If digital cameras want to kill off film once and for all, they need to break their ties with computers. The answer, it has long been suggested, is the stand-alone digital image printer, which takes the PC out of the equation and allows you to print direct from your camera on to photo paper.
Unfortunately, most stand-alone printers have been a disappointment. The price seems right, but they are often slow, eat up paper and ink like it's going out of fashion and, worst of all, they produce below-par prints that the staff of your local Snappy Snaps would laugh at. Canon has been one of the few companies to buck this trend, which is why we were excited to get our hands on the Selphy ES1 -- the latest addition to its compact printer family.
The ES1 fits in at the slender end of the printer market and is a mere 199mm by 177mm by 113mm. It's about the same size as a handbag, or for people who prefer to think in terms of technology, it's similar in width to a couple of 7-inch-screened portable DVD players bolted together.
Considering its compact size, the ES1 is surprisingly heavy, and while a tad over 2kg isn't going to break your back, it's not the kind of thing you want to be carrying around with you all the time. If you do want to carry it, then the flip-out handle on the top feels sturdy enough and adds to the handbag motif.
On the looks front it's an upright model, rather than a supine like previous Selphy printers. This makes for a more user-friendly appearance and means that it sits up nicely when placed on a table. The ES1 also requires less desk space than a standard printer, which makes sense as you're unlikely to be printing out images every day of the week. Its silver and white colouring is also very now and the metal finish is well polished.
Unlike most printers, there's no obvious paper tray. Instead, the paper is integrated with the ink cartridges. This makes for a compact design and means that there aren't any add-on trays to be carted around.
Another nice touch is the retractable USB cable. This pops out of the side and reels out as you tug it, allowing you to connect to a camera directly. When the work is done, a push of the button sees the cable disappear back into its hole.
There's the usual collection of memory card slots, and of course the ES1 can be connected directly to a computer. If you don't have a computer then the 64mm (2.5-inch) colour LCD at the top of the device is where all the action will take place. It pops up for ease of viewing when you are sitting next to the ES1 at your desk. Either side of the screen are the main controls, with all the editing options to the left, and the five-way toggle switch and that all-important 'print' button on the right. All are within easy reach, well labelled and ergonomically laid out.
There are optional extras that don't come bundled with the ES1. These include a battery pack for the ultimate statement in portable printing, and a Bluetooth adaptor, which would make the printer an excellent companion for your mobile phone or a camera such as Kodak's excellent wireless-friendly V610.
Once switched on, the Canon jumps to life in a busy, industrious manner that fills you with hope. The monitor proves to be bright and clear, and all the little whirring noises convince you that it's ready for some serious action. Before you start printing, however, you need to sort out the ink and paper.
As we mentioned earlier, the ES1 doesn't have a separate paper tray -- instead you buy cartridges that contain both paper and ink. This is possible because the ES1 is a dye-sublimation printer, so ink use can be predicted right down to the last print -- if you buy a 50-sheet pack, you get the right amount of ink for 50 photos. Media comes in four sizes, ranging from credit card size (54x86mm) to postcard size (100x150mm) and prints have a glossy, water-resistant finish.
The combi paper tray and ink holder pops into the side of the ES1. When you press 'print' the paper appears through a slot near the bottom of the printer, turns itself through 90 degrees and then pops out the top when it's finished (click on the View Video button to see it in action). It's mesmerising stuff… for a while anyway.
Getting images onto the ES1 is quick and easy thanks to the wide range of connection options available. Once they are loaded, however, the Canon seems to have a spot of trouble moving between them. We had a 512MB SD card full of 6-megapixel images and the lag when moving from one image to another was offputting. We kept thinking nothing had happened, pressing the button again and then having to wait for it to move on again so we could go back.
This is a shame, because in many other respects this Canon is as good as it gets in terms of image handling from a compact printer. It certainly betters the brand's previous Selphy options when it comes to editing functions. There's a useful cropping tool, red-eye reduction and some more 'creative' options that, to be honest, aren't that exiting. Once you work through these and press 'print' the ES1 whirls into action.
It takes a little over a minute to produce a postcard-sized image. This isn't too bad at all, especially when you see the quality of the image. When it comes to bright and vibrant colours there's little to touch this Canon at the moment. There's also plenty of detail in the prints, even in tricky areas of shadow, and the blacks are very impressive considering they are made by printing the other colours over each other. Contrast levels are also good, with the reasonably rich blacks set off by a cracking white, without any hint of other colours intruding on the party. Performance was consistent right to the end of the printing pack, without any visible difference between the first and last print we processed.
The ES1 was so good that it was easy to spot the difference between images taken on an older 4-megapixel Nikon rather than the 6-megapixel Kodak V610. This is great news if you have a good camera, but not so good if your technology needs updating.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Elizabeth Griffin