One of the latest additions to Epson's six-colour photograph printer range is the Stylus Photo 870. This device features the latest micro Piezo printhead, which can deliver incredibly small ink droplets onto the page. The 870 has not increased the maximum resolution of 1440 x 720 dpi, but it makes more important breakthroughs.
One of the biggest criticisms of inkjet printing has been lightfastness. Epson has addressed this issue for its new models and the 870 increases the life of prints to 10 years when printed on special paper. Another useful feature is the new Intellidge ink cartridge. This gives more accurate ink status and a resal valve that allows you to replace a near-empty cartridge with a full one, then replace the older one later on. This is useful if you have a large print job that is likely to use more ink than is left in the current cartridge.
Edge-to-edge printing is another bonus. The 870 comes with a roller attachment on to which you can load a roll of paper. A sample roll of 100mm wide photographic paper was provided in the box for printing 6x4in photos. These can be printed edge-to-edge with zero margin.
One feature which Epson claimed to have dealt with is noise levels. Although we couldn't accurately measure it, the 870 sounded just as unpleasant as its predecessors.
However, photographs printed on Premium Glossy Photograph paper were faultless. Several people said they were even better than traditional 35mm prints, which shows that inkjet printing is reaching a stage where people prefer them to silver halide prints.
Running our quality tests revealed that the 870 is not happy printing colour images on plain paper. While they looked fine from a distance, a closer look showed grainy details. Black text was noticeably worse than laser quality, even in best mode. You have to use special Epson media to get the very best out of the 870. In fairness, this device is aimed at the home photographer who wants to print out their snapshots, not at the home office.
In our speed tests the 870 was unimpressive. Epson claims nine pages a minute (ppm) for a mono memo, but using fastest normal mode the 870 could only manage 2ppm. Reducing the quality to economy mode yielded 6ppm, but we could not get close to 9ppm with our five per cent coverage memo.
Let us not forget the price. It costs more to print a roll of pictures on the 870 than it would to take your film to Boots. This does not even include the price of the printer or the digital camera. Unfortunately, to buy a digital equivalent of your 35mm camera will cost several hundred pounds more. So, while the 870 delivers incredible prints, don't throw out your 35mm camera just yet.