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Canon S800 Color Bubble Jet

Canon updates its Bubble Jet technology, with smaller droplets, 25-year print life, great color, and great print speed!

Review First Posted: 05/09/2001

MSRP $299 US


Canon S800 Color Bubble Jet™ Photo Printer

Canon updates its Bubble Jet technology, with smaller droplets, 25-year print life, great color, and great print speed !

(Review first posted 05/09/2001)


Up to 2,400 x 1,200 dpi, six-color process for fine detail, smooth gradations.
4 picoliter droplet size for "invisible" dots in highlights.
25-year print life (on Canon Photo Paper Pro).

Dual Parallel/USB computer interface, compatible with Mac or PC.



Manufacturer Overview

Canon has been in the inkjet printer business for many years and its Bubble Jet technology represents one of the earliest viable approaches to inkjet printing. Though Canon is likely to dispute the observation, it's always seemed to play second fiddle to other companies in the inkjet marketplace: Hewlett-Packard in the business market and Epson in the photographic arena. While Canon's technology has always been solid, and the philosophy of using seperate ink cartridges for each color is a good one (we'll treat you to a full rant on the subject later in this review), Canon printers have never recieved the mind share among consumers that they deserved, nor have they been strong contenders at the high end of the photo market. All this may change with the new S800 photo inkjet printer. It takes a back seat to no one in terms of exceptional color and image quality, longer print life, fast printing speeds, and excellent media cost. The S800 looks like a clear winner on all fronts, with many positive attributes and very few negatives. Read on for the full story!


High Points



Executive Overview

Right from the outset, we'd like to say that we were truly impressed with this printer. Color was excellent, printing was very fast, and we loved the economy of individual ink cartridges for each color. The S800 also marks the debut of Canon's new ink/paper formulation, which promises a 25-year fade life -- far beyond what consumers have had to settle for in years past.

The Canon S800 Color Bubble Jet Photo Printer is the latest in a long line of Canon inkjet printers that span an incredibly wide range of prices, sizes, and capabilities. With this new model, Canon is clearly tapping into its extensive photographic background to produce a printer uniquely suited to photographic output. Billed as the "The Professional Photo Printer You'd Expect from Canon" (a designation with which we'd have to agree), the S800 is a no-excuses professional-level product, with a consumer-level price tag, that will doubtless find many a happy home among amateur photo enthusiasts. Its image quality, longevity, and print speed all place it in the "professional" category, but the low price and very user-friendly operation make it a good choice for consumers as well. Best of all, its high resolution and separate color ink tanks mean you can use it without penalty for ordinary home-office, text-oriented print jobs -- making it an ideal all-around printer.

Compact and lightweight, the S800 will fit on almost any desktop, with a space-saving sliding output tray that retracts when not in use. The printer measures 17.7 x 13.5 x 8.2 inches (450 x 343 x 208mm) with the output tray retracted, and 17.7 x 19.8 x 8.2 inches (450 x 503 x 208mm) with the tray extended. It weighs just 13 pounds (5.9 kg), ready to go.

Included in the box are a set of six ink cartridges, one for each printing color, a pair of CD-ROMs with both Mac and Windows software, a power cord, and a USB-Based CompactFlash memory card reader (the Microtech Zio). Canon also provides a small package of its ultra-glossy Photo Paper Pro, micro-perforated to make 4 x 6-inch borderless prints from your digicam files. (Note that the card reader doesn't attach directly to the printer. It's intended to provide a simple way to download digital camera images to your computer for printing on the S800.)

The bundled software includes Photo Record, a slick photo album application for the PC; ImageBrowser, a nice browser tool for the Mac; and PhotoStitch, Canon's excellent panorama-stitching application for both platforms. We found PhotoRecord to be a little balky on our aging, overloaded PC, but the other applications worked well.

The six-cartridge printing process not only produces excellent photographic images, it also saves you money. Many inkjet printers bundle multiple ink colors in one or two cartridges, so if you run out of one color, you have to throw away the entire cartridge (whether the other colors are depleted or not). The S800 uses a separate cartridge for each color, so if you run out of Photo Cyan (for instance), you only have to replace the cyan. Likewise, if you do a lot of black-and-white printing (business letters, invoices, etc), you'll only have to replace the black cartridge. If you print a wide variety of subjects, ink usage tends to "average out" across the colors, but in our own printing, we've often found that we end up printing a lot of images with similar colors or color casts. (For instance, a batch of indoor shots with a slight yellow cast from room lighting, sunset shots with red skies, or landscape photos with lots of green.) When this happens, we quickly exhaust whatever ink color dominants the photos, while the other wells of the cartridge remain relatively full. This is an expensive waste of ink. With Canon's cartridge-per-color approach, such waste is completely eliminated.

The S800 printing speed is exceptionally fast, particularly when compared to other high-quality photo inkjet printers. The "Super" default quality settings for Canon's Photo Paper Pro result in only two-minute print times for full-page images. Boosting the quality setting to the maximum level (which produced no visible benefit that we could detect), increased the print times to only four minutes per page. This is much faster than other photo-quality inkjet printers we've tested, particularly ones that fall within the S800's price range. We also found per-print costs to be very reasonable, at roughly $1.25 per page based on list prices, or $1.10 per page for projected street prices.

The Windows-based Photo Record software offers a very flexible interface for creating custom photo albums, with either automatic, semi-automatic, or manual placement of images, plus a wide variety of frames, backgrounds, and text styles. (We had a fair amount of trouble getting Photo Record to work, but chalked it up to our overloaded PC. The other Canon applications worked fine.) Canon's Image Browser application provided many of the same capabilities as Photo Record on the Mac, including convenient thumbnail image browsing and easy printing of multiple photos per page, though it did not have the elaborate album design features. Canon's cross-platform PhotoStitch is a very capable application for "stitching" together multiple digital images into large panoramas on both PC and Mac. Overall, a very capable software assortment.



Design, Functions, and Controls

The S800 has a fairly straightforward interface, with a minimum of controls on the printer itself. (Essentially all functions other than powering on, manual paper eject, or changing cartridges are controlled via the software.) The S800 is relatively compact, with a sleek gray exterior. It measures 17.7 x 13.5 x 8.2 inches (450 x 343 x 208 mm) with the output tray retracted and 17.7 x 19.8 x 8.2 inches (450 x 503 x 208 mm) with the tray extended. The infeed paper support extends vertically an additional 3 inches, and you'll need to allow a total clearance of about 12 inches when it's loaded with paper. Solidly constructed, the S800 weighs approximately 13 pounds (5.9 kg).


Paper feeds into the printer from the top, with plastic guides to help align the sheets correctly, and an adjustable left guide to accommodate various paper and cut card sizes -- from 8.5 x 11-inch paper to 4 x 6-inch postcards. A "roller cleaning plate" slides into the paper feed assembly for use when printing with Photo Paper Pro, and a hinged front cover lifts up to access the six print cartridges.


The computer connection ports (parallel and USB) are located on the right side of the printer's back panel.

Paper is loaded into the feeder with the printable side facing front and the top edge of the paper loaded first. The paper handling specs struck us as a little odd. While you can load up to 100 sheets of plain paper, 80 sheets of high-resolution paper, 10 envelopes, or 10 transparencies, Canon specifies that only a single sheet of any of the other paper types can be loaded at a time. This includes Glossy Photo Paper, High Gloss Photo Film, Glossy Photo Cards, Banner Paper, T-shirt Transfers, Photo Paper Pro (in either 4x6 or letter size), and Magnet Sheets. While we can understand the one-sheet limitation for unusual or very heavy paper types, such as T-shirt Transfers or Magnet Sheets, it seems a bit odd to limit the Photo Paper Pro to one sheet, when you can add up to 100 sheets of plain paper. In our own testing, we routinely stacked 15 sheets (a full pack) of the Photo Paper Pro into the feeder, and never experienced a glitch or jam. (Still, there may be issues involved of which we're unaware, so we suggest single-sheet feeding of these papers as per Canon's recommendation.)

The Paper!
This is probably as good a place as any to talk about Canon's Photo Paper Pro. As mentioned earlier, this is the paper type for which Canon projects a 25-year print life. We were very impressed with its thickness and gloss. In fact, it's one of the best-looking inkjet photo papers we've seen. Photo Paper Pro is easily as heavy as the high-quality gloss photo paper used by commercial photo labs, and the surface is so shiny, it almost looks wet. While the surface is incredibly glossy, we'd stop one step short of delaring it perfect, due to tiny voids we observed in it These were only visible when we viewed the print at an angle with light reflecting directly from the surface (and so didn't interfere with normal viewing), but we'd still point out this phenomena as an area for possible improvement. Overall though, we'd have to say that photos we printed on it looked better than conventional silver halide prints!

The S800 comes equipped with six Canon ink cartridges, all of which must be loaded before the printer will operate. The cartridges have a much larger capacity than we're used to seeing in consumer inkjet printers, making for pretty long runs between refills. In our testing, we output 59 full-page prints before we had to replace the first cartridge (we actually had to reload two cartridges -- the Photo Cyan and Photo Magenta). Since the black ink is separate from the other colors, the S800 could be used very economically for pure text printing. It wouldn't be as fast as dedicated office-grade inkjet printers, but we see no problem in using the S800 as a "one and only" print device for a home business. (For example, a photographer could use it to print out invoices and correspondence, as well as photographic prints.)

Another interesting feature of the S800 is its removable print head. One of the steps in setting up the printer is to insert and lock down the print head itself. This struck us as interesting, because we're accustomed to print head replacement being an operation requiring factory service. While we don't know the cost or projected life of the S800's print head, we thought that making it user replaceable boded well for lifetime maintenance costs.





Of all its excellent attributes, we were probably most impressed by the S800's print speed. We're accustomed to photo-quality inkjet printers taking anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes to crank out prints in their high-quality print modes. Our view has generally been that this is OK, since you can just queue up a batch of prints and come back later when they're done. While this is true enough, immediate gratification is always more fun than waiting, and the S800 came through with flying colors in the print time category. At a little more than two minutes for a high-quality print, the S800 challenges performance times formerly available only from dye-sub printers.

We tested the S800 on both Mac and Windows platforms: A 350 MHz Pentium II on the Windows side (a little laggardly by current standards), and a 500 MHz Mac G4 on the Macintosh side. Print times were quite similar on both platforms, although we found that using background printing on the Mac (performing other functions on the computer while your prints are spooling off) delayed the start of the first print by about 90 seconds. Other than this first-print delay on the Mac, the two platforms kept up with each other quite well.

Source image size seemed to make virtually no difference in print times, and we were surprised to find that reducing the image quality settings from the default setting made little difference either. (However, increasing the print quality from "Fine" to "Super Fine" nearly doubled print times to about four minutes, though we saw virtually no quality difference between the two.) The table below summarizes the timing results we measured on the two computer platforms:

Canon S800 Print Times (in Minutes)
15MB RGB file
(From PC, with spooling)
15MB RGB file
(From Mac, no spooling)
15MB RGB file
(From Mac, with spooling)
Spooling to Disk
Printer Start
Print finished


We'll be testing more high-end inkjet printers in the weeks and months to come, but for now, the S800 is by far the fastest photo-quality inkjet printer we've seen to date.


Media Cost

This is an area that's difficult to evaluate accurately for inkjet printers (due to widely varying ink coverage of different photos). However, our test prints represent a fairly reasonable approximation of typical usage. Our source images are a mixture of aspect ratios, including 5:4, 4:3, and 3:2. We scale them to a width (long axis) of 9.5 inches, so we're sure of being able to print the full images on any printer. (Printers vary quite a bit in their printable areas, but 9.5 inches seems to be consistent for all the printers we've tested so far.) As a result of our scaling, the pages are a little shy of full coverage, but this is made up for by the rather heavy ink usage on most of our test shots.

The S800 carries a list price of $299, about average for a top-of-the-line consumer photo printer. The individual ink cartridges are listed at $11.95 each, but we'd expect to see them for less than $10 retail. Canon sells a variety of papers for use with the S800, but only the (heavyweight, ultra-glossy!) Photo Paper Pro is certified for the 25-year print life. Photo Paper Pro sells for $13.95 list price in packs of 15 8.5 x 11-inch sheets, or $11.95 for packs of 20 4 x 6-inch borderless sheets. (The borderless sheets are micro-perforated, so they can feed through the printer, and the white margins are removed afterward.) Based on these prices, our tests projected a per-print cost of about $1.56 for 7.6 x 9.5-inch prints on 8.5 x 11-inch paper, at full list price, or about $1.10 per page at anticipated street prices. This compares very favorably with other printers we've tested, and the quality of the Canon prints is exceptional. (Note too, that you can use plain photocopy paper for "economy" prints, reducing the cost to effectively that of the ink alone, which should range from $0.63 per page at list price, to $0.50 per page at street price.) The added efficiency of not having to throw away partially full cartridges would further increase the S800's cost-effectiveness compared to competing printer models.

Print Longevity & Durability

This is a rather uncertain area, but one of great concern to our readers, thanks in part to the bad name inkjet technology received from some inks and papers that faded noticeably in less than a year -- even in brightly-lit home and office interiors. (Some excuse could be made for fading in direct sunlight, perhaps, but not just from hanging on the wall!) Canon has addressed print longevity in the new ink formulation used for the S800, as well as in the composition of the Photo Paper Pro intended for use with it. Canon's own internal test results have been backed up by tests performed by Wilhelm Research, both estimating print life on the order of 25 years.

It's important to note, however, the conditions under which this excellent print life is claimed. You can't prop an S800 print in a sunny window and expect a 25-year lifetime! Canon specifies the 25-year print life is for images displayed under glass, in normal room lighting, and in a low-humidity environment. The importance of the "under glass" requirement is that atmospheric pollutants (particularly ozone) have been known to severely accelerate ink fading. When a print is mounted in a glass-fronted frame, its surface is protected from the reactive ozone.

A few inkjet printers are now using pigmented inks (with microscopic pigment particles rather than dyes to produce the colors), resulting in fade-free lifetimes of more than 100 years. Among the purely dye-based printers though, 25 years is about as good as it gets, and is actually better than what can be achieved by the majority of conventional photographic printing processes.



Computer Drivers Menus

Essentially all user control over the S800 takes place from the printer driver control panel on the host computer. The user interface is similar for both Mac and Windows platforms, but we show elements of both, so readers with either platform can see what controls are available to them. Overall, operation is quite straightforward, and we found the options presented by the driver software to be quite easy to understand.

Whew! There's a LOT of screens within the printer drivers for the S800. We captured most of them, and describe their functions below. Despite the plethora of screens and options, we found the user interface and printer features quite easy to navigate. To save space, we reduced all of the images here to 75 percent of their original size. Thus, any minor fuzziness in type is our fault, and not a feature of the Canon software.


Click to see ZGENERAL.JPG Click to see ZMchooser_1.JPG

The S800 driver "properties" screen uses a tabbed interface to organize the large number of options, features, and maintenance controls. There really isn't an equivalent screen in the Macintosh driver, although this "setup" screen, accessed from the Chooser dialog box, might do. (Options here are just High or Normal for "supported resolution." We didn't experiment with them, so have no comment on the impact of selecting one over the other.)


Click to see ZPDETAILS.JPG

The Details screen lets you configure details of the computer connection. (Only required for the Windows environment, the Macintosh equivalent of this function occurs through the Mac OS Chooser.)


Click to see ZPCOLOR.JPG

For color-critical usage, you can load custom ICC color profiles. (This is a professional-level feature average users won't need to worry about.) On the Mac, this selection is made via the "Color" options menu, described below.


Click to see ZPMAIN.JPG Click to see ZM1_DRIVER.JPG

Ninety percent of the time, you'll never need to go anywhere on the Properties menu other than the appropriately named Main screen. This is where you'll set paper type and print quality. The Print Mode options across the top of the screen are presets for different types of print jobs. You can fine-tune the details by way of the Advanced button at the bottom of the screen.

On the Mac, you get the equivalent functions presented whenever you select "Print..." from the application's File dialog. Functions here are similar to those on the PC, with the "Custom" print option (goofy looking guy on the right) corresponding to the "Advanced" button on the PC. When you select "Custom," the "Details" button activates, giving you access to the detailed controls for resolution, dithering, etc.

The drivers for both platforms allow you to select no fewer than 10 different paper types for printing.


Click to see ZPADVQUALITY.JPG Click to see ZMprint_qual1.JPG

When you click on the "Advanced..." button under the "Main" tab of the settings control panel, you'll come to a submenu with a series of options and choices, once again arranged via a tabbed interface. Most of the time, you'll be interested in the settings on the Quality tab, shown here. There you can choose the type of paper, the feeder (manual or automatic feed, both of which actually occur via the main paper tray), print quality, Image Optimizer, and Photo Optimizer Pro options, and (sometimes) the halftoning algorithm used. As the icons suggest, Image Optimizer smoothes edges in your images, while Photo Optimizer Pro attempts to "optimize" colors. Photo Optimizer apparently has a greater effect on poorly exposed images. We saw little effect on our well-balanced test photos. The Image Optimizer edge-smoothing feature is only available on Windows computers. Likewise, the Macintosh driver offers only one "dither" option for halftoning, rather than the two shown here in the Windows software.


Click to see ZADVSPECIAL.JPG Click to see ZMprint_special1.JPG

The Special Effects screen offers an "illustration" mode, plus a range of monochrome print options that render your photo in varying shades of a single color. (For some reason, Canon included no mention of these options in the S800's manual, although the more extensive manual on the CD describes them in fair detail. Options on the Mac are identical.)


Click to see ZADVCOLOR.JPG Click to see ZMprint_color1.JPG

On both Mac and PC, this screen allows you to tweak the intensity of the individual ink colors, as well as set the overall saturation and brightness. On the Mac, this screen is also where you'd specify a different ICC profile to use when printing: The "Color Correction" pull-down menu above would be set to "ColorSync," and the appropriate ICC printer profile selected in the "Printer Profile" pull-down. We were impressed with how easy it was to incorporate an ICC profile at the driver level, without having to rely on application-level fiddling.


Click to see ZADVSAVE.JPG


The "Save" screen on the PC is for saving the custom settings you've just specified as a setup. It can be recalled at any time simply by clicking on an icon. On the Mac (not shown here, due to the number of screens involved), this "save settings" function is accomplished by choosing the Manual settings option from the Print Dialog screen, clicking on "Apply", then clicking on "Apply" again in the "Register Settings" dialog that appears, typing in a name for the new settings, and then exiting. Previously saved settings can be applied by choosing "Import" from the Register Settings Dialog. - This all works OK, but is certainly more convoluted than we'd like.


Click to see ZPPAGE1.JPG Click to see ZMpsetup_01.JPG

The second row of tabs comes to the front when you click on any one of them. They're represent settings that are changed less frequently than those on the "Main" screen. On the Mac, these settings are spread across a couple of screens, accessed via the Print Setup dialog within the current software application, and via the "Options" tab in the main print dialog. This tab in the PC print dialog provides several functions that are handled in the system-level print drivers on the Mac.


Click to see ZM2_OPTIONS.JPG

This Mac screen handles the other functions of the Page Layout menu tab from the PC. It is accessed via the "Options" button on the main print dialog screen.


Click to see ZPSTAMP.JPG

Under Windows, you can select a background image that will appear under your printed output, as well as a "Stamp" that will appear over it.


Click to see ZPMAINT.JPG Click to see ZMpset_util01.JPG
Click to see ZMpset_util02.JPG


These screens control a variety of maintenance and test functions, for cleaning and aligning the print heads.



Under Windows, the Status Monitor is accessed via the standard Windows printer device icon. It holds three tabbed sub-windows, covering status, a "guide" that helps you sort out abandoned print jobs, and ink information.




Click to see ZSTATUS_INK.JPG


Only the last of these three tabs really has a counterpart on the Mac, and the Mac status screen is only available while a spooled job is printing. If an ink cartridge is low, icons will appear in the upper left hand corner of this screen. We wish there was a way to access print supply information without running a print job.



Under Windows, this handy screen in the Help system lists print margins on various paper sizes. (On the Mac, this information is available within the print dialog screens themselves.)



The print dialog on the PC offers options for High and Medium print qualities (the pull-down is activated in this shot), although we saw relatively little difference in either quality or print speed between the two.



Test Results

The Canon Bubble Jet S800 produced absolutely beautiful prints in our testing, far surpassing our expectations for high-end inkjet technology. While photomicrographs of the printed output showed dots under magnification, they were completely invisible to the naked eye, and tonal gradations were exceptionally 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, the S800's output made true believers of us. It's hard to imagine how the output quality could have been any better, at least to the naked eye.

Tonal range was excellent, with deep, rich blacks, and clean highlights. We were also pleased to see that color information is well-preserved in the deep shadow areas, a decided advantage over lower-end inkjet printers that sometimes back off on the inks in darker areas.

The S800's 2,400 x 1,200 dpi dot pitch is 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.)

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 no such behavior in the S800. The greatly enlarged samples below compare the S800's output with that from a high-end dye-sublimation printer (the Olympus P-400), and a lower-end 600 x 1,200 dpi resolution consumer photo inkjet printer (the Kodak Personal Picture Maker 200). We were impressed by the combination of fine detail and smooth gradations that the S800 produced.

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 "jaggies" along the line of the white trim, due to poor resampling in the printer driver software.
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 2,400 x 1,200 dpi.

Comparing this result to that from the $999 Olympus P-400 dye-sub printer (at left above), the image seems sharper, edges are crisper, and finer detail is visible, thanks to the 2,400 x 1,200 dpi accuracy with which individual ink droplets are laid down. Being a true continuous-tone device, the P-400 still edges the S800 in terms of smoothness, but as a practical matter, the S800's dots (just visible in this greatly magnified view) are entirely invisible to the naked eye.

Compared to the lower-end Kodak/Lexmark Personal Picture Maker printer at left, the S800's resolution is clearly higher, and the individual ink dots less visible. Really no surprise, given the finer pitch and smaller droplet size specs, but the differences are quite evident.

This image was printed on the Kodak Personal Picture Maker 200, with the printer set at 600 x 1,200 dpi. (The source image had a resolution of 400 dpi.)

The S800's output was crisp, smooth, and highly detailed. It showed no problems with image resampling within the driver software, which we've occasionally seen with other printers. Its resolution and detail were superb. It resolved more detail than a 314 dpi dye-sub printer, which is somewhat of a standard in image quality for our testing, while giving up little in smooth highlight gradations. Overall, a very impressive performance!



Overall, the Canon Color Bubble Jet S800 showed excellent color rendition, exceptional resolution, and surprisingly high print speed. We felt it easily deserved the sobriquet "The Professional Photo Printer You'd Expect From Canon." The "Professional" designation is easily justified in terms of quality, while the price and media cost make it accessible for consumers. Combine all this with a two-minute print time for letter-size pages, and a 25-year print life rating, and we think you'll agree that Canon has a real winner here. Highly recommended!



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