Canon Pixma Pro9000
When most people talk about printers, they talk about them in terms of printing documents and Web pages, but with more and more high-resolution cameras around, it's becoming more common for people to print large photos at home. If you want those big prints to look nice, that means buying a medium-format printer, such as Canon's Pixma Pro9000. Though it bears the Pixma Pro moniker, the Pro9000 replaces the Canon i9900, which like this printer, is an eight-ink dye-based printer. If you insist on pigment-based inks, Canon also offers the Pixma Pro 9500, but it costs more and uses a pigment-based ink set.
Compared with the i9900, the Pro9000 is a bit larger, checking in at 26 by 7.6 by 14 inches with all its trays closed. That means you'll need to devote a decent amount of desk space to this printer. Also, if you plan to use the printer's front straight-loading path, you'll need to keep 15.7 inches clear behind the printer, since you need room for the front-loaded paper to extend out the back. Though this can be awkward, some photo buffs prefer to keep some fine-art papers flat instead of feeding them through the normal L-shaped path, and the front-loading path is a welcome addition over the i9900, which didn't offer such a paper path.
While Epson has always had a reputation for having more photo and art paper options than Canon, Canon has bolstered its offerings lately. Compared with the available papers for the similarly priced, but pigment-based, Epson R1800, the Pro9000 can accept a similar number of official Canon papers as that competitor can accept Epson papers. However, while both offer standard choices such as glossy, semigloss, and matte, the selections beyond that are slightly different. For example, Epson offers two sizes of scrapbooking paper, one of which is sized to the scrapbooking standard of 12x12 inches. Canon offers photo stickers and T-shirt transfers (for iron-ons). If you plan to use any out-of-the-ordinary papers, it might behoove you to peruse the offerings of Canon and its competitors at a local camera store, or on their Web sites. If you're looking to print onto CDs or DVDs, you'll have to skip the Pro9000, since it does not offer that feature.
Unlike some less costly inkjets, the Pro9000 doesn't include a built-in card reader. The assumption is that if you're printing at this size, then you'll most likely be printing from a computer. However, Canon does include a front USB port, in addition to the high-speed USB 2.0 port on the back of the printer. The front port lets you print directly from a PictBridge compatible camera or camcorder. Other nice touches include wheels on the back of the printer, to make it easier to position and reposition on your desk, as well as damped tray mechanisms that keep the front and rear trays from slamming open. There's no roll-feed option, so if you're looking to print panoramas, you're stuck cutting down larger pieces of paper, because Canon doesn't offer specific panorama-size papers.
As usual, Canon's print driver is very good. Controls are very straightforward and there's even a clearly marked None option in the color management section, which comes in handy if you want a third-party program, such as Photoshop, to handle color management. There are also a competent set of controls for black-and-white printing. Best of all, the driver provides an option for cleaning only a subset of the nozzles, instead of all the inks at once, though that's an option as well. This should help save ink since cleaning cycles are one way to eat up a lot of ink. To avoid those cleanings, it pays to turn the printer off whenever you're not using it, since the heat from keeping the print heads active can lead to clogs.
Prints from the Canon Pixma Pro9000 look very nice. Colors are vibrant and very accurate with a wide dynamic range and an impressive gamut. Of course that should come as no surprise, since the printer uses separate black, cyan, magenta, yellow, photo cyan, photo magenta, red, and green ink cartridges. The green and red cartridges certainly do help in achieving solid performance in those colors, but the Pro9000 also excels in other areas of the spectrum. For example, I got some very nice deep and dark purples, which often won't even display properly on a monitor.
Possibly the most impressive thing about this printer is its speed. In Standard print quality mode, I was able to make a bordered letter-size print in 1 minute, 7 seconds. Stepping up to High print quality, that time lengthened to 2 minutes, 16 seconds. The Pro9000 turned out High quality borderless letter-size prints in 2 minutes, 39 seconds. Full 13x19-inch borderless prints took 2 minutes, 47 seconds in Standard quality mode and 5 minutes, 13 seconds in High print quality mode.
There's been a lot of talk in recent years about how long inkjet prints last. But the truth is that while dye-based prints, such as those from the Pixma Pro9000, typically get print permanence ratings around 50 years (Wilhelm Imaging Research hasn't finished its testing of the Pro9000 as of the writing of this review), and most pigment-based prints end up with ratings over 100 years, the C-prints that most people remember from the film days would fade well before either dye- or pigment-based inkjet prints. If you don't mind the shorter display life of dye-based prints, or the paper restrictions of the Canon system, then the Canon Pixma Pro9000 is a great choice for a medium-format inkjet printer.