Photo prints price war
1 April 2005 | 0
Digital cameras have revolutionised photography over the last few years by allowing users to review and discard without having to get images developed. Prices have fallen too so that digital cameras now compete on every level with traditional film-based cameras.
However, once you have your digital images and you want prints, what is the best option, a photo lab, an online service or your own photo printer? There are advantages and disadvantages to each option.
The photo lab has the obvious benefits of scale. Most photo labs will offer decreasing charges as you increase the number of prints you order. However those charges generally rise again the depending on how quickly you want your prints returned. Another benefit is that the photo lab is likely to have a high quality print process using
long life papers and print processes. Many traditional photo labs now provide digital services whether from the digital media, CD-R or DVD-Rs.
Online services provide most of the benefits of the photo lab with volume savings and the benefit of quality machinery and processes. However, the online services generally offer a return by post or courier service. The former usually means a slightly higher turn around time and the latter means extra cost. However, some online
services offer a storage option where an album of pictures can be kept online which some may find useful. A draw back of the online services is the need for a means of transferring the photos. For example, if you have 36 photos ready for 15 by 10cm (6 by 4in) printing, you will need something more than a 56k dial-up line to send them over the Internet.
Photo printers have developed for digital photography too and the major manufacturers all now offer compact printers specifically for the 15 by 10cm classic snapshot prints. The issues to consider with compact photo printers are the consumables, which can be quite expensive. For example, the dye sublimation type printers have a handy consumables pack containing an ink cartridge and 36 typical
snapshot type prints. However the retail prices for these packs mean that, aside from the initial cost of the printer, the prints can cost in the region of 55 cent each. The great advantage of this type of printer though is that fact that they can be used without
a computer. As most digital cameras employ the PictBridge standard, this means that they can communicate directly to the printer via USB. Some manufacturers even provide cradle arrangement for their own camera ranges that charges the camera batteries during transfer.
The test used to evaluate the various options was a fairly typical user scenario. Ten colour digital images were requested at 15 by 10cm, glossy and borderless, using the various methods. To add a little depth to the test, not all the images were David Bailey quality. Five were correctly sized for 15 by 10cm prints, four were left as they had come from a 4Megapixel camera at the highest settings and one was a cropped image, which was about 12 by 11cm (5 by 4in). Two of the images were also incorrectly exposed using the wrong white balance adjustment for the setting resulting in pictures
that were overly blue. The reasons for this were to see if any of the print services picked up on these aspects to offer either tips or advice for better pictures.
All photo labs were given the ten images on either CD or Secure Digital cards for the 24-hour service requesting one copy of each image, with no special instructions given.
Camera Centre 56 Grafton Street, Dublin 2
Camera Centre is a complete camera shop offering everything from disposables to professional cameras and accessories. Its digital print services employ Fuji Digital Imaging and cover the range of memory media. The counter service was good, with no problems. Staff had no problem with either a Secure Digital card or a CD, but the CD was used. All of the prints were borderless with those correctly exposed
displaying crisp and even detail with vibrant lifelike colours. The only problem was that the incorrectly sized image was printed at the same size as the others meaning that it was severely cropped, though the quality of what appeared on the print was undiminished.
On picking the images up, no mention was made by staff of the
incorrectly sized image or the badly exposed ones. As no special instructions were given, only the cropped image counts as a negative. The cost was 50 cent per print totalling €5.
Contact: (01) 6775594
Dublin Camera Exchange, 63 St Great Georges Street, Dublin 2
Dublin Camera Exchange is another camera shop that offers the full range of point and shoot up to full professional level. Its digital processes come from Kodak. Catering for all media again, the counter staff were efficient appearing to deal with a large amount of varying request with speed. The prints were very fine indeed and the protective coating seemed particularly in evidence. An extra mark goes to the Exchange as the incorrectly sized image was printed without resizing and trimmed too; another goes for including an index page print at no extra cost. Although again, no advice was offered on the incorrectly exposed images. The cost was 50 cent per print totalling €5.00.
Contact: (01) 4784125
Spectra Photo, 113 Lr Baggot Street, Dublin 2
Spectra is a big player in the Irish market and employs Kodak processing. The lab visited is a small one though, not offering much in the way of hardware. However, again the images were excellent. The counter service was friendly and efficient with an extra emphasis on recording the SD card submitted to ensure no mishaps. The ill-sized image was printed fully too with out being trimmed. The incorrectly exposed images were not commented, but appear to the eye to be significantly less blue than the others. The cost overall was the cheapest encountered at €3.99 for the 10 or 39.9 cent each. Spectra also provided a useful leaflet detailing their full range of digital imaging sizes and prices on a leaflet.
Contact: (01) 6766425
Conns Cameras Ltd, 54 Clarendon Street, Dublin 2
Conns Cameras is a long standing shop catering to all, again with a full range of cameras and accessories. Very busy again, the staff dealt quickly and efficiently with the request. Employing the Fuji Digital Imaging process, the prints were excellent, though the ill-sized image was again cropped, in common with the other Fuji results.
The ill-exposed images were not commented upon. Though not available on the day due to updating, Conns has also has a printed leaflet available detailing digital imaging ranges and charges. The price was €6.00 overall or 60 cent per print.
Contact: (01) 6777179
The Photoweb.ie service requires the download of a 1.5Mbyte-odd application, with PC and Mac catered for. The application set up is easy and the user interface friendly enough. My only gripe I must admit was my own fault in that 10 copies were ordered of ten images instead of 10 images with one copy each. Mea Culpa! However on realising the mistake, a phone call had it sorted. The other notable of this service is the credit card payment through the application. This means, of course, that you must have a credit card to start with.
As a DSL user, the download of the app and the upload of the images was easy but it is something to be wary of if using a slower connection. The print process used is provided by Agfa. The prints were of a uniform excellent quality, though some images did appear with a vertical border. The ill-sized image was printed without
cropping though the ill-exposed images were left as is without comment. The turnaround was very good and as stated. They were in the post with receipt the following day. Not 24 hours but still, a very reasonable turnaround. The cost was €5.00 without postage, though a pickup service is available too. So at 50 cent a print it works out cheaper than some labs even with postage. The website includes print ranges and charge information too.
The Galway-based Fahyfoto.com has provided digital services through web and post for some years now. Employing the Agfa processing system and a branded version of the same app seen in Photoweb.ie meant the same silly mistake was made, though
again with a phone call and a sheepish explanation, the issue was sorted. Despite my bumbling, the application is easy to use and allows the user to specify all of the options available. Again certain images showed vertical borders though the ill-sized image had no cropping. The ill-exposed images were left as is, though notably,
Fahyfoto.com included a leaflet of advice on this and other issues.
The charge was €6.90 with €1.90 covering postage. Again, despite the mistake the turn around was the same as the other postal services. So at 50 cent per print it is competitive, but the postal service is worth it when pick up is not an option.
Spectraphoto.ie offers a registration-based system, which does not require a download. On registration, the user receives 60Mbyte of online storage including album organisation. From the web page, it is possible to organise and print or reprint with a few steps. Along the way, there is a size guide telling you how each image will fare at various print sizes. Finally, there is an option to have the images burned to CD for €4.99 with the order. Employing the Kodak processing service the images were excellent, with the ill-sized image suffering no cropping and all other images were borderless as requested. The cost was €5.30 with €1.80 being postage.
Though a collection service is available, there is a €1 charge for collection. Even so, with a pre-postage cost of 35 cent per image and a full cost of 53 cent this is a very attractive package given the web storage and the validation information per image through the ordering process.
Compact photo printers
The range of printers tested here was divided between dye sublimation and inkjet. All printers were tested using PictBridge from the very fine Kyocera M410R, reviewed from a few issues ago.
HP Photosmart 245
The little 245 is an inkjet portable 4 by 6in printer. Low, sleek and sporting a built in LCD, it allows you to fully view each picture before printing. With a five-way card reader covering 11 formats, this is a very capable machine. Its size means that is easily portable, though it doesn’t have a battery. It is pretty too, in silver and grey with chunky buttons, and has easily understood menus. USB 2.0 means fast data transfers and built brightness, colour and cropping abilities combined with TIFF and JPEG formats for versatility. A single ink cartridge is employed, though a handy shopping card is supplied to make purchasing refills easy. Sample papers are also included.
However HP didn’t bundle a pack of paper and ink with the printer, as the other manufacturers did. This means calculating how much ink is necessary to print a certain amount of pictures may be difficult. The prints produced were good, with the colour balance of the ‘blue’ shots adjustable and the position of the ill-sized image editable to ensure no cropping. In a side-by-side comparison to the other compacts, it appeared that the 245 was slightly sharper in
places but colours seemed to be slightly less vibrant. Compared to the lab or web service pictures, the HP did not come up to standard. Though at a cost in the region of €220, this is one of the cheaper print options in the portable market.
– Borderless printing on 10 by 15 cm photo papers with tear-off tab (10 by 16.5 cm)
– Five card readers, 11 formats: CompactFlash I/II, IBM MicroDrive,
SmartMedia, SecureDigital/MultiMedia/SecureMultiMedia, xD, Sony
– 1.8in/4.6cm graphic colour display
– Photo selection: Individual, range, new or all; compatible with DPOF 1.1
– Photo editing (individual): Brightness, colour (black and white, sepia, antique), zoom (up to 5x, steps of 0.25x), crop image, library of frames (six patterns, 16 colours); global colour and contrast enhancement
– Photo sizes: 10 by 15 cm, collage (four images 5 by 7.5 cm), index
– Imaging standards: sRGB, Exif-Print; reads standard JPEG and TIFF files
– Additional features: Upload and cancel buttons
– Speed 6 by 4 colour fill: 01:08
The CP-330 employs the dye sublimation method for printing. This uses multiple passes of a film to deposit the colour with a final pass depositing a fingerprint, UV and moisture protective coating which increases durability considerably.
Printing was effortless using PictBridge, though the absence of an LCD means that no viewing or manipulation is possible. The CP-330 uses a Canon supply pack, the KP-36IP. This contains a colour cartridge and 36 print sheets making estimation of print needs easy. Though retailing at around €20, this means that the cost per print
over the cost of the printer is around 55 cent. Quality exceeded that of the HP tested, though was slightly less than those from the lab and web services but easily good enough for mounting where the UV protective coat serves well.
The CP-330 is among the heavier of the portables but the inclusion of a battery means that this is a truly portable solution.
– Resolution: 300 by 300dpi
– Colours: Three colour inks with over coating, 256 levels per colour (24-bit colour depth)
– Print Modes: Borderless, Bordered, Multiple print (requires Mini Stickers paper, producing eight prints on one piece of paper), ID Photo Print, Movie Print
– Uses KP-36IP print cartridge and paper set retails at approx €20 = 55 cent.
The PictureMate uses an inkjet system with a single cartridge using a seven-ink system. An LCD screen allows options to be viewed though alas, it is monochrome and does not allow reviewing of images, but does have a handy index print function.
Among the larger of the portables, the PictureMate performed extremely well. With arguably the best colour and sharpness of the group tested, it rivals the lab and web service produced prints. A pack of supplies, the PicturePack, comes with an ink cartridge and 100 10 by 15cm sheets. At a RRP of €45 this means an after printer
cost of 45 cent per print. With quality rivalling the labs and web services, this is a serious portable alternative. A card reader and optional Bluetooth give this good versatility too. Extremely quiet, the speed was good compared with the other machines.
Sporting a carrying handle the locks neatly out of the way during printing, the Epson is robust and simple. The print quality, unit price and cost per print price go to make this a very attractive option for home printing.
– USB Ports: One USB 1.1
– Optional Connectivity: Direct Print: PictBridge and USB DIRECT-PRINT supported. Adapter required for Mini SD Card and Memory Stick Duo. Wireless Print: Bluetooth (optional adapter required). Direct Save: To compatible external CD-R and Zip Drives
– Bluetooth: Optional
– Paper Size: 10 by 15cm
– Paper Handling Input 1: 20 sheets
– Memory Device Support: CompactFlash (Type I and II), XD-Picture Card, SmartMedia, SD Memory Card, MultiMediaCard, Magic Gate Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, IBM Microdrive
– Technology: Epson Variable-sized Droplet Technology with Epson Ultra Micro
– Printer Resolution True Vertical: 5760dpi
– Printer Resolution True Horizontal: 1440dpi
– First Page: 114 seconds
Kodak Easyshare Printer Dock 6000
The Printer Dock 6000 shares the dye sublimation method with the Canon. It derives part of its name from a dock that supports various series of Kodak cameras and allows charging and transfer at the same time. Print packs are available providing ink and 40 paper sheets. At a retail price of around €30, it works out at around 75 cent per print after unit cost.
The images are as good as the Canon and uses the same process, but they do not quite come to the level of the Epson PictureMate and consequently do not rival the lab or web service images either. However, the quality is more than good enough for mounting. The protective coating is present too, making fingerprints easy to wipe off and providing moisture resistance too.
The battery capability again means that the 6000 can go anywhere and still do its job though the lack of an LCD screen means no adjustment beyond the camera capabilities. Easy to use, small, portable and versatile, the 6000 can hold it’s own among compacts.
– Printer Type thermal transfer — colour
– Compatibility PC, Mac
– Printer Output 1.5 min/page — photo — 101.6 by 152.4mm
– Media Type Index cards, Max Media Size (Custom) 102 by 152mm
– Card / Label Sizes US 4 by 6 Card (10 xby15 cm)
– Interfaces: USB — four PIN USB Type B
– Battery: Type Nickel Metal Hydride
– Additional: Charges camera batteries when docked.
– Media pack PH40 Cartridge, (Approx €25) and Kodak 8084931 Ultima Picture Paper (Approx €5)
There are lots of options for the digital enthusiast to produce high quality prints of digital images. Traditional photo labs have all developed their services to meet the new demand, but the web-based services and the home options all provide viable alternatives depending on your needs.
For overall value however, when combined with the quality, it is hard to beat the photo labs and Spectra Photo comes out best for the traditional photo lab and for the web services with SpectraPhoto.ie.
Of the compact printers, when all is considered, the Epson PictureMate edges into the lead on quality. However if true portability is required, the Canon or the Kodak offerings provide excellent capability combined with battery freedom.