Digital Photography Now Printer Reviews
3-part series: Photo ink-jets laid bare
By Ian Burley
Part 2: Photo ink-jet print quality
Click a thumbnail below to see larger versions of these comparative test images:
The Lexmark Z43 is quite slow and expensive to run, but itís very cheap - usually selling for under £90. That price, however, may not include a photo ink cartridge. Unlike most other printers that have an optional photo capability, you donít substitute the standard 3-colour ink cartridge, but the black cartridge for a photo cartridge that contains intermediate cyan, magenta, plus black.
Like HP, Lexmark ink cartridges have the print head built in. This ought to mean consistent and blockage-free ink-jet nozzle performance. However, my experience of Lexmark Z-series printers to date is that they are the most susceptible to blockages and resultant Ďbandingí. Of three sets of ink cartridges we tried with our test Z43 unit, one had banding problems. However, the other two performed well and the Z43 produced the best results Iíve yet seen from a Lexmark photo ink-jet printer.
Lexmark does not make or brand its own photo paper. Nor does it officially recommend an independent brand. However, as Lexmark makes photo printers for Kodak that use the same ink-jet technology, we decided to use Kodak Premium glossy ink-jet media.
Strong reds and blues make up for slightly yellowish greens. Skin tones are a bit on the yellow side, but agreeable, nonetheless.
All the test prints were produced using default photo print settings and if there is one thing weíd adjust, it would be the brightness control as all the Z43 prints were a touch on the light side.
The Z43 was unique in suffering from the problem illustrated on the left - spotty whites!
This reveals that the printer driver canít deliver a clean white in extreme highlights.
Apart from this, the Z43 proved to be relatively grain-free. Itís not as smooth as the Canon S800, nor the Epson Stylus 895, but the advantage of its 5 colours over the HPís three is very clear, especially in shadowy skin tones.
The Z43 is pretty good in this respect. Only extreme magnification sets it apart from the class-topping Canon S800 and Epson 895. Again, the HP languishes last.
We still have concerns about Lexmark ink cartridge quality variability. One of the brand new photo cartridges we tested produced un-curable banding because of a blocked nozzle. Lexmark cartridges are some of the most expensive and Iíd make certain that I could easily return and replace a faulty one.
Previous Lexmark photo ink-jet printers Iíve tested have tended to spoil their prints with very faint banding as a matter of course. Happily, I can report that, apart from the one dodgy cartridge, printing was very uniform and band-free.
Brief tests indicate the Z43 is quite adaptable to alternative and less expensive paper sources. This could go some way towards alleviating the very high ink costs of this printer.
Kodak Premium glossy paper has a moderate glossy finish that appears to be hard wearing.
Our panel generally rated the output of the Z43 below the Canon S800 and Epson 895, but superior to the HP psc-950. However, some print examples were highly rated and, to be honest, we were surprised that the Z43 turned out to be as good as it did.