mac.column.ted: Printing digital photos and Canon's iP6000D [Also: Editing digital photos and Photoshop Elements 3.0]

mac.column.ted: Printing digital photos and Canon's iP6000D [Also: Editing digital photos and Photoshop Elements 3.0]

Ted Landau
December 2004

I've been taking digital photos for several years. And my biggest dilemma has remained the same: what to do with the pictures after I download them to the computer.

Most of my photos remain in my iPhoto collection, unedited and unprinted. Occasionally, I have used iPhoto's print service. It has worked well overall, but there are some downsides: I don't like how long it takes to upload the photos, it takes several days for the pictures to return and -- if a picture does not come out the way I expected -- I have to start the whole process all over again.

The next alternative was to use the kiosk at my local pharmacy. This too was less than ideal. If I wanted to edit the photos on my Mac before printing them, I had to burn them to a CD before I could take them to the store. The alternative was to print directly from my camera's media card; this was more convenient but limited my editing capabilities. In either case, the quality of the photos did not appear as high as the ones I got from the iPhoto service.

This left me with printing them myself, using an inkjet printer. I had an old Epson printer which was well below the quality standards of today's photo printers. Still, I had resisted getting a new one. I was concerned mainly about the cost. The printers themselves are dirt cheap -- but the paper and ink can cost you a fortune (especially if you stick the with supplies that come from the printer vendor, as they encourage you to do). Plus, everyone advises using the printer regularly (some say at least once a day) to prevent the ink cartridges from clogging up. I don't print photos that often. Still, the convenience of being able to instantly get results -- without leaving my home -- ultimately proved too hard to resist. I took the plunge.

I spent several weeks researching printers before selecting one. At first, it was hard to find consistent recommendations. Some places favored HP, others Epson, and still others gave the nod to Canon. However, when I dug a bit deeper, emphasizing Web sites that appeared to be the most knowledgeable, Canon emerged as the clear winner. And the Canon i960 was specifically mentioned as the one to get.

Canon's feature subtraction. As it turned out, by the time I went to make my purchase, Canon had just come out with a new line of printers: the PIXMA line. While the i960 is still available at some Web sites, I decided to go with one of the latest models instead. The PIXMA iP6000D was the one that seemed closest to the prior i960. The PIXMA iP5000 has some advantages over the iP6000D; it's faster and uses smaller-sized droplets -- but it's a 4 color printer and I wanted a 6 color machine. So I got the iP6000D.

First let me say that I am exceedingly pleased with the prints I get from the iP6000D. I am no expert and did not do side-by-side comparisons with output from other printers. But it's hard for me to imagine that picture quality from an inkjet printer could be much better.

Still, I was a bit disturbed to discover -- when I did a closer comparison of the features of the older i960 and the new iP6000D -- that Canon had actually removed several desirable features in the transition! In many ways the iP6000D turns out to be a step backwards:

Where the i960 has 512 nozzles per color, the iP6000D has only 256. Where the i960 uses all 2 picoliter sized droplets, the iP6000D uses 2 and 5 picoliters. Where the i960 prints out a 4 x 6 photo in 37 seconds, the iP6000D takes twice as long. Where the i960 has USB 2.0 support, the iP6000D supports only the slower original USB protocol. The new printer also has a smaller RAM buffer than the older model. Yet the price of each is about the same.

To compensate for all of these subtractions, the iP6000D does include several features not found in the i960. Although if you do all your printing from your Mac, you will rarely use them:

For starters, it includes a 2.5" color LCD screen. The screen provides access to most of the printer's options, from checking the ink supply to cleaning the head. The screen, combined with slots for directly inserting most types of camera media cards, also lets you load, select, edit, and print photos directly from a card -- bypassing the need to use a computer at all. Of course, both the i960 and the iP6000D support the ability to connect a digital camera directly to the printer (if your camera supports PictBridge), which accomplishes a similar goal. Still, the card option is great if you want to print and minimally edit photos in a hurry. The iP6000D also includes infrared support, which allows you to print photos directly from cell phones with cameras. Finally, the iP6000D employs Canon's new PIXMA technology, which Canon claims improves print quality, although whether that is just hype I cannot say.

What is perhaps the biggest surprise is that the U.S. version of the Canon iP6000D is missing a key feature included in the exact same model as sold in most other countries: direct to CD printing (see this Canon U.K. page for proof)! The tray to accommodate CDs exists even on the U.S. model; it just doesn't function. Sources tell me that the feature was removed from the U.S. machines due to an ongoing patent dispute. Will it be possible to activate the feature on the current U.S. printers (perhaps by some firmware upgrade) if the patent hassle is resolved? Canon is not saying; but I suspect not.

Bottom line: When I block all of these model comparisons from my mind, and just focus on enjoying the printer, I am more than pleased with my choice. It is already clear that this is now my preferred method of printing photos. Paper and ink are expensive, but you can save a lot by looking for discounts on paper (and going with Epson paper instead of Canon). Saving on ink without sacrificing quality is harder; for now I am sticking with Canon.

And now, on a related topic....

Editing digital photos: Photoshop Elements 3.0

Until recently, if you wanted to edit photos on your Mac, your two main choices were iPhoto or Photoshop. iPhoto wins on price but is woefully lacking in features. Photoshop has more features that you can imagine, but comes with a steep learning curve and an even steeper price. True, there are some other intermediate level programs (as a search on will reveal); but none have emerged as a consensus winner.

Coming to the rescue here is Adobe's Photoshop Elements 3.0. Reasonably priced at under $100, it's impressively stocked with features yet delightfully easy to use.

If your needs are fairly routine and you don't want to be bothered exploring all that Elements can do, stick with Elements' Quick Fix mode. This mode features a collection of auto-fixes, together with a few manual adjustments for things like brightness and contrast. It offers much more than you can do with iPhoto, but is almost as easy to use.

When Quick Fix is not sufficient, switch to the Standard Edit mode. At first, you'll think you are staring at a full version of Photoshop. There are some high-end features missing. But for the typical home user, it as all that you could ever want - including a full array of filters, multiple layers, and the magic wand tool. Elements also provides context-sensitive lists of "Learn more about" topics that offer mini-tutorials on its varied capabilities.

Also cool is Elements' file browser. From here, you can navigate to all the photos on your drive, even before opening them. You can even manipulate the files from here, performing such actions as sorting, batch renames, and photomerge.

If you've gotten frustrated with the limitations of iPhoto, give Photoshop Elements a serious look. You won't be disappointed.

This is the latest in a series of monthly mac.column.ted articles by Ted Landau. To see a list of previous columns, click here. To send comments regarding this column directly to Ted, click here. To get Ted's latest book, Mac OS X Help Line, click here.

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