Digigraphica

REVIEW

Epson Stylus Photo 870

Dan Knight - 2001.06.08

The Epson Stylus Photo 870 is my third color inkjet printer. The first was an HP DeskWriter that used either a black ink cartridge or a three-color one - you had to switch cartridges when you switched modes. Color accuracy was nothing to write home about, but it was fine for graphs & charts.

The second was an Apple StyleWriter 4500 (built by HP), which held both cartridges at once. This reduced the use of color ink in dark areas and meant you didn't have to switch cartridges. Color quality was better than the DeskWriter, but still not good enough for photos. And the miserable thing kept going in for service. In disgust, I just put it in the basement and ignored it once I got a laser printer about a year ago.

I rarely need to print in color, but decided that my next color printer would do a good job with photos. That summarizes my experience with the 870 - it does a great job with photos.

Instead of the traditional four-color model (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black), Epson does six-color printing, adding light cyan and light magenta inks to the mix. That combined with up to 1440 dot-per-inch printing means fine tonal gradations even in light areas.

For business graphics, the 870 does a fine job on normal paper, but where it really shows its stuff is on photo grade paper. Epson includes some sheets with the printer; the first picture I printed blew me away.

Background

I've been a photographer since junior high and bought my first 35mm camera around 1973-4. I have had a long string of SLR cameras, usually with a few lenses, a nice flash, and other accessories. I love the ability to view through the lens, crop in the viewfinder, and get sharp prints back from the processor. (When the prints stopped being sharp, I sold everything to buy an autofocus camera - the sharpness came back.)

I've also worked in camera shops, one in high school and another about 12-15 years ago. I know good prints from bad, poor color from good, and quality from mediocrity.

I also got my first digital camera for Christmas in 1999, a compact Canon PowerShot A50. It's a great little camera that really goes through batteries, sometimes pauses overly long when the shutter is pressed, and generally does a very nice job taking pictures.

Digital to Paper

Of course, the whole point of the Stylus Photo 870 is printing those photos. After months of neglecting the printer, it was time to do that. Our second son is on his way to Tampico, Mexico, on a mission trip, and all the kids were told to bring some family photos. Time to go through the PowerShot's JPEGs, pick some out, and print them.

We were all struck at how quick and how quiet the 870 is - much nicer than the old HP & Apple inkjet printers.

The Epson Stylus 870 allowed me to print some of my digital pictures on paper for the first time. I was stunned by the detail. A 1.3 megapixel camera isn't supposed to make a good 8x10, but it certainly did! Just imagine how nicely shots from 2-4 megapixel cameras will look.

So far I've printed three nearly full page images and about 10-12 4x6 prints. I've hardly touched the black ink, but each of the five colors is down by about one-third. That points to about 15-20 full page pictures or 50-75 4x6 prints per color cartridge. With a color cartridge selling for about $18, ink comes to about $1.00 for an 8.5x11, 30-35¢ per 4x6.

Nor is the paper inexpensive. We picked up a pack of 20 4x6 single sheets at the local Office Depot for about $8, or 40¢ per sheet. Mail order it goes for $1-2 less, but then you have to add shipping. Cost per 4x6 works out to somewhere in the vicinity of 60-80¢.

A pack of 20 sheets of 8.5x11 photo paper sells for about $11 mail order, or 55¢ per sheet. That brings the cost of a large print to roughly $1.50 - just twice the cost of a 4x6. (Epson's 100 sheet pack sells for about $40, saving you about 15¢ per print.)

The 870 supports roll paper, which lets you print one snapshot after another, then trim them to size later. I don't find that as convenient as single 4x6 sheets, nor is it less expensive. A 4" wide, 26' long roll of photo paper sells for $15-20. Because the printer leaves some space between images, you should get about 50 4x5 prints or 40 4x6 prints from a roll, for an approximate cost of 35-40¢ per print.

In short, it's cheaper to shoot film and have snapshots developed if all you're after is 4x6 prints, but if you're interested in 8x10 photos, the cost per print is very attractive.

Matte paper is less costly than glossy, and there are several other brands of paper available, including high quality, high cost art paper. You'll probably want to do some research before settling on a paper, since there are many brands and types to choose from.

Summary

The Stylus Photo 870 is a reasonably priced (about US$180) high quality printer. If you don't have a spare USB cable, you will need to buy one - Epson doesn't include one in the box.

If you're interested in making large prints (8x10, 8.5x11, etc.), your cost is competitive with commercial photofinishers. But if you're just interested in printing snapshots, you may be better of sticking with a film camera.

Regardless of cost, you won't be disappointed with output quality from this excellent printer.

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