If you have a yen for first-rate, 4x6-inch dye-sublimation prints and own a compatible camera, the Kodak EasyShare Printer Dock Series 3 should appease your hunger. Now compatible with more camera models, it offers one-touch printing from ImageLink-savvy cameras from Kodak (a list of dockable models can be found on Kodak's Web site), Konica Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, Ricoh, and Sanyo. For more generic compatibility, it supports PictBridge, as well as printing via a PC. However, you'll need to set aside a swathe of desktop space 18 inches deep to accommodate this dock's paper path, and expect to pay a relatively steep price: between 42 cents and 62 cents per print.
The Series 3 printer dock also serves as a 3.5-hour battery recharger for Kodak EasyShare cameras. You can connect it to an optional memory-card reader as well as to your PC or Mac via the bundled USB cable for printing snapshots from the Kodak EasyShare software or your image editor.
Installing this printer was not much fun. The dye-sub ribbon cartridge and the 20-sheet paper tray slipped in easily enough, but the EasyShare software and driver-installation program first informed us that the Windows font size we've been using for four years was noncompliant, then continued anyway, before rebooting the computer without asking permission. After all that, the printer didn't show up in the Printers control panel but appeared when we tried to install it manually. On the hardware side, we didn't care for the nearly 8-inch clearance required in front of this otherwise compact (7 by 5 by 3 inches) 32-ounce printer, nor the almost 6 inches of space it commandeered in the back, where exiting prints tended to snag the USB and power cables if the wiring wasn't carefully placed.
Once up and running, though, it was easy to use, mostly because it offers very few options besides number of shots per page. Kodak EasyShare cameras, including the we used for our tests (Kodak offers a bundled package of the two) are furnished with a docking plate for the dock's top panel. The camera's LCD faces you, and it provides picture and print information display. Only four controls are required: a Picture-Size button that cycles among printing one, two, four, or nine photos per sheet; a left/right arrow pad for viewing each photo in the camera (or on the memory card, if you spring for an optional memory card reader); a Print button to activate or cancel the printing process; and an illuminated Transfer button to copy the images to your computer.
You'll need to tag individual pictures for printing in-camera using the Share button on Kodak EasyShare One, Z-series, CX/DX6000/7000, and LS600/700 models. The only other option the Series 3 dock provides is number of prints. Tagging is especially important if you use the Kodak card reader (only Kodak readers are supported); if you forget to tag photos, you'll be able to print merely the most recent picture on the card. Should you need to crop or adjust photos, you'll do that in your camera or on your computer. The EasyShare software can rotate; zoom; crop; change brightness or contrast; apply effects such as fish-eye, posterizing, or sepia looks; and remove red-eye.
Each paper/dye ribbon pack includes the ink and paper required to print 40 or 80 4x6-inch prints, but costs are on the high side. A 40-count pack sells for $25, or 62 cents per print, while the more economical 80-count pack at $45 brings the cost down to 56 cents per snapshot--or 42 cents, if you can find it at the lowest price we found, about $33. Other photo printers, such as the Epson PictureMate Deluxe Viewer Edition, bring the cost down to 29 cents per picture.
Prints emerge relatively speedily, taking between 1.5 and 1.7 minutes per photo. The Series 3 dock's photos displayed typical dye-transfer smoothness, broad tonal scale, and rich colors. There was lots of detail in highlights and shadows, but diagonal lines did showed stair-stepping. The composite blacks (formed by combining the cyan, magenta, and yellow colors; there is no black panel in the dye-transfer ribbon) were dense and neutral. Flesh tones were pleasing, and we detected the faintest of blue casts in the whites of some prints. The photos are rated to last about 26 years, according to Wilhelm Imaging Research's testing, compared to 41 years and upward for popular inkjet models; cut that estimate way down if you plan to simply slap the prints on your refrigerator.
If you're willing to exchange print longevity, desk space, and thrift for simplicity and a pretty picture, then the Printer Dock S3 is one of the better choices. If not, we suggest you check out one of the competing models from Canon, Epson, or HP.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Minutes per photo|