Olympus Camedia P-400 Dye-Sublimation Printer

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Detail from the P-400's front panel. Printer controls are provided via a dial and a system of menu navigation buttons.

Picture selection in the P-400's LCD display.

Olympus Camedia P-400 Dye-Sublimation Printer

7.7 megapixel, 16.7 million color printer

by David Nagel
Executive Producer
[email protected]

If you're a purist in terms of the image quality that comes out of you're printer, you're not going to be able to do better than the Camedia P-400 printer from Olympus for $999. The P-400 is Olympus' latest addition to its printer line, a dye-sublimation model that can handle paper sized up to 8.25" x 11.7".

So what's so great about dye sublimation?

Well, for one thing, it's continuous tone, and continuous tone will always beat dots. For another, this particular model has a 7.7 megapixel resolution. Finally, it has the same color depth as most color monitors—eight bits per pixel per channel, or 24 bits total.

So what's so great about this particular model?

You're not going to find another dye-sub printer at this price with this kind of functionality, especially for digital photographers. And you won't find one this fast—about 90 seconds per image being printed full size (A4).

P-400 features
It has a USB port for hooking up to your computer, and it also has slots for accepting both SmartMedia cards and PC Cards for printing directly to the printer without the need for computer intervention. Just stick your card in one of the slots and press the print button. (The print button is a large, shiny metallic button with an embossed image of a printer, so you can't mistake it for anything else.)

When you work with a card connected to the printer rather than a computer, you get a lot of options. First, your images appear on the printers little grayscale LCD screen, and you can scroll through them to select which one or ones you want to print, as well as how you want to print them (full-sized, postcard, four per page, etc.) You can also print an index of all the photos on the card currently inserted into the printer. (Printing a large number of images from a card adds a lot of processing time, even if the final output is small, because it has to process three colors for each image at their full resolution.) That's great for photographers on the road, working conventions or parties, who can turn the printer into a self-contained profit center.

It also has a clear laminate layer; black and white and sepia tone filters; trimming, background, frame and stamp functions; and a print selection of up to 50 copies at a time.

The bottom line
It's a given that this thing prints gorgeous images. But the printer market has changed considerably since dye subs were the hottest things around. Inkjets, especially those from Epson, are producing quality images now that offer serious competition to dye-sub printers, even ones priced below $1,000.

I conducted a test around the office with people who've been in graphics for years, asking them to pick between the P-400's output and a print from an Epson inkjet. (The Epson inkjet was the Stylus Color 740, half the resolution of Epson's current models.) The question put to them was, "Which one came from a dye-sub printer?" I conducted this test with a dozen or so people. Only one of them got it wrong, but only one of them got it right instantly. The rest had to think about it, move the printouts around in the light, look at the back of the paper, etc.

If you put the two printouts under a loupe, there would be no question. But the inkjet, at 10 percent the cost of the dye sub, still held out pretty well at the eyeball level.

So the question becomes this: Is the dye sub worth 10 times the cost of the inkjet? That depends on you. Inkjets these days can output great images. But the dye sub is pristine. Very nearly perfect, with outstanding resolution and color. Plus, Olympus says—and I can only trust them on this one—that the cost of operation (paper and ribbon) is about $1.90 per A4 page. That's not much more than the cost of ink and paper for an inkjet, assuming you're making full-page printouts on glossy photo paper.

So, the way I see it, if you need perfection, you buy the dye sub. If you need perfection around $1,000, you buy the Olympus Camedia P-400.

For more information, visit http://www.olympusamerica.com.

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