Phil Hanson goes wide with Leica’s new compact and says it delivers pictures a pro would be pleased with.
Most of today’s compact digitals are good at pulling in reasonably distant objects with the ˜long’ end of their lens but suffer at the other end of the zoom range, where some cannot even offer a modest 35mm full-frame equivalent.
That’s fine for many photographers who can’t or don’t want to get close to the action, or who like a nice telephoto effect for their portraits. But the market hasn’t been kind to those who like to take photographs in the thick of things, or who enjoy the visual impact of wide panoramas.
Leica’s D-Lux 4 embraces the needs of wide-angle enthusiasts, offering a genuine 24mm full-frame equivalent view. And it goes one step further, with an optional 24mm optical viewfinder that slides into the hot shoe.
The D-Lux 4 replaces the similar looking and well regarded D-Lux 3 but there are many changes to what at first seems like a familiar camera. For example, the D-Lux 3 zoomed to an equivalent 112mm whereas the newcomer stops at 60. The D-Lux 3 didn’t have a hot shoe. But most important, the D-Lux 4 takes better pictures, if only because of less noise at higher ISO. The earlier camera was starting to get noisy at 400 ISO; now, 400 is fine and 800 quite usable.
Two things that haven’t changed are the quality feel of a well-built product and its good handling. I’m somewhat clumsy but the D-Lux 4’s controls, though small, are so well positioned that I never hit the wrong button, something I can say about few compacts.
The DC Vario Summicron lens offers an aperture of f2 to f2.8 and performs well wide open across the zoom range. Those who buy the D-Lux 4 for its wide view will be pleased by the low distortion and vignetting. Adding icing to the wide-angle cake is the ability to switch to a 16:9 picture format, in which the effective resolution drops to nine megapixels instead of the 10 in 4:3 format. I’m going through a 16:9 junkie phase, so that’s where I pretty much left it.
ON THE GO
Unfortunately, the D-Lux 4 is just a little too big to carry in a shirt pocket, but would be fine for a jacket or bag, meaning it can still be a constant companion.
Leica allows users to have full manual control, or you can just click it into Program and let it work on your behalf. This became my favourite mode because settings can be tweaked to suit your needs.
An easy alternative is using the various Scene modes, ranging from soft skin to film grain; but because Murphy’s Law says you always have the wrong scene selected for the picture that needs to be taken, I abandoned it in favour of Program.
Many compacts only produce pictures in JPEG format and there’s no problem with that for many applications. But the D-Lux 4 also shoots RAW, which allows a huge range of adjustments in post-processing and is favoured by professionals.
It’s when burying your head in the pixels during RAW processing that the stellar performance of the D-Lux 4 becomes apparent.
It’s no Leica M8, but costs a fraction of its big brother’s price and will produce images that are perfectly acceptable for the pro and keen amateur.
LEICA D-LUX 4 – Specs
Model: D-Lux 4
Effective pixels: 10.1 million
Lens: DC Vario Summicron 5.1-12.8mm ASPH zoom (24-60mm full-frame equivalent) with image stabiliser
Viewfinder: 24mm equiv ¨optional accessory
Monitor: 3-inch TFT colour LCD
Shutter: 60 sec-1/2000 sec
ISO: auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
Shooting modes: Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, 2 x custom modes, video
Exposure metering: Multi-field, Centre-weighted averaging or Spot
Focus modes: Autofocus, face recognition, AF tracking
Media: SD, SDHC, MMC
File format: JPEG, RAW
Flash: Auto, auto and anti-red-eye, long-time synchro and anti-red-eye, flash always, flash off, first/second shutter curtain
Interface: USB 2.0
Battery: Lithium-ion rechargeable or optional mains unit/charger
Dimensions: 109 x 60 x 27mm (W/H/D)
Your nearest stockist
Genuine wide-angle performance
Optional manual adjustment for almost everything
It’s got that red Leica dot
Too big for my pocket
Image Quality 19
Value for money 15
Harley Ogier says the HyperDrive Colorspace is a fast and robust unit that can be easily upgraded
Sanho is responsible for the HyperDrive range of photo backup devices, an award-winning line of hand-held units that allow you to back up your digital photographs quickly and easily on the road.
The Colorspace Ultra Direct Memory Access (UDMA) is the latest addition to its line-up.
The casing is made up of a black plastic front and a black metal back, with open slots for memory cards and a power cable. You won’t find plastic or rubber flaps for dust protection, nor will you find anything ergonomic. However, it’s a solid machine that’ll transfer files from your card at blistering speeds.
The model I reviewed came with a 120-gigabyte hard drive, which could easily hold tens of thousands of 12 megapixel JPEGs or several thousand RAW files; other versions are available up to 500 gigabytes. The drive is easily user-replaceable and a case-only version is available for people who want to install the drive themselves.
The Colorspace UDMA provides extremely quick back-up of memory cards, at up to 40 megabits per second (depending on the speed your card allows). This means you can back up a two-gigabyte memory card in a minute.
Incremental back-up is supported so you can copy just those images that have been added or changed since your last back-up. This is a great time saver if you’re keeping your photographs on both your memory card and the back-up device.
Transfer from the UDMA to a computer is also reasonably fast when using a high-speed USB port on your PC. The unit appears as a removable hard drive on your computer, so there’s no software to install ” just plug and play.
Sanho claims the battery will last for 250GB worth of back-ups between charges. However, that assumes you won’t view your photos on the screen, because ” as you’d expect ” doing so will put extra pressure on the life of the battery.
The Colorspace UDMA features an extremely bare user interface that looks like something out of MS-DOS days.
Browsing images is awkward using the inbuilt screen, especially when you have a few hundred in one folder (as most cameras tend to store their photos).
You can’t hold buttons down to scroll, so you end up pressing a button a few hundred times to get through ¨a list.
However, there is a particularly nifty calendar view in which you can see a thumbnail for each day you’ve taken photographs, but it’s impossible to browse more than one month at a time.
But you can view picture histograms layered over the photo shown on the computer’s screen, which is really nifty.
The Colorspace UDMA is brilliant as a portable back-up device, but rather limited as a media viewer. It offers a lot of storage, can be upgraded and has a fast and powerful back-up system. However, its awkward user interface may limit its appeal for those who want more than a fast, solid, back-up unit.
Sanho Hyperdrive Colourspace UDMA Specs
Manufacturer: Sanho Corporation
Model: HyperDrive Colorspace UDMA
Display: 3.2-inch LCD, 320 x 240 pixels
Hard disk drive: 2.5-inch SATA, 120GB, user replaceable
Memory card support: CompactFlash (Type I/II), MicroDrive, SD, SDHC, MMC, Memory Stick, MS MagicGate, MS Select, MS PRO, MS PRO MagicGate, xD, xD Type H/M
Taking your camera on the road is all well and good until your memory card fills up. Starting with Epson’s P-3000, Harley Ogier tests two portable storage devices that can free up your memory card and let you carry on shooting.
The P-3000 is the entry-level model in Epson’s range of multimedia storage viewers, targeted at the “professional photographer and advanced amateur”. Half backup device, half media player, it does a pretty good job of both but doesn’t push the boundaries of either.
Users of digital cameras will find the P-3000 extremely familiar: it’s shaped so like a compact camera, I can’t hold it without my index finger reaching for an imaginary shutter button. The controls are set to the right of the screen, just as you find on most digital cameras, with nice anatomical grips on each side.
The menus are like those of most cameras combined with those of a media player. You’ll find options such as My Photos and My Videos, all of which are pretty clear. The fonts are smooth, the icons simple yet sharp and the whole thing has a slick feel that really flattens the learning curve.
Being an entry-level model the P-3000 only features a 40GB hard drive that could store perhaps 10,000 12 megapixel JPEG photos or a few thousand RAW files. It’s not going to last you a month-long world tour if you shoot 500 RAW images a day, but it’s still a decent capacity for selective photographers or short trips.
The backup process is simple: just pop in your card and select ˜Memory Card Backup’. It’s not the fastest process, taking 10 minutes to back up my two-gigabyte card. Memory card support is also limited to the industry standards ” if your camera uses a proprietary format such as xD or Sony’s Memory Stick, you’ll need an optional adapter.
Restoring your backups to a memory card or USB drive is simple, though connecting the P-3000 to a computer requires Epson’s proprietary software. Once the software is installed all’s well, but one wonders why it doesn’t just appear on the desktop as a normal USB device.
Avoid copying unfocussed or noisy images across to the P-3000 because its brilliantly perfect 4-inch LCD is going to show you just how bad they are. With four dots per pixel (instead of the usual three), colours are stunning.Your average LCD computer monitor just can’t compare ” Epson’s top-end P-7000 viewer can actually be used as a second computer screen to check your image colours.
The P-3000 supports RAW files from a wide range of camera manufacturers and JPEGs up to 30 megapixels. A good range of video formats are also supported, along with MP3 and WMA audio files. You can’t play music in the background while working with images or anything so fancy, but the P-3000 could happily replace a basic MP3 player.
The P-3000 lacks any advanced backup features and suffers from limited storage. However, the display quality is superb and the model a good choice for reviewing images and making short-term backups. For megapixel-hungry professionals or longer term storage, look at the P-7000, which features a 160GB hard drive for four times the capacity.
Display: 4-inch LCD, 640 x 480 pixels, 16.7 million colours
Fraser Kitt was the first person in the country to get his hands on Canon’s new EOS 450D. He’s still beaming.
Canon has made some major improvements with its latest entry-level digital SLR, the EOS 450D, including shrinking the card slot for SD cards and ballooning the LCD screen to a gigantic three inches. The frame rate has taken a bump up to 3.5fps and the buffer can now withstand a massive 56 images in one hit. But is this the camera for you?
Boosting the screen size to three inches is a good thing as the information generated is so easy to read, even for aging eyes. Each box of information on the screen is clear and a quick look around the camera back will give you the corresponding button to push to make changes.
When using shutter or aperture priority the camera even prompts you to turn the wheel to make exposure adjustments. It means making adjustments using the screen is fast and allows you to tweak without raising the camera to your eye. When you do move the camera to your eye a sensor just under the eyepiece automatically shuts off the screen.
I’m still not a big fan of Live View but this new feature in dSLRs is starting to develop in the 450D. Once you have enabled Live View and scoured the custom functions for the two different settings, you will be able to read the camera like a compact.
Ideally you’ll use manual focus when shooting in Live View, but should you wish to take advantage of the camera’s auto-focus system, using the custom settings will help. Quick Mode ” a contradiction in terms ” lets you choose where you want the focus point to be, then, with the press of the asterisk button, will set the camera about focusing. The screen will black out when you press the button as the mirror goes down to allow focusing. It takes valuable time and is annoyingly slow.
The other option Live Mode works faster, allowing the camera to focus with the mirror up, but it is still slower than holding the camera to your eye. The beauty of the Live View settings is that you can tether the camera to your computer with the USB cable and take pictures remotely.
Get the point
The nine-point focus system works beautifully and will automatically select where your subject is when using the AI Focus. Or, with a push of the button and turn of the control wheel, you can select any of the points to use.
Canon has improved this model out of this world with a big 12.2 million pixel CMOS sensor, huge three-inch screen and the brilliant DiG!C III image processor for images with the correct colour balance and just the right punch to make them look realistic.
The screen could be better ” it only has 230,000 pixels so double or triple this amount would make it unbelievable.
Realistically, this is a budget camera that is aimed at those who don’t want to carry a bulky camera. The ability to shoot a series of images at 3.5fps is a bonus, as are the image-stabilised lenses. And I’m sure there is someone out there who will love the Live View.
Model: EOS 450D
Effective Pixels: 12.2 million
Lens: 18-55mm EF-S IS & ¨ 55-250mm EF-S IS
Viewfinder: Eye level pentamirror
Monitor: 3-inch TFT colour LCD ¨ (230,000 pixels)
Shutter: 30 — 1/4000 sec
Aperture: f3.5 — f5.6
ISO: Auto, 100, 200, 400, ¨ 800, 1600
Shooting Modes: Green Auto, ¨ Program, Aperture & Shutter ¨ Priority, Manual, Auto Depth, ¨ Portrait, Landscape, Macro, ¨ Sport, Night Scene, Flash Off
Exposure Metering: Evaluative, ¨ Partial, Spot, Average
Focus Modes: One shot AF, AI ¨ servo AF, AI focus AF, manual
Media: SD, SDHC
File Format: JPEG, RAW
Flash: Built in
Interface: USB2, AV
Batteries: Lithium-ion ¨ rechargeable
Dimensions: 128.8 x 97.5 x ¨ 61.9mm
Weight: 475g (body only)
Fast SD card with SDHC support
Big 3-inch screen
Not enough pixels in the screen
Image Quality 19
Value for money 17
Sony’s new W120 comes in black, blue, silver or pink and is packed with 7.2 million pixels and a 4x optical zoom ” but it is its facial recognition and smile shutter that will make shooting your mates a barrel of fun.
Smile, You’re on Candid Camera
Facial recognition has taken photography to new heights; it makes shooting people so easy. Sony has given you three options so that you can precisely target your audience. The auto option is the simplest, putting little boxes around each head in the scene and altering the exposure so it is perfect for skin tones. Because a lot of us shoot children the W120 has a child priority setting that targets the little heads in your picture, or you can select adult priority to capture the adults in the picture ahead of the tiny tots.
If you want to ensure your subjects are smiling when the shutter fires, just switch the dial to smile shutter ” which automatically snaps a shot when your subject smiles. You don’t even have to press the shutter because the camera analyses the faces in the scene and fires the shutter the instant someone grins. The camera also recognises a face in profile ” a major advancement in facial recognition ” tracking your subjects even when they turn away from the camera.
Zoom, zoom, zoom
Sony’s affiliation with Carl Zeiss means this camera has a lens that is enviably sharp. The Vario Tessar zoom covers a decent 32mm wide angle through 4x to 128mm telephoto. At the wide-angle end of the zoom you’ll get more in the picture with the wider-than-normal 32mm lens, or shoot beautiful portraits at the 128mm telephoto end. Don’t forget the macro mode that will let you shoot as close as 50mm for impressive close-up images.
Even in its entry-level camera Sony offers unrivalled flash coverage. The camera isn’t confused when shooting though doorways or when your subject would normally be out of range. If you delve into the scene modes you’ll be amazed at how well this little camera balances available light and flash in the Twilight Portrait mode. As the name suggests, it will work best when there is still some available light in the sky.
Slow to Show
I’m finally getting with the ˜now’ generation, and when it comes to how quickly images are portrayed on the screen this camera is slow. You push the review button and have to wait for the image to be processed before the first picture comes up, then each subsequent image pops onto screen fuzzily before sharpening up. It will hardly depress you to have to wait a few seconds but it is slow to show.
Sony’s compact and cute Cybershot W120 takes sharp images and gives brilliant flash coverage, offering more flash range than any other camera in its price bracket. The facial recognition works almost faultlessly, but I did notice it slows down in lower light conditions and it sometimes fails to lock on to heads if they are small in the scene. You’ll find the 4x optical zoom very useful since it starts at 32mm and reaches to 128mm telephoto, making it ideal for travel or just shooting family and friends.
Model: Cybershot DSC-W120
Effective Pixels: 7.2 million
Lens: Carl Zeiss Vario Tessar ¨ 5.35-21.4mm (32-128mm 35mm ¨ equivalent)
Monitor: 2.5-inch TFT LCD ¨ (115,200 pixels)
Shutter: One to 1/1600 sec
Aperture: f2.8 — f5.8
ISO: Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, ¨ 1600, 3200
Shooting Modes: Easy, Auto, ¨ Program, Scene — Twilight, ¨ Beach, Snow, Fireworks, Twilight ¨ Portrait, Landscape, Soft Snap, ¨ Smile Shutter, High Sensitivity
Exposure Metering: Multi ¨ Pattern, Centre Weighted, Spot
Focus Modes: Multi-point TTL ¨ auto-focus
Media: Memory Stick Duo/Pro ¨ Duo, 15MB onboard
File format: JPEG, MPEG-1
Flash: Auto, On, Off, Slow Sync
Batteries: Lithium-ion ¨ rechargeable
Dimensions: 88.2 x 57.2 x 22.9mm
4x optical zoom
Fantastic flash coverage
Slow to review images
Fine movies can only be recorded ¨ to a card
Image Quality 18
Value for money 17
Canon has as usual constructed an entry-level camera that performs as if it is at the top of the class. The new eight million-pixel Powershot A580 has a 4x optical zoom and a bunch of useful scene modes, as well as facial recognition.
The body shape is all smoothed corners, with a bulging battery housing that acts as a comfortable grip. The flowing lines give it an almost retro look, with rounded edges on the flash like the eyes of a ’50s robot. It is comfortable to hold with one hand when viewing the 2.5-inch screen, or when clutching it with both hands and viewing through the optical viewfinder.
Unlike your car’s economy, the last thing you will have to worry about with the A580 is how hungry it is on batteries. Like all the A series cameras it operates using AA batteries. Alkaline batteries are supplied, but it is wise to invest in rechargeable NiMh batteries for the most images, and it is so much greener too. Part of this camera’s success is the use of SD or SDHC cards, as they use less power to read and write images.
Facial detection is a wonderful feature on any camera, but Canon has enhanced this function so it works almost faultlessly. It is only baffled when your subject’s face is obscured or turned past profile. It will also let you select and track one person. You can still select the focus area to be in the middle, or Canon’s slick AiAF (artificial intelligent auto-focus) instinctively knows where your subject is in the scene. This last option doesn’t always get it right, but it does an impressive job 90 per cent of the time.
The Canon A580 is a clever little camera with a handy dial on the top for selecting modes. For once Canon has followed Panasonic by including not only the user-friendly green auto setting but also a little red heart (easy) setting that assumes you want to know nothing about taking a picture other than pointing the camera at your subject and pressing the button. For a little more experimentation you have a series of scene modes as well as a movie setting.
Viewfinder versus Screen
There’s an alarming trend to do away with the viewfinder, but thankfully Canon has retained this little hole. It isn’t perfect, and for most of us it will come a poor second to the big 2.5-inch screen, but if your eyes are failing like mine it is handy to have one to fall back on in bright conditions.
The Powershot A580 is almost perfect as an entry-level camera. It has a decent 4x optical zoom, produces sharp images in almost any lighting conditions and has a viewfinder for the visually impaired.
I’m even impressed by the length of time a set of AA rechargeable batteries lasts in it. The SDHC card support makes it a winner, as does the fast start-up time, but it does struggle to give sufficient flash coverage when zoomed out, and the higher ISO range produces grainy (noisy) results. Canon has a strong design and a proven track record that pushes this camera up the rankings.
Model: Powershot A580
Effective Pixels: Eight million
Lens: 5.8-23.2mm (35mm film equivalent 35-140mm)
Viewfinder: Real Image optical viewfinder
Monitor: 2.5-inch TFT LCD (115,000 pixels)
Shutter: 15 to 1/2000 sec
Aperture: f2.6 — f5.5
ISO: Auto, Hi ISO Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
Shooting Modes: Auto, Easy, Manual, Portrait, Landscape, Night Snapshot, Kids and Pets, Indoor, Night Scene, Sunset, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks and Aquarium, Movie — Standard or Compact.
Exposure Metering: Evaluative, Centre Weighted Average, Spot
Focus Modes: Face detect, AiAF (nine points), Centre.
The latest Panasonic Lumix DMC LZ8 may only be an entry-level compact, but it comes with a big 8.1 million-pixel sensor as well as a 5x optical zoom that covers from 32mm wide-angle to 160mm telephoto. Mix this up with an intelligent auto setting that knows what you are shooting, as well as face detection, and you have a wonderful start to your image making.
Fizzy from the start
It’s not often I open a box and get overwhelmed with the contents, but this little Lumix is wonderful to hold and use. As a first camera this wee minx will do all the work in the intelligent auto setting, and when your confidence and curiosity grow it has aperture and shutter priority as well as full manual control so you can take over.
Intelligence beyond its years
Scene modes are cool. They let you look at what you are shooting and choose the right scene from a list that will suit the situation. There are 19 separate modes to choose from, but for someone who doesn’t know a portrait from a close-up then the intelligent auto will be a godsend, as it selects from Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Night Portrait and Night Scenery, and does it perfectly. It almost makes the need for other scene modes redundant, but this compact will breed inquisitiveness and you’ll want to delve into the array of scenes that include Sport and the long exposure Starry Sky. The Kids and Pets modes let you set the name and date of birth of your babies and pets, then informs you of their age and name each time you take a picture.
The LZ8 has a wonderful menu system with a shortcut button that gives you quick access to file size, ISO, white balance, AF mode, burst shooting, image stabilisation and LCD brightness. The default settings are good, but at some stage of using this camera you will want to make adjustments. There is also a zoom shortcut that instantly zooms out to maximum optical zoom with one touch of the button, then maximum digital zoom with a second press, while a third touch will bring the lens back full circle to the wide-angle setting. The zoom control on the shutter release allows you to zoom to where you want in smaller steps.
Inbuilt versus Cards
Having eight million pixels at your disposal will quickly gobble the 20MB of on-board memory, so it makes sense to get a memory card to go with this camera. Even here you have a choice, either SD or SDHC, and with the capability to make decent movies the SDHC card will be the better choice.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC LZ8 sports a beautiful Leica 5x optical zoom complete with Mega Optical Image Stabiliser, and an 8.1-million-pixel sensor. The intelligent features include intelligent ISO, which automatically detects motion and selects a higher ISO to lessen the chance of camera shake. This entry-level camera can be used as simply as you’d like in the intelligent auto setting, or you can take over completely with full manual exposure. What more could you ask for in a camera?
When Olympus announced it would up the standard zoom on its entry-level models from 3x to 5x I got excited¦ then it built the FE-340 with the bigger zoom, as well as face detect and a huge 2.7-inch screen. Now I’m delirious.
Olympus’s jump in zoom range gives you the bonus of a whopping 180mm telephoto as well as the moderate wide angle of 36mm. The big telephoto sucks in subjects from further away and makes shooting sport or taking candid shots of the kids much easier. The screen has also been inflated in size, that 2.7-incher bulging with a credible 230,000 pixels for a very impressive image. The refresh rate is phenomenal, making flipping through reviewed images like watching a slide show.
I am generally unimpressed with huge hikes in ISO sensitivity, but with the FE-340 the 3200 setting actually makes images that are almost useable. Usually the noise associated with high ISO is disastrous, but Olympus has finally figured out a logarithm that offers smoother rendering of the image without too much unsightly mosaicing. It still should only be used as a last resort, since images taken with this setting will only print without noticeable imperfections to 6×4.
Bigger, better movies
Olympus has struggled with video on most of its models, largely due to the inadequacies of the xD card, which can’t handle large doses of data at frantic rates. The company is trying to remedy this with yet another card with faster transfer rates, but we’ll have to wait and see how successful it is. This camera has a 640×480 30fps VGA movie setting that delivers smooth motion pictures, but for the limited time of 10 seconds. Slip the setting back to the 320×240 QVGA setting and you’ll fill a card with YouTube-quality video.
The beauty of this little camera is the ease of use, a simple control dial and a great range of scene modes. These little pictorial scenes also come with an explanation of what they will do. If all else fails you can even use the guide that gives a series of picture ideas and hints, then directs you to the right setting. It will also shoot as close as 50mm in the Super Macro mode or 100mm in the standard macro setting, so every shooting situation from distant images to close-ups is covered.
The FE-340 has a superb screen and a very useful 5x optical zoom range. Marry this with the eight-million-pixel sensor and you have a starter camera to be proud of. The disappointment would have to be the xD card and its inability to record a decent amount of high-resolution video. The useful scene modes and easy-to-use control dial make operating this model a breeze. For most of us the quality of the images this little Olympus produces will be excuse enough to buy it.
Effective Pixels: Eight Million
Lens: 5x optical 6.3-31.5mm (36-180mm in 35mm terms)
Over at the input side of photography, engineers push ever onward to offer higher megapixel counts; while on the output side, printer boffins seem to be equally eager to increase the number of ink cartridges.
Three ink cartridges used to be enough. Then we went to four. Soon we had six, then eight colours became common on consumer-level printers. Now Canon’s PIXMA Pro 9500 offers no fewer than 10 14ml pigment-ink cartridges. The idea is to help produce better prints, just as the megapixel arms race helps enhance the quality of image capture.
The 9500’s manifest comprises cyan, magenta, yellow, photo cyan, photo magenta, red, green, matte black, photo black and grey, the last three suggesting that this might also be a competent monochrome printer. It’s capable of a maximum resolution of 4800x2400dpi using a three-picolitre droplet size.
Canon engineered the $1365 Pro 9500 robustly and its build quality is high. It sits lower than some competitors, but requires a reasonably large bench area when set up for work ” about 70cm wide and 80cm deep. This is because the paper goes in at the back and comes out the front and larger sizes need pull-out supports. In addition to sheets of up to A3+ and 2mm thick, it prints on suitable CDs and DVDs in a special tray.
Setup was straight, clean and simple, although I found myself cursing Canon for not including a USB cable in the box. Also missing is a comprehensive printed manual; it’s all on screen.
The Pro 9500 will print directly from a digital camera via PictBridge and a USB cable that plugs into the printer’s front panel.
When evaluating a printer, I like to start with A4 glossy paper and move on from there. The first prints on Canon paper using Canon ink and the appropriate Canon profiles ” with colour management by Photoshop CS3 ” oozed ¨˜wow’ factor.
It was the richness of the colours rather than just being contrasty that made these prints stand out. This was evident in a Hong Kong street scene, a small part of which showed a sheet of plastic wrap in a rubbish bin. The gradation from light grey to white in the plastic was outstanding.
Moving to monochrome, the Pro 9500 gave the stellar performance hinted at by the contents of its ink cradle. It was particularly good on glossy paper; I needed to make small tweaks to get a little more punch from matte and flat specialty media.
Canon generously supplied a range of its Fine Art papers to try. These were Premium Matte, Photo Rag and Museum Etching. I wasn’t able to warm to the Rag ” others probably will. However, I have nothing but praise for Premium Matte and Museum Etching. The latter is a thick, luxurious paper that’s a pleasure to handle and print on. It will enhance almost any type of image.
The Pro 9500 is a particularly quiet printer, though not the fastest on the block. It’s feature-rich, easy to use as produces gorgeous prints in colour or black and white.
Here’s a printer that showed huge potential, went astray, then proceeded to redeem itself.
Out of the box, the $1499 Hewlett-Packard B9180 seemed promising. A good-looking unit, its footprint is smaller than some rivals. The eight Vivera inks load easily in a compartment on the left side and the cartridges hold a reasonable 27ml, so you won’t be changing them quite as often when doing lots of big prints.
The inks are photo black, matte black, light grey, cyan, magenta, yellow, light magenta and light cyan.
The box includes an easily followed installation and start-up guide and a helpful 70-page printed manual. Installing the inks and four replaceable printing heads was easy. But then it started going bad.
The setup software wouldn’t recognise my copy of Photoshop CS3, so a potentially useful Photosmart Pro print plug-in couldn’t be installed. However, an updated version of the software was downloaded and all was fine.
After going through its closed-loop self calibration procedure and asked to print, the B9180 repeatedly warned that no paper was loaded, causing it to stall, even though its mechanism was picking up the sheets.
After triple checking everything and turning the unit and computer on and off several times, I turned the printer off and let it sit for half an hour. This must have reset something because it finally acknowledged the presence of paper.
Then the next gremlin struck. The printer kept reporting that the light cyan ink cartridge was faulty. This was temporarily remedied by removing and shaking it vigorously, then re-installing. It might then work for another print, maybe not, but it was chewing through paper and becoming annoying. Eventually, light cyan decided to settle down and it was time to see what the printer could do.
As if apologising for the glitches, the HP turned out print after print of outstanding quality; rich, pleasing colours with eye-stopping blacks and impeccable detail.
But there’s more. HP has a reputation for making printers that do good black and white prints, a stumbling block for some consumer-level products. True to reputation, the B9180 gave me some of the best monochromes I’ve made on a printer. Who’d mess around in a wet darkroom when you can get excellent results in the office?
No matter what type of paper fed to the printer, the results were impressive. If monochrome tickles your digital fancy, the B9180 is worth having just for that purpose alone.
I really liked the HP Photosmart Studio program that makes organising and printing photos about as easy as it can be. But most of the prints were made from Photoshop using the profile for the particular Hewlett-Packard paper, and letting Photoshop do the colour management.
Despite the early glitches, I’d be really happy to have a B9180.
Don’t forget, you can always improve your printer’s ink management skills by using ink-saving software like PretonSaver over here.