Isn't one of the design mantras of technology that things keep on getting smaller? There's no shortage of tiny and thin tech products, from microscopic phones to super-thin music players, speakers that can fit into your pocket, and any number of gadgets that can be quickly lost behind the sofa. Clearly, there's a market for technology to find all this tiny technology once it's been lost, but I digress. Canon clearly didn't get the memo about all good technology being small technology when it came time to design the i9950 printer.
The word that more closely describes the i9950 is "gargantuan". Or perhaps "monolithic". Then again, as a photo printer capable of printing photos at up to A3 sizes, there's not much that can be done to make the i9950 that much smaller. Just be prepared to clear some serious desk space when you're installing it; with dimensions of 577 x 334 x 182 mm and a solid carrying weight of around 9.5kg, this is a serious chunk of printer. For such a large printer, it's perhaps surprising that it's very limited when it comes to on-board controls; there's no LCD for picture viewing or complicated button arrays for queuing up print jobs; just a power button and a resume button, both suitably huge, make up the entirety of the i9950's controls.
Although it's pitched primarily at the professional photography crowd, the i9950 shares Canon's usual simple approach to setup, which is based around a single CD software install, followed by the installation of no less than eight photo ink tanks -- Photo Magenta, Red, Black, Green, Photo Cyan, Cyan, Magenta and Yellow -- which sit above the print head itself, and then the connection of the i9950 to your PC or Mac. The unit's support trays fold out quite easily, and a tray is provided for CD/DVD printing onto compatible media.
Forget about printing out spreadsheets, web pages or invoices with the i9950; this is a dedicated photo printer, and while it'll print whatever you tell it, you're wasting your time and money if you're pumping anything through it that isn't photographic in nature. Amusingly, though, Canon still provides page rates for the i9950 using standard benchmarks, and if you care, they claim up to 16ppm in black and 12ppm in colour. Once again, though, this is a photo printer, so those specifications are fundamentally useless unless you're masochistic.
Canon rates the i9950 as supporting a top resolution of 4800 x 2400dpi with a droplet size of only 2 picolitres using Canon's MicroFine Droplet Technology. The claim that Canon makes with the i9950 is that the two additional green and red inks have high saturation and contrast rates, leading to brighter and clearer photographs; as this is a product aimed more at the professional end of the market you'll be able to work out if that suits your photographic style better than competing photo printer products.
Page sizes are supported from standard 4x6" up to A3, which should cover just about anybody's photographic needs. The included software, which can either be installed as individual components or with the click of one simple onscreen icon includes ZoomBrowser EX (Win 98/Me/2000/XP), PhotoRecord (Win 98/Me/2000/XP), Easy-WebPrint (Win 98/Me/2000/XP), Easy-PrintToolBox (Win 98/Me/2000/XP), PhotoStitch (Win 98/Me/2000/XP/Mac OS 9.x/Mac OS X), Easy-PhotoPrint (Win 98/Me/2000/XP/Mac OS 9.x/Mac OS X), CD-LabelPrint (Win 98/Me/2000/XP/Mac OS X) and ImageBrowser (Mac OS 9.x/Mac OS X). That's a lot of menu bar additions if you grab the whole lot.
While we were somewhat stunned by the i9950's huge desktop footprint, we were even more blown away by the quality of prints that came out of the other end, especially considering the speed at which the i9950 delivers even large photo prints. On average, the i9950 shot out an A3 photo print in just under 4 minutes, although queuing up multiple print runs of the same photo saw this drop to as low as 2 minutes. That's a double-edged sword, however, as the memory strain on your system spooling multiple iterations of the same A3-sized photo can be pretty frightening. Photos produced by the i9950, whatever the size were simply stunning on a variety of media, and there's absolutely nothing to impress new grandparents more than presenting them with an A3-sized photo shot of their new grandson -- take our word for it.
Canon's provided an interesting dichotomy with its selection of software, which is pitched far more at the $99 budget printer style consumer than the i9950's price tag or professional aspirations would otherwise assume. There's not too much wrong with the supplied software -- although we did find that the Easy-PhotoPrint Plus' image correction facility tended to blur some onscreen detail more than we would have liked -- but we can't see too many pro photographers straying too far from their beloved Photoshop for it to be much of a consideration.
The catch with the i9950 (aside from the asking price, which is considerably higher than many other printers) lies in the media costs. A pack of 10 sheets of Canon's A3 paper will set you back around AU$45; while that's considerably cheaper than any online image processor we could find on a per-print basis, you've also got to factor in the ink costs -- and even after only a few A3 test prints we saw the i9950's levels drop quickly. At around AU$25 per ink cartridge -- and remember you've got eight of them to replace, although they are monitored individually and can be replaced individually -- this isn't a printer you'd want to print just casual photos on.
For the professional wanting quick borderless prints in a variety of sizes -- or the amateur who wants their photos to look their very best -- it's hard to criticize the quality or speed of the i9550's output, and for that reason alone it comes highly recommended.