- Excellent print quality;
- long-lived output;
- relatively low ink costs;
- flexible media support and handling;
- FireWire interface.
- slower than we'd like.
The phrase ‘light black’ might seem like an oxymoron, but in the case of the Epson Stylus Photo 2100, it makes perfect sense. This printer’s enhanced seven-colour UltraChrome pigment-ink set and increased maximum resolution of 2,880 by 1,440 dote per inch (dpi) combine to deliver some of the best archival-quality inkjet output we've ever seen. Although it’s very expensive, the Stylus Photo 2100 is well worth the price for photography professionals who demand high-quality prints that will last.
The £509.79 (ex. VAT) Stylus Photo 2100 delivers everything that professional and deep-pocketed amateur photographers could want, except built-in networking. In addition to parallel and USB 2.0/1.1 interfaces, the Stylus Photo 2100 also offers a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port. Bundled accessories include a roll-paper holder, an automatic paper cutter and a roll-paper output catch. The printer works with Windows 98 and later, as well as Mac OS 8.6 to 9.x and OS X 10.1 or later. The driver CD also includes Epson Photo Quicker 3.1, Epson Print-CD and Epson Gray Balancer, which is designed to calibrate and customise the greyscales used in black-and-white photo reproduction.
To transfer your images from PC to paper, the printer also offers several paper-handling options. You have a choice of three paper paths: the standard, top-loading L-shaped; roll paper; and a straight-through manual feed for thicker media. The Stylus Photo 2100 can print as small as 90mm x 90mm (3.5in. x 3.5in.) or up to 329mm x 483mm (13in. x 19in.) on cut-sheet paper, 13in. x 44in. under Windows 9x and on the Mac, and up to 13in. x 129in. under all other versions of Windows.
In our performance tests, the Stylus Photo 2100 printed an 8in. x 10in. image in Photo mode in about 3.8 minutes using a test system with USB 1.1 ports. However, as we expected, using a higher-speed interface won't speed up the process -- the print mechanism is the bottleneck, and the memory buffer isn't large enough to cache more data.
Images render sharply and accurately across most media types in both Photo (1,440 x 720dpi) and SuperPhoto (2,880 x 1,440dpi) modes. The extra resolution unites with the light-black ink to perceptibly enhance detail in small highlight areas, such as the dimples on a golf ball. If all goes well, it'll be hard to make out the dots in the highest-resolution prints at close range -- approximately equivalent to the grain of good ISO 100-speed film. Black-and-white prints are especially impressive, emerging neutral grey with good dynamic range. For printing on non-glossy papers, Epson offers an optional, hot-swappable matte-black ink cartridge to achieve slightly denser blacks and, therefore, higher contrast.
The jury is still out on actual print longevity: test results will eventually be posted on Wilhelm Imaging Research's Web site. Initial estimates place it at 30 to 100 years, depending upon the paper used and assuming optimal display conditions.
As for the printer's overall cost, we find it quite reasonable. The printer itself may have a high initial price, but it gets high marks for its relatively low 15.5 pence per colour A4 page. Professional photo papers cost about 50p per A4 sheet and as high as £1.54 per sheet for A3+.
As far as technical support is concerned, Epson's UK Web site offers online documentation, driver downloads, troubleshooting FAQs and an interactive ‘e-support tool’. If you need a more personal service, there’s ‘e-Talk’, which lets you chat on-line with a support technician, as well as traditional email and telephone support. Support calls can be made between 9am and 8pm on Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 6pm on Saturdays and 10am to 5pm on Sundays, but are charged at national BT rates. The company covers the printer with its standard one-year, call-out warranty.
If you're simply looking for a good tabloid-sized photo printer, the Stylus Photo 1280 and the Canon S9000 are probably more in your price range. But imaging enthusiasts and experts in search of high-quality, stable inkjet prints meant for controlled environments should put the Stylus Photo 2100 at the top of their shopping lists.