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e-Review

Digital Photo Processing Is Still a Developing Field

January 17, 2002|JON HEALEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Owning a digital camera means never having to buy another roll of film.

But if you plan to pass around those digital pictures, you'll probably have to stock up on unusually expensive paper and ink.

Tech Times recently tested four small printers dedicated to digital photos, all of which work without the aid of a computer. The printers read images either directly from the camera or from the camera's removable storage card.

Three of the models--the Canon CP-10, the Sony DPP-SV55 and the Olympus Camedia P-200--use dye sublimation, the same technique found in professional-grade printers. The other--the Hewlett-Packard Photosmart 100--is a more conventional ink-jet printer.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday January 24, 2002 Home Edition Tech Times Part T Page 2 Financial Desk 2 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
Digital photo printer: The Jan. 17 e-Review of digital photo printers included some out-of-date information about the Canon CP-10, characterizing it as more expensive and less widely compatible than it is. The suggested retail price for the unit is $199. The printer connects to any Apple or Windows-based computer with a Universal Serial Bus port and links directly to seven Canon cameras.
FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Thursday January 24, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
Digital photo printer--The Jan. 17 Tech Times e-Review of digital photo printers included some out-of-date information about the Canon CP-10, characterizing it as more expensive and less widely compatible than it is. The suggested retail price for the unit is $199. The printer connects to any Apple or Windows-based computer with a Universal Serial Bus port and links directly to seven Canon cameras.

The models vary dramatically in price, print size, editing functions and costs per print. Yet they all were a breeze to use, and each produced prints comparable in quality to the local one-hour photo lab. All provided near-instant gratification, churning out prints in 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes.

Beyond the immediacy of the results, though, none of the printers offered a compelling reason to use it instead of an all-purpose computer printer or an online photo-processing service. Each photo cost as much as $1.20, with no discounts for double prints.

HP's Photosmart 100 was the most affordable, with prints costing around 40 cents each. Still, the only real advantage the HP seems to provide over computer printers with photo-printing software is that it can be placed anywhere in the house, rather than being tethered to the PC.

Dye-sublimation printing is a bit like ironing a design onto a T-shirt. The printer uses an array of tiny heaters to press dots of color onto the photo paper.

The process starts with a roll of thin plastic film that's embedded with cyan, magenta and yellow dye. Before each image is printed, a new section of film lines up between the heating elements and the surface of the photo paper.

The amount of heat emitted by each tiny element determines how much dye gets vaporized and deposited onto the print. The paper slides back and forth within the printer four times--once for each pigment, and once for a final coat of transparent sealer that blocks ultraviolet rays.

The result is a smooth, well-defined image. And thanks to the UV-resistant coating, the prints should resist fading for 25 years or more--the same as those printed by a professional lab, said Chuck Westfall, an assistant director for technical information at Canon USA Inc.

Ink-jet printers, by contrast, are more like pointillist painters. They spray droplets of liquid ink onto the photo paper one thin line at a time.

The HP Photosmart 100 starts with a container of cyan, magenta and yellow ink. As paper passes through the printer, the ink cartridge slides back and forth, releasing a line of tiny drops of color. On photo paper designed for ink-jet printers, the ink will seep below the glossy surface to resist smudging and prolong life.

Still, HP says the Photosmart's prints may start to fade after four to 51/2 years. Other disadvantages of ink-jet printers generally are that they're slower than dye-sublimation models and their images tend to have softer edges.

On the other hand, the array of thousands of heating elements in dye-sublimation printers boosts their cost significantly over ink-jet models. And the dye-infused ribbons are much more expensive than ink cartridges, so the prints are more costly as well.

Canon CP-10

The $300 CP-10 works only with four Canon digital cameras (the A10, A20, S110 and S300), and its largest prints are the size of a business card (2.1 by 3.4 inches). Those limitations make the CP-10 the wrong printer for most consumers.

The size of a boxy camera, the CP-10 sets up quickly and easily. A special wire connects the printer to a Canon camera's USB port, and all the operations are controlled from the camera's menu and LCD screen. It takes seconds to select and crop images and even less time to send a newly snapped photo straight to the printer.

Each print takes less than a minute to process, rivaling a Polaroid's speed from shutter to paper. And with the sticker option, users can print eight postage-stamp-size versions of an image on an adhesive-backed sheet.

The prints themselves were the brightest of the models tested and had the highest contrast. But they also had the least vivid hues, resulting in paler skin tones and darker reds and blues. The model is rated at 300 dots per inch, with 256 shades per color.

Canon sells its proprietary ink ribbons with packages of paper, with each ribbon capable of printing only the sheets provided in the pack. The most economical option is 36 sheets for $17.50, which amounts to a little less than 50 cents per print.

For larger images and wider compatibility, Canon offers the $500 Canon CD-300, which can print 4-by-6-inch and 4-by-10-inch images from any camera.

Olympus Camedia P-200

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