Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Get the Goods: Product Review Kodak AiO ESP 3 Printer

Over the past three weeks, I have been trying out a new ESP 3 Kodak All-in-One (AiO) Inkjet printer that arrived at my desk in the newsroom for review. Many of my photography buddies told me it wouldn't be long before I had two printers in my home for normal printing documents and another reserved for printing photos. So I couldn't wait to add the ESP 3 into my production work flow.

Overall, I think the ESP 3 is a great printer for the novice photographer to produce prints at home. But for me as a professional, I don't think the print quality is good enough for selling those same prints to clients.

The ESP 3 (retail $129) is one of the newest models in the Kodak product lineup that prints, copies and scans, and uses Kodak Perfect Touch Technology to enhance less-than-perfect images. Installation of ink cartridges was very easy, and the included instructions were simple to follow. A USB cable had to be purchased separately for under $10, which I thought was a major inconvenience, but once I connected it and installed the software, I didn't have any other issues printing.

The Facial Retouch editing feature in the Kodak Aio Home Center Software that automatically detect faces and enhances facial features with just one click. I think those features are great for the novice photographer who isn't yet ready to invest in advanced photo programs or expensive professional photo labs. The designated family snap shooter won't be able to beat the one-click that reduces the appearance of skin blemishes, whitens teeth and eyes and smooths skin tone, restores color and reduces red eye. Again, as a professional, that's not a feature I needed, since I do my own post-processing and retouching in Photoshop.

So in order for me to use this printer, the quality of the prints themselves would have to be on the mark. I was disappointed. The photos consistently printed out much darker than what was shown on the computer screen. Even after I tried to adjust the images using the retouching software and resaving the image, the photo was still darker when printed. It may have something to do with the fact that the printer and monitor aren't calibrated. But I wouldn't feel comfortable having clients pay full price for the prints from the ESP when it's clearly obvious that the prints are darker than those images shown on my laptop or desktop. Clients gave in to the impulse buy when I had some ESP 3 prints on hand selling for a reduced price during a presentation. While one client said he thought the photos "were still very good given that they were printed at home," but he said they were definitely darker than what he had seen during his slideshow presentation.

The Kodak photo paper that came with the printer was very glossy and thick (assuming it would be more durable) and dried extremely fast. But the paper was easily scratched. I had to reprint several photos numerous times and keep them covered with paper to prevent scratches and fingerprints (although if you get fingerprints on them, you can use a microfiber cloth to remove them fairly easily, but don't rub too hard or you will rub away the ink from the photo paper). I also noticed that several prints had inexplicable pairs of vertical, dashed lines going through them, requiring more reprinting.

For now, I will stick with having client package photos professionally printed at Wolf until I can afford a higher quality model such as an Epson or Canon dedicated solely for printing photos.

The ESP did have several saving graces though. I think the prints were great as rough drafts to inspect before sending the final image to the professional printer. There are some things you just don't notice on a screen that are more evident once the image has been printed. It's a lot easier to see what needs to be tweaked in post-processing once you have an actual photo in your hand. And I was finally able to print out samples of my work to be displayed on my walls at home. The final display wall is beautiful and eye catching, which went over well with my clients.

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