If your medium-format printing needs lean more towards scrapbooking, collateral business materials, or draft proofing, less-expensive models such as the Stylus Photo R1800, the Canon i9900, or the HP Photosmart 8750 will likely suit you better. I still haven't forgiven Epson for integrating the monochrome-challenged Ultrachrome ink set into the R1800 and excluding the R1800's red and blue inks from the UltrachromeK3 set in order to create an artificial distinction between the two: positioning one as a large-gamut color printer and the other as a tonally adept black-and-white device. Those of us who want both vibrant color prints and gallery-quality black-and-white output should be feeling justifiably peeved right about now. Nevertheless, for the best in desktop photo printing, the Epson Stylus Photo R2400 is the model to beat and definitely worth the upgrade from the SP2200. Like clowns in a Volkswagen, the number of paper-handling accessories you pull out of the Epson Stylus Photo R2400's box during setup seems endless. It comes with two attachments for feeding roll paper, a special attachment for the paper-input support designed for use with matte paper, and yet another paper-input support for feeding single sheets of heavy stock. Throw in the nine ink cartridges, and setup really feels like a whole do-it-yourself project. In truth, you can be up and printing in as little as 10 minutes.
The R2400 gets high marks for design, not for its looks but for its flexibility: cosmetically, it's a large--2 feet by 2 feet with trays extended for letter-size paper--silver and dark-gray plastic that resembles all of the other printers that make their way through my office. It's got four buttons up front: power, cancel/feed paper, ink out, and roll-paper select. Paper trays pop out all over the place. The main input tray extends up or folds down into the top of the printer. The front panel has a main output feed that extends out to support large paper, plus two swing-out supports for smaller paper. You fold all those in and pop down another front panel for the straight-through path; the printer inhales the media when you load it, extending out the back of the printer, and exhales the paper as it prints. The R2400 lacks a support in the back for the paper, which I guess makes sense for thick, stiff stock, but I'd feel a lot more secure if there were at least a piece of plastic back there. A single-sheet feeder snaps into a well behind the main paper tray, as do the two roll-feed holders. All these different pieces can't be attached at the same time, and keeping track of what has to be folded up in order to use another can get mighty confusing. Unlike many printers I've seen recently, however, there's nothing flimsy on this model: every piece of plastic feels stiff and sturdy.
The Epson Stylus Photo R2400's ink-carrier design works like those of most printers: when you press the ink button, the carrier moves into place in a well where you can access it. A flashing light indicates which inks are low or out, so at least you don't have to go back to your computer and look it up in the driver. You still have to physically swap the matte- and photo-black cartridges, however, which is a major pain. It's especially annoying given that the R2400's sibling, the R1800, manages to find a permanent place in the carrier for both.
Props to Epson for including a FireWire cable in the box. The driver--the same one which Epson ships with many of its printers--has two modes: Basic and Advanced. I don't expect anyone who buys this printer to use the Basic mode. But all the screens are easy enough to understand, at least for the intended audience. One minor annoyance: the driver frequently reverts to the High Speed option.
In addition to the driver software, the bundled CD includes Epson Raw Print--another Windows-only goodie--and four free filters from Nik Multimedia's Color Efex Pro. After installation, Epson also points you to its site, where you'll be able to download the latest canned ICC profiles for the printer. Given the Stylus Photo R2400's high price, it would have been nice to get color-profiling software or Epson Film Factory as well. Despite its 5,760x1,440 resolution, the Epson Stylus Photo R2400 has relatively large 3.5pl droplets and a mere 180 nozzles per color. But the big enhancement to the R2400 over the R2200 is the company's UltraChromeK3 ink set, which incorporates the traditional six photo primaries--CMYK plus light cyan and magenta--and supplements them with Light Black and Light Light Black inks, otherwise known to mere mortals as medium gray and light gray. The company has also reworked the screening algorithms for black-and-white printing and, recognizing that great black-and-white actually has some color, created an advanced black-and-white print mode in the driver that allows you to tone your images with yellow, light-magenta, and light-cyan inks.
The inks plus the innumerable paper-handling options detailed in my discussion of the R2400's design comprise the unique features of the printer; the rest is fairly mundane. It has USB 2.0 and FireWire ports for both Mac and Windows compatibility.
I have to admit a partiality for the color-management implementation in Epson's drivers over those of Canon and HP. For one, it's the most sophisticated I've seen in a desktop printer. The driver provides three color spaces to choose from: Epson Vivid, Epson Standard, and Adobe RGB, as well as three different ICM options (basic, advanced, and host-based). The advanced selection lets you define individual profiles for images, graphics, and text. But the most important reason I like Epson's implementation: there's a clearly marked Off option. Without it, you're never quite sure if your software's in charge or whether you're double-applying color management. Overall, I suspect the Epson Stylus Photo R2400 is a relatively costly printer to operate. Epson's ink yield estimates assume 5 percent coverage per primary, which more closely matches a business document than a photo; from that, they derive page yields of 450 color pages and 520 black pages per cartridge, which, at Epson's price of $14.24 per cartridge, works out to about 94 cents per print. I'd say it's at least double that, because most people will use a much higher density of ink. Plus, in my experience, the R2400 runs through ink a bit more rapidly; a generous estimate is about 100 to 150 prints before a given cartridge cries uncle, which doubles the cost yet again. Also, there's always at least one ink tank that the driver reports has less than 10 percent of its capacity left, which means that little red out-of-ink light is blinking more often than not.
Wilhelm Imaging Research's longevity tests for the R2400 are still in the works, but the results should correlate quite closely with those of Epson's Stylus Pro 4800 and Stylus Pro 9800, which use the same inks and many of the same papers--upwards of 60 years for any of the premium papers when framed under glass. As usual, the longevity numbers increase quickly as your storage conditions improve.
The Epson Stylus Photo R2400's prints are worth it, though. First, Epson has resolved several notable problems it had with the SP2200's blacks on glossy paper, including a gloss deficit, bronzing, metamerism--colors appearing differently under different light sources, and the tendency of all the inks to show scratches. Unlike the R800 and R1800, which apply a gloss overcoat for consistency, the R2400's UltraChromeK3 droplets are encapsulated in the glossy resin. The new inks are higher density than the old--Epson says they achieve a maximum density (Dmax) of 2.4D compared to 2.2D for the old inks.
Both color and monochrome prints render beautifully. There's a slight but visible hue difference between the R1800's reds and the R2400's, thanks to the R1800's dedicated red ink tank, but otherwise the R2400 seems to be able to faithfully reproduce a similarly broad range of hues and tones. The gloss deficit is gone--blacks remain glossy on glossy papers--and color fidelity across paper types is excellent for all but the lightest shades (which are affected more by the color of the paper). It delivers very good tonal separation in areas of subtle variation, such as wet sand. Colors look vivid and punchy when appropriate, while skin tones and memory colors--sky and grass, for example--appear fairly accurate.
As long as you print using the Black and White color-matching in the Epson driver, monochrome prints look great: sharp, with little metamerism and a broad tonal range that includes nice tonal separation in normally problematic shadow areas. Though the R2400 prints black-and-white using both composite gray and the dedicated black inks, the driver seems to throw too much cyan into the mix when treating grayscale as color and thus requires more extensive custom profiling. Since the driver surfaces the Black and White option only when using a select set of papers--Premium Glossy Photo Paper, Premium Luster Photo Paper, Premium Semigloss Photo Paper, Matte Paper-Heavyweight, Watercolor Paper-Radiant White, Enhanced Matte Paper, Double-Sided Matte Paper, Velvet Fine Art Paper, and UltraSmooth Fine Art Paper--you'll have to do some serious faking and tweaking to use that mode with other papers.
Though not the speediest car in the garage, the Epson Stylus Photo R2400 holds its own far better than did its predecessor and fits neatly--as usual--between the Canon i9900 and the HP Photosmart 8750. Not surprisingly, you take a significant speed hit when bumping up the resolution. A 6x10 print in Photo mode took 1 minute, 34 seconds from click to clunk, compared to just over 4 minutes in Best Photo mode, a slowdown of 164 percent. And though I didn't time it, PhotoRPM mode--the highest resolution available--took even longer.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Photo speed in pages per minute|