Hands on with the Epson Stylus Photo R2880

Aug 6, 2008
Theano Nikitas

Epson has set the bar high for inkjet printing for quite some time and one wonders how long the company can continue raising that bar. While the Epson Stylus Photo R2880 may not be as revolutionary as some of Epson’s past contributions, the company’s latest 13-inch printer definitely improves upon its predecessors in both underlying technology and final output.

Highlights of the new printer include a vivid magenta ink in its UltraChrome K3 inkset; an ink repelling coating on the printhead; and a mist collection system to help keep the printer’s innards from getting splattered with excess ink. Epson has also incorporated Radiance Technology to maximize color gamut, reduce grain, provide smoother color transitions and minimize color shifts under different light.

Physically, the 26.9 pound printer – which measures 24.3 x 31.4 x 16.3 inches when open for printing (24.3 x 12.7 x 8.4 inches when closed for storage) – has a more solid build than anticipated. It’s still not as tank like as the 2000P or the 2200, but it’s certainly an improvement.

The printer comes equipped with a front feed for thick (up to 1.3mm) media; a top feed for gloss and luster and a rear feed for specialty media. A roll feed is also included and the R2880 is also capable of direct CD/DVD printing. You’ll also find dual USB ports on the rear of the printer and a PictBridge port on the front.

Snappier Set-Up But Same Old Ink Switch
As usual, the R2880 was well packed for shipping although it didn’t take quite as long to remove the various pieces of tape and packing material as it has with other Epson printers. Setting up the printer was easy and probably took about 15 minutes, allowing for the approximate 3 minute charging of the inks cycle but not including attaching the roll feed or rear feed support.

Unfortunately, like its predecessor the R2400, the R2880 requires a manual switch of Photo Black and Matte Black ink cartridges when changing paper types. I didn’t notice any serious drops in the ink monitor but I’ve only changed the inks once. Given the small capacity (11ml) ink cartridges, you may want to have a spare set on hand if you plan to do a lot of printing (this goes for color printing, too).

The R2880 features several feed options. Using the top feed for glossy and luster papers was simple and the papers moved through the printer smoothly, if not rapidly. It took an average of about 6 minutes to run a 13 x 19” print through the R2880 at 1440dpi. Not the slowest printer on the market but it’s no speed demon either.

The Photo Feed
The front thick media feed posed no problems but attaching the rear single sheet guide was a little problematic but that may be more my fault than the printer. Feeding a single sheet of fine art media was a bit like placing a document in a fax machine – you have to make sure it “catches” before you release your hand. No big deal but it meant that I needed to add even a little more room behind the printer to easily access the rear feed. In the same way, the roll feed is a nice addition but somewhat awkward to use.

Some people complain about the usefulness of high-end cameras having direct print capabilities and why top-of-the-line printers need a PictBridge port. The R2880 has the latter and while it’s doubtful that most photographers will make use of it, having the extra port does no harm. Of course, I’d trade the PictBridge port and the dual USB 2.0 ports for an Ethernet connection any day. But for now, the only way to “network” the R2880 is via its USB ports.

Likewise, the printer’s ability to print directly on CDs/DVDs may not seem like it’s a must-have feature but it’s a lot better than presenting clients with a CD/DVD with a paper label. (And let’s not forget about those of us who have had a paper-labeled CD get stuck in a car CD player before we discovered the value of printable CDs.)

Stunning Prints Though a Little Dark
To get straight to the point: the Epson Stylus Photo R2880 makes stunning prints. Colors are rich and accurate and thanks, in large part, to the vivid magenta ink, reds, blues and purples are more vibrant than prints made on the R2400. While it’s hard to tell whether the printer’s Radiance Technology actually reduces grain, it does seem to deliver on the promise of color consistency regardless of light source. I looked at color prints under a variety of conditions and while instinct made daylight the preferred light source, I didn’t notice much of a difference under diffused incandescent or fluorescent light.

Black and white prints were truly neutral. I noticed no color casts and there was, to my eye, virtually no bronzing.

When compared with the same black and white prints output on the R2400, those from the R2880 showed minimal improvement in dynamic range.

My only complaint is that, using the bundled ICC profiles (Epson’s website promises Premium Profiles…soon), almost all my test prints were a little too dark. Epson’s Premium Profiles should be more accurate but, of course, you should get the best results by building your own profiles.

The Bottom Line
The Epson Stylus Photo R2880 may not be a “must have” upgrade for R2400 owners and will likely frustrate photographers who hoped for automatic switching of black inks. But despite its few operational quirks, the R2880 delivers stunning output in both color and black and white.

Pros: Excellent color; truly neutral black and white; prints exhibit fine detail; improved build quality; moderately useful roll paper holder included

Cons: Still have to swap Photo and Matte black inks; bundled with small capacity inks; awkward rear feed for specialty papers; bundled profiles print a little dark

Price: $799

Further information: www.epson.com

The latest addition to the PDN family, the PDN Gear Guide in print, has a total circulation of 30,000, and covers the latest and greatest in photographic equipment. Initially created in 2006 to be the official guide to PDN's annual flagship photography event, PDN PhotoPlus International Conference + Expo, the PDN Gear Guide is now also available online for gear news and updates 365 days a year.
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