Steve's Digicams

Olympus P-400
Photo Printer

Posted 12/5/2000
updated 10/7/01

Olympus P-400 Photo Printer

The Olympus P-400 Photo Printer features true photographic output with continuous-tone, 314dpi dye-sublimation printing in 24-bit color. In about 90 seconds it can output an A4-sized (7.64" x 10" maximum) print from any image up to 2400 x 3200 pixels. This is the first dye sub printer capable of creating professional size color prints for less than $5000, it has an MSRP of $999. The price is now down to $799!

Unlike the earlier P-330 printer, the P-400 does not need to be hooked up to a TV set when used standalone due to its builtin monochrome LCD display. This LCD allows you to access the printer's menus and preview pictures.

The P-400 can be used in standalone configuration or it can be hooked up directly to a Windows 95/98 PC via the parallel or a PC or Macintosh through the faster USB port.

Olympus P-400 Photo Printer

In standalone mode pictures may be printed directly from 3.3v SmartMedia cards, PC Type II ATA cards or any other type of flash card that has a PCMCIA adapter (CompactFlash or Memory Stick).

Olympus P-400 Photo Printer

Inkjet printers squirt ink on the surface of the paper, dye sub printers use heat to transfer dyes from a ribbon into the emulsion of the paper. Unlike inkjet prints that fade when exposed to the light, dye sub prints have about the same permanence as chemically-processed photos.

The P-400 uses a 3-pass printing process, the film ribbon contains the three primary colors; yellow, magenta and cyan. There's also a forth pass with a clear overcoat that protects the prints.

Olympus P-400 Photo Printer

This is the P-400's control panel. Using the monochrome LCD you can preview images and access the menus to select printing modes and options.

Printing modes: full size (7.64" x 10"; from 1 up to 16 images per page); card (2 or 4 postcards per page); photo-album (1-6 images per page with background image); index (45-260 images per page)

Olympus P-400 Photo Printer

Click to see an animation of the P-400 menu screens.

Olympus P-400 Photo Printer

Here's the PC/Windows driver options for color adjustment, as you can see there are slider controls for gamma, brightness and contrast values.

Olympus P-400 Photo Printer

It's impossible to show you just how great a P-400 print looks, you have to see it in person. You can examine these prints with an 8x loupe and not see any dots thanks to the dye sub printing process.

Steve's Conclusion

The Olympus P-400 is the first professional size dye sub printer that is truly affordable enough for the average user.   It isn't "cheap" by any means with an MSRP of $999 (now just $799) and an average cost of around $2.50 per 8x10" print. For those that need the permanence of dye sub and the speedy output this is still very reasonably priced. You'd easily pay $3 or more to have an 8x10" print made so I'm sure it will find a home in many digi-portrait studios or out in the field with event photographers.

The P-400 can only be used with the Olympus dye cartridge and special paper so your media choices are quite limited. Each cartridge consists of enough ribbon to print 50 full-size, card, photo-album, or index sheets. The glossy paper has the look and feel of real wet-processed photos and even bears an Olympus water mark on the back. You can put these prints side by side with "real" photo prints and not see any difference except the ones from the P-400 you print yourself in 90 seconds.

Don't let the dots per inch (dpi) specification throw you. Many of today's inkjet photo printers are rated at 720dpi or 1440dpi and yet the P-400 is only 314dpi?  The difference here is the fact that this is a continuous tone printer, it does not spray little droplets of ink in a pattern to create the picture. Because of the vast difference in printing technology you can't compare the two by dpi values alone.

Although I am sure that most users will be connecting this printer to their computer, it can be used completely standalone. The LCD display is low-res (192x192 pixels) and monochrome, but it's readable enough to select pictures and make printer option choices. Print speed suffers greatly in standalone mode, especially when printing multiple images on a single page. Each image must be processed and the printer's CPU is no race horse. I'm sure that even the "print it on the spot" event digi-photographers will want to hook it up to a good laptop computer.

The bottom line ... this is truly a wonderful photo printer. Its image quality is indistiguishable from real, wet-processed photos and it is much faster than comparable photo inkjet printers. The only downside that I could find is that the maximum print size is 7.64 x 10 inches which falls just short of the magic 8 x 10 figure. This is the first and only (as of December 2000) affordable, professional size, dye sublimation printer -- and it is a winner !

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