Digital photography has come a long way. Nowadays more digital cameras are sold than film cameras, and digital pictures dash across the Internet in seconds, making it easy to send your parents a steady stream of their grandkids' derring-do.
But getting good prints of those photos is still a challenge. Sure, you can outsource the job to services like Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ) Snapfish and others like it, but who has time to wait?
CD-R FRIENDLY. The latest generation of personal photo printers has sprung up to provide drugstore-quality photo prints from a small printer. And generally speaking, the results are satisfactory, if inconsistent. So we've embarked on a series of printer reviews (see BW Online, 3/30/06, "A Printer To Make You Think Again").
This week, I tested Lexmark's (LXK) P450 photo printer, which is an unusual beast. It does many of the same things as comparable printers in its class, but unlike others, the P450 contains an internal CD drive, and can read from and record images to CD-R discs.
This is a useful feature. Among other things, it can copy photos direct to a CD from your camera or camera's memory card, or for that matter from your PC (though a connection to a PC isn't required for the other functions). This can help you preserve photos you want to keep. You never know when an unexpected hard-drive crash might erase your family's memories, so it's good to keep several redundant copies.
ANNOYING FLAWS. I loaded 20 pictures from my PC onto a USB thumb drive. Some pictures were taken during a blizzard in New York in February, and others were taken in Central Park, and at the Sagamore Hill National Historic site (Teddy Roosevelt's home) last fall. This gave me a mixture of very colorful and less colorful shots.
The printer's image quality seemed to struggle most with the shots taken in the snow. The areas of white revealed some blotchy imperfections in the center of the image that I found distracting even when not looking closely.
Shots of fall foliage in Central Park were much better. Colors were bright, and imperfections in the print were less noticeable -- although they figured there too. I could clearly see banding -- the tiny lines that betray the presence of an inkjet printer -- in some of the more colorful shots.
EAST SETUP. Print speed also left something to be desired. Each print took about 165 seconds. That means the batch of 20 images I selected took a little less than an hour to print. Comparable printers from companies like Epson take much less time. Epson's Picturemate Deluxe, which I use at home, can print a shot in about 90 seconds or less, while HP's Photosmart 475 takes about 105 seconds.
Setup was incredibly easy and took almost no time. I plugged it into a wall socket and installed a single color ink cartridge. After just one test print to align the print heads, it was ready to go.
Like other printers, the Lexmark P450 supports pretty much all the storage media you might wish to use: Sony's (SNE) various flavors of Memory Stick, SD Cards, CompactFlash (types I and II), xD cards, plus CDs. There's one USB port each on the front and back.
WORTH COPYING. Its user interface is about is simple as one could ask for. Two arrow buttons navigate through the various menu selections, and a round button with a check mark makes your selections. It's very easy -- and fast -- to burn images from a memory card or thumb drive to a CD. I burned my collection of 21 images in about two minutes at the push of one or two buttons.
One interesting feature I didn't get a chance to try was the slide show on a TV set. A single video-out connection on the back of the printer should work with pretty much any TV set.
Overall, I liked this printer, especially for how easily it copies images from the memory card to a CD. It sells for about $200, which to me is about $50 too high. I expected better image quality and would have liked a faster printing time. Lexmark should improve on this product -- but it does have some ideas that competitors could learn from.