It's always best to get the scoop on a brand new product from someone who has tried it himself. For a first-hand report on the new line of Epson printers used with UltraChrome K3 inks, Professional Photographer talked to editorial and advertising photographer Bruce Dale, who served as an Epson beta tester.
Dale, who has been using the Epson Stylus Pro 4000, 9600, and 1000 as well as the Epson Stylus Photo 2200 and 1280 for his printing needs, tested the Epson Stylus Photo R2400 and the Epson Stylus Pro 7800. He shoots primarily with a Nikon D2X digital SLR. Here's what he had to say about the Epsons' performance and his experience in using it with his workflow.
Bruce Dale: The interface continually gets better. The final version of the larger printer hasn't been released yet, so I haven't taken the extra step that I would normally do to build my own profiles. Actually, Epson's profiles get better and better, too.
PP: What sharpening method do you use prior to printing?
BD: I do it in Photoshop. I have a method that I've been doing for a while. There seem to be so many methods of sharpening in Photoshop. Photoshop CS2 also has some new algorithms for smoothing and sharpening. I usually use an old way of sharpening that’s worked for me. I switch to Lab Color, where I do my up-rezzing if needed. I apply my sharpening in stages in Color Lab’s black-and-white channel. I have never made any convincing tests that showed it's a lot better. It seems to work well, and I started doing it that way for my most important things.
PP: Do you use a third-party RIP?
BD: I tried some in the past, and they worked spectacularly. I don't feel it's necessary anymore with the new printers. Black-and-whites are just ... I don't know ... I've got a feeling there are going to be a lot of RIPs out of business.
PP: We heard a photographer say that with the new Epson line, he can get prints as good as or better than his old silver prints. What's your take on that statement?
BD: I’m getting excellent results, especially with the matte papers. Of course, [with traditional printing] you had only 100-percent rag media, which you can’t compare to matte papers. What you'd have to compare, to be totally realistic, would be glossy paper. And the glossy paper is very good. I think the most discerning people might still prefer the traditional black and white, but it's pretty darn close.
I like Epson Velvet Fine Art Paper, which gives you a really rich black. The blacks are just great. The paper is a little bit fragile, so you have to be careful not to drag the corner of another print across a solid black area, because it will make a mark. But you could never make a print like that with black-and-white conventional photography. The papers just didn't have the texture. So in that way, Epson matte prints are better than conventional ones. With glossy prints, it's arguable, but it's darn good.
PP: Are there other papers that you like?
BD: Their Premium Luster Photo Paper tends to have a little better D-max in terms of printing on a glossy or semi-glossy paper than a conventional glossy paper.
PP: What have you observed about Epson’s changes to reduce gloss differential?
BD: The biggest change you see in color images; they’re more vibrant, but the gloss differential is pretty much gone, and there are ways you can go in and eliminate it entirely. If you have a white area on the paper where there's absolutely no ink at all, there's going to be a slight bit of gloss differential. But [to fix that] when you have a pure white, you can go in and say I want that area to be a 2-or-so-percent white, and it'll lay a little tiny bit of ink in there, pretty much eliminating the differential. The metamerism seems to pretty much have disappeared.
PP: Tell us about other improvements that impress you.
BD: The beauty of the new system is the ability to go in and to custom make a particular tone that you like. For example, they have some special black-and-white modes [in the printer driver], and you can go in there and say you want a sepia print. I happen to think Epson’s boilerplate sepia is a little too warm. You can take a color wheel, drag it a little bit, and soften it about halfway, and the prints are absolutely gorgeous. That's the kind of stuff you could never do before. I haven't tried the platinum imitation because I never used to print platinum, but people say that the platinum tint is fabulous, too.
PP: Is there anything you'd still like to see improved?
BD: They keep getting better and better. I've worked with the very first printers that Epson came out with ... with the originals there were a lot of things to complain about. The paper itself didn't even feel like photographic paper. The paper has gotten better, and the longevity, the speed, color brightness; I don't know what you would ask for next. More speed I suppose, and maybe some new exotic inks, which we might see—neon inks, or maybe even a white ink. There are some people who want white ink for printing of certain kinds. That could be next.
The ink cartridges have changed slightly. Before, you could interchange the Epson Stylus Pro 4000 ink cartridges with the 7600 and 9600. The new Epson Stylus Pro 7800 and 9800 have a new pressurized system where they actually pressurize the cartridge. [Editor's note: the pressurized system enables faster print speed in the larger wide-format printers.] But the 4800 does not, so it won’t take the same cartridges. It's a slight inconvenience. The pressurized system is unique, and I suspect that if it really is that much better, it will work its way into other printers.
The Epson Stylus Photo R2400 ($849) and Epson Stylus Pro 4800 ($1,995) are available for purchase now. The Epson Stylus Pro 7800 ($2,995) and 9800 ($4,995) will ship this fall. Individual ink cartridges for the Epson Stylus Photo R2400 are $14.99. Ink cartridges for the Epson Stylus Pro 4800, 7800, and 9800 are $69.65 each for the 110ml size and $112 each for the 220ml size. To find Epson pro equipment dealers in your area, visit the product page at www.epson.com and click the Where to Buy button.