Epson's 2880dpi letter-size photo printer delivers *quality* prints, with BorderFree option, at an incredible price!
Page 7: Test Results & Conclusion
Review First Posted: 7/19/2001
MSRP $129 US
Just like the Stylus Photo 785EPX that we tested just before it, the Epson Stylus Photo 780 produced exceptional prints in our testing, really pushing the limits of what we've come to expect from top-grade inkjet photo printers. 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 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.
Tonal range was excellent, with very deep blacks and clean highlights. We were very interested to see subtle differences between the 780 and its sibling the 785. Even though both printers use the same print engine, there are noticeable differences between them in their color and tonal characteristics. (We suspect caused by slight differences in the color management code in the driver software.) We felt that the 785 tended to lose detail in the shadows a bit, but found the 780 slightly better in that respect. Likewise, we found the color saturation of the 785 just a bit high for our tastes. By contrast, the 780's prints looked just right. Both printers excellent support for color management makes it very easy to fine-tune the print characteristics to fit your personal tastes, so subtle differences of the sort we found between the two printers are probably not significant. At the end of the day though, we found ourselves liking the output of the 780 better than that of the 785, if only by a whisker.
The 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 that the 785 produced the most grain-free highlights
and three-quarter tones of any inkjet printer we've tested to date.
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 785, at least when running at its 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 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 780. The two printers use the same print engine, so the images below
serve for both the 780 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 780. 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 780 in terms of smoothness, if only
just slightly. Even in this greatly magnified view though, the 780'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 780 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 780'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 780'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 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.)
We really liked the Stylus Photo 785EPX when we reviewed, and thanks to some rather subtle color differences, we found ourselves liking the 780 even better. Overall, the Stylus Photo 780 showed excellent color rendition and exceptional resolution. Epson's unique borderless printing capability is a very nice added bonus, making it easy to spool out dozens of sharp 4x6's for the spouse's photo albums. As with the 785EPX, about the only knock we have against the 780 relative to some of the competition is that it's no speed demon. With full-page print times of 6-10 minutes in its 1440 dpi mode, it's only about average in its print speed among inkjet printers we've tested. When you consider that Epson is currently selling the 780 for $129 after rebate, it's hard to imagine any digital photographer who wouldn't want one. (If you're interested in a printer with a standalone (no computer) printing option, the Stylus Photo 785EPX has very similar print characteristics, and a built-in processor to let you print photos directly from your digicam memory cards.) It's sharp printing, great color, borderless printing and *amazing* price make this one "Very Highly Recommended."