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Canon's Powerful Picture Machine

Editor's Rating: star rating

With consumers snapping millions of digital photos worldwide each day, it's not surprising that printer companies are cranking out more all-in-one printers, letting you print out pictures as easily as you can download driving directions.

Canon's recently introduced Pixma MP950 ($390) fits that bill, and in my view ranks as best-of-class in the latest lineup of photo-centric inkjet offerings. Not only is it one of the most well-designed printers on the market it also excels at delivering near-perfect photo reproduction, decently fast printing, and features so camera-friendly that you don't even need to hook the unit to a PC for photo editing. It's certainly the star of our series of reviews of all-in-one printers (see BW Online 04/14/06, "A Lexmark Printer that Misses the Mark").

The MP950 is housed in a glossy black-and-gray casing, measuring 10 in. by 18.5 in. by 16.5 in. -- about the size of a large toaster oven -- and it clocks in at a hefty 28.2 lbs. That's about the same as most all-in-ones in the class. What makes the printer stand out is a monstrous 3.6-in. color LCD viewer and PictBridge technology that lets you hook your camera directly to the printer. It also has slots for all of the popular memory-card formats. All of this can be tucked away behind folding screens and doors, giving it a more compact feel than rival products from Epson and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ).

PAPER PUSHER. Like many newer photo-based all-in-ones on the market, the MP950 offers two paper trays -- one on the front bottom that holds 150 legal-sized sheets and one on the back holding about the same number of photo or plain-document sheets -- which obviates the hassle of switching between regular and photo paper.

The unit prints crisp, easy-to-read color or black-and-white documents, including charts and other graphics, on one or two sides of a sheet of paper. Printing clocks in at a respectable 10pages to 15 pages a minute. Canon (CAJ) suggests you can get about 22 pages a minute, but none of my tests came anywhere near that rate. Printing does work at a fairly quick clip, once the printer gets going, but I found an initial lag between sending a print request and when the job actually begins.

Where the MP950 really shines is in printing digital pictures. Canon uses a seven-color ink system, with separate cartridges for cyan, yellow, magenta, light cyan, and two versions of black -- one dye-based for photos, the other pigment-based for text. A nifty plus: The ink-management system features an LED light that flashes when individual cartridges are running low.

SPEED DEMON. The photo quality will knock your socks off. I printed shots taken from both Canon and Olympus cameras, using the photo paper that came with the printer, that were amazingly clear and free of the smudging that sometimes mars home print jobs. Red-eye reduction, sharpness, and brightening is handled automatically by software built directly into the printer, though you can make manual adjustments with a very simple display beneath the LCD screen.

And when it comes to photo prints, the Pixma MP950 is a speed demon, handily printing out a high-quality borderless 4 by 6 snapshot of my pet Schnauzer in just under 50 seconds. A nice 8 by 10 blowup of my car popped out in about two minutes. (Canon claims its photos will last about 30 years in a frame, with another 70 years tacked on if you store them in an archival photo album.)

The Pixma 950 also lets you scan slides and 35mm negatives, as well as documents from books or other text. But like other comparable machines, it doesn't include fax capabilities, so you would need PC software to handle the job.

While some products, including other offerings from Canon, offer many of the same functions as the MP950 at a lower price, this model leads the pack for delivering on its promises in one incredibly eye-pleasing package. Just about anyone who needs a printer for basic productivity as well as photo printing will love this model.

Edwards is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau.

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