Epson delivers true photo-quality printing at 2880dpi, print sizes to 13 x 44 inches, and border free printing!
Page 7: Test Results & Conclusion
Review First Posted: 8/31/2001
MSRP $499 US
Just like the Stylus Photo 785EPX and 780 that we tested before it, the Epson Stylus Photo 1280 produced exceptional prints in our testing, really pushing the limits of what we've come to expect from top-grade inkjet photo printers. (All three printers share a common print head and ink system.) Photomicrographs of its output show ink dots under extreme magnification, but the 4-picoliter droplets are completely invisible to the naked eye. Tonal gradations were extremely smooth, even in the difficult highlight areas. While we've said in the past that dye-sublimation printers do a better job of "fooling" us into believing their output was produced photographically, recent inkjet photo printers (the 1280/780/785EPX high among them) have made true believers of us. It's hard to imagine how the output quality could be any better, at least to the naked eye.
Once again, we were very interested to see subtle differences between the 1280 and its smaller siblings the 780 and 785EPX. It's hard to know whether some of the differences we saw were due to lot to lot variations in the ink, or if they instead were related to differences in the printers themselves. We were somewhat surprised by the differences between the three printers in terms of their color balance: The 785 was the warmest overall, and the 1280 the coolest. Looking at pure-ink tint bars, it seemed like the pure process colors rendered a bit more intensely on the 785 than the other two printers, and that the cyan and yellow tints on the 1280 were more intense than on the 780.
This at first seemed very odd to us, since we expected the "process" colors (cyan, magenta, and yellow) on our test chart to reproduce as pure ink colors. We realized though, that the file we were sending to the printers was actually an RGB file, meaning that all the colors in it were being run through the print drivers' color management processing. Putting the output under a high powered loupe revealed that indeed, the "pure" colors actually had tiny amounts of the other colors in them (magenta in the cyan and yellow, etc.) Thus, what we were seeing was very clearly a result of differing color management in the different devices.
That said, differences between the three "sibling" printers were fairly evident when we put the images side by side. Beside the slightly cooler color cast of the 1280 (actually a fairly subtle difference), the 1280 also had weaker black and deep shadows. As it turns out though, this isn't an entirely negative characteristic: We found that the 1280 did a better job of preserving detail in deep shadows.
The 1280/780/785EPX's 2,880 x 720 dpi dot pitch is among the highest currently available in inkjet printers (May 2001), and it shows in the exceptionally fine detail and crisp edges we obtained in our test prints. The high dot pitch and very small droplet size also contributed to unusually fine tonal gradations, even in the highlight areas. (The smaller number of ink droplets deposited in highlight areas frequently leads to a "grainy" appearance in inkjet prints. To the naked eye, no such graininess was apparent in any of the our test prints.) As we observed in the body of this review, we didn't feel that there was a particularly strong advantage to printing in 2880 dpi mode vs 1440. Both modes produced amazingly smooth images. - We felt all three printers produced the most grain-free highlights and three-quarter tones of any inkjet printer we've tested to date.
We haven't commented much on text printing, but all three of these Epsons do a great job, albeit at a somewhat leisurely pace. Text is very readable at 720 dpi, and at 1440 dpi on high-quality paper, it's arguably superior to many laser printers. The catch of course, is that it can take two and a half minutes to output each page at 720 dpi, and 9 minutes at 1440. These printers will serve for occasional text output, but don't expect to routinely crank out dozens of pages of correspondence on them!
We've occasionally seen odd "jaggies" in photos when the image resolution didn't exactly match the resolution of the output device. For the record, we saw very little of this in the 1280/780/785, at least when running at their 1440 and 2880 resolution settings. The greatly enlarged samples below compare the 785EPX's output with that from a high-end dye-sublimation printer (the Olympus P-400), a competing high-end photo printer (the Canon S800), and a lower-end 600 x 1,200 dpi resolution consumer photo inkjet printer (the Kodak Personal Picture Maker 200).We felt that the S800 won by a nose in its rendering of smooth diagonal edges, but that the 1280/780/785 won with its smoothness of tonal gradations. (Note: These shots are of output from the Epson 785EPX, which we reviewed just before we did the 1280. The two printers use the same print engine, so the images below serve for both the 1280 and 785. - The aforementioned driver differences didn't seem to extend to microscopic issues of smoothness/sharpness.)
The photo above shows the results of an image printed on the Olympus P-400 at a resolution of 314 dpi. (Higher source image resolution actually resulted in more "jags" along the line of the white trim, due to poor resampling in the printer driver software.
The image above was printed on the Epson Stylus Photo 785EPX, which uses the same print engine as the 1280. The source image had a resolution of 400 dpi, while the printer engine resolution was set to 288x720 dpi.
Comparing this result to that from the $999 Olympus P-400 dye-sub printer above left, the image seems sharper, edges are much more crisp, and finer detail is visible, reflecting the 2880 x 720 dpi accuracy with which individual ink droplets are laid down. Being a true continuous-tone device though, the P-400 edges the 1280 in terms of smoothness, if only just slightly. Even in this greatly magnified view though, the 1280's dots are barely visible: At 2880 dpi, they're completely invisible to the human eye.
Compared to the 2400 x 1200 Canon S800 at left, the 780's image is a bit smoother to our eye, as seen in the area just under the peak of the roof. In this region, the S800's image is slightly grainy, while that of the 780 is a bit smoother. (Really though, we're splitting hairs on this score: The dots either produces are so small as to be either nearly or entirely invisible to the unaided eye.)
At its highest resolution, we saw almost no tendency of the 785's print drivers to produce "jags" along the sloping edges of the roof trim. (We did feel that the S800 edged the 1280 just slightly in its rendering of the diagonal edges of the roof trim though.) Overall, very clean, very sharp, very smooth!
The image above was printed on the Canon S800 printer. The source image had a resolution of 400 dpi, while the printer engine resolution was set to 2400x1200 dpi.
This image was printed on the Kodak Personal Picture Maker 200, with the printer set at 600x1200 dpi. (The source image had a resolution of 400 dpi.)
The 1280's output was very crisp, very smooth, and highly detailed. It showed few of problems with image resampling within the driver software that we've occasionally seen with other printers (At least, at its highest resolution). Its resolution and detail were absolutely outstanding. It resolved more detail than a 314 dpi dye-sub printer that's been somewhat of a standard of image quality for us, while giving up virtually nothing in smooth gradations in the highlights. Overall, a very impressive performance!
We've mentioned at several points that we saw relatively little benefit in the 1280's 2880 dpi printing mode. There is a very significant improvement between 720 and 1440 however. The ultra-macro shots below will help you make up your own mind. There is a bit more detail visible in the 2880-mode print, but you have to enlarge it to this extent see it. (And even then, it's pretty subtle.) For most routine printing, we'd say that the 1440 x 720 dpi printing mode will be more than adequate for the majority of users.
At 2880 dpi, the Stylus Photo 1280/780/785EPX's output is crisp, sharp, and very smooth. Virtually no signs of jaggies, although there's a microscopic roughness on the diagonal lines of the roof trim, as seen at right.
At 1440 dpi, the output is virtually identical. Still very crisp, still very smooth, really no more jaggies than we saw in the 2880 dpi image above. Given the markedly shorter print times for virtually no decrease in quality, we'd recommend 1440 dpi for virtually all your photo printing needs.
If we were surprised by how little difference we saw between 2880 and 1440, we were eve more surprised by how much difference we saw when we dropped down to 720 dpi. If you have an earlier 720 dpi Epson printer, this alone could be the justification for an upgrade! (We must nonetheless point out that these are still very small imperfections: The area at left is only about a half inch (12mm) across on the print itself. Note too, that color differences between these shots are due to differences in the digital camera's color balance between the shots, which were captured on different days.)
We've been very favorably impressed with the Epson photo printers we've tested to date. Of the three "sibling" printers we've tested (the 780, 785EPX, and 1280), we favor the color and tonality of the 780 slightly, feeling that its color balance is more nearly neutral, and the tonal range strikes a good balance between sufficient contrast/black depth and detail rendering in shadows and highlights. That said, the three printers are very close, and you lose little (in our opinion) in image quality by stepping up to the 13"-wide output capability of the 1280. The biggest knock against the 1280 is the same one with the other models tested: They're no speed demons, taking 6-10 minutes to output a full-page image at 1440 dpi. The counter to that is that the Epson print spooling software works very well, so it's no big deal to queue up a dozen or so prints and just do something else while the printer grinds them out. The print spooling doesn't seem to make too big an impact on computer performance either (provided you have a reasonably capable PC or Mac), so it's quite feasible to continue working on your computer while the prints are spooling out.
Overall, while not quite the (astonishing) bargain that its little brother the 780 is, the Epson Stylus Photo 1280 is a fantastic inkjet printer, and certainly among the most affordable options for making prints as wide as 13 inches. Highly recommended.