HP TopShot Color MFP Scans 3D Objects
At a Glance
The new HP TopShot Laserjet Pro M275 is a color laser multifunction printer (MFP) that prints, copies, and scans, and it also comes with something extra: an elevated, 8-megapixel camera that makes taking images of small three-dimensional (3D) objects almost as easy as making a photocopy. Though this $400 (as of 11/29/2011) machine is built upon a rather slow color laser with pricey toner, the TopShot feature should nevertheless appeal to people who take a lot of product shots for promotional or artistic purposes.
Whatever else you can say about the TopShot, it is unique. All other color laser MFPs we’ve tested have a traditional, slow-moving scanner head with a flatbed platen for positioning flat or nearly-flat objects. Only one other machine we’ve tested, Lexmark’s Genesis color inkjet MFP, uses a camera for taking images—but it’s still saddled with a platen.
The TopShot Laserjet Pro M275’s camera is elevated on an arm. The arm has a wide, sturdy hinge that raises it about 8.5 inches above a removable white platform--called the “capture stage” by HP. The platform’s feet are magnetic and sit firmly in shallow wells on top of the machine. You place an object on the platform, and the camera quickly takes six images: three with flashes (right, left and center), and three without flash at different exposure levels.
Image-processing software within the machine then takes a few minutes to sort through these multiple pictures and select what it needs--a highlight or contour here, a shadow there--to create a composite image that looks more three-dimensional than a single image would. It can print this image as an instant copy or save it as an electronic file on a connected PC.
To try out the TopShot, I scanned and copied a wide variety of three-dimensional objects: toys of different sizes and textures, a piece of fruit, my hand. I also scanned and copied regular documents.
The scanning and copying of 3D objects turned out well for the most part. The judicious choices of shadow and highlight achieved a 3D look without all the fiddling with lighting and positioning that you’d have to do with a regular digital camera. The Topshot software also auto-crops around the object, so you can place it on a background of your choice.
The TopShot's scanner does have some limitations. Because the camera has a fixed focal length without optical zoom, a taller object will look bigger, and possibly show excessive light exposure, because it’s closer to the camera lens and its flash. Objects I tried that were about half of the camera’s height or shorter scanned without any major problems.
The TopShot LaserJet Pro M275 can also scan or copy letter/A4-size documents, though with varying success. HP confirmed that TopShot takes six shots even if you specify that the object is a document. This seemed like unnecessary imaging work for a flat piece of paper--and probably introduced some of the problems we observed. Scans of shiny-surfaced documents such as our sample full-page color photo showed artifacts of the flash in the resulting image. HP's Scan driver edited it out consistently on our Mac testbed, but not on our PC testbed. An effort to flatten the slightly bowed photo seemed to help. In any case, another problem was that areas of shadow looked excessively dark. We are discussing our findings with HP.
As a color laser MFP, the TopShot LaserJet Pro M275 is reasonably equipped for a single user or a very small office. You can install the device via USB, ethernet, or wireless. It comes with a 150-sheet input tray and a 50-sheet output tray; the latter is mostly hidden under the scanner platform but is still usable. The control panel consists of a 3.5-inch color touchscreen LCD and touch-sensitive controls that light up when needed.
Speed is mediocre: a below-average 11 pages per minute (ppm) printing mostly plain, black text on plain paper, with a few simple grayscale graphics. Snapshot-size color photos printed at a middling rate of 2.2 ppm. And copying speed was very slow: A copy of a single page of plain text came out at a rate of 1.9 ppm, compared with an overall average of 3.8 ppm.
On the plus side, print quality was better than average. Text came out perfectly crisp. Photos were good overall: a little dark and slightly grainy, but credible. Flesh tones were a little yellow. Finer details in clothing and flowers tended to get lost.
The four toner cartridges (with integrated toner supplies and drums) are arrayed on a carousel inside the machine. You use the control panel to choose the desired cartridge, then you wait for it to rotate into position so you can access them, one at a time, through a top hatch. The machine comes with introductory toner cartridges that yield 500 pages each.
The toner itself is very expensive—as is regrettably the case with most lower-cost machines. A black cartridge costs $50 and lasts for 1200 pages, or 4.2 cents per page (cpp). Each color cartridge costs $56 and lasts 1000 pages, or 5.6 cpp. A page with all four colors would cost a whopping 21 cents.
The truly unique imaging technology built into the HP TopShot LaserJet Pro M275 will be compelling for some users, even if there are a few issues to resolve. The printer that sits underneath it is actually pretty good, just pricey to replenish. While ideally I'd love to be able to buy the scanner and pick my own printer to use with it, the package HP offers is satisfactory for single and small-office users.