the company is doing a good job of making it darn easy to upload your photos to Snapfish or print them out on HP photo printers. This year's target market is the iMom, a post-baby-boomer, stay-at-home mother that runs a business, photographs all the kids' parties, and is the first to post the photos on a sharing site. These women are so results oriented that they don't care about specs or any of the pesky issues that go into a thoughtful buying decision.
Now, I have some issues with that demographic description, but let's say we just take it as gospel. Then I have just one question: When all these iMoms become iGrandmas, are they going to wish they had taken a few extra minutes all those years ago to get a camera that required a little more learning but shot much better photos? I'm just askin'.