Epson Stylus Photo 925

The Epson Stylus Photo 925 at $249 (as of Jan 2003) is a very versatile and high quality photo printer for the home or small business user. It functions as both a general purpose text and color graphics printer as well as a high-resolution photo printer. Both the PC Windows and Macintosh operating system platforms are well supported via its USB port. The Photo 925 is capable of generating photo-quality prints with or without a computer. In standalone mode it can print directly from the majority of today's flash memory cards and Microdrives, it can also print directly from certain digital cameras via their USB cable. The Photo 925 supports Epson PRINT Image Matching (P.I.M. and P.I.M. II) as well as the new Exif Print standards. You can visit the Epson PIM site for a complete rundown of its features. In a nutshell, the printer takes the exposure information stored in the header of a P.I.M. image and uses this to make the best possible picture, faithfully reproducing the colors, lighting and shadow detail found in the original scene. Color management has always been a big stumbling block in the workflow of the non-professional photo printer and P.I.M. helps to eliminate this problem. Installation and setup on my Windows XP Pro system was quick and painless. You install the software first and then turn the printer on when prompted. After the printer and port are identified the rest of the driver software is installed. It takes longer to complete the ink cartridge "pump up" primer cycle then it does to install the software. The large monochrome LCD information display keeps you abreast of what's going on at all times. There's a moving "gas gauge" display during the primer cycle to let you know how much longer it is going to take to complete. This information display is incredibly helpful when printing in standalone mode and any time you need to change ink cartridges or perform routine maintenance tasks. I did not need to reference the manual, everything I needed to know was displayed on the LCD for me - very handy. Printing in standalone mode is made easier with the addition of the optional color LCD monitor as you can visually preview your pictures. It lets you browse the images on the flash card and select the one(s) you want to print. It also lets you see a preview of your selected layout and cropping as well as image adjustments. Without the color LCD it's still easy but you need to print an index sheet of your pictures first. The Photo 925 directly reads CompactFlash Type I and II solid-state cards including Microdrives, SmartMedia or Memory Stick cards. It can read Secure Digital and MMC type cards via an optional ZIO! reader plugged into the Ext. I/F USB port on the back. Standalone printing from flash cards is quick and easy using the monochrome LCD and control panel buttons. Insert the card, print an index sheet, select the photo to print, input the photo #, select the desired paper type, size, # of copies and layout - then press the PRINT button. The Photo 925 offers more printing options in standalone mode than any other printer. There's over 20 built-in templates for album pages, photo stickers, index prints, picture packages, photo iron-ons, greeting cards and more. Images can be cropped before printing and there are filters for manual adjustments such as brightness, saturation, contrast and sharpness. PhotoEnhance for automatic image correction and Epson Natural Color for enhancing the greens and blues. Standalone print times using the same 4-megapixel Coolpix 4300 image on a CF memory card. PG=Epson Photo Glossy paper. The timer was started when the PRINT button was pressed and stopped when the print dropped in the output tray.

Standalone printing conclusions - very easy and straight forward operation. You can store two sets of favorite print settings and then quickly recall them with the "1" and "2" custom buttons. When printing 4x6" prints we couldn't really see much quality difference between High and Super High. Super High prints took more than twice as long to print and consumed a lot more ink. The Normal setting produced perfectly good "drug store" quality prints and made them about 30% faster than High. High quality is perfect for the larger 5x7", 8x10" or 8.5x11" prints though. I would not use Normal quality for the larger prints, the High quality setting yields visibly better looking enlargements. Super High quality should only be used with ColorLife or Premium Glossy Photo Paper (in my opinion) but it really sucks up the ink. If this printer is used without a computer it has yet another trick up its sleeve. You can attach an Iomega USB ZIP drive to the Ext. I/F port and copy images from the flash memory cards to the ZIP drive. In the Advanced settings menu is the Backup Menu and this will take care of the file copying process, just follow the prompts. selected digital cameras from Epson, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus and Sony. Useful for those new Olympus C-50 and C-5050 cameras that use the xD-Picture Card flash memory. You plug your camera into the printer using the camera's USB download cable and the printer treats it like a memory card. It reads and counts the files and then they can be printed the same way you print from a flash card. Connected to PC The Photo 925 can only be connected to a computer via USB, it has no parallel port. If you're still running a PC with a parallel printer port it's time to upgrade - most everything is USB now. I use only Windows XP PCs so I cannot comment about Macintosh support, please don't ask. Epson claims that the printer is Macintosh USB compatible with Mac OS 8.5.1 - 9.X, OS X or 10.1. They also say "OS X does not support certain features" -- I have no idea what features they're talking about, sorry. As mentioned already, the software installation under Windows XP Pro was quick and painless, there were no "gotchas" whatsoever and we were up and running in minutes. The driver software has been simplified since the last Epson printer that we reviewed. Gone are the user choices of output dpi (360, 720, 1440, 2880), they've been replaced by Economy, Fine, Photo and Best Photo which makes more sense. Many users may never get beyond the first page of driver options as all you need do is select the proper Media Type (paper) and Mode. Digital camera images can be enhanced by clicking on the PhotoEnhance button or if you really want to diddle with the settings, click on the Custom button. Outdoor "nature" type photos can be enhanced by checking the Epson Natural Color box, this will boost the greens and blues. There's no less than a dozen different Media Types (Plain Paper, 360 dpi Inkjet Paper, Photo Quality Inkjet Paper, Matte Paper - Heavyweight, Photo Paper, Glossy Photo Paper, Premium Glossy Photo Paper, Photo Quality Glossy Film, Inkjet Transparencies, Colorlife Photo Paper, Premium Luster Photo Paper and Premium Semigloss Photo Paper) which adjusts the printer to the characteristics of the selected media. There's an adjustable paper thickness lever on the side to accomodate the really heavyweight fine art papers. The Photo 925 supports roll paper in 4" and 8.3" widths with an adjustable roll holder and a built-in paper cutter assembly. With the 4" paper you can print borderless 4x6" prints faster and cheaper than when using the 4x6" cut sheets. The problem with using roll paper is that the prints retain their "curl" next to forever. This isn't a real problem when making a wall size 8.3 x 44-inch panorama but it's very annoying for the 4 x 6-inch prints you hold in your hand. The cutter is easily adjusted in the driver software and you can choose between "normal" which makes two cuts between prints and wastes a bit of paper or "paper saver" which makes only one cut. Print times when connected to the host PC. To eliminate differences in computer applications or processing throughput we started the timer when the printer fed the paper and stopped the timer when the finished print dropped in the output tray.

Paper types: PG=Photo Glossy, DWM=Matte Double Weight, CL-SG=ColorLife Semi-Glossy, PGPP=Premium Glossy Photo Paper The driver settings for the Epson ColorLife paper do not allow for borderless prints and the print times are longer as it prints much slower when this media is selected.

The bottom line - this is a very good printer for the day-to-day printing tasks as well as producing excellent photo-quality prints. It's not terribly expensive but remember that the cost of special papers and ink cartridges can often add up to more than the price of the printer. This is just a fact of life with inkjet printers -- they don't call HP the "Ink Company" for nothing. I for one am still happy to pay for the priviledge of making my own photo prints at home as I like being in control of the entire process. If you're looking for a versatile printer that's capable of making great photo prints, whether it's plugged into your computer or not, then you should consider the Epson Stylus Photo 925.