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.
Epson’s Stylus Photo R1900 brings to the party a set of new pigment-based UltraChrome Hi-Gloss2 inks that includes an orange cartridge to help deal better with skin tones. There’s also a gloss optimiser cartridge that sprays a clear overcoat on top of glossy paper to enhance the appearance that users of that medium favour.
This newest member of the Stylus Photo range is no shrinking violet. With input and output trays extended, the $1299 printer measures 60 x 41 x 78cm, so it needs a good workspace, especially as Epson suggests you put it at least 100mm from the wall when using longer papers.
Within that generous footprint lies a versatile machine. It can print on a wide range of paper types and sizes, either sheet-fed or on a roll; it can print directly onto suitable CDs and DVDs; it’ll print web pages; print from a scanner or directly from a digital camera that has PictBridge or USB Direct-Print.
Setting up was so simple I kept thinking I’d missed a step. But no, 20 minutes after pulling the big boy from its box, I was ready to push the button. It wasn’t supposed to be quite that quick. I had scoured the box for an instruction manual but there wasn’t anything beyond a fold-out setup guide.
Epson puts all its user information on a CD, and very clear it is to. But I miss a printed manual, which can be quicker and easier to use ” and I was going to read it in bed that night to become a total expert before committing the first sheet of that big A3 paper. Printing the 59-page guide is always an option.
Whole books (and a good part of the Epson guide) have been written on colour management; it can be a huge and involved subject, but I wanted none of it. I get frustrated by the minutiae of colour profiles and related matters; I want a printer that gives the best possible result with the least fuss ” in other words, instant gratification.
So I was delighted when the first print rolled out of the printer about 80 seconds after pushing the button. I had printed a TIFF from Photoshop exactly as it sat on the computer, except for assigning Epson’s glossy paper profile, letting Photoshop do the colour management.
The colours and contrast in the print were spot on, but overall the print was a little light. I tweaked the levels, tried again and got a print worth framing. It pays to take your time to save wasting paper and ink.
Some colours sometimes seem hard for inkjets to render well (blues and purples for example), but the R1900 with its new inks and a wide colour gamut took them in its stride.
Epson provided three types of its paper to try: Premium Semigloss, Premium Glossy, and Acid-Free Cotton Rag Velvet Fine Art in A3+. Each has its place but working with the thick (260g/m2) and luxurious Velvet was a tactile as well as visual treat. The prints were lovely, even though the R1900 is said to be optimised for glossy paper.
The simplest way to print is straight from a suitable camera via a USB port on the front. Epson makes the process simple and intuitive and I mostly couldn’t fault the quality of the prints that it sucked from the JPEGs in my dSLR.
Canon has taken the idea of a medium range 6x optical zoom, added an image stabiliser and given it a flourish with huge 12.1 million pixel sensor and articulated 2.5-inch screen with enough manual control to please any keen photographer
The A650’s build quality is faultless. Control switches and buttons are all positive in action with icons that are easy to decipher. The back of the camera is dominated by the swivelling 2.5-inch screen that folds out for viewing and away to protect the screen when not required.
If you shoot architecture or landscapes where vertical and horizontal lines need to be straight then the grid lines are a handy assistant. You can also get the camera to show you a 3:2 ratio ghosting so you know when you’ll crop heads off in a 6×4-inch print.
The A650IS runs on AA batteries. It comes with two Alkalines but you’ll want to invest in rechargeables if you plan to use this camera a lot. Power consumption isn’t huge thanks to the use of SD cards, and you can use the new SDHC models for more capacity.
Focus on this
Face detect works brilliantly, picking up your subjects effortlessly and tracking them across the screen. Focus isn’t restricted to fancy tricks: you have the choice of putting the focus point wherever you choose with flexi-zone or using the AiAF to let the camera choose where your subject is ” a task it ¨¨performs with alarming accuracy. If you like to get in close then you’ll fall in love with the macro, which will bring you to within 10mm.
The built-in flash will only keep up with the zoom range if you bump up the ISO. The range can be adjusted manually up to 1600 or you can get the camera to do it automatically in the ˜Hi’ setting. To cover the whole telephoto distance of the zoom will require you to delve into scene mode and choose the ISO3200 setting. This setting will happily give you flash coverage but at a price: the noise is horrendous.
It’s a camera that your mum could use out of the box or you could give it to a seasoned photographer who’d play with the manual controls. Canon has neglected to give the flash enough grunt to successfully keep up with the fantastic 6x optical zoom and people will want to use this great range.Relying on ISO range to give good images isn’t the answer. The swivelling screen is worth its weight , though, as you no longer have to lie on the ground to get macro shots or blindly hold your camera above the head of some big goon in front of you at the rugby.
Nikon has gone supernova with the new D300, producing a camera that incorporates all the things we enjoy from competitors’ cameras but making this model better than anything else on the market today
Nikon’s latest dSLR uses a CMOS sensor ” like Canon ” instead of the CCDs used in the past. This alone is a turning point for Nikon. But the company has gone further than the competition with the D300 including a 3-inch screen with VGA quality (920,000 pixels) that is light years ahead of anyone else.
The 51-point focus system is superior thanks to the EXPEED processing motor and advanced 3D Matrix Metering II system with scene recognition. This results in an advanced focusing system that will recognise a moving subject by colour and notice faces in a scene.
Nikon users who have relied on the matrix metering of the past will happily switch to the 3D function as it works so well. There is still the option to select for yourself if you want to choose the focus point.
Live and let Live
Nikon has taken the Live View function that step further, giving you the choice of ˜Handheld’ or ˜Tripod’ options. In ˜Handheld’ it suffers the same frustrations as every other camera with Live View in that it has to lower the mirror to focus, but use the ˜Tripod’ setting and suddenly Live View almost seems a viable option.
Here you can move the focus point to wherever you want it on the screen, and when you get the camera to focus it uses contrast like a compact to focus. However, to get the camera to focus you must press the AF-ON button. It’s not as frustrating as having the mirror lower but it is still slower than using the viewfinder and pressing the shutter release.
Know your place
Nikon introduced GPS support on the D2x and this has filtered down to the D300. Plug in your Garmin GPS and each time you take a picture the longitude and latitude information is added to the EXIF data the camera gathers.
It also has a built-in intervalometer so you can set the camera to take a picture every two minutes or two hours. Combine this with the WT-4 wireless transmitter and you can join a network and send images to any computer on that network or control the camera remotely. You’ll need an MB-D10 battery pack too, but this gives you the joy of a second battery (EN-EL3e).
The built-in flash is useful and with a little ISO fiddling you can happily extend its range (the D300 can go as high as ISO3200 and extend to 6400) but an SB-600 or ultimately a SB800 will offer better images at lower ISO. Balancing daylight and flash is automatic with Nikon’s 3D Matrix Metering II system.
The Nikon D300 is a tool any keen Nikon user will happily embrace but it also has wide appeal. Anyone passionate about photography will love the 3-inch VGA screen complete with protective cover and impressive battery life. The Live View function with handheld or tripod options as well as the ability to focus by contrast is amazing, although slower than just picking up the camera and shooting. It does come at a price but the D300 is a workhorse that will happily provide years of service.
Effective Pixels: 12.3 million
Lens: AF-S Nikkor 17-55mm f2.8G ED
Viewfinder: SLR-type with fixed eye-level pentaprism, built-in diopter adjustment (-2.0 to +1.0 m-
When it comes to dSLR innovation, Olympus has led the field, introducing sensor cleaning and live view functions well ahead of the opposition. Now the company has released the E-3, a professional camera that is so easy to use it’s a crime
Sometimes when you receive a camera you ¨wish all the accessories had come with it too. ¨But when the Olympus E-3 arrived at my place it was like being an eight-year-old stepping into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. HE Perry, the New Zealand importer, sent it with the HLD-4 power battery holder and vertical grip plus the cool wireless flash FL-50R. They might look ¨like toys, but these two devices should be mandatory equipment.
This 10 million pixel 4/3 model is a handful in the true sense of a pro camera. It’s weighty and big and has buttons and dials, but it is the turning screen and image stabiliser that will woo you. ¨The motor drive will rattle off images at a slick 5fps up to 16 RAW files or the capacity of the ¨card in normal JPEG setting using a SanDisk Extreme III card.
If you aren’t happy with just one card slot then you have another reason to use the E-3: it has an xD card slot too.
Live View is easily accessible. No turning dials or searching menus, just a press of the screen button below the multi-angle LCD and you’re there. Olympus would like you to believe that its Live View is faster than the others but it is still a slow option compared with using the 100 per cent viewfinder.
Lens quality is stunning and the 12-60mm lens (24-120mm in 35mm terms) I was supplied with was beautiful to use. Olympus uses a Supersonic wave drive that helps the lens focus quickly but I experienced hunting in low light, even when using the big FL-50R flash with infrared focus illuminator that helps the camera focus in low light.
The E-3 is a fantastic camera to use; for once a manufacturer has made a camera where the LCD screen can be swivelled back out of the way so you can use the camera in its purest form, looking through the viewfinder.
Thankfully this articulated screen can be positioned anywhere, so no more lying on the ground or poking your head round a corner when under fire in hotspots like Kosovo or Kenya.
Olympus has surpassed itself with technology that modern photographers crave. An innovative dust reduction system, image stabiliser that moves the sensor so all lenses are in effect stabilised, and wireless flash that transforms flash images even when you use the built-in flash in conjunction with a gun like the FL-50R.
The size is big and lumpy and you will want to buy the battery booster so you have a comfortable vertical grip. But big is beautiful, and the E-3 is a big camera in anyone’s eyes.
Sony may have lost the war of personal music players, ¨but the company is more than happy to jump into the battle for ¨digital SLR supremacy with both barrels pumping. Sony’s ¨latest offering is the entry-level 10 megapixel Alpha 200
First impressions of this model are extremely positive. The body is small but has a large grip that makes it comfortable to hold, and the controls are clearly marked and visually accessible. The large 2.7-inch LCD has 230,000 pixels and the added size makes viewing images a delight.
In true Sony style the information on the screen not only gives you exposure information and how many pictures you have left, it also gives you a battery indicator that shows the percentage of power left, not just a series of bars. The big Lithium-ion battery produces bags of power and will happily fill a card or two before it needs recharging.
Image stabilisation can be turned on and off with a switch below the navigation control on the back of the camera. A standard function on Sony dSLRs, the Super Steady Shot stabiliser adjusts the CCD to compensate for movement you make. This means any lens you fit to the body ” no matter if you have the latest Sony lenses or one of the many Minolta AF lenses from the past ” the image is stabilised.
Sony has included an anti-dust system on this model to deter pesky particles from clinging to your sensor. You’ll feel a vibration when you turn the camera off and it performs its little cleaning chore.
Hits and misses
Sony adopted Minolta’s flash mount ” a mistake ” that requires you to buy a genuine Sony flash. It’s not a big issue as you’ll get the best results from this combination, but it is a minor handicap as you have very little choice.
If you’re a die-hard Sony user and you have Memory Stick Duo cards that you want to use then there is an adapter that will allow you to slip them into the CF card slot.
The processing motor is Sony’s Bionz unit, which offers increased speed of processing and rich colour and detail. A function that is also available is the D-Range Optimizer that gives increased dynamic range with Standard or Advanced options. The camera will shoot either JPEG or RAW files and comes with rudimentary software for processing the later.
The Sony A200 is a 10 megapixel entry-level dSLR camera that is offered at a price mark not that far above $1000. It takes great pictures and responds quickly for a starter camera. Thankfully, Sony has included a sensor cleaning system and the impressive Super Steady Shot image stabiliser. Those who still own Minolta lenses will appreciate the opportunity to be able to jump on the dSLR bandwagon.
As a light modifier, the orbis ring flash punches above its weight, says professional photographer Gary Baildon
Originally designed for macro photography to push light into the small space between a macro lens and its subject, the ring flash was ˜borrowed’ by fashion and beauty shooters for the quality of its soft wrap-around light.
But these units don’t come cheap ” until now, that is.
Designed in New Zealand, the orbis ring flash is an impressive piece of kit. It offers similar functionality to a standard light ring, but this unit uses your existing flash gun for the light it emits. Hence, the price is a lot less that you might expect.
As soon as you open the box you know you have a quality product on your hands. The build is superb, the feel solid, and the bright yellow carry bag will ensure it’s not easily misplaced. A detachable neck strap and instruction booklet complete the box’s contents.
Does it work?
The orbis is intended to be handheld (or tripod mounted) independently of the camera.
The head on your flash unit is first tilted into the vertical position, then attached to your camera with a remote TTL cable or wireless trigger. The flash unit itself is then inserted into the orbis ring flash unit. While holding the flash unit and the orbis in one hand, you manhandle the camera with the other. I have to admit that prior to using the orbis I was sceptical about this, but it’s nowhere near as difficult as I’ve just made it sound. In practice it becomes natural very quickly and leaves you to concentrate on the shot.
While the obvious thing to do with a ringflash is to put the lens through the middle, it’s by no means the rule. The orbis can be held off to the side, above or anywhere you desire. Think small portable softbox.
There is one minor issue shooting handheld with the orbis and that is that you can’t manually focus or zoom the lens. In practice I’d normally use auto-focus on this kind of shoot anyway, and it’s a simple matter to set a zoom lens to a pre-determined focal length before shooting. In any case, the release of a collection of adapter rings that will attach the unit to your lenses via the filter thread will be out any day now.
The almost shadowless wrap-around light brings out the beauty in a way that only a ring flash can. Ideally suited to shooting close and fast, the ring flash look is instantly recognisable by circular highlights that run around the subject’s pupils.
Dig out those old fashion mags and look closely at the eyes, you’ll soon see what I mean. That said, the orbis is no slouch when it comes to getting up close with interesting small things. It is a ring flash, after all.
Previously the domain of pros, there really was no affordable ring flash option. That just changed. The cost of entry to this exclusive club is now within the reach of anybody who loves photography.
A few pointers can help if you have had difficulties with lighting.
A big zoom range, fast auto-focus and good build quality all impress Harley Ogier
Ricoh’s R10 is a mid-range digital compact camera with an impressive zoom lens, respectable image quality and a solid feature set.
The one standout feature of the R10 is its impressive 7.1x optical zoom lens, equivalent to a 28-200mm lens on a 35mm film camera.
The telephoto capability is excellent and the R10 auto-focuses well on distant subjects: the result is surprisingly good, rivalling some of the dSLR models I’ve tested on the same vista.
On the opposite end of the scale the R10 has great macro capabilities. Freehand, you can take photographs that look more suited to an episode of CSI than a photo album. The R10’s image stabilisation works well here, eliminating the need for a tripod in most circumstances.
The flash does tend to swamp the image, over-exposing when shooting up close ” a strong external light source would be useful. This is a common problem across many competing models.
An electronic level is a nice addition to the R10, displaying a precise tilt indicator when shooting horizontally or vertically. The level can also provide audio feedback so that you can keep your eyes on the image. It’s a great help when you’re lacking any convenient elements to line up your shot, or if you’re just feeling lazy.
Light and colour
The R10’s performance is reasonable under artificial light, though like most digital compacts it does its best work in the sun. I found all colours to be beautifully rich and accurately represented in scenes with relatively constant lighting. In high-contrast conditions the results are less spectacular, with a lot of over-saturation in bright areas and lack of detail in dark areas.
A range of common shooting modes is provided, which seem to work well. You can also define two of your own custom modes, which is great if you get things ˜just perfect’ for a certain situation.
Auto-focus on the R10 is effective and reasonably fast. Both the multi-segment and spot focus modes work well, with spot allowing you to specify a target on-screen. Face detection doesn’t work as well as on comparable models, failing to correctly identify faces in my usual test picture. Tracking ˜real’ faces is similarly limited.
Rare for a compact, the R10 provides a manual focus mode, where the zoom control is used in place of a focus ring. The 3-inch, 460,000-dot screen gives a fair indication of whether you’ve focused correctly: most of the shots I focused manually were as crisp as those taken on auto.
Overall, the R10 is a high-quality digital compact with good telephoto and great macro capabilities that offers features not found on other models in its class. If you’re willing to pay up for a wide-range zoom lens and a small body, the R10 is an admirable choice.
SPECS – Ricoh R10
Effective Pixels: 10 million
Lens: 4.95-35.4mm (35mm equivalent 28-200mm)
Monitor: 3-inch TFT LCD, 460,000 dots
Shutter: 1/2,000 to 8 seconds
Shooting Modes: Auto, Easy, Scene (Portrait/Face/Sports/Landscape/Nightscape/Night Portrait/High Sensitivity/Zoom Macro/Skew Correction/Text), My Settings, Movie
Harley Ogier takes the Four Thirds G1 for a test spin and is impressed by its quality pictures
The Lumix G1 from Panasonic is a world first, offering interchangeable lenses in a camera with a purely electronic viewfinder: no mirror, no prism, just Live View taken to the extreme.
The camera uses the relatively new Micro Four Thirds standard for digital compact cameras that was revealed by Panasonic and Olympus last year.
The standard provides equivalent quality to a crop-sensor dSLR, only without the mirror and pentaprism ” the arrangement of reflectors that allows a single lens reflex camera to direct light from the lens to either the sensor or viewfinder as required. Removing these elements allows for much smaller designs but prohibits the optical viewfinder central to dSLR cameras.
The Lumix G1 is the first camera to use this standard and boasts a beautiful 1,440,000-dot electronic viewfinder so sharp that it’s hard to see a disadvantage over the optical viewfinder of a more traditional dSLR setup. The contrast and colours aren’t quite perfect, but they do show what the image sensor sees.
Image quality is in line with similar dSLR cameras, and far above anything I’ve seen from the digital compact class. Colours appear rich and lifelike in both indoor and outdoor shots. The G1 also displays excellent dynamic range, revealing detail in both dark and light areas of highly contrasted images.
I tested the camera with the optional Lumix 45-200mm OIS telephoto zoom lens (90-400mm in 35mm film terms). Picture quality was brilliant throughout the range and I was able to take some quite decent night shots way out at 200mm. This and the standard Lumix 14-45mm OIS zoom (28-90mm in 35mm terms) are the only lenses currently available but three more will be offered for sale this year.
The G1 is as quick to autofocus as anything else on the market ” in fact, I think it’s much faster than your average high-end dSLR can manage in Live View. The lenses can also be manually focused. By default this turns on ˜Focus Assist’, which zooms-in the viewfinder so you can check the focus.
The viewfinder returns automatically to full frame once you’ve stopped turning the focus ring. This isn’t nearly as disorientating as it might sound and allows far tighter control over focus than a traditional dSLR.
The only disadvantage I found is the G1’s low frame rate of two to three frames per second (memory card willing). On the other hand, the frame rate is constant: no long pauses after several shots.
Panasonic has created something revolutionary with the Lumix G1. Given the stunning quality of its pilot camera, I expect the Micro Four Thirds standard will easily make headway into the market.
SPECS – PANASONIC LUMIX G1
Model: Lumix G1
RRP: $1499 (G1 body with Lumix G-VARIO 14-45mm F3.5-5.6 OIS zoom lens. Also available as a two-lens kit including the Lumix G-VARIO 45-200mm F4-5.6 OIS zoom lens at $1999)