New Tools from Epson and Apple

Another new printer from Epson.   Epson’s new Stylus Photo R3000 has been shipping for only a couple of weeks and now the industry leader in photo inkjet printing technology has announced another 13” model—the Stylus Photo R2000.  While perhaps not earth-shattering news, the R2000 will fit nicely in the lineup and likely fill the needs of quite a few serious photographers at modest cost.  It looks as though this printer will replace the respected R1900, which I have used with very good results for the last three years.

Where will the R2000 stand in the Epson photo inkjet hierarchy?  Just one step down within the 13” pigment ink models, presuming the R2880 will drop out soon in deference to the new R3000.  For photographers, the distinction between pigment and dye-based inks has driven choice for some time since pigment inks get the nod for expected archival longevity (as in will likely last longer).  Nothing is permanent, and how prints are displayed makes a huge difference is how quickly they fade or otherwise deteriorate, but for now pigment inks have the best promise of the lot.  For those new to the subject of inks, have a look at this relatively succinct tutorial.

As to breadth of color gamut, Epson currently has three pigment ink formulations.  The very widest—UltraChrome HDR—is only available in their top-end Pro printers, the 4900, 7900, and 9900.  Part of this has to do with the in set being mated to the advanced MicroPiezo TFP print head which has been a big step forward but quite large and expensive and therefore not conducive to being shoehorned into a printer of lesser dimensions like the 3880 or even smaller 13” printers.  So if you’re going for broke in printing the best colors possible from a consumer inkjet printer, you’ll have to spring for an x900 model.  Next step down is UltraChrome K3 with Vivid Magenta, the ink set used in the 3880, and R3000.  Keep in mind that viewers of real-world prints in varied display environments are often very hard pressed to actually see minor technical gamut differences; that doesn’t mean they aren’t real, or that they may have a beneficial effect for a particular image that has colors at the edge of the spectrum that a wider gamut helps illuminate.  But having said that, K3 with Vivid Magenta is still a fine formulation that results in beautiful prints for the vast majority of images.  The R2000 will use same UltraChrome Hi-Gloss 2 ink as in its predecessor, the R1900.  While it’s hard to find direct gamut plot comparisons between this and other Epson ink sets, it’s fair to say Hi-Gloss 2 produces vibrant colors (enhanced by the included Red and Orange cartridges) and has one particular feature different from all the rest—a Gloss Optimizer which essentially eliminates gloss differential and helps make the finest glossy prints from any inkjet printer out there.  Whether this is a factor that might appeal to you or not depends entirely on your media preferences.

Other changes in the R2000, though relatively minor, seem all in the right places including larger ink carts (17ml, which Epson suggests will provide a yield of up to 50% greater than with the R1900), Wi-Fi (802.11n, not the older a/b/g protocols), Ethernet, and USB 2.0 connectivity, and updated styling.  All in all this looks like a fine upgrade in the $500 price category.

New iMacs.   Apple this morning announced the latest upgrade to their popular iMac all-in-one computers.  Featuring quad-core processors, improved graphics, and Thunderbolt connectivity, the new models are sure to excite Apple fans.  However, from the perspective of choosing a color-critical image editing platform we’ll have to wait and see how the display pans out as iMacs in the past have had big issues with overall brightness.  The size of your file archive will have a big impact too as there’s little or no room for internal expansion.  There is however an option for a second solid state drive which when specified appears to be loaded with OS and programs, leaving the SATA hard drive for data.  In addition, an optional 16GB of RAM will be available—good news for every more memory-hungry programs and large image files.  Some of us were also wishing for a new Mac Pro with SATA III (6 Gbits/s) platform bandwidth, Thunderbolt, and a few other upgrades to keep the Apple workstation line competitive, but this end of the creative tool spectrum seems far down on the Apple priority list at the moment.  After all, businesses exist to make money, not pander to narrow niches of creative enthusiasm, but we’ll continue to hope that Apple won’t abandon workstation computers entirely, especially since video has become such an important part of the overall mobile media revolution.

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