Night photographer Lance Keimig takes you on a journey to the Aurora Borealis and helps you from start to finish, beginning with preparation for cold, Icelandic weather and finishing up with exposure...
The i900D was introduced by Canon in September 2003 and I first saw one in
action at the Photo Plus Expo show in New York in October. Canon kindly
loaned a sample to photo.net for review and this article is the result.
Rather than run the printer though a series of lab test and describe every option
and every software screen, I though a better way to review it was to actually use
it in the same way a typical purchaser might. Is it easy to assemble? Is the
software easy to install and use? Does it make good prints? How long does the ink
last? Finally of course, are there any problems or things that have been left out
that shouldn't have been. Read on and I'll try to answer these questions.
To properly test setup I tried the method most likely used by the average
consumer. Dive into the box and start putting things together. Only read the
instructions as a last resort. Turns out mechanical assembly of the printer was
quite simple. After removing several hundred (well, maybe a dozen) strips of
orange tape holding parts in place all that was required was first to open the
package containing the print head assembly, insert it into the printer and lock
it into place. Simple. Then open each one of the 6 ink cartridge packets and snap
each one into its correct slot (all of which are labeled). The only thing here is
to make really sure you put the right color ink in the designated (and clearly
labeled) slot. If you put your yellow ink in the magenta slot, your prints will
look very strange, and it will take you forever to flush the incorrect color ink
out of the system.
The only other assembly required is to attach the 4x6 paper holder to the
printer if you want to load 4x6 paper at the same time as 8.5x11 paper . Takes 5
seconds as it more or less just drops in place.
At this point you can plug the printer in, load some paper, stick a memory
card in the slot and make a print! No PC or camera required. There's a small (2")
LCD to tell you what to do (though reading the instruction manual isn't a bad
idea). You can select an image, select a paper size, crop if necessary, chose
from a few printing options and make your print.
I installed the supplied software on a PC running Windows XP. The most
important thing here is that you need to install the software BEFORE you
attach the printer. If you don't, XP will recognize new hardware and attempt to
install it's own drivers for what it thinks you've just attached. This should be
avoided. All you need to do is first load the software CD and follow the
instructions to load the printer driver and the memory card driver. When that's
all done, THEN you can attach the printer, XP will recognize new
hardware and it will use the Canon drivers which you have just loaded to control
There were no bugs during installation. Everything went along as the manual
indicated it should.
Memory card reader
The i900D has a built in memory card reader that can either be used to
transfer data to a PC via the USB link, or the printer can directly print images
which are stored on the card. It's compatible with Compact Flash, Microdrives,
Smart Media, SD cards and Multimedia cards. Direct printing from the card
supports JPEG (DCF/CIFF/EXIF 2.3 or earlier /JFIF), TIFF (EXIF
compliant) and DPOF compliant. It does not support Canon RAW files, these
have to be externally converted to JPEG or TIFF before they can be printed.
Time to transfer 30 files (94MB) from a Viking 512MB CF (speed not specified)
card in the i900D to an HP Pavilion a230n (AMD 2800+) was 150s, giving a transfer
speed of 626 kBytes/s. For comparison, the built in card reader in the a230n
(which is USB connected also) took 90s for the same transfer, a speed of 1.04
MBytes/s. These numbers no doubt reflect limitations due to the maximum read
speed of the CF card rather than the USB maximum data transfer rate. The USB
interface itself if 2.0, theoretically capable of up to 400 megabits/s data
If you don't already have a memory card reader, this is a useful function.
Normally it's far more convenient than having to connect your camera to a PC to
download images, so this is a positive feature of the i900D.
i900D vs i960
The i900D and i960 are very similar printers. The main difference is in print
speed and the presence of the memory card reader.
The i900D has a built in memory card reader which allows you to make prints
directly from a memory card, or to transfer the contents of the memory card to a
PC. The i960 on the other had lacks the memory card feature, but makes up for it
with twice the print speed due a a larger print head. If you don't think you'll
ever use the memory card functions of the i900D, then the i960 looks like a
better buy. Not only is it faster, but it seems to sell on the street for around
$40 less then the i900D.
The Inks and the Print Head
The i900D uses six inks. The usual black, yellow, magenta and cyan, plus photo
magenta (light magenta) and photo cyan (light cyan). This is the normal six ink
color set used by other printer manufacturers such as Epson. The i900D has a
separate cartridge for each ink, so you only need to replace one color at a time.
On some other printers the color inks come combined in one cartridge, so if, for
example, the magenta ink runs out, you have to replace ALL the inks, even if
there is ink of the other colors left. Another nice feature is that the ink
cartridges are transparent! So you don't have to wonder if the "low ink" warning
is lying to you just to make you buy more ink. You can take out the cartridge and
actually see how much ink is left. The ink monitoring is done optically and is
supposed to give a warning when less than 20% of the ink is left. This is
preferable to a system which counts the number of times the head operates and
calculates how much ink should be left in the tank. The ink cartridges
are dumb. They contain no chips which monitor usage and prevent you from
refilling them. That's your decision. Again a plus for Canon.
One minor problem is that the ink level shown on the printer monitor screen is
either full or "empty" (see below). The software doesn't know what the ink level
is until it drops to the point where the optical sensor detects that it's low.
This isn't really a problem since you can just take out the ink cartridge and
look how much ink is left, but it could be confusing if you don't realize what's
This is the display when the photo-cyan, photo-magenta and yellow inks were
less than 1/2 full
You can see from the image below that different inks are used up at different
rates. These images were made after printing quite a few (40-50?) 4x6 color
prints. The black, cyan and magenta ink levels looked higher than that shown in
these images, in fact they looked almost full. In these images the liquid ink
reservoir tank is on the right. The left section of the cartridge, which is
directly above the port which supplies ink to the printhead, consists of what
appears to be a sponge-like material which fills with ink from the reservoir
Canon ink cartridges sell for around $11.50 each. I've seen 3rd party inks for
as low as $3.50 for a single cartridge, or $15 for a set of all 6 colors. Using
3rd party ink can be risky. You may not get the same colors, and even if you do
they may fade much more rapidly than the Canon inks. There's also a chance they
may clog the print head....however...the Canon printhead is user replaceable. In
fact if you remember the assembly I wrote about, you actually install the print
head yourself while setting up the printer. So if it ever clogs and you can't
unclog it using cleaning cycles, it can be replaced. Not all printers are like
this. Epson printers for example require a trip back to the factory for head
It's always difficult to say how much ink is used to make a print. Obviously
it depends on whether you are making borderless prints of a black cat at night
(lots of ink) or a bordered prints of polar bear on snow (not so much ink) and,
to a smaller extent, which type of paper you are using. All I can do is give you
an estimate of my ink usage printing typical photographic images, most with small
borders on Photo Plus glossy paper.
After printing approximately the equivalent of 100 4x6 prints (assuming one
8.5x11 print = four 4x6 prints) I measured the following ink consumption (the ink
cartridges are transparent so you can see how much ink you have used!)
Total = $25.43
Note here that the ink usage is based on the amount of ink left in the
transparent ink tank and does not take into account any ink that is contained in
the "sponge" filled half of the cartridge. So these numbers are a conservative
Even when the liquid ink tank runs dry, there will still be some ink held in
the "sponge" section, but I don't know exactly how long that would last in terms
of the number of prints you can make. I'd guess I've made perhaps 10-15 4x6
prints since the printer started to tell me that the photo-magenta cartridge was
empty. Though the clear ink tank is totally empty (and has been for some time),
the sponge filled side still looks about 1/3 full of ink! I'm sure it will
eventually run out, but it's hanging in there pretty well at the moment.
So, based on my experience, the cost of ink per 4x6 print is somewhere around
25 cents if you buy genuine Canon ink at a typical cost of $11.50 per cartridge,
maybe a few cents less if you run the cartridge until it's totally dry. If
you buy the cheapest ink you can find (which I do not recommend), the cost would
drop to less than 8 cents/print - but the colors may not be as good and the
prints will almost certainly fade faster. If you refilled the ink cartridges with
the cheapest ink you could find you could print even more cheaply, but again
there are potential problems in terms of stability and image quality.
This analysis also makes it really clear that having individual ink cartridges
is a really good idea for this printer! The photo magenta ink is
85% gone, while less than 5% of the magenta ink has been consumed. If all the
color inks had to be replaced when one of them (photo magenta) ran out, there
would be a huge waste of ink (and money). The disproportionate amount of
photo-magenta ink used may in part be a reflection of the type of test prints I
made. Perhaps 25% were B&W and 25% were portraits, however a good 50% were
"typical" shots, from flowers to wildlife to landscapes. I've seen comments
elsewhere on the web that reflect my experience that photo-cyan, photo-magenta
and yellow are the inks used most for typical photo printing, so the data I'm
presenting certainly isn't abnormal.
The total cost per print obviously depends on how much you pay for photo
paper. I found a deal at Staples where they were selling two 50 sheet packs of
4x6 Photo glossy Canon paper for about $13 (the deal ended last week, sorry), so
that makes the cost of a sheet of 4x6 paper around $0.13 (though around
$0.20/sheet might be a more typical cost if you can't find the paper on special).
On this basis, each 4x6 print would cost $0.38. This is cheaper than my local 1
hour photo store (which charges $0.48 for a 4x6 print from a digital file), but
is somewhat more than many on-line services. For example, Adorama charges $0.29
for a 4x6 print and $2.99 for an 8x10. With the i900D the ink cost for an 8x10
(or 8.5x11) would be about $1 and Photo glossy paper costs around $0.50/sheet
(from B&H) so your total cost would be $1.50, so though 4x6 prints may work
out more expensive than from online services, 8x10 (or 8.5x11) prints may be
cheaper. Also, you get the print instantly and you have full control over the
print quality - and you don't have postage costs to pay. It's not just about cost
though, it's also about quality and convenience. Having the print appear right
there on your desk is worth something. Having to email the files (or mail a CD)
and wait for the prints in the mail just isn't the same!
Ink and Print Stability
Who knows how stable the prints are. The oldest prints I have are only a few
weeks old, so obviously I can't make any comments about the longevity of the ink.
They certainly have not faded yet! Reports on the web, both from Canon and
independent sources suggest that color prints with Canon ink on Canon paper
should last several decades when stored and displayed properly (e.g. out of
direct sunlight and at reasonable temperatures and humidity). In contrast, tests
on many low cost third party inks show print lifetimes before excessive fading
from months to a few years.
Canon quote these cautions and conditions for their longevity
After printing allow the ink to dry completely. Store your images in
albums, clear plastic folders, or glass frames in order to avoid exposing them to
the open air. Never store printed images in locations subject to high
temperatures, high humidity or direct sunlight. Store them at normal room
temperature. (Do not use albums with self-adhesive pages to store your images
since you will not be able to remove them later on.) Tested on Photo Paper Pro
under the following conditions: Temperature: 24ºC; Humidity: 60%; Light
source: White fluorescent light 70,000lux; Layer of air and 2mm thick glass on
the sample; Presumed conditions: Assuming one day's illumination as 500lux x 10
hours. In-house Evaluation criteria (Based on ISO)-Single color/Composite color:
A color change has occurred if the density is under 70% (OD: 1.0->0.7).
Process Black: The fading ratio between each color is within 15%, and A color
change has occurred if the density is under 70%(OD: 1.0->0.7).
The i900D has a conventional paper feed tray which can be adjusted for paper
up to 8.5" wide. There is also a removable feed tray for 4x6 paper which allows
you to have both 8.5x11 and 4x6 paper loaded at the same time. You have to switch
between the two trays manually when you switch print sizes, but this just entails
rotating a dial. Much easier than removing one size paper, resetting the paper
guides and loading the new paper.
Paper and Panoramic Prints
Canon make paper in 4x6, 5x7 and 8.5x11 sizes for the i900D. All three sizes
are available in gloss and high gloss finish, but matte paper is only available
in an 8.5x11 size. You can also get 8.5x11 sized transparency film and T-shirt
transfers. There us no "semi-gloss" or "luster" finish paper available at present
The printer setup software allows you to set the printer to use paper up to
8.5" wide by 23.39" long (you can set wider paper - but it won't fit in the
printer - so the driver will scale the image down to 8.5" wide). If you have the
paper available, you can make panoramic prints. Canon don't make anything longer
than 11" in 8.5" wide paper, but you can cut down Canon 13x19 paper to make two
6.5" x 19" sheets. Epson make an A2 size glossy panoramic photo paper which is
8.3" x 23.4" and is priced at around $1.50. sheet
Noise and speed
This is a very quiet printer. In fact I had trouble telling if it was printing
without going over to the printer and listening carefully! There's the usual
"clunk" as paper is selected and fed into the printer, but after that noise is
very low. There's actually and even quieter mode(!) which can be selected, but
that does slow printing down a little. Canon specs that printer noise as 37db(A)
in best quality mode. To put this in perspective, one web site lists bird
calls at 44 dB and the lowest limit of urban ambient sound at 40 dB. By any
measure, it's quiet.
The exact print time depends slightly on things like whether the image has a
border or not and whether you print at maximum image quality, but in general I
found that a 4x6 print takes about 90s (Canon say approximately 75s) and an 8x10
print takes about 3.5 minutes (Canon say approximately 3 minutes). Printing
directly from a memory card seems a little slower than printing from a PC, but
there isn't a huge difference.
The first thing I'd say is that color prints made on Canon Photo Paper Pro
both look and feel like high quality conventional photographic prints. The paper
weight is similar, the gloss finish is similar and the colors are vibrant and
rich. I was impressed by the quality. Though, like all ink jet printers, the
image is made up of individual color "dots", you can't see them with the naked
eye. Nobody with human eyesight could. If you look at the print with a 5x loupe
you can, but who does that? Even with reading glasses, looking at the print as
close as 6", the dots are not visible. In the prints I made I saw no evidence of
"banding" or other unwanted printing artifacts.
The results with Canon Photo Paper Plus were very similar. This paper is
slightly less glossy and the prints maybe look slightly less saturated, but
unless you hold two identical prints side by side you'd be pretty hard pressed to
tell the difference. Paper weight is similar. The advantage of the Photo Paper
Plus is cost. The Photo Paper Pro costs around $0.80 per 8.5x11 sheet, while the
Photo Paper Plus runs around $0.50 per sheet (typical street prices).
Canon Matte Photo paper also gives excellent results. The colors closely match
those of the glossy papers. Some people like a matte finish, some don't. The
Canon glossy papers certainly look and feel more like conventional photographic
prints. However if you mount the prints behind glass, it becomes very difficult
to tell them apart. The big advantage of the matte paper is the cost. In 8.5x11
sheets, while Photo Paper Pro is $0.80/sheet and Photo Paper Plus is $0.50/sheet,
Matte Photo Paper is only $0.18/sheet, so the saving can be significant if you do
a lot of printing. Matte Photo Paper is only available in 8.5x11 sheets. If you
are mounting your prints behind glass, there's probably no reason not to use
matte paper. I've seen some suggestions that color prints on matte paper tend to
be more fade resistant than those made on glossy paper though I don't have any
direct evidence that that is the case.
The i900D has a borderless printing option which lets you print right to the
edge of the paper. It does this by slightly overprinting, so you do lose a small
amount of the image. This amount is selectable (there are 4 settings) to
(presumably) cope with slightly different paper or image sizes and perhaps
interaction with the print formatting from image editing programs. Printing from
Micrografx Picture Publisher for example, I had to use the maximum overprint
setting (4) or I'd get a narrow border along the bottom of the print. However
printing from PhotoShop v6.0 there was no border at setting (3) and only a very
narrow border at minimum overprint (1).
As is my normal fashion, I didn't do any color profiling and I didn't use any
color management scheme. This probably reflects the practices of the average
consumer! Despite this, the images I printed from applications like PhotoShop
(6.0) and Micrografx Picture Publisher (8.0) were a good match for the screen
colors. Maybe not perfect but certainly very acceptable and much better than a
typical drugstore photo print (though that sets the bar pretty low!). With proper
color management I'm sure there would be no problem in reproducing screen
colors more closely. One of these days I'll have to try that. However, with the
test prints I made I didn't feel the need to use any special color management and
I was pleased with the colors.
The printer driver offers a number of options such as Sepia toning, Vivid
Color, Noise Reduction and Smoothing of "jaggies" (Photo Optimizer PRO). While
all these function may be better done using external image editors, not everyone
has access to such software so their inclusion as options in the printer driver
may be useful to many consumers and they are simple to apply (see below). The
noise reduction does minimize the "salt and pepper" effect that can often be seen
in continuous tone areas of images shot at high ISO settings, though it does
slightly soften the image. Prints can be made borderless or with white borders.
Borderless prints are made by slightly overprinting, so you do lose some of the
image. There are 4, user selectable, levels of how much overprinting occurs. You
pick the minimum one which results in no white border for the particular paper
and print size you are using.
Canon i900D printer driver "effects" screen
I'm not going to go through every screen and detail every
function. Suffice it to say that everything you'd expect is there. You can select
print quality, paper type, paper size. You can manually adjust color and select
monochrome printing (note: this prints a color image in B&W, but it uses all
6 inks. There is no option to use only black ink). You can print various
stamps (e.g. DRAFT) on the page as well as print a background. These functions
may be more suitable for business letters and party invitations than photo
The printer properties page also has the usual maintenance and
diagnostic programs such as head cleaning and head alignment.
Color printing can be done in a number of ways
From a memory cards via the built in card reader
From a compatible camera via a USB connection
From an application (such as PhotoShop)
From the Canon Easy-PhotoPrint software
Here's 4 images on one page (with borders) printed with Easy-PhotoPrint
Easy-PhotoPrint is a software application supplied by Canon which
allows you to select one or more images and print them on a single sheet of
paper. You can print with or without borders, you can place one, two or 4 prints
(see image above) on a page. You can also make index prints containing 20, 40 or
80 images per page If you're printing on letter sized paper you also have the
option of 9 wallet sized prints per sheet or 3 prints which include some EXIF
recorded data. The software is very easy to use. Here are a few examples:
Here's an automatically generated index print in the 20 images/page
The printout with data doesn't seem to include all the data
present in the EXIF header. For example when printing images from a Canon EOS
10D, only the image size, date, color space, exposure compensation and ISO speed
were printed. Images from an A80 includes aperture and shutter speed as well as
exposure mode and white balance. There was no way that I could see to select
which data was printed.
A80 image info page (left) and 10D image info page (right)
A80 info page (detail)
Printing directly from a Camera or CF card
Printing directly from the camera and directly from the memory card worked
just fine and results were the same as printing from an external application such
as PhotoShop or Easy-PhotoPrint. You have a few less options than printing from
an image editor and using the Canon printer driver, but if you just want quick
prints, the procedure is pretty simple. When printing from a CF card you use the
printer's built in LCD screen and software to select print options. When printing
directly from a compatible camera via a USB connection to the printer you use the
LCD screen and software in the camera to select print options.
Black and white printing
Printing B&W images on a color printer using color inks is always a little
tricky. There is sometimes an overall color cast, but that can pretty easily be
dealt with by deliberately introducing a color cast of the complimentary color.
For example I found that B&W prints made with the i900D on Canon Photo Paper
Pro had a slight magenta cast. By adding a slight complimentary green cast to the
image this was easily neutralized. The same situation was found when using Canon
Photo Paper Plus Glossy. A slight magenta cast was present which could be
corrected by turning a monochrome image into an RGB image and applying a slight
A more difficult problem is when different shades of gray appear with
different color tints. In that case correcting one often makes the other worse,
so if your 70% gray zones have a magenta cast but your 30% gray zones are
neutral, if you correct the 70% zone, the 30% zone will turn green. I found that
printing on Epson Archival Matt paper showed this problem. Grey zones from about
50% to 85% had a slight magenta cast, but from 0-50% they were pretty neutral.
This can also be corrected by more complex color mapping in an image editing
program, but it takes some work.
On Canon Matte paper there was a similar magenta cast, but it was more
uniformly distributed than on the Epson paper in that the lower densities
(<50%) also showed the magenta bias. In this case it's easier to make a
correction by converting the B&W image to RGB and applying a slight overall
green bias to the image. The Canon matte paper was slightly brighter (whiter)
than the Epson Archival Matte paper and also slightly thinner (8.5mil vs 10mil)
and lighter (170 g/m2 vs 192 g/m2).
Note that the type of illumination used when examining the image can be
important. The magenta bias of "monochrome" prints was accentuated under tungsten
light, but was less evident when viewed under fluorescent light (which itself has
a slight green bias).
While there's little point in displaying a monochrome image showing
slight color casts since the monitor you are viewing the image on may not be
color calibrated - plus web browsers generally don't reproduce accurate color
anyway, here's an example of a B&W image. This is a flatbed scan of a 4" x 6"
B&W print made on the i900D. You'll have to take my word that the original
looks pretty good and shows no noticeable color cast - don't judge color on the
basis of the image below. The scanning process itself can add false color, so any
reproduction of a B&W print is doubly suspect! Tonal gradation was good. with
both highlight and shadow detail being preserved in the print.
Flatbed scan of B&W print (read text for color comments)
Of course the other way to deal with color casts is to deliberately tone an
image. If you make it sepia for example, that will overwhelm any subtle
coloration you might see in a "neutral"print.
Sepia toned "B&W" print
Really serious digital B&W printers (i.e. people who print) don't use 4 or
6 color inks. They use ink sets with 4 or 6 shades of gray, so there's no chance
of anything but a neutral print. As far as I know, no printer manufacturer
provides such ink systems as a standard product, but 3rd party ink suppliers do
(e.g. Lyson) and piezography.com sells some fairly expensive software/hardware
combinations for B&W printing. In the past they have only supported Epson
printers, but their website now states that they will also be supporting some
Canon printers (though it's not clear if 6 color printers will be included in
that support). Of course once you set things up for B&W using gray inks, you
can't print color anymore, so you have to dedicate a printer. If you're going to
do this, the Epson printers have a larger B&W support base than Canon
printers and so at this time may be a better choice.
replaces the color inks in your EPSON (soon Canon) printer with a light gray,
medium gray, dark gray and black ink - all made with only 100% pigment and a
clear vehicle for trouble-free printing, unprecedented longevity, and without
What's Good, What's not so Good?
Well. it's pretty much all good. The printer produces excellent color prints
on super glossy, glossy and matte paper. Getting absolutely neutral B&W
prints is a bit more difficult, but that's true for any multicolor ink printer.
With a little work or toning I was also very happy with monochrome prints.
Printer setup and operation is simple and fairly straightforward. Software
installation under Windows XP was easy and hassle free. The ability to change
individual ink cartridges, and to actually be able to see the ink level
so you know when to change them, is certainly a big plus. The ability to
print directly (without a computer) from memory cards or from compatible digital
cameras is also something many consumers may find useful.
Slight downsides may be the inability to print monochrome images using only
black ink. However on printers that do allow that, quality drops and in fact
though I have Epson printers that can print with black ink only, it's a feature I
hardly ever use. Another slight downside is that if you are using Canon photo
paper, your local office supply store (e.g. Staples or Office Max) may not have
too many choices in stock. However if you get your supplies by mail order,
there's no problem. Canon don't produce a panoramic paper size (for long 8"
prints), but you can certainly use the Epson panoramic paper or cut down the
Canon 13x19" paper. Canon do not currently have a "luster" or "semi-gloss" finish
paper available, though there are 3rd party choices available. The tray which
supports the finished prints seems a little flimsy. It certainly does the job
just fine - but I'm looking for for things to complain about, and there isn't
I really liked this printer. For me, I'd probably chose the very similar i960
because I don't need another memory card reader (I already have three) and I
doubt I'd ever need to print directly from a memory card, however for those who
do need these functions, they both work well and it does save yet another USB
device and cable. The i900D is an excellent printer capable of real photographic
quality prints. I'd have no hesitation recommending it to anyone who needs an
inexpensive printer for home use, yet wants true photographic quality prints. The
i960 is essentially the same printer but with double the print speed and no
memory card reader. It's also slightly cheaper, so if I were buying a printer I'd
probably lean towards the i960. There's also a 13" wide version for 13x19 prints,
the i9100. It's quite a bit more expensive (more than double the price), so if
you don't think you'll be making 13x19 prints it may not be cost effective.
Where to buy
This printer is available from many electronics, computer and photo retailers.
Obviously photo.net would greatly appreciate it if you purchased from one of the
photo.net sponsors who contribute a small percentage of each sale to photo.net -
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news and reviews, as well as provide forums and gallery space.