Epson Stylus Photo 780(8/14/01 update: Be sure to grab the latest Stylus Photo 780 drivers from the Epson web site, they have added a "Natural Color" option on the main page of the driver that greatly improves the color balance of digicam images.)
Over the last couple of years we've seen the prices continually fall on the photo quality inkjet printers and this year Epson is definitely looking at increasing its market share. The Stylus Photo 780 is every bit as capable as the other Epson photo printers but is now priced at only $99!
My current printer -was- the Stylus Photo 1270 and I've had nothing but Epson photo printers for the last four years. I'm not saying that the Canon and HP photo printers aren't worthy competitors, they are. I'm just personally satisfied with the Epson printers and have always thought that they were just a bit (OK, a lot) ahead of the "other guys" when it came to overall print quality. Epson printers have permanent print heads which are a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand they are inherently better than inexpensive thermal heads that are part of the ink cartridge that you throw away when they run out of ink. On the other hand they are prone to clogging if not used frequently but this has never been a problem for me as I use my Epson photo printer as my "do it all" printer so it gets a daily workout. This is the main reason for the pump-up cycle that all Epson printers go through when first turned on. This makes sure that there is ink in the feed lines and that the print nozzles are clear.
I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the first print come out of the Photo 780, it was every bit as good as the same print from the Photo 1270. This was an apples vs apples comparison as I used the same 720dpi, high speed off and photo-realistic settings on both printers. I used the exact same digicam image from PhotoImpact and simply switched the output between the printers. Both printers produced a bordered 4x6" print in just about the same amount of time, the 780 was faster by about four seconds. I have always liked borderless prints and on the 1270 my options were to use the special Epson photo paper with the tear-off tabs or else get out my trusty roto-trimmer. With the 780 all I needed to do was load it up with regular 4x6" paper and select the "no margins" options and print away.
As I pointed out on page one of this review, the borderless (no margin or full bleed) option effectively doubles the time it takes to print so if you're in a rush to crank out a bunch of prints it isn't exactly the most optimal way to print. Most of us usually have plenty of time so I don't see this as a major drawback, in fact I see the borderless option as one of the more compelling reasons to buy this printer.
Epson is pushing the 2880dpi output resolution as the big selling point of all of its new 2001 photo printers. If you already have an Epson 870, 875DCS or 1270 printer should you run out and buy one of the new ones with the 2880dpi output? In a word - NO, don't bother. Frankly I have been more impressed with photos printed at 1440dpi on Premium Glossy Photo Paper or Kodak's new Utlima Glossy and Satin paper. The 2880dpi prints take twice as long to print, use twice as much ink and when examined at hand's length I think the 1440dpi prints have better shadow detail.
If you're shopping for your first photo printer then by all means jump on the Stylus Photo 780, 890 or 1280 printers -- they're all winners and which one you get depends on your needs. With the current pricing, digicam users can be printing their photos with an investment of only $129. And don't forget that these printers don't just do photos -- they're perfect for text and mixed text and graphics too. I don't own a second printer, my Epson Photo does it all, and does it all in style !