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A3 Group - Matt Grayson wanted some photos printing and there's more chance of him plaiting fog than paying for it. So instead, we got some A3 printers in and he thinly veiled his intentions behind a group test.
With digital cameras offering higher resolution with every new model, it is surprising to know that printer technology hasn't really kept up with it, but three manufacturers have seen fit to invest in ink technology to warrant printing off a picture. Canon, Epson and Hewlett Packard are pitted head to head to... er, head.
Hewlett Packard B9180
The Hewlett Packard B9180 has not replaced any model as an upgraded model, but a previous A3 printer was the B8350. Differences between that and the B9180 are a faster print speed, Coloursmart printing technology, heavier paper handling, Ethernet port, lower power consumption and it's 5kg heavier. There are also two different models of the B9180, with one differentiated by the letters "gp" at the end. The only thing that comes with this is a Hewlett Packard Colorimeter which is powered by Gretag Macbeth technology and is a new way of calibrating your equipment. Make sure you need this though as the "gp" model is a lot more expensive.
A monster of a printer weighing in at 17.1Kg, the Hewlett Packard B9180 comes with eight colours of Light Grey, Photo Black, Cyan, Matte Black, Light Cyan, Light Magenta, Magenta and Yellow along with four print heads as the ink tanks don't actually move anywhere, they feed the ink to the print heads which then dispense the ink onto the page.
The set up for the printer is step by step and all instructions are given via the LCD screen on the printer. It is important that these instructions are carefully followed as I had some problems that if I had not followed what was said on the screen, could have made a mess of things. If the instructions are followed, then all will be well.
Hewlett Packard strive to give the best quality images and the printer is specifically designed for that purpose, but that doesn't mean I didn't get annoyed at having to wait 10 minutes just for it to stop whirring and clicking whilst 20% of the ink drained away before I even printed anything. Whilst this was going on, the LCD tells me that the print heads were being serviced, even though they were brand new, which seemed a little odd. The Calibration pack needed to be inserted next and this was a small pack of A4 paper, included in the box. This printed out a series of test images to ensure the colours were correct and ink is dispensing correctly. About 15 to 20 minutes had elapsed by this stage.
The build quality is, without a doubt, very good. It is solid and sturdy and only a minimal shake can be detected on the desk when printing. This can be down to using print heads and not the ink tanks as they are lighter. Also, it means that larger tanks can be used on the printer.
Standing alongside the Hewlett Packard B9180 like a superhero sidekick smacking its fist into its palm was the Vivera ink technology for longer lasting images. The technology used inside them has been developed to battle the problems of UV rays and pollution and the ink colours are also designed from scratch so the Light Magenta, for example, is not just a diluted version of Magenta.
Print speed and quality
When printing for the first time, it is best to check the paper set up and it is a good job I did as my landscape image was printing as a portrait and also at A4. A3 can be selected and if you make any changes, they can be saved as a profile for use later.
The Hewlett Packard printed the colour chart image in 5mins 20secs. The colours were reproduced well and the image was sharp with rich primaries and balanced tones of White, the Greys and Black.
According to the internet, the R2400 appeared to be a replacement to the SP2100, although I couldn't find any solid evidence of this on the Epson website and it is more likely a replacement to the R1800. Improvements to the R1800 are a matter of opinion. The R2400 cannot print CDs and has a larger 3pl droplet size but can take thicker paper and the upgrade to UltraChrome K3 inks.
Floating in like a proverbial feather, in comparison to the other printers, at just under 12Kg, the R2400 is an eight colour printer consisting of Yellow, Magenta, Cyan, Photo Black or Matte Black, Light Black, Light Cyan, Light Magenta and Light Light Black which always amuses me.
Installation using the driver CD from the box was very easy with big buttons saying when stuff was done or needed doing and also gave a degree of independence as it asks what you would like to download and this can save on hard drive space. It also took half the time the Hewlett Packard took and was ready to print without going through what now seems like an eternity of print head servicing. The fact that the inks are the cans that are being thrown around in the printer and not just some print heads means that the tanks are smaller so hold less ink.
All the doors have a catch and need to be depressed slightly for release with the exception of the top door which gives access to the ink.
The Epson stands proud on the desk, it is solid and well built although I feel the catch tray could be less bendy.
Sticking its tongue out at Hewlett Packard's Vivera inks, the Epson uses UltraChrome K3 ink technology in the R2400 and this is to achieve the highest quality, longest lasting colours possible. The K3 stands for the three different Black inks the R2400 can take. However, the Photo Black and Matte Black have to be swapped, so I don't think the printer can really be classed as K3 as the printer can only have two Black inks in at any one time.
Print speed and quality
From a cold start, the Epson still managed an impressive result and finished an A3 image in 4mins 22secs, a full minute faster than the Hewlett Packard. The image result was very similar to the Hewlett Packard. The skin tones were a little richer as were the primary colours. The Black was a little more Black than the Hewlett Packard.
Canon Pixma Pro9500
As a direct upgrade to the Pro9000, the Canon Pixma Pro9500 is a slightly darker printer with two extra ink tanks, larger 3pl nozzles, faster print speed, is quieter and weighs half a kilo more.
Smashing its way into the room like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, the Canon Pixma Pro9500 puts up a good show as it is not the heaviest model in the test weighing in at only 14Kg. The newest of the three, the Canon packs in 10, count them, 10 inks including Photo Magenta, Photo Black, Matte Black, Photo Cyan, Grey, Magenta, Yellow, Cyan, Green and Red. It is also the most expensive at £599 but that could be down to depreciation on the rivals. However, does the Canon have anything better than the Epson or the Hewlett Packard? It has a higher dpi than the Epson at 4800 and it matches the Hewlett Packard although the B9180 is optimised. The Pro9500 uses Canons FINE technology which is a lot easier than pronouncing the Full-photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering. This technology is developed for finer prints with less grain.
Installing from the CD driver included in the box was easy and Custom or Easy installation can be chosen. This means that if you know what features on the CD you will use, then the Custom installation will be the best option as the features you will not use won't be installed freeing up disk space.
The buttons on the printer are big and round like silver badges, but are still stylish. Indeed, the printer is the best looking of the three in my opinion as it sits there like a menacing black slab. It has the same dappled finish on the top plate that the Canon digital SLRs have and this makes it look attractive. It also only takes a figure eight kettle lead for a power cable which is great if you lose the supplied one somehow.
Print speed and quality
Frankly, I've seen Space shuttles transported to the launch pad quicker than this. At 10 minutes, I was still waiting and it wasn't until 11mins 50secs that the print spat out onto the tray. More than twice as long as the Hewlett Packard and around two and a half times longer than the Epson. The printer is so quiet and steady, I had to keep checking the picture was coming through.
The colours are roughly similar to the Epson and the Hewlett Packard with the grey showing the most difference as they look more balanced on the Canon. Close examination can detect a slight saturation in all colours except the skin tone, whereas the skin tone image looks more saturated on the Epson and Hewlett Packard.
The Build quality of all printers is top notch, the magnetic doors of the Epson are a good idea as are the minimalist movements of the Hewlett Packard. The Canon has simple push to eject doors, like the Epson, but not magnetic. The output tray did break on the Canon. I pulled it out and one side got stuck and as I tried to free it by straightening it, the end part came away from the main body of the printer tray but it was easily fixed.
There is an overall winner with the print speed and that is the Epson. It shaved a minute off the Hewlett Packard and the Canon came in huffing and puffing a good seven minutes later which is a terrible result and very different to the four minute claim with prints done at standard quality.
The Print quality test is the hardest, hence leaving to last. The Epson won the A4 group test so I expected to see drastically different results but they are very similar. The colours are all very good in their own right thanks to the ink wars that have been raging recently and the Canon delivers slightly better Blacks with the Epson being nudged into second place. The Canon also gives slightly more saturated colours with the exception of the skin colour which is a slightly paler result than the other two results.
The results below were reshot on a Canon EOS350D at ISO100 in daylight and slightly underexposed to remove any glare.
| The Canon Pixma Pro9500 image.|
The Epson Stylus R2400 image.
A difficult decision to make as the printers are all so very similar to each other. The Canon is a lot more expensive at £599 and doesn't give anything different to warrant the extra cash other than the fact that it's newer. The Epson gives good results, as does the Hewlett Packard.
Being brutal, the Canon was let down by the appalling print speed and the installation process of the Hewlett Packard is way too long, however, the practicality of the inks being to one side is great as the print heads should last the lifetime of the printer.
So it has all boiled down to the amount of time that is needed to wait around for something to happen which is a very trivial detail unless you're in a rush.
The Hewlett Packard is good for ease of use as it is always telling you what to do or what is happening. The Epson R2400 has the edge in the speed stakes and can be the winner in that category, but if you want a printer that looks good and, I think, prints better, then the Canon is the best choice.
|Hewlett Packard B9180|
|Epson Stylus Pro2400|
|Canon Pixma Pro9500|
The Hewlett Packard B9180 costs around £429 and is available from the ePHOTOzine shop here.
The Epson Stylus Photo R2400 costs around £449 and is available from the ePHOTOzine shop here.
The Canon Pixma Pro9500 costs around £599 and is available from the ePHOTOzine shop here.