review

Emmett’s

I’m not into Chicago pizza but this review of Emmett’s by Shauna Lyon is why I read The New Yorker (among other reasons).

Pizza has a fierce tradition in New York. Regional styles have long been kept at bay, but the big floppy slice and the Lombardi’s and John’s coal-fired* pies have lately had to compete with a wave of puffball Neapolitan darlings and their topnotch mozzarella. Now there’s a new game in town: Chicago deep dish. Last year, Emmett Burke, who grew up in the Chicago suburb Lake Forest and went to college at Fordham, opened the first New York restaurant to ardently concentrate on the notoriously over-the-top stuffed pizza.

Crowds swarmed. Yelpers judged (“tasted worse than Play-Doh”). Threatened New Yorkers made fun: Jon Stewart dedicated long swear-filled rants on “The Daily Show” to upbraiding Chicago’s “casserole” passing for pizza. Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, sent Stewart a deep-dish pie, which he fed to a dog, who sniffed it and turned away. The extended bit ended in a truce, when Stewart tasted a slice of the Chicago restaurant Lou Malnati’s deep dish on air, and admitted it was delicious. New York pride aside, the reaction to Emmett’s was split: (1) You call this Chicago pizza? and (2) Thank God you have arrived (because Uno franchises do not count).

There’s more but I mean wow, reading a review of a pizza place is fun when Shauna Lyon writes it. Made me laugh out loud. I still have no desire to go to Emmett’s (I like Keste’s) but I sure like reading about it.

Emmett’s

The Ricoh GR is a stealth camera

The Ricoh GR is a seemingly simple, point and shoot camera that packs a big sensor, a sharp lens, excellent ergonomics and plenty of manual controls into a body that looks plain enough to make it easy to mistake it for a much simpler and less capable camera (stealth). I’ve been using it for a while and I can say without question that it is one of the finest, most enjoyable cameras I’ve ever used, bar none. I love this camera.

ricoh_gr_open

Background

I’ve had a lot of cameras over the past ten years including some high end DSLR bodies and a lot of high end lenses. Over time, I got rid of my entire DSLR kit: it was spending too much time in a drawer as I used smaller and lighter cameras more, and it was too heavy. I take most of my pictures on hikes and while I started hiking when I still had my DSLR kit, I never took it along: too heavy, too involved to use quickly, and too expensive to risk an accident in the field. I haven’t had a DSLR for a few years now and except for a few instances I don’t miss it. It seems I’m not alone in this, there is a movement away from DSLRs in my category of photographer: advanced amateur, sometimes called “enthusiast” because we’re willing to spend some money to support our hobby. Luckily, as people have tired of the weight and expense of DSLR kits other types of cameras have come online.

Before I get into it I want to acknowledge the effect smartphones have had on this: there is no doubt that they have all but killed lower end point and shoot cameras for many people: the camera in my iPhone 5S is incredible. However, many of us who have smartphones still want dedicated (I was going to say “real” but thought better) cameras that allow more control and arguably, can record higher quality images. One of the many things people like about taking pictures with a smartphone is that they can immediately share them online and this is a plus (many dedicated cameras are now coming with this) but if you want to process your pictures with a larger screen on a computer and you want the manual controls of a dedicated camera, a smartphone can only get you so far.

These days there are many alternatives to DSLRs for making high quality images but the two most popular categories are:

High end point and shoot cameras, the highest end of which might be the Sony RX1r or the Fuji X100S but the group also includes the Sony RX100 (II), the Nikon Coolpix A, and the Ricoh GR. All of these cameras have excellent sensors and high end lenses that are not interchangeable.

Mirrorless camera systems like the Fuji X-E1/2 and its associated lenses, or the various micro 4/3 camera bodies from Olympus and Panasonic and their associated lenses. And, now Sony has two full-frame mirrorless bodies: the A7 and the A7R with associated lenses. These are all “system” cameras that are smaller, lighter versions of what we had with DSLRs. They have excellent sensors, manual controls and lots of lens possibilities.

Every camera listed here can make images that rival DSLRs of just a few years ago: they all have large, low noise sensors and excellent optics. Each of them could be used in fully automatic mode or in fully manual mode or anything in between. In other words, the high end point and shoot and mirrorless categories are taking a large bite out of the DSLR market just like smartphones are taking a large bite out of the lower end point and shoot market.

I’ve bought and returned or sold and/or rented many of the cameras listed here and while they all worked extremely well, none of them got me quite as excited as the Ricoh GR which is the one I’ve ended up with. The Ricoh GR is one of the best designed, easiest to use, and most capable camera I’ve ever used.

The Ricoh GR is not a great camera for everyone

First let me say that while I think the Ricoh GR is exceptional, it’s not for everyone. It has a fixed (non-zoom) 28mm lens so it’s not a great camera for closeup portraits and while its easy to use and can be used in fully automatic mode, there are other cameras that would be better for pure snap shooting. It’s also not an inexpensive camera: I paid $800 for it although I see that its price has dropped at both B&H and Amazon.

Size and ergonomics

For those of us who use the controls on cameras outside of the shutter button and on/off switch, size matters. If the camera is too small it can make the controls too small and in turn that can make them harder to use and so, they’ll get used less. If the camera is too big we’re back into DSLR territory. I had a Sony RX100 for a while and loved the camera. I also had the second version of the RX100. This camera has an excellent sensor and is very small, so small that for me, the controls were tough to use, especially in winter with thin glove liners on. Don’t get me wrong, the Sony RX100 is one of the best cameras in this class and it has a stellar Zeiss zoom lens on it but I found its small, flush mounted controls very tough to use in the field.

ricoh_gr_back

For me, a camera needs to be big enough so that I can easily see the labels on the controls without glasses and use them without fumbling with or without thin glove liners on in extreme cold. All DSLRs and no doubt all mirrorless system cameras have big enough controls and the higher end point and shoot cameras like the Fuji X100S and Sony RX1 do as well. The Ricoh GR is a bit smaller and it too has excellent controls, so good in fact that it can be used and adjusted with one (the right) hand making it very popular among street photographers.

Some will look at the size and simple design of this camera and balk at such a high price (understandably) but I see things differently: I’m willing to pay a premium for a camera that comes close to my personal ideal and where the controls fall into the background allowing me to use it without too much confusion about which control does what. I realize that everyone’s learning and operating style’s are different but for me, this camera fits well.

Speed

The Ricoh GR starts up, takes a picture, and shuts down faster than any camera I’ve mentioned here. It is astonishingly fast. One reason for this is that it does not have a zoom lens but there’s more to it than that. A digital camera is really a computer that has to boot up, save a shot to disk/card and do other kinds of things a computer does. The GR just does all of these things blindingly fast so that once you get used to using it and want to change a setting, doing that is faster than almost any other camera. Formatting an SD card takes maybe 2 seconds.

For a nature shooter like me this isn’t as important as it would be to a street shooter and this is one of the reasons the Ricoh GR is so popular among street shooters: it can actually be controlled quickly and easily with one hand.

Large sensor

One of the reasons the Ricoh GR costs as much as it does is because it has a large APS-C sized sensor. The sensor is the part of a digital camera that records the image and its unusual to have such a large sensor in a point and shoot camera.

There is a difference between sensor size and resolution (the number of pixels on a sensor) and the idea that it’s better to have more resolution (measured in megapixels) needs to be combined with sensor size.

Most point and shoot cameras have extremely small sensors which means, cramming 16 or 20 million pixels on them puts the pixels (photo sites) very close together and makes them extremely small. Besides the physical limits on how small a photo site can be, one of the things that happens in the digital photographic process is in low light, the ISO (light sensitivity of the sensor) can be turned up (manually or automatically) and when this happens, the photo sites generate heat. That heat combines with the heat generated by adjacent photo sites and causes an artifact called “noise” in images.

Modern sensors and digital cameras have lots of built-in technology to limit noise or clean it up after the fact but the best way to eliminate noise is to have the right balance of sensor size and resolution so the photo sites aren’t too close together.

All of the cameras I’ve mentioned here have excellent low noise sensors but its unusual to find such sensors in cameras in this class, especially cameras that cost under $1000. This is one of the things that makes the Ricoh GR unique. The similar Nikon Cooloix A still costs over $1000 and it’s been out as long as the Ricoh GR. I had one and returned it liking the Ricoh GR’s controls better.

The other things that comes with the right balance of sensor size and resolution are: better color fidelity, more detail in images, less blown highlights in high contrast images, the ability to crop images without unacceptable loss of resolution, and lastly, the ability to make larger prints.

There are larger sensors in small point and shoot cameras: the Sony RX1 has a full frame sensor in it and having shot with one for a while, I can say that the image quality from that sensor is exceptional. But, the price for that (and the high end Zeiss lens that camera has) is $2700 which puts that camera in a different class than the Ricoh GR.

28mm lens

The Ricoh GR has a 28mm f/2.8 lens that retracts back into the body and is covered when the camera is turned off.

ricoh_gr_closed

Ricoh has produced cameras with 28mm non-zoom lenses before: the GR is the latest camera in a line that’s been around for a while (with smaller sensors). Nikon has now entered this territory with the Coolpix A (also 28mm). But, for many people the idea of a camera in this price range without a zoom lens is a show stopper and this is understandable. It takes time to learn how to “sneaker-zoom” (move your body to frame a shot) and 28mm is a rather wide angle view, not appropriate for all types of photography.

One of the things that many DSLR owners learn over time is that prime lenses (lenses with a single focal length) produce sharper images than zoom lenses. This is a generalization but its worth considering. Producing a zoom lens that’s sharp at all of its focal lengths is a very difficult thing for camera makers to do and because of this, high end zoom lenses are expensive. High end zoom lenses that have large apertures across their zoom range are even more expensive and tend to be heavy (more glass). It’s rare to find a constant aperture zoom lens among point and shoot cameras, most cameras in this category that have zoom lenses have variable aperture lenses. An example is the Sony RX100 which has a zoom lens that is 28mm f/1.8 on the wide end and 100mm f/4.9 on the long end.

A liability of a zoom lens in the point and shoot world is that when framing a picture with the LCD you’re holding the camera at arm’s length and its not easy to keep steady. As you zoom into longer focal lengths you amplify the effects of camera shake: it’s tough to take a sharp picture at 100mm with a point and shoot camera that’s not steadied on a tripod or braced against your face. When I had the RX100 I noticed that I rarely used the zoom, doing most of my shooting at 28mm.

The Fuji X100S and the Sony RX1 have fixed prime lenses as well but they’re both 35mm and for some, this focal length is a nice compromise between 28mm (wide) and 50mm (normal). I’m not sure how I feel about 35mm yet but for the nature photography I do on hikes, I’m finding 28mm perfect. Interestingly, the Ricoh GR has a setting that will crop the angle of view in the camera to 35mm (also resulting in less resolution in the image).

The Ricoh GR lens isn’t all that fast: f/2.8 is a large aperture but f/1.8 or f/2 would be better. For the kinds of photography I do I’ve not found this to be a problem: most of my nature shots are done at f/8 or even smaller apertures as I want the deepest focus and the most detail I can get without using a tripod.

More on ergonomics and controls

The power button is more recessed than the shutter button but not flush mounted so it can be felt. But, it has a green light around it so that it can easily be seen and differentiated from other buttons in the dark. That light can be turned off in settings if it isn’t needed. I leave it on and don’t notice any battery drain because of it. Extremely useful for quickly finding the power button.

IMG_0018

The mode dial has a button lock on it that makes it impossible to turn without releasing the lock. This means that you can’t accidentally move it when slipping the camera into a case only to find out you’re in M mode instead of P when you turn it on again. It also means that in cold weather with gloves on its tough to change the mode dial. Not a problem for me, I’m an AV (aperture priority) kinda guy most of the time.

In Av mode the front dial controls aperture just like on a DSLR. While it may be cool to control aperture on the lens (Leica, Fuji X100S, Sony RX1) it’s easier to do it with one’s finger on this dial. The front dial can control whatever you need it to determined by mode and setup. This is a great feature for a point and shoot camera.

Exposure compensation is controlled with a rocker and is easily changed with the right thumb. This is one control that can get bumped in normal use so one does have to keep an eye on its setting readout on the LCD screen.

ISO, metering, and other often changed controls are extremely easy to get at and change with the thumb toggle. This control takes some getting used to as its quite sensitive but it too can be used with the right thumb very quickly in normal use. I use it regularly with thin gloves on in winter.

Strap attachment points

Most cameras, even compact cameras have loops for a right wrist strap and maybe another attachment point on the top left so one could attach a neck/shoulder strap. Ricoh has those two attachment points and one more on the bottom right so the camera can be carried on its side around one’s neck.

IMG_0014

This is a brilliant piece of ergonomic engineering and I’m using attachment loops from Op/Tech for both a wrist strap or, if I want to switch, a shoulder strap. Brilliant.

I use these products from Op/Tech:

Mini QD Loops on camera
Cam Strap QD wrist strap
Bin/Op Stap QD shoulder strap

IMG_0013

IMG_0015

I can leave two attachment points on the camera and attach a wrist strap or, detach that and attach a shoulder strap that keeps the camera hanging comfortably with the short side up. The wrist (cam) strap from Op/Tech is much more secure than the one that comes from Ricoh.

Batteries and charger

The Ricoh GR comes with a battery and a USB cable and AC adaptor for charging the battery in the camera. Many, including me, don’t like this method although one can use the cable to charge the GR in the car with a USB lighter adaptor like you might have for your iPhone.

I like to carry at least one extra battery and I like an external charger and the one I’ve got is this one: Wasabi Power Battery (2-Pack) and Charger for Ricoh GR.

The Wasabi batteries seem to last as long or longer than the OEM battery that came with the camera and the charger will charge both the Wasabi batteries and the OEM battery. It’s a great deal at $24.99 and a must have for this camera.

Image effects

I do a lot of my shooting in RAW mode (what the sensor records is what I work with in Lightroom) but lately I’ve been experimenting with the Ricoh GR’s built in image effects which only work on JPEG files. I’m getting the best of both worlds by setting the camera up to record both a RAW image and a JPEG for each shot and I’m using various image effects like high contrast black and white on the JPEGs.

One can also set the camera up to just record RAW images but display a high contrast black and white image on the LCD allowing you to compose more easily but use Lightroom to convert the RAW image to high contrast black and white. This will retain more detail as the camera won’t be compressing the image.

Issues

I haven’t figured out how macro mode works yet or, it’s got problems. Autofocus seems to hunt too much in macro mode. One feature that will be great for those who spend a lot of time in macro mode, less great for those who don’t, is that once you enter that mode the camera will stay there even when turned off. Many other point and shoot cameras will default to non-macro mode when turned off and then back on. Again, this isn’t necessarily bad, but if you forget to turn it off, it will be on when you start up the camera again. Because I’ve had problems with it, I stopping using it until I figure out what I’m doing wrong, or what the camera is doing wrong.

My Ricoh GR crashed a few times on me and this gave me great pause. But it seems I had an old and corrupted SD card in it, replacing the card seems to have solved the crash problem. We’ll see going forward.

I’m not ashamed to call myself a point and shoot photographer

What using the Ricoh GR has done for me, besides giving me a lot of excellent images, is hooked me on the high end point and shoot category of camera. I had various point and shoot cameras at the same time I was using a Canon 5D but those (mostly Canon S and G series cameras) never gave me the kind of depth in my images that I got from a DSLR with a decent lens. Now, with bigger sensors and better lenses, this class of camera is good enough for the kind of photography I do.

No doubt aspects of this camera can and maybe will be improved or, other manufacturers will produce cameras in this category that I like as well or better. What worries me is that the real money isn’t in this kind of camera. The real money (for manufacturers) is in system cameras where buying the body and a kit lens is just the start, one might buy many more lenses and attachments over time. While I could get into that again with the current mirrorless line, it doesn’t appeal to me as much as the high end point and shoot category which may or may not be a category the manufacturers want to support over time.

Here’s hoping that they do.

Resources

Here are some resources and sites that will give you some more information about the camera, including some subjective reviews. If you know of others, please post them in comments and I’ll check them out and maybe add them here.

Images at this site taken by a variety of photographers (including me) with the Ricoh GR: Images at this site tagged “Ricoh GR”

Ricoh GR review at Steve Huff (Watch Steve’s video review to get a sense of how the camera works and looks in hand)
Ricoh GR Review at DP Review
Ricoh GR review at Imaging Resource
Ricoh GR review at Pocket Lint
Informal Ricoh GR Review: Discussion with 3 photographers
Flickr: Ricoh GR Digital (group)

Photographers I follow who shoot with the Ricoh GR

Gary Sharp
Helena Normark
Craig Atkinson
ledesma Photography (note all the links on his page)
Wouter Brandsma
Positively Fourth

Sony DSC-RX1 Review

Sony DSC-RX1 Review

James Duncan Davidson has put together an excellent review of the Sony RX1. Coincidentally, I’ve rented one for a week and have it in my possession right now and I can say without hesitation that his review is extremely worthwhile to read if you have any interest in this camera (which I do although with hesitation).

I’ve been using a Sony RX100 (smaller Sony 1″ sensor point and shoot) for a while now and I can say without a doubt that the image quality coming out of it has blown my mind. None of my various Canon S and G cameras come close to it. The RX1’s bigger sensor and extremely high end lens go much further in making incredible images. I’ve only shot a few so far on this trip but I can see already that the quality is there.

For me, the question will be whether I can live with a fixed 35mm lens. That’s it. The price doesn’t scare me off because I know what a full frame DSLR and high end 35mm prime lens cost (more) and I really like the size of this camera.

James is an excellent photographer with any camera but his images with the RX1 really shine and are a great example of what’s possible.

Update 1: Another very positive RX1 review by Andrew Kim.

Update 2: DP Review’s Sony RX1 review.

Update 3: Imaging Resource Sony RX1 review.

Canon PowerShot S100

Looks like Canon is about to come out with a new compact point and shoot which will replace the S95 which replaced the S90: Canon S100: The New Pocket Powerhouse Point-and-Shoot.

Here’s Canon’s “official” page on it: PowerShot S100.

Here’s DP Review’s Canon Powershot S100 Preview.

As yet we’ve only been able to handle an early pre-production S100 briefly, but initial impressions are positive enough. It’s as fast and responsive as we’d expect from a Canon Powershot, and the handgrip, despite its minimal size, goes some way to addressing one of the criticisms of its predecessor. The rearranged control layout means you can now initiate movie recording in any exposure mode, without sacrificing any particularly important external control over other functions.

Of course everything will depend on the image quality obtained from the new lens and sensor, and as yet we simply can’t comment on that in any sensible way. Canon is making some pretty confident claims in this regard, calling the S100 the best Powershot yet with 1/4 of the S95’s image noise at ISO 1600 (in its JPEG output, of course). So we’re very much looking forward to getting our hands on a finalized camera to see how this works out in practice – naturally we’ll bring you sample images as soon as we possibly can.

The most important updates for me are:

– Canon CMOS sensor (S90 and S95 use CCD)
– Slightly higher resolution (12 MP vs 10 for S90 and 95)
– Better ISO range: 80-6400
– New image processor (Digic V)
– 24-120mm, F2.0-5.9, (S90 and S95 have 28mm on the wide end)

Looks like they’ve moved the ring function button from top deck to the back which is great. I hit it by mistake on the S95 from time to time when turning the camera on and off. Nice improvement.

There are more new features as well but given the way I used my S90 and now use my S95 the best new feature for me is the 24mm end of the zoom lens. This will make landscape and other types of photography much more interesting from this camera. And, the fact that Canon has kept the aperture at f/2 even at 24mm is a wonderful thing. Of course, 24mm may introduce distortion where 28mm did not. Time will tell.

I’ve enjoyed these small cameras tremendously for travel and even though I’m using my iPhone quite a bit there’s nothing like a “real” camera with exposure controls and a decent sensor and lens for making better images.

This camera is no Fuji X100 but given the new sensor it will be interesting to see if it gives potential X100 buyers pause. Not that there’s not room for both of these cameras, there is, and I could easily see having both myself.

Fuji X100 camera

A few years ago I had a revelation: carrying a big DSLR kit on a hike doesn’t work for me. It’s a lot of extra weight, dealing with setting up shots is rude to other hikers with me who just want to hike and not stop every few minutes, and the kinds of images I take on hikes are more snapshot documentation of the experience than fine art photography.

Once I made this distinction I was free to do two things:

1. Not worry so much about weight and bulk in my DSLR because it’s not a camera rig I’m going to be walking long distances with.

2. Buy and carry a point and shoot camera on hikes and be happy with it. I’ve since been using a Canon PowerShot S90 and have been very happy with it. My hiking partner Dave uses a Canon PowerShot G11 and he too is happy with it. The images we get aren’t spectacular but they’re quite good for cameras like these.

My friend Dale has been looking for a camera to take on hikes that’s smaller and lighter than a DSLR but has a bigger sensor than than the G11/G12 or S90/S95. For a while he was interested in the Panasonic GF2, a micro four thirds camera that has interchangeable lenses and a bigger sensor than a typical point and shoot but no viewfinder. For the last few months he’s been interested in a relatively new camera that’s become quite popular: the Fuji FinePix X100.

x100

This camera is a bit larger than a Canon G11, has a fixed single focal length lens (very sharp and fast at f/2) and is built to mimic a Leica rangefinder camera. It has an excellent viewfinder but the most important thing about it for Dale and many others is that it has an outstanding image sensor which allows it to shoot at higher ISO than point and shoot cameras and the sensor’s pixels are larger than a point and shoot camera’s so image quality is superior.

This camera isn’t for everyone and even those who bought early and love it have lists of things they wish Fuji would improve on it but the images it takes are outstanding and for many, the way the camera’s exposure controls work is a huge hit. Read the reviews at Amazon and B&H (below) for a few of the issues people are finding with it (even though they love it).

This camera isn’t inexpensive at about $1200 and because its popular it’s tough to buy even if you want to spend the money. For those curious about it I’ve put together some resources below that might help.

If Dale bites on it he’ll no doubt post about it as well as post images. Stay tuned on that. I’m in no rush for a camera like this although it does make me think about what I might take on a sightseeing trip to Europe where I don’t want the bulk of a DSLR but do want better images than my S90 can produce. This just might be the ideal travel camera and taking the X100 and the S90 as a backup is still less bulk than even a small DSLR. Interesting…

Fujifilm FinePix X100 at Fuji
FinePix X100 at Fuji
Fuji FinePix X100 manual (PDF)
Fuji FinePix X100 Brochure (PDF)

Buy or Rent an X100
Fujifilm Finepix X100 Digital Camera at B&H Photo (read reviews)
Fujifilm X100 at Amazon (read reviews)
Fuji X100 at Lensrentals

X100 Reviews
Fujifilm FinePix X100 In-Depth Review at DPReview
Camera Test: Fujifilm FinePix X100 at Popular Photography
Fujifilm FinePix X100 Review at Photography Blog
Fujifilm FinePix X100 Review at Luminous Landscape
Mike Mander’s review of the Fujifilm FinePix X100

X100 on flickr and 500px
I take discussions of gear on flickr with a grain of salt so be aware going in that all kinds of people are using this camera on flickr. If you dig you can find some interesting images made with this camera taken by outstanding photographers.
Finepix X100 flickr group
Fuji X100 flickr group
Fuji X100 Enthusiasts flickr group
flickr photographer Nokton, X100 set
flickr photographer Ryo, X100 tags
flickr photographer Staca, X100 tags
All flickr images taged “fujifilmfinepixx100”
Search for “X100” on 500px (some outstanding images in there)

Epson Stylus Pro 3880 first impressions

I’ve been thinking about upgrading the printing end of my workflow for years but I’ve had such great results with my older Canon Pixma Pro 9000 printers that I didn’t want to mess with a good thing.

I find it interesting that many of my online photographer friends don’t print their work or if they do they outsource printing to a lab. I find the printmaking end of photography just as interesting and enjoyable (and technical) as the picture taking end and getting a handle on this part of the photographic process is useful, even in this world of online sharing of photographs. Yes, in theory one could be a successful professional photographer without ever making a print: licensing, micro stock, etc. but there’s something about making objects, not just files, that’s appealing, at least it is to me.

So, with that in mind, I recently bought an Epson Stylus Pro 3880 Large-Format Inkjet Printer for a few reasons:

1. Pigment based inks and their improved archival characteristics. In theory, given archival paper and a good ink-paper mix and archival framing materials a print made with this new printer can last 200 years compared with the 100 years the (Chromalife 100) dye inks the Canon Pixma Pro 9000 uses.

2. Larger prints: My Canon Pixma Pro 9000 can handle 13″ wide paper (13″x19″), the Epson 3880 can handle 17″ wide paper (17″x22″).

3. More resolution (dots) and wider color gamut from a better print head.

4. Larger ink tanks should mean cheaper printing (I have yet to calculate this but others have and hopefully it will be the case).

epson_3880_printer

First, let me say that this is a much bigger printer than the Pro 9000: it’s wider, weighs more, and is built quite solidly. While there are aspects of its physical design that I find less than perfect, it’s a mechanical upgrade from the older printer: this is a serious tool, probably the lowest end of the high end “professional” ink jet printers. Once out of the box one person can handle it but in the box I needed my wife to help me get it up the stairs to the office.

Setup

Setting up the printer was easy although it was loaded with packing tape as this iPhone photo shows.

Tape from a new Epson 3880

The CD that comes with the printer containing the Epson driver and paper profiles had an installer that wanted to run Rosetta to do the install (an emulator for earlier Macintosh processors). This did not make me feel great about what I’d just bought and its compatibility with my system. Given the number of professional photographers who use Macs and Epson printers this surprised me but these days it’s possible to buy things like this that have been in the pipeline long enough so the software will need updating once set up. Apple certainly sells computers that need an immediate software update once they’re set up. So, I went online to the Epson site looking for answers.

Epson Stylus Pro 3880

Going to the sidebar’s pulldown menu: Get Drivers and Support (terrible web design) I come to this page:

Support for Epson Stylus Pro 3880 Ink Jet Printer

Given that I had no driver installed to update, I opted to download Printer Driver v6.60 which installs a printer driver with version number 6.5. Odd don’t you think? Make note those those of you who know how Macintosh software has been installed over the years, Epson is using InstallerVice which is an older installing technology.

After the driver was installed I connected the computer and printer with a USB cable and chose the printer to see what options the driver had built in. Everything seemed to work fine software-wise so I went on to the next step.

I ran Lightroom and decided to make a test print of one of the pieces I’m working on for an upcoming show and which I have many Canon Pixma Pro 9000 test prints of for comparison. Epson gives you some sheets of what they call Premium Luster but I wanted to print on the same paper I’d been printing on on the Canon printer, Hahnemuhle Photo Rag, a 100% cotton rag paper that has a nice feel and which I’ve been using successfully for many years.

Profiling profiles

I went up to the Hahnemuhl web site and found a profile for the 3880 and their Photo Rag paper and downloaded it and dropped it into the folder: richard/library/ColorSync/Profiles where my other self-installed paper profiles live.

For those who simply hit print from any program with any paper installed, then wonder why the color isn’t quite right or is way off, one piece of the equation that is worth looking into is paper profiles. Each high quality paper has a set of profiles, usually made by the paper manufacturer to help each printer print for the particular characteristics of the paper. Each of Canon’s various papers they sell under their brand has a profile and when you install the driver for the Pixma Pro 9000 all of the standard Canon profiles get installed along with it. The names of the profiles correspond to the names of the papers so choosing the correct profile from Lightroom, Aperture, iPhoto, and in later systems from Pages and other software is easy. Just learning about and controlling this piece of color management in printing is the difference between frustration and joy in fine art printing.

So, I had experience not only with making prints that looked close to what I saw on my computer’s screen but I also had experience installing profiles for Canon’s printer that come from paper vendors like Moab, Red River, and Hahnemuhl.

After downloading the Hahnemuhl Photo Rag profile but before I printed, I decided to download some Epson profiles for their various papers that did not come with the generic bunch installed with the driver. I went to this page:

ICC Profile Downloads for the 3880

Note that there are two versions of each profile, one for Windows, one for the Macintosh. Why is this? Because instead of just giving you the ICC profile (OS agnostic) to drop into your user/library/ColorSync/Profiles folder, they package them in an OS specific installer which (hopefully) installs them in the right place. Not only does this suck because it takes the user out of the loop, but it sucks because said installer is ancient and as I found out later, messed up my profiles.

All of this downloading and installing just didn’t feel right to me. I don’t like it when installers spray files into my system and don’t tell me what’s going where. My experience with ICC profiles is I download them from the web and they might come with a pdf explaining printer settings for best results, and giving me a place to put them (usually in the aforementioned user/library/ColorSync/Profiles folder.

I put my suspicions aside and decided to make some prints. I have 8.5″x11″ paper from Epson, Canon, Hahnemuhl, Moab, Red River and others so I had enough paper to do some serious experimenting with.

I connected a second USB cable to the Canon Pixma Pro 9000 and printed some tests on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag (using the Canon profile for that paper).

I then used Page Setup and chose The Epson 3880 and the Hahnemuhl Photo Rag profile for that printer, put a piece of paper in the printer and printed.

I must say, the 3880 has a higher quality sheet feeder than the older Pixma Pro 9000 and it grabbed the paper and did its thing.

I took one look at the print and my heart sank: it was so far off the mark it wasn’t useable as wrapping paper.

I went back through my settings and changed a few things and printed again. Same thing, way off the mark.

Twenty sheets of $1 paper later and I’d made no progress and was frustrated.

I decided to print some of the paper that came with the Epson printer, Premium Luster and noted that in order to do this test the inks had to swap from Matte Black to Photo Black. This is a known piece of the process of having multiple types of black ink in the printer and is far better than older Epsons where one had to swap cartridges each time one switched from glossy/luster paper to matte paper. I wasn’t concerned about this because I print mostly on matte paper but a bit of ink is still used in the swap so I did not want to do it often in my now flailing looking for an answer to my question about the crappy prints.

The swap finished and I printed the same image on the Luster paper and it too sucked.

This was not good and I emailed my friends Karin and Brad who have the older version of the printer, the 3800 to ask them to weigh in. I also scoured the web (as did Karin) and we came up with this single piece that gave me hope that this was not a user problem on my part:

Solving Recent Profiling Issues With Apple Computers Epson Printers and Photoshop

I don’t use Photoshop but there are hints in the post that let me know that Epson has issues playing nice with other software, especially later versions of Mac OS. I read the piece and many like it and put it to rest for a few days.

ColorSync Utility to the rescue

On returning to the problem I decided to run a utility which comes with Macs and is in the Utilities folder: ColorSync Utility. To be honest, I’d never run it before. I don’t make my own profiles and don’t know much about color management more than you’re reading here, but I thought it might have some diagnostic feature like Disk Utility and I was in luck.

ColorSync Utility has a feature called Profile First Aid which scans all installed profiles and gives feedback on whether they’re installed and formatted correctly for use on your computer. I ran it and lo and behold the Epson profiles were damaged. I used ColorSync Profile to repair them (it took a few tries) and when they came back clean I quit and ran the print test again.

Amazingly, the Hahnemuhl printed perfectly, looked spectacular and I was happy. I tried each of my papers and then tried the Epson papers and they all printed perfectly.

Then, to attempt to verify the problem, I went back up to the Epson web site and re-downloaded one of their profiles that needed installation with InstallerVice. I re-installed it and then ran ColorSync Utility to see if it had broken things and it had. I repaired things again and was printing fine again.

Bottom line, Epson needs to hire a Macintosh developer who knows how things work to update this process.

I later went up to the Red River Paper site to download profiles for their paper I use, specifically their Polar Matte and Aurora Fine Art White both of which I use to print notecards from Pages. The profiles download fine and were easily installed (by me dragging them) in the user/Library/ColorSync/Profiles folder. Simple. No broken profiles, ColorSync Utility found no problems. Notecards from the new printer are spectacular.

Take a clue Epson. You make a fine printer but you need to get your software chops in order. You owe me two days of time and about $100 worth of paper and ink.

Dye vs pigment inks

For those of you considering something like this I want to warn you, a well processed and printed fine art print from a good printer that uses dye based inks will have a slightly different look from the same image printed with pigment inks.

When I held up my test prints of the same image done with the Canon Pixma Pro 9000 vs. the Epson 3880 many folks (including my wife who sees my work regularly) chose the Pro 9000’s prints. Why? Because dye based inks have a bit more pop, a bit more vibrancy, and while they may not have the color gamut that the pigment inks have, the pop is what some people like in this high contrast/high saturation world of online photography that’s been photochopped to death. I’ve watched high contrast, highly saturated images get pushed up to flickr explore for years. There’s nothing wrong with this but to be fair to a new technology, one ought to reset one’s expectations and consider more than just pop and saturation in a comparison.

Pigment inks may be a very slight bit duller on the surface although when you just look at the pigment print by itself it’s fantastic so this is not a problem, just a point of comparison.

For most people just getting into printing at home, I recommend starting out with something like the Canon Pixma Pro 9000. It makes spectacular prints, is a workhorse, is easy to set up and use and will print up to 13″x19″ paper which is big enough for most people. I have no regrets about getting the Epson 3880 but I doubt many new to printing would want to go through what I just went through getting it up and running in my workflow. If setting it up were my first experience with this stuff I’d sell it and outsource my printing to a lab.

Apple’s iPhone 4: Thoroughly Reviewed

Apple’s iPhone 4: Thoroughly Reviewed

This is a well written review of the new iPhone, everything from ergonomics to the signal strength issue and more. It’s been up on their site for almost a week but it’s taken me a long time to read through the whole thing. If you’re an iPhone 4 owner, this is very useful to read and if you’re considering one, reading this is a must as it answers questions about both The Real Story on iPhone 4’s Antenna as well as does a good comparison on cost of ownership compared with Sprint EVO and HTC Droid.

Ars Technica reviews the iPad

Ars Technica reviews the iPad

Jacqui Cheng and others from the Ars Technica staff have produced not only the most complete and useful review yet, but the review should be bookmarked by any new iPad user as part of the documentation on how to use (and now not to use) the device.

The various embedded video demonstrations of typing using the on-screen keyboard and doing other things are very useful.

Excellent and worth reading if you have any interest at all in this device.