Digital cameras have made it possible to take an almost endless number of photos. Amateur photographers often have upwards of 500 pictures stored on their PCs, on CDs or online photo sharing sites like Webshots or Flickr. Sadly some of these precious memories never see the light of day, and you can drown in a deluge of digital mayhem trying to keep them organised. While there are photo printing kiosks around Australia that will print your shots fairly cheaply, home printing is convenient, handy for home office tasks and valuable for children at school.
When assessing the ergonomics of an external device such as a home printer, the first things that come to mind are weight and body mass. More specifically, how much room the printer will take up on your desk and secondly, if it is easy enough to move around. When fully opened, the size of the iP4300 from its top-end sheet feeder to pull-out tray is roughly 52cm in length. The good news is that the output tray is long enough to capture every A4 printout without having to worry about picking paper up off the floor. In contrast, the printer is approx 45cm in width, and unless you have a good sized desk at hand, you may encounter difficulties if you are setting your sights on placing the printer directly beside your PC -- it's always good to measure the available space before purchasing. While the iP4300 comes in a bulky package, it's still compact enough to be carried around without too much effort. At 6.3kg we would think this to be a manageable weight for even the most light-weight user.
The on/off, paper feed and printer management buttons as well as the PictBridge direct connect port are conveniently located on the front panel of the printer, which is handy when connecting external devices such as a digital camera. In addition, the USB and power port, at the back of the machine, were easy to access and gave the model a thumbs up in terms of uninhibited user interaction and accessibility.
One of the most impressive features of this printer that is often overlooked by other models in its class is auto duplexing, which in laymans terms means double sided printing. Once a single page has been printed the status monitor warns that the printer is waiting for the page to dry, pauses for a couple of seconds, then sucks the page back in and begins printing on the opposite side. The auto duplex feature is available in the printer properties wizard and also gives you the option of manual control, margin handling and stapling, for those who like to take the reigns a little tighter.
Another time saving feature is the multi-paper feed option. The iP4300 has two separate paper trays which give you the opportunity to load both plain paper and photo paper simultaneously. When we were testing B/W text prints we printed to A4 plain paper loaded through the front end cassette tray and photograph quality prints on a range of high gloss Canon photo paper loaded via the back-end feeder. Switching between the two trays is easy with a toggle button located conveniently on the face of the printer. Dual sheet feeders are a particularly handy feature for photo printers as it means no more fingers touching expensive glossy paper and there is always the potential of double capacity printing for those larger print jobs. No more returning to your printer to find the job half done.
Support for PictBridge means that you don't even need a computer to print. If you have a PictBridge compliant digital camera, camcorder or mobile phone, the ip4300 provides the option of printing your images directly from your device. Similar to PC connections, PictBridge has a print wizard which controls the media type, layout and photo optimisation modes.
The printer also features a five-point LED-based ink tank system (four dye-based inks -- Black, Yellow, Magenta and Cyan; and a pigment based black ink -- PGBK) which has a number of advantages. Firstly, it is a cost saver as you only need to purchase the individual ink cartridge that you need as opposed to an entire new set each time you run out of one particular colour. Secondly, the LED in each cartridge indicates its current status. Upon installation the cartridge handle lights up to indicate that it has been correctly installed. As you continue to use the printer, the LEDs flash when ink levels are running low, and flash even faster when a cartridge is almost empty. The good news is that the five ink cartridges come supplied in the box, so you don't have to worry about purchasing these added extras to get started.
Software included within the package includes a photo suite designed to help kick start novices. Once installed, Easy-Web print appears in Internet Explorer as a toolbar allowing you to easily scale your web page printouts. The Easy-photo-print package allows you to create borderless prints by taking you through a quick three-step process of selecting the photo, its paper type, and the preferred paper size. You also have the opportunity to apply red-eye reduction, trimming and a few other generic photo manipulation techniques to optimise your pictures. We did find some of the enhancement settings to be at times a little too obtrusive for our photos, as they seemed to cause an excess of light saturation during the process of face brightening, and the digital face smoothing at times left the skin tone looking unnatural and pasty. We suggest using the enhancements as carefully as possible, however, for the record, it was quite easy to undo the changes, and the good news is that all optimised images are saved in Canon's proprietry format so that you don't have to worry about overwriting your original files. In addition to these applications is a nifty CD-LabelPrint package which allows you to create labels for photo, music or data discs.
One feature that does not come stock standard with this package is a USB printer cable. The cable is an essential requirement if you do intend on linking your printer to your PC, however it will set you back around $20 at your local computer store. It would be more convenient if these cables came stock with printers.
In total, the installation process took approximately 15 minutes. This included installation of the print driver, alignment of the print head, installation of photo software and other general setup procedures such as installing ink cartridges.
Our initial prints using the iP4300 were output slightly skewed, however this had more to do with the incorrect insertion of the photo paper than any fault of the printer itself. For this reason we suggest that if you are new to photo printing to always remember to run some initial test prints before you begin printing, rather than waste valuable glossy photo paper. Once the paper was loaded correctly, the iP4300 proved to be a great consumer photo printer.
Speed was definitely not compromised in this model. 5x7-inch borderless photographs printed at an average of 40 seconds each. The same photographs printed to A4 sized-paper took just over a minute, and the longest we waited for an A4 photograph at maximum resolution was a speedy 1 minute and 20 seconds.
Our tests of the auto duplex feature were equally as impressive. A four-page PDF file printed in just under 2 minutes. Text quality for headings and body content was sharp, and a map which featured in the printout had high definition and was easy to read even though it was quite a small B/W picture. In our opinion, not too shabby text printing results for a printer that prides itself on its colour photo printing capabilities.
In total, we were able to print 20 A4 high resolution colour photos, 10 B/W A4 photos and over 120 5x7 and 4x6 prints before the printer gave a warning through its flashing LED light that the ink cartridge level were getting low. Even after the ink warning there were still no obvious visual signs of colour degradation in our prints. Those that featured a lot of light causing background gradients were clean and smooth; skin tones were realistic and didn't appear to be either sunburnt, too pale or washed out; and there were no obvious signs of noise in the darker regions of close up photographs. In short, all of our photos were clear and detailed.
To sum up, if you are looking for a competitively priced printer that gives you the flexibility of high volume text printouts as well as the photo printing capabilities for your home or office without compromising quality, then the Canon Pixma iP4300 is ideal.