Compact photo printers

Introduction

Let’s face it; we’re never going back to the days of shooting in film and then queuing up in Boots or Jessops to collect the prints from our holiday and storing the best in huge albums (and shoving the rest in a shoebox). Now we can take as many photos as we like, limited only by the size of the camera’s memory card. These snapshots can be stored on our Macs, displayed in glorious slideshows on the Mac or a TV, or hosted online to be shared with friends and family across the globe.

Digital photography has made taking photos easy, and while we might be saving time and a few trees in the process does this mean that generations to come will not be able to enjoy looking through fading photo albums from previous generations? What will become the hundreds of thousands of digital photographs collected over the years? Will they be forgotten, or worse, deleted?

It’s great that we have the ability to view our photos every time we switch on our computer but what about when you want to share your snaps with the grandparents, or with friends on a night out? While it’s true that the iPod steps in quite nicely here, it doesn’t match the experience of looking at a 4 x 6in photograph.

At least this is what companies producing compact photo printers hope we think. In this group test we looked at ‘home photo-lab’ solutions from Canon, HP, Epson and Lexmark. All boast that their printers are fully mobile and some even have the option of running on battery power. In truth some of the printers tested are much more mobile than others. For example, Canon’s Selphy CP730 is a fraction of the size of the Epson PictureMate 280, which comes with a convenient carry handle but is a bit on the hefty side.

The biggest surprise is how different a photograph can look depending on which printer produced it. While print quality and clarity is key, the printers on test often excelled in one particular area, for example, the HP produced gorgeous sunsets, Epson’s colour reproduction was the most true to life, Canon was good for green foliage and Lexmark offered very flattering skin tones. The decision of which printer best suits your needs should reflect the genre of photographs you are likely to produce.

Another thing to look out for with home photo printing is the hidden cost. The unit itself might seem like a bargain but the added cost of ink and photographic paper can mean that printing the odd shot costs more than you bargained for. With Boots offering 6 x 4in prints for 18p you may be better off getting back in that queue.

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