Digital Photography Now Printer Reviews
3-part series: Photo ink-jets laid bare
By Ian Burley
Part 2: The truth about photo ink-jet print quality:
All the leading printer manufactures consistently claim that their photo print quality is better than the rest. Indeed, the four leading makes we are testing here, HP, Canon, Epson and Lexmark, have each demonstrated their products versus their rivals to journalists, like me.
I usually treat these workshops with a degree of scepticism. One manufacturer admitted, for example, that a test picture they were using to demonstrate print quality had been taken on a large format camera and carefully digitised and adjusted to show off its printer models to the best effect.
While we continue to be impressed with the great strides the manufacturers make with the development of ink-jet technology, there are some limitations that we have highlighted here.
Our solution was to test a selection of printers side by side, using the same source image files. Once again, those four printers are HP’s psc-950 all in one printer/scanner/copier and fax, which is specially kitted out to print photos from memory cards as well as via a host PC, Canon’s S-800 Photo printer, Epson’s Stylus 895 Photo – also designed to print photos from memory cards or via a PC and, finally, Lexmark’s Z43.
We’ve broken down the attributes of a colour print into six headings:
1. Colour – Here we compare the outputs of each printer and look for colour dominance, casts and balance. We also electronically tested the colour range (gamut) of each printer using a Gretag digital colour profile test rig. Click here to see larger side by side comparisons of each gamut result:
Click one of the the thumbnails below to see larger side by side comparisons of each test image:
Source images include a 3 megapixel digital camera image of some tropical flowers, taken using HP’s new Photosmart C715 and a 4 megapixel image of my 5 year old daughter, Elizabeth, taken using an Olympus Camedia E-10 with flash for backlight compensation. We also zoomed in on a high resolution print featuring an eye in one image to examine detail quality.
Each image was printed on the best or recommended A4 glossy media for respective printers. The print size was 7.5 inches wide along the shorter side (10x7.5 inches for the full frame 1:3/4 aspect ratio digital camera images). Each image was then evaluated under different lighting conditions.
Printer driver settings were set to defaults for best quality printing on the recommended glossy paper. No other adjustments were made.
For reproduction in this Web-based feature, the prints were re-scanned using a HP ScanJet 5470 flat bed scanner. A fifth sample image was produced by scanning a model’s eye in one of the pictures at 2400dpi.
Presenting the results
A Web browser is not an ideal medium with which to present print quality results! I’m open to suggestions as to how to improve the presentation of results, but inevitably there is a compromise.
Luckily, the Gretag colour profiling system produces nice charts. For the actual test images, however, we have reproduced the test file originals to fit Web pages sensibly, along side similarly sized scanned reproductions of the printed version of each image, using the HP ScanJet 5470 scanner.