Canon i9900 -- The Big PictureBy MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
Review Date: October 2004
Responding to your requests for more printer reviews after our Hi-Touch series, we vowed to hit the big three this year: Hewlett-Packard, Epson and now Canon.
HP stunned us with gorgeous dye-based inkjet prints (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRINT/HP7960/HP7960.HTM) and Epson (http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRINT/ER800/ER800.HTM) impressed us with extraordinary pigment-based prints on a variety of media. How could Canon compete, we wondered?
Several ways, it turns out.
First, they've designed an attractive printer. Rather than build a box, Canon has sliced a cylinder. It's a refreshing change. And the effect is that this device, which makes 13x19 prints, actually appears compact on the table, closing in on itself to keep out dust.
Second, large prints. We'd have gone to our reward happily making 4x6 prints. Then we were stunned by the 6x8 Hi-Touch 730PS dye sub prints. And simply dazzled by the 8x10s we printed on the HP. But a borderless 13x19 is just heaven for exhibitionists.
At an affordable price, no less. We paid about $2.50 a sheet for 13x19 Canon Photo Paper Pro, a glossy paper sold in a 10 pack for $24.95. Canon also sells Glossy Photo Paper in a 20 pack for $35.95 and Matte Photo in a 20 pack for $10.75 And there are an assortment of other 13x19 papers from other companies, some at even lower prices.
Third, the inks. The usual CMYK is there, of course, with Photo Cyan and Photo Magenta, lighter cousins of Cyan and Magenta. But Canon has added green and red inks to extend the set to eight inks. And the cartridges lasted a good long time, were accurately monitored and very easy to replace.
Fourth, performance. Big is nice, but not if you have to wait half an hour. The i9900 is a quick printer, even at large sizes. Part of the reason is that Canon provides both popular high-speed interfaces. Another part are its 6,144 ink nozzles (twice as many as the i9100).
|The Canon i9900
Grace under pressure
In short, Canon competes by delivering a well-designed $500 printer that can handle routine color printing (Web pages, business cards, correspondence) but is particularly adept at photo printing up to 13x19.
Among the i9900's impressive specs are:
- Print Speed: prints a 4x6 borderless print in about 38 seconds (37.92, actually), an 8x10 in 50, 13x19 in 2:40
- Print Head: 6,144 nozzles total with eight colors using 768 each
- Resolution: 4800x2400 dpi with 2-picoliter MicroFine Droplet Technology (the Epson R800 used 1.5-picoliter droplets, the HP 4.0-picoliter droplets)
- USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, IEEE-1394/FireWire/iLink [M], Bubble Jet Direct/PictBridge Print Port
- Paper Sizes: 4x6 5x7 8x10, Letter, Legal, 11x17, 13x19, envelopes
- Paper Handling: 100-sheet capacity using the built-in sheet feeder with 17 lb. paper
- 80K Buffer
- Noise Level: 37 dB(A) in quiet mode
- Power: 120V AC, 60Hz
- Size: 22.75 inches wide, 12.5 deep and 7.25 high when closed; approximately 22.75 inches wide, 33.5 deep and 15 high fully extended
- Support for Macintosh Classic (8.6 to 9.x) and OS X (10.2.1 to 10.3.x), Windows XP/ME/2000/98
- Software: Printer driver with ICC support, setup software and user's guide, electronic user's guide, photo application guide, Easy-PhotoPrint/Easy-PhotoPrint Plus [MW], PhotoRecord [W], ZoomBrowser EX [W], Easy-WebPrint [W], ImageBrowser [M], PhotoStitch [MW].
- Warranty: One year limited warranty with InstantExchange program. One year toll-free technical support.
|Find Me A Wall!
An 18x24 frame is just right
Explaining its Vivid Color technology (http://www.canon.com/technology/detail/bj/vivid/index.html), Canon notes the trend to "emphasize the faithful reproduction of colors (sRGB) on monitors."
Calling that "an impediment to optimal color reproduction," Canon developed Vivid Color, which "determines the most suitable colors for each particular image and then makes adjustments using a proprietary method. As a result, the potential color range is expanded to include bright cyans and greens, which do not appear in the conventional sRGB color range."
Vivid Color parallels the tendency of digicam manufacturers to bump up saturation, as Dave often notes in his camera reviews.
Our experiments with it suggest it's intended for sRGB images only. Printing from Adobe RGB color space we disabled it.
As Wilhelm Imaging Research (http://www.wilhelm-research.com) has pointed out, using third-party ink and paper lower your costs per print at the expense of their longevity. Wilhelm's tests with earlier Canon inks, for example, yielded a longevity of 27 years while the best third-party score was only five years.
Both the ink and the paper play major roles in the longevity of a print. But so does the way a print is displayed. Nothing beats dark storage, of course, but framing your print in archival materials behind UV-filtering glass greatly extends its life.
We did test with Canon Photo Paper Pro but also a few other sheets, including Ilford's Printasia (http://www.printasiafun.com) and TapeMaker's range of photo papers. Other reviewers have reported success using Calumet, Epson, Pictorico, ProJet, Mitsubishi and Konica papers.
According to Canon, "Photo Paper Pro has a four-layered structure, is 245um thick and has a mirror-finished surface with a high-transparency glossiness level of more than 30 percent.
"On the outer surface is the ink-absorption layer, consisting of ultrafine inorganic particles. By instantly absorbing the ink, this layer prevents ink from spreading, preserving round ink dots with excellent contrast and sharpness to ensure photo-quality output. The second layer is an intermediate reflective layer that reflects light with excellent efficiency. The third 'base paper' layer has the same material used in silver-halide photographic paper. At the bottom is back coating, which counteracts the stresses placed on the paper by the upper layers, to prevent curling.
"Quick-drying and high water-resistant, Canon's Photo Paper Pro exceeds silver-halide paper in terms of brightness and chromaticity of the output."
Results were excellent with all papers using Canon's High Intensity inks.
|ChromaPLUS Eight Color Ink Set
Note the Red and Green cartridges
Canon's inks are dye-based and for some professionals that's the kiss of death. But Wilhelm has been publishing some very impressive longevity figures for some dye-based prints, surpassing 70 years. Whether you are printing with pigment inks (offered with some Epson printers) or dyes, you can expect to be competitive with traditional color photo print longevity, which begins to fade after 20 years exposure to bright light.
With 30 percent higher intensity than normal inks, Canon's Bubble Jet inks used with Photo Paper Pro guarantees "photo-quality output that retains light-fastness for more than 25 years, without fading," according to the company's in-house evaluation. Whilhelm has rated i950 output at 27 years but has not tested Canon's i9900 ink set yet.
|Transparent Ink Cartridge
||Prism on Bottom
Canon's ink cartridges (like Epson's) do not include a new print head. So using third-party inks may clog the ultrafine ink nozzles of the printer's print head. At least on the Canon, you can replace the print head yourself. Epson print heads have to be replaced by Epson.
The ChromaPLUS eight-color ink set used in the i9900 extends the orange/red gamut (skin tones) 60 percent over six-color printing with a new red ink and extends the green gamut (foliage) 30 percent with a new green ink.
With Canon's Think Tank System, you only replace the individual color cartridge that's empty, rather than a multi-color cartridge (as with the HP). Moreover the ink level is actually monitored by optical ink sensors that shine light through a prism on the bottom of each ink tank. A low ink warning is triggered when the ink level is falls to 20 percent. You can easily pop them out to have a look for yourself, too, because the cartridges are transparent.
Getting the ink onto (even "into") the paper is the job of Canon's Bubble Jet technology (http://www.canon.com/technology/detail/bj/bj_mfdt/index.html), which resembles Hewlett-Packards's thermal inkjet technology but differs significantly from Epson's piezo technology.
According to Canon, in a conventional thermal print head, "the temperature and viscosity of the ink when it leaves the nozzle can produce slight fluctuations in the amount and direction of ink discharged. The cause lies in the discharge process, during which pressure is first applied to the ink inside the nozzle and when this reaches the nozzle outlet, a droplet is formed by separating it from the rest of the ink. However, the amount of ink discharged differs with each droplet due to minute fluctuations in timing and the position of the nozzle at separation."
Canon's MicroFine Droplet Technology "heats and vaporizes the ink inside the nozzle to form microbubbles, in an ideal position closer to the nozzle outlet. Under the pressure of these bubbles, ink is ejected out of the outlet in microfine droplets. The nozzle is designed to limit the amount of ink to the space between the heater and the outlet so when bubbles form, all the ink under the heater is forced outwards and not even temperature variations can affect the droplet size. Pressure only needs to be applied to the discharged ink, a task that is efficiently carried out by microbubbles. The result is accurate discharge to the printed surface with almost no air resistance."
A power cord connects to the back of the printer and directly to a wall socket, no brick required.
After installing the removable ink head assembly, you unwrap and install eight ink tanks by simply popping them into the carrier. We usually fret about this step, but on the Canon it was foolproof.
|Input Ports & Power/Resume Buttons
You can use the printer directly with cameras that support either Canon's direct printing or PictBridge technology by connecting them with their USB cable to the USB port in the front of the printer.
|The Telescoping Feed Tray
Fully extended for 13x19 sheets
To use a computer with the printer, connect to either the USB 1.0 port or the USB 2.0 Hi-Speed port. Macintosh users can also take advantage of the FireWire port. During our review process, we had trouble using the utility software when we were connected to the printer via the FireWire port, but we recently had the chance to try this again and found it worked just fine. Installing the FireWire driver was a bit trickier than installing the USB driver. To find the FireWire driver for the i9900, click More Printers (after clicking Add) and select the FireWire popup to find the right driver.
|The Output Tray
Although we didn't use a USB 2.0 cable to connect to the USB 2.0 port from our laptop's USB 2.0 Hi-Speed port, we didn't notice any slowdown or problems communicating with the printer.
Big buttons on the front right turn the printer on and resume printing after running out of paper. Both the sheet feeder and output tray extend in multiple sections, providing a straight-through paper path at all sizes.
True story. We didn't get this directly from Canon. It was shipped from our Atlanta office to us in San Francisco. To get a jump on the install, we went to the Canon Web site (http://www.canonusa.com) and downloaded everything we could find for the i9900.
This isn't bad advice in general, actually.
Rarely can you buy any hardware these days where the current version of the included software is up to date. You should always check the manufacturer's Web site for firmware and software updates before rubbing your hands together and licking your lips.
But that isn't a bad way to shop, either. Why not download the drivers and documentation while you're still shopping? You can see if there's a driver for your operating system. And the best time to read documentation is no doubt while you are still procrastinating over the purchase.
Canon's driver for the i9900 enhances the standard print dialog with a number of new options. The capabilities are available on all supported operating systems, but we've illustrated them with Mac OS X screen shots.
Below each illustation we've added some explanatory notes.
|Quality & Media. Cartridge and Source are not selectable, actually. A variety of Media Types are, though. Mode makes it easy to match the printer with the task.
|Color Options. Color Correction can also be ColorSync or turned off. Print Type can also be Graphic or Spot Color. Brightness can also be Light or Dark.
|Special Effects. The small image is not a thumbnail of the image to be printed, but a generic image to show the effect of various options. Vivid Photo and Photo Noise Reduction (Normal or Strong) do not affect the small image.
|Borderless Printing. Disabled here, but if you use a borderless sheet, you can adjust the bleed. Paper Size is selected in Page Setup, where the driver provides a wide variety of sizes, some with borderless options.
The Bubble Jet Utility software lets you perform a number of maintenance tasks:
- The Cleaning page can perform a regular Cleaning to eliminate smudges and lines or a Deep Cleaning to unclog nozzles.
- The Test Print page can perform a Nozzle Check to see if nozzles are clogged or a Print Head Alignment.
- The Ink Level Information page shows the ink level of each cartridge.
- The Quiet Mode page can enable or disable quiet mode entirely or enable it only during a particular time.
- Custom Settings sets Auto Power off and adjust Ink Drying Wait Time as well as enabling options to Prevent paper abrasion, Align heads manually and Identify paper type.
|The Cleaning Page
||The Test Page
||Low Levels Warning
|The Quiet Mode Page
||The Custom Page
EASY-PHOTOPRINT | Back to Contents
Printing photos is a lot harder than it has to be. Sure, there are a lot of options and a hierarchy of decisions to be made. But software should gently guide you along the process.
Canon's Easy-PhotoPrint does that. It's the easiest printing software we've ever used. And it did everything we asked of it. Three steps and you're home.
In fact, it did more than we asked, actually employing color management by supporting Adobe RGB color space rather than sRGB and profiles for the printer and Canon papers (as well as generic papers).
We used it to print the first 8x10s that rolled off the printer. Piece of cake. So let's get real, we thought. How about printing that sequence of card stunts from the Cal-UCLA barnburner at Memorial Stadium? How about a stack of 4x6 prints?
Step One was to navigate to our game shots. The program displayed them in rows. When we clicked on them, the counter incremented to one. Arrows on either side of each image counter let you adjust the number of prints you want to make of that image.
You're also engaging color management here
Step Two was to select the paper. We loaded the printer with 4x6 sheets of Canon Photo Paper Pro, a stiff glossy photo paper. We selected the size (4x6) and the type (Photo Paper Pro). You can print any size the printer supports (although 8x10 was missing) up to 13x19. There are more generic options for glossy photo paper and matte photo paper, too.
There are a couple of other options on this tab, too, including Vivid Color and Noise Reduction. We preferred disabling Vivid Color but we did turn on Normal Photo Noise Reduction.
Step Three was to, well, Print. Our images were arrayed along the bottom of the window. All we had to do was pick a layout. We selected Borderless at full size and clicked Print.
A dialog box popped up telling us how to set the operating print dialog box we were about to see. We confirmed the Standard setting and clicked Print again and grabbed our timer. The 4x6 prints were printed last to first (so they were stacked correctly) without offsetting on the bottom of the next print, taking just 38 seconds each.
The Preference settings reveal one clue to this magic. Images are optimized automatically. You'll note we did no resizing or sharpening or color correction. We didn't have to.
A large print is not meant to be scrutinized with a 10x magnifier. It's meant to fill a wall. You should be able to stand back and admire it. Several of you. With cocktails, say.
Given that comfortable viewing distance, we were able to print even 3-Mp images at 13x19 that just blew away our visitors. "Hey, you could sell these," they'd say, which was as close to an offer as we got.
But you don't need an 8-Mp image to print large. To get our 3-Mp images print ready, we enlarged them so we had at least 150 pixels an inch of data using Photoshop's bicubic resizing. Then we used Reindeer Graphic's Safe Sharpen plug-in to sharpen them up intelligently. And then we printed. Simple as that.
We didn't waste much time framing them, either. We found 18x24 black metal frames for $15, bought mats for $7, cut them ourselves and had a very attractive package for less than $30 a print. Definitely time to add a couple rooms to the house.
We also scanned an old slide at much higher resolution, feeding the printer 300 ppi and getting absolutely no grain or artifacts. You really could take a loupe to the image and not see a flaw.
What was astonishing about the 3-Mp images was the color, which appeared almost three dimensional. Viewed from a distance just out of arm's reach, they appeared without artifacts. Hand held, you had to scrutinize them to see any flaws introduced by resizing and sharpening. The detail and density range exceeded the Cibachromes we have here.
Let's see. High resolution, microfine droplets, extended color gamut, speed, great software, affordable, even a nice looking box with high-speed port, plus support for printing directly from some cameras. We thought we were in heaven when we saw our first 13x19 zip out of this printer but we suspect heaven doesn't have gear this good.