Price of excellence
These days, billions of photos are taken each year and most are never printed.
IN THE olden days of film, every photo taken finished up as a print or a slide. A few enthusiasts who did their own processing took more photos than were ever printed, but they were such a small exception to the rule that they hardly count. Once the prints came back from the shop or the slide from Kodak, they were looked at once, put in a box and forgotten until needed for a 21st birthday or a funeral.
These days, billions of photos are taken every year and most are never printed. We have other media for boring relatives and friends with our pictures. The internet and high-definition television do the job better.
Reviewing the Canon Pixma Pro-10 set us thinking about the state of do-it-yourself printing technology. Speaking from the experience of producing colour prints from transparencies in the days of film, we are constantly amazed at how easy it is now to produce brilliant prints with the lights on. Canon, Epson and Hewlett-Packard make inkjet printers that can produce prints comparable with the best we could make from the combination of Kodachrome and Cibachrome (Ilfochrome) and at a fraction of the price.
Unfortunately, the price we pay in this country for inkjet prints is far too high, totally out of kilter with the rest of the world. Investing in the hardware and consumables is a serious proposition, which makes many photographers - even serious snappers - reluctant to get into DIY printing. Paying $1000 for a printer that will be used only occasionally for special photographs makes each print expensive.
The best printers - such as the Canon Pixma reviewed - are single-purpose devices. They exist only to make high-quality photographic prints. Running costs are far too high to consider using them as ordinary document printers. We use a $78 Hewlett Packard laser printer with wi-fi connectivity for ordinary printing of documents and letters. Our inkjet printer is only for large photo prints.
So, given the economics of DIY printing, why bother? The answer, in a word, is control. You get to control the colour and tonality of your masterpiece in a way that is not possible with the one-size-fits-all commercial printer. And the difference between the output of a multi-function $99 printer and a $1000 single-purpose inkjet is wider than the difference between chalk and cheese.
If you are serious and you want the pleasure of putting your best photographs up on the wall, then a pigment ink printer is de rigueur. This is what the professionals use. Pigment-ink prints have better fade-resistant properties than dye-ink versions, although dye ink under glass has a good life expectancy. And black-and-white prints from a good pigment printer are positively luminous. For most of us, A3+ is right for maximum print size.
It seems that the difference between the happy point-and-shooter and the ambitious enthusiast is lots of money - but then, it always is.