The Canon Pixma MP960 replaces last year's Pixma MP950, and at $400, it is Canon's top-of-the-line photo all-in-one. For the hefty price tag, you get a multifunction that offers fast print speeds and a wealth of features including a built-in duplexer and a negative/slide scanner. If you're an amateur photo hobbyist with high-volume printing needs and can afford this price range, the MP960 will prove its worth. You might also consider the Canon Pixma MP600; for $200 less it provides faster photo prints and great print quality but leaves off the duplexer and offers even worse scan quality. We give the MP960's photos a slight edge over the MP600 (and competing all-in-ones from other vendors), which is to be expected with its better ink system. The similarly priced HP Photosmart C7180 all-in-one offers additional features such as wireless networking and fax, but loses out to the Pixma MP950 in print speed and quality.
The color scheme of the Pixma MP960 is the reverse of last year's model's: Its blocky body is silver with black trim. It sits 18.6 inches wide, 16.9 inches deep, and 8.9 inches tall and weighs 26.5 pounds, so make sure you have the desk space for it. The flatbed scanner holds up to A4-size originals, and the lid's hinges extend to accommodate thick originals. Hidden behind the platen protector in the scanner lid is a sleeve that holds as many as 12 photo negatives for scanning. There is a separate sleeve for scanning up to 8 slides at once. Because both sleeves are so big, only one fits behind the platen protector at a time. You'll have to find a safe spot for the other.
The Pixma MP960 offers two input sources: a cassette in the front and an auto sheet feeder in the rear. You can toggle between inputs using the Feed Switch button in the control panel. The front panel folds out to serve as an output tray. Like its predecessor, the Pixma MP960 has a built-in duplexer for automatic double-sided prints, including photo prints (for a photo album, for example).
Two memory card slots let you use most common types of memory cards with the printer, though some card types require an adapter (not included). A PictBridge port lets you print from PictBridge-enabled cameras, but it can also be used with an optional Bluetooth adapter for wireless printing from Bluetooth devices, such as PDAs and phones. The Pixma MP960 also has a built-in IrDA port for wireless printing. Unfortunately, you can't use the PictBridge port to connect USB storage devices, a feature we'd like to see Canon include in future versions of its photo multifunction printers. Other printers, such as the HP Photosmart D7360, allow you to print straight from USB thumbdrives or transfer photos between memory cards and thumbdrives.
Compared to the previous MP950 model, the control panel is the biggest departure on the Pixma MP960. It employs the scrollwheel design seen on Canon's most recent printers, including the Pixma MP810 and the Pixma MP600. The scrollwheel allows you to peruse the menu on the built-in 3.5-inch color LCD, half an inch smaller than the display on the MP950. (The 2006 refresh of the Pixma line seems to include smaller LCDs across the board.) We like this design because it consolidates most of the menu tasks and reduces the number of buttons in the control panel.
The Pixma MP960 uses the same ink system used in the Pixma MP950, a seven-ink system with each color occupying its own tank. We like this system better than the MP600's five-ink system, because the extra inks provide greater color variation. The pigment-based black tank costs $16.25 to replace, while each of the six dye-based inks (black, cyan, magenta, yellow, photo cyan, and photo magenta) costs $14.25 to replace. Canon estimates that a color document costs about 3 cents per page, while 4x6 photos cost about 32 cents. The photo print cost is the highest among Canon printers, but not unreasonably so.
The Canon Pixma MP960 is undeniably designed for home users with a photocentric focus. It's a USB-only printer, though you can network it using a print server. It lacks an automatic document feeder and fax functionality, as well as networking capabilities, though all of these features are more commonly found on office multifunctions. (The exception is the Dell Photo 966, which we consider an office printer in photo printer's clothing.) With its wealth of features, though, the MP960 is a photo hobbyist's playground.
When printing from a memory card, you get tons of features that are standard for Canon all-in-ones. For example, you can print all photos, print only those within a particular date range, or print selected individual photos. Alternately, you can print a photo index of the contents of your card. Again, you can choose to print an index of all the photos or select images by date range. After printing the index, you can bubble in the images you want printed and scan the index to finish the job.
As you print photos, you can make adjustments to the image directly on the printer itself. Using the menu options, you can turn date and file-number printing on/off, opt for red-eye correction, crop and rotate the image, or add an effect such as sepia tone or illustration style, which renders your photo in pen-and-ink style. If you want to tweak the image, you have your choice of Vivid Photo, Photo Optimizer Pro, Noise Reduction, Face Brightener, and Image Optimizer, or you can manually adjust individual components, such as brightness, contrast, and color hue. We saw greater differences in pictures in which we adjusted components such as brightness and contrast than when we used broader adjusters, such as Photo Optimizer Pro.