Test Drive: Canon S820D Photo Printer

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted May 28, 2002
By John P. Mello Jr.

While more and more shutterbugs are switching from old-fashioned film to digital photography, they're finding it difficult to desert one part of the legacy technology they're leaving: hard copies of their images. These new lambs to the digital fold are looking for ways to create prints as quickly as their new cameras can capture images. Canon USA says they're looking for the new Canon S820D photo printer.

Not only is this color inkjet (or, to use Canon's preferred phrase, bubble jet) printer fast - it can produce a 4 by 6-inch color print in one minute, or an 8 by 10-inch picture in two minutes - but its handiwork is impressively colorful, crisp, and suitable for framing. And you don't even need a computer to use it: You can insert and select images for printing from your digital camera's flash memory card, or even connect certain Canon digital cameras directly to the printer.

Boasting a resolution of 2,400 by 1,200 pixels and a price of $399 (an S820 model without the direct-connect and memory-slot features is $299), the printer works with both PCs and Macs and is easy to install. However, you'll need to buy a USB cable beforehand because Canon doesn't include one in the box.

Making prints from a PC with the S820D is as easy as knocking on wood in a forest. After you open an image in your favorite application and give the Print command, Canon's driver pops up a dialog box with six tabs.

The main tab allows you to select a media type - including plain paper, glossy photo stock, transparencies, or T-shirt transfers - and paper source, as well as selecting print quality (high, standard, draft, or custom) and automatic or manual color adjustment for the photo. A grayscale option turns a color image into a perfect black-and-white photo, though when I tried printing a black-and-white photo with the grayscale option the result was a negative image.

The page setup tab lets you choose a paper size, portrait or landscape orientation, and printing type - whether you want to fit an image to a page or create photo-lab-style borderless prints. If you're printing a text document, you can create booklets or print multiple pages of a document on each sheet.

Stamp/background and special effects tabs let you place watermark text or a background image behind the pages of a document, or manipulate your photo's appearance by giving it an old-fashioned sepia look or making background colors more vivid while maintaining natural skin tones. A photo optimization feature tries to compensate for color shifts or under- or overexposure in digital snapshots.

If you have a group of settings that you use frequency, you can save them as a profile for easy access from another tab. Finally, a maintenance tab gives you access to tools for keeping the S820D healthy - cleaning or aligning the printhead, or checking the status of the Canon's ink cartridges so you know when one's about to run dry on you.

Unlike most inkjets, which make do with two ink cartridges or tanks, the S820D has six - for black, cyan, magenta, yellow, photo cyan, and photo magenta ink. This is a plus from both maintenance and financial standpoints, since when one primary color dries up in a conventional system, you have to throw away the whole cartridge - tossing a tank that's run out of yellow, for instance, even if there's plenty of cyan and magenta ink left.

With the Canon, you simply replace the individual cartridge, spending only $12 instead of $30 or more. The company estimates that it costs two cents to print a page of black text, or 13 cents to produce a color page.

Not only does the printer produce photos in a hurry, but it's a speedy alternative for everyday work. A two-page Adobe Acrobat file mixing text and color graphics, which took 7 minutes and 15 seconds on my Hewlett-Packard DeskJet 722C inkjet, took just 4 minutes and 40 seconds on the S820D. A four-page Microsoft Word document that took 3 minutes and 26 seconds on the HP was finished in only 2 minutes and 7 seconds on the Canon.

Generally, photos printed on the S820D were of exceptional quality, even rivaling film prints when using inkjet photo paper. To the naked eye, colors were true and lines in images were sharp and smooth, although some pixelation or jaggedness was evident under a 4X photographic loupe. That's more the images' fault than the Canon's -- the pixelation almost disappeared in prints from film negatives scanned at 600 dpi or higher.

Don't Bother To Turn On the PC
To be sure, you can get good speed and print quality while paying a lot less than $399 for an inkjet these days, but what sets the S820D apart from those general-purpose printers is its emphasis on digital photography - both its six-color capability and support for borderless prints and its ability to print photos directly from flash media or Canon's PowerShot S30 and S40 cameras.

The latter option (limited to 1,200 by 1,200 dpi output) is handled by a special direct-connect port with supplied cable. Users of other cameras can rely on the printer's PC Card slot, which reads flash memory cards placed in an appropriate adapter; a CompactFlash adapter is included in the box, and a SmartMedia adapter is available separately.

Printing from camera or card is controlled via a monochrome LCD on top of the unit. This control panel lets you pick a range of photos to be printed; the type and size of the paper you're using; the number of images you want to appear on each sheet; and whether you want to add image enhancement or a date stamp.

The LCD menu also offers shortcuts to print a single image, all the images on the memory card, or a contact sheet with thumbnails of all the images on the card or in the PowerShot. If you want to preview an image before you do any printing, you can attach an optional 1.5-inch, active-matrix color LCD viewer, priced at $99.

In addition to Windows 98/Me/2000/XP and Mac OS drivers, Canon bundles several handy software programs for image aficionados. ZoomBrowser EX helps you navigate, view, and organize images on your PC, while PhotoRecord lets you turn them into photo albums. PhotoStitch, true to its name, allows you to stitch images together for panorama shots.

Again, this photo printer is too pricey for general office work. But if you're looking for an inkjet that's fast and that will produce gorgeous prints of your digital images, the Canon S820D will meet your needs without breaking a sweat.

Canon S820D Photo Printer - $399
Canon USA Inc.

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