Review: Three Photo Printers
Stylus Photo 1270, Kodak Personal Picture Maker 200, Olympus
Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally Posted: Friday, December 15, 2000
Last Updated: Monday, March 5, 2001
sure have changed over the years. The first printer my family had
(that I can remember, at least) was the old Apple Imagewriter II
dot matrix printer. If you wanted to print in color, you'd have
to change the ribbon. Once you started printing, you had to wait
for a loud, noisy, table-shaking 10 minutes until a poor quality
print came out of the printer. And then you had to rip the sides
off the paper that has all those holes. My, how times have changed.
Now, we've got printers that can spit out a photo lab quality 8x10
in just 3 minutes. And some don't even need a computer to do it!
this review, I'm going to take a look at three printers:
Epson Stylus Photo
1270 ($499); I actually bought this printer several months ago
for my own use, and I love it. There are two other Epson printers
that are very similar to the 1270: the 870 ($249), and 875DC ($299).
The main difference between the 870-series and the 1270 is that
the latter has a printable area of nearly 13 x 19 inches! The 875DC
includes a card reader (PCMCIA; requires adapter for SmartMedia/CompactFlash),
though it cannot actually print directly from the card without a
Picture Maker 200 by Lexmark ($299); This is a printer reminiscent
of the Epson PrintOn photo printer
I reviewed almost 2 years ago (only better). You can insert a SmartMedia
or CompactFlash card and print photos without ever touching a computer.
P-400 photo printer ($999); Unlike the other two, this one
works using dye sublimation technology, which is "continuous
tone", meaning that there are no little dots of ink to be found.
Stylus Photo 1270
the 1270 isn't very deep in size, it sure is wide. That's because
it can print on paper as large as 13x19 inches (called Super B)!
The printers physical dimensions are 24 x 30 x 16 inches, and it
weighs in at 18 pounds.
paper input tray can hold up to 100 sheets, or 10 envelopes. In
addition to regular single sheet paper, you can also by "roll
paper" which turns your printer into a personal photo lab!
You will have to buy the paper roll adapter for the 1270 -- it's
included on the 870 series though.
aren't nearly as many buttons on the Epson printers as there are
on the Olympus and Kodak printers. There are lights to remind you
if an ink cartridge gets low, or if paper runs out. With the push
of the ink button, you can swap in a new cartridge.
of ink cartridges, here's a look at the two inside the 1270. The
smaller one on the left is black, and large one on the right is
a 5 color cartridge (cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, yellow).
I'll talk more about the cost of operating the printers later in
I mentioned, the Epson printers must be connected to a PC or Mac
(parallel and USB supported), so what software you use to retouch
and print photos is up to you. For me, it's Adobe Photoshop 6.0
for my PowerMac G4.
a look at the Epson printer drivers on the Mac:
can check how much ink you have in real-time
the main print screen (In Photoshop 6.0) - lots of options as you
here's what you see when you're printing (in the background)
Kodak printer looks somewhat like Epson's printers, but there's
a lot more inside this printer than just ink and paper. The PPM200
has two card slots -- one for CompactFlash, another for SmartMedia,
a color LCD display, even its own operating system.
printer's dimensions are 18 x 9 x 7.6 inches, and it weighs just
under 6 pounds. Yep, it's lighter than the Epson printer, though
it's quite a bit smaller. One problem I had with the PM200 is that
the two doors on the top of the printer kept falling off.
PM200 has two USB ports -- one for hooking into your Windows 98
PC (sorry Mac and Windows ME users, at least for now), and the other
for hooking into a USB Zip drive, if you have one. If you don't
want to hook into your PC, no problem, as you'll see later in the
[Update 3/6/01: Mac and Windows ME/2000 drivers are now available
paper input tray can hold up to 100 sheets of plain paper, 25 sheets
of photo paper, or 10 photo cards. There are tons of types of paper
available for both the Kodak and Epson printers, ranging from photo
stickers to iron-on transfers.
the above shot, you can see the two ink cartridges, as well as the
CompactFlash (left) and SmartMedia (right) slots. These carts look
remarkably like those on my old HP Deskjet. You can swap the Photo
cartridge for a Black one, for regular usage (meaning non-photos).
One thing I wasn't able to figure out was whether black is actually
a process color with the Color & Photo carts inserted, or if
it was just a mix of everything.
CompactFlash slot supports Type I cards as large as 192MB, while
the SmartMedia slot supports cards as large as 32MB (yes, 64MB cards
are not supported!).
Here's where all the action is on the PPM200. Users of Kodak cameras
will feel right at home even before they turn on the printer. And
when they do, they see a nice 1.8" color LCD display just like
on their camera. This is a must-have feature on a standalone photo
operating system on the printer is almost exactly the same as those
found on many Kodak cameras. It's very easy to use (much more so
than on the P-400). The piece de resistance is the ability to preview
the photos on the LCD. While they're not ultra sharp, you can still
differentiate between shots taken with different white balance settings.
[Update 3/6/01: A new firmware
upgrade improves the quality of the preview image on the LCD.]
can do all kinds of things to your photos before they are printed,
the menu system, you can also change paper type/size, layout of
printed pages, as well as check the ink level and clean/align carts
if necessary. This is about as full-featured as you can get in a
printer, and I was definitely impressed.
the Epson printer was wide, and the Kodak printer was light, the
Olympus printer is heavy. This is one printer that you don't want
to ship overnight -- it weights over 26 pounds!
printers dimensions are 10.8 x 16.8 x 12.4 inches - it's about the
size of a laser printer.
P-400 isn't like the Epson and Kodak printers in one big way - it's
not an inkjet. Instead, the P-400 uses dye sublimation technology.
What is it? Well, here's a description I dug up from the 'net:
sublimation printers are similar to thermal transfer printers
in general. Like them, they use a color transfer ribbons that
provide each of the primary colors (cyan, magenta and yellow --
black is a composite of all three of these colors).
Instead of transferring a dot of colored resin to paper, the print-head
heats up a spot on the ribbon and turns the solid color into a
gas (that's what sublimation means). The gas is then absorbed
by specially manufactured papers. The result is a printed output
that looks like a continuous-tone photograph from the photolab.
there you have it. The P-400 does the three colors (C/M/Y) first,
then applies a fourth coating which helps protect the print. The
result is a continuous tone print - no dithering, no dots - and
it looks amazing. But it comes at a price when it comes to operating
cost (not to mention the $1,000 cost of the printer), as you'll
see in the next section.
P-400 has a paper cartridge similar to those found on laser printers
- it holds 50 sheets of the special proprietary photo paper. One
big thing to note is that this printer does NOT print on legal sized
paper -- the biggest you can get is A4 size, which is a little smaller
(8.25 x 11.7 inches).
picture (poorly) shows you the ink ribbon inside the printer. When
you print, it will move the paper past the roller four times, once
for each color (cyan, magenta, and yellow), and then once more for
the protective overcoat. One thing to remember about dye sub printers
is that they are incredible wasteful. If you print an index print
of 5 photos, which uses 1/5 of the total A4-sized paper, you're
still using one full A4 size piece of the ink ribbon. So if you're
going to print, try to fill up the paper with images!
the Kodak printer, you can hook the P-400 up to your PC or Mac and
use it like any other printer, or you can use it as a standalone
device. The printer has USB and parallel ports available on the
P-400 has a dedicated SmartMedia slot, as well as a PC card slot
which can accept CompactFlash or Memory Sticks with the appropriate
control panel on the front of the printer is where all the action
is. The mode wheel on the left side lets you choose pictures to
print, change settings, and print various types of photos.
menus used to control all these things are a bit confusing to figure
out. But the worst part is the black and white LCD display. I thought
it was OK when I first got the printer, but once the Kodak printer
arrived, I realized that Olympus could've done a better job on the
tough to preview photos in black and white.
with the Kodak printer, there are a bunch of functions that you
can apply to your images before you print. This includes both rotating
and trimming photos, B&W and sepia filters, stamps (kind of
cheesy if you ask me). There are a number of layouts to choose from
when you print, including a nice photo album mode.
table below illustrates the difference in operating costs for the
Stylus Photo 1270
(color) / $25 (B&W)
(photo) / $31 (B&W) / $38 (color)
- 540 @ 15% coverage
of photo paper (legal/A4 size)
(Premium Glossy Photo Paper)
(Premium Picture Paper)
prices are MSRP and were accurate at the time of this review.
it's easy to compare the price of paper, it's not quite as easy
to compare the ink cost, since the manufacturers don't like to disclose
this information. But you can see that it costs a lot more to run
the P-400 -- it's around $2 per print. My Epson 1270 seems to go
on forever before it wants new ink, but I don't have any good numbers
this isn't the fairest comparison, it'll give you somewhat of an
idea of how fast these printers are. For the PM200 and P-400, I
printed straight from the memory card. For the 1270, I printed via
Photoshop 6.0 on my G4.
index print from the P-400
Stylus Photo 1270 (legal)
Print (10 photos)
size print (teacup photo you can see above)
remember reading that people's main complaint about the P-400 (besides
cost) was how slow it was. Well, while it was pretty slow with the
index print, it won the full sized print title by a full minute.
The Epson won the index print competition, though it had a dual
G4 processor computer to layout the page for it, where the other
printers aren't quite so fast. But the real loser in the speed department
was the PM200, as you can see above. You might as well queue up
your photos (which you can do) and go have lunch, because it'll
take a long time.
want to apologize for not actually having any print samples for
you all to look at. For a guy who has every other computer gadget
known to man, I don't have a scanner. So you'll have to trust my
judgment on this. Check out the second opinion links at the bottom
of the page to see some samples from people who have scanners <grin>.
definite winner here is the Olympus P-400 printer. While it's only
a bit over 300 dpi, you'll never notice, since this is a continuous
tone printer. These photos look like they came from the photo lab.
Most of my prints end up at work, and people can't believe they're
Kodak and Epson printers aren't far behind at all (and they cost
a lot less). The Kodak prints at 600 x 600 when it's in stand-alone
mode, and at 1200 x 1200 when hooked into a PC (not enough processing
power?). The Epson 1270 prints at 1440 x 720, and can only be used
with a computer.
main differences I noticed are:
that these are not scans of the actual prints!
long will these prints last?
is a hot topic lately, given Epson's problems with their paper.
the 870 and 1270 came out, Epson promised
anywhere from 6-26 years without fading under normal display conditions
(depending on paper). Well, that didn't turn out to be the case.
In environments with a lot of ozone, prints started to turn orange
(not due to light). I've seen it in a few of my photos with my own
eyes. Epson has been working on the problem, and came out with new
paper. But this initial batch of paper had problems,
so they're still working on it. If you see paper with a "Made
in December 2000" label, you should be OK.
their prints will last about 31 years (!), and they have a study
to back it up.
for the Olympus, my research on the net tells me that prints from
dye sublimation printers generally last as long as those developed
from a photo lab!
suppose that only time will tell us if these claims are correct!
reviewed three different printers with three different prices in
you can afford the upfront and continuing costs of owning a dye
sublimation printer, then the Olympus P-400 printer. The output
is truly amazing and it will (supposedly) last a very long time.
The main downsides here is the cost -- oh, and I sure wish that
LCD was color.
Epson printers are very nice as well -- and once they get their
act together with their paper, you can be confident that your prints
will last for many years to come. If you don't care about having
a standalone printer, I'd strongly recommend any of the Epson Stylus
Kodak PM200 surprised me -- I wasn't expecting much, but I really
liked using it in standalone mode. The photo quality is the worst
of the bunch, but it's still very good. The ability to use it without
a computer is handy for many folks, and it's easy to use -- and
how about that color LCD. The downside here is that it's not (yet)
Mac or Windows ME compatible, and it's pretty slow too.
a second opinion
Digicams has reviews of all three of these printers:
Stylus Photo 1270
always appreciates your comments
and questions (as long as they're polite).