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Frequently Asked Questions

I frequently receive emails asking a variety of questions related to topics raised in my various reviews and articles. Many of them cover the same ground, so here is an ongoing compendium of the most common questions and their usual answers.

Also search the Table of Contents and the Subject Index for links to the many articles, tutorials and reviews found on this site. If all else fails, drop me a note.

Michael

Inkjet Printing

Epson 1270/1280 Vs. Epson 2000P

Q: Since mid-2000 a very common question has been: "The 1270 suffers from the orange fade problem while the 2000P suffers from the green cast problem. Which should I go with?  Is there another solution?

A: The 870/1270's rapid fading to a light orange color is well documented and in several countries, including the U.S., Epson has offered full refunds for both printers and materials to anyone who requests it. 

Be aware though that this problem has not been seen everywhere, and appears to be mainly limited to Epson's Glossy Photo paper, which was withdrawn from the market and subsequently replaced. I, as well as numerous others around the world, have been printing with the 1270 on Epson's Heavyweight Matt and Archival Semigloss papers with excellent results.

The 2000P's green cast problem can not be fixed by profiling and it is highly unlikely that anything can be done about it. We will have to wait for a next generation replacement from Epson some time in 2002.

The choice comes down to using the 1270 ( & new 1280/1290) and getting excellent 30year life span prints, or using the 2000P with Archival Matt paper, living with some slight green shift when prints are displayed under daylight conditions, and having 100-200 year print life expectancy.

Finally, there are no printers from other manufacturers with anything like the image quality of Epson's line of photo printers, and which offer the ability to be profiled.

Bottom line Ñ unless you're selling your prints as fine art and therefore want to offer your customers the highest level of archival stability my recommendation is that you go with the 1270 or new 1280.

Here are links to my reviews of the Epson 1270 and 2000P as well as commentaries on their various problems.

New Epson Papers and The 1270 

Q: Epson has two new papers for the 2000P, Premium Semigloss Photo Paper and Archival Matt. Can they be used with the 1270 printer?

A: Yes they can. In fact the latest (Oct, 2000) 13X19" packages of the Semigloss state that the paper is designed for the 1270. The Archival Matt paper is heavier than Heavyweight Matt but is otherwise very similar. I prefer it.

Epson Printer Preference

Q: Why do many pros and serious fine-art photographers seem to prefer Epson photo printers to other brands?

A: First, of course, is that the image quality is excellent. Epson is also the most aggressive company in introducing new models and improving the state of the art. They have done more to advance print longevity than any other mainstream manufacturer. The Photo 1270/1280/1290 models deliver 20-30 years (comparable to traditional C and R type colour prints) and the 100+ years of the 2000P is better than just about any traditional print processes in existence

Epson also makes a comprehensive range of large-format printers able to produce prints in widths up to 54 inches. These use the same papers and inks as the desktop models (making proofing simple), and also utilize the new pigment-based archival inks (models 5500, 7500, 9500).

Of great importance to critical workers is that they are the only low-cost printers that are able to be profiled. The reason for this is that Epson's heads are in the printer, rather than the cartridge. With other printers when you change the cart you are changing the heads, and thus any profiling is mote since the characteristics of the printer will have changed.

Also, Epson have brought out a continuous stream of high quality papers, many now similar in texture and finish to favourite photo papers of the past, while others (like Archival Matt) offering the advantages of a high quality hot-press fine art paper but optimized for inkjet printing.

Finally, most manufacturers other than Epson do not make printers capable of 13X19" (Super A3/B) size prints at an affordable price.

A Money Saving Hint

Q: Any suggestions for saving money on Epson inks?

A: The most important one I have is to ignore the printer's flashing red light when an ink cartridge starts to go dry and also the graphic "out of ink" warning in the printer driver. Just keep printing. In my experience you can get anywhere between 2 and 4 more A3 (11X17") sized prints before the cartridge is really empty. When it is, the printer will stop in the middle of a print; you can change the cartridge, and then printing will resume as if nothing had happened, all with no visible effect to the current print.

Whatever you do, don't turn off the printer once the low ink light starts flashing. Because if you do the next time you turn it on the printer will refuse to print, even though there is still enough ink left for several more prints, and you'll have to replace the cartridge before continuing.

New Epson Colour Ink Problems

Q: The new Epson colour inks for the 1270/1280/1290 (slanted top boxes) don't have the same colour balance as did the previous inks. What can I do?

A: Ron Harris, a fellow contributor to Photo Techniques magazine, has found that the following works. Note that Epson says the affected cartridges have lot numbers that begin with the letter "A".  Apparently, some of the new slanted-top boxes have the "old" ink in them.

Create a New Color Balance Adjustment Layer with Shadows: Cyan+15, Green+2; Midtones: Cyan+15, Green+4; Highlights: Cyan+3

Create a new Contrast Adjustment Layer: Contrast+5

Make these adjustments in Photoshop, not in the Epson driver.

For more on this please refer to Ron's web site and click on Printer Tips.

Here's what Epson has to say...

Troubleshooting Tip #0302
Ink Color Variance in Stylus Photo 870/875/1270

We are aware that some of our customers use special color matching techniques to precisely calibrate the color performance of Epson Stylus Photo printers. We are alerting such customers of a change in manufacturers of dye components used in the color ink that results in a very slight change in the output from Epson Stylus Photo 870, 875, and 1270 printers. This slight change would not be descernible with printers less capable of continuous tone printing, and most users of Epson Stylus Photo printers will also not notice any changes in color performance. Photographers who are particularly discerning, however, may notice that colors such as blue are very slightly more vivid and gray tones are very slightly cooler. This change affects T008201 and T009201 cartridges. The affected cartridges have lot numbers that begin with the letter "A".

Frankly, sounds like bafflegab to me, designed to cover over another problem.

Film & Filters

Color Transparency Vs. Negative

Q: "I read that most pros use colour transparency film. Why is this, and should I switch from shooting negatives, which I find more forgiving to shoot and easier to get processed?"

A: There are several things to consider. There is no question that shooting C41 negative film is easier. It has much greater exposure latitude and can be processed virtually anywhere. E6 transparency film has less exposure latitude and film labs which can process it are usually only found in larger towns and cities.

If one is currently, or is planning to do ones own scanning, then the choice is simple. Transparencies win hands-down in terms of scanning ease. The orange mask in colour negative film, while easing traditional printing issues, complicates scanning.

Otherwise the choice comes down to personal work style and convenience. Chromes are easier to review. It's hard to beat examining slides on a light box with a high quality loupe. Negs require that small prints or contact sheets be made. Contacts don't tell much and wallet-sized prints are subject to the whims of the lab making them. Matching prints and negs and archiving them is also problematic.

Finally, if work is going to be submitted for publication, printers much prefer to work from transparencies rather than negatives, though digital files are replacing both as the preferred media for publication.

CMYK Printing

Q: "I've read on several discussion groups on the Net that I should be setting Photoshop to CMYK mode for printing on my Epson printer, since all printers are CMYK devices. Is this true?"

A: Discussion boards and mail-lists are a terrific resource. Unfortunately they are also a huge source of misinformation. Yes, Epson and other desktop inkjet printers are CMYK devices. But, they are designed to accept an RGB output from your computer. The conversion to CMYK mode is done, and done well, by the printer driver software. If you send the printer a CMYK file you'll simply screw things up. Don't.

This site contains several articles on the use of filters. These include a comparison of various colour enhancing filters, and a review of the Cokin Blue / Yellow polarizer

Cameras & Formats

Which Medium Format to Choose

Q: "I can't decide between 645, 6X6 and 6X7 formats. What are the pros and cons of each?"

A: All three of these formats use 120 or 220 roll film. The issues come down to image size and operating convenience.

Primarily referring to SLR designs, my preference is to use the 6X6 square format. The 645 format allows for smaller camera bodies, but this is offset by the need to turn the camera back and forth between horizontal and vertical framing. At a small extra film cost and slightly greater bulk 6X6 provides both framings simultaneously. Remember, lenses for 645 must cover the same area as those for 6X6 and therefore are no smaller. You'll notice as well that there are no 645 cameras with rotating backs, because this would create a camera no smaller than a 6X6.

6X7cm has a slight advantage in film size, but leads to significantly larger and heavier camera bodies and lens. (The Mamiya 7 is an exception to this rule. It is a very light-weight field camera of exceptional quality).

Finally, unless pressed to the extremes of their capabilities, it would be difficult to choose one format over the other based on ultimate image quality. Variables such as lens quality and film flatness capabilities of the backs would play a larger role than size alone.

Which 35mm SLR to Buy 

Q: "Would you recommend that I get a Nikon, Canon or something else?"

A: This has been the most commonly asked question on the various online forums for years. Here's my perspective.

Both the majors, Nikon and Canon, have a range of exceptional camera bodies, from budget models to top-ranked full-featured pro versions such as the F5 and 1V. Others, such as Leica, Contax, Pentax and Contax similarly have excellent cameras available at various price points.  It's my belief that choosing a 35mm SLR based on the body alone is a mistake. All of the bells and whistles are great, but in most cases these manufacturers provide very competitive offerings.

It makes much more sense to consider the lenses that are available and make ones decision based on ones preferred style of shooting and what a particular manufacturer has to offer.

Many choose Leica or Contax systems because of the extremely high quality reputation (not to mention price) of Leica and Carl Zeiss lenses. The trade-off is a more limited range of lenses than offered by the majors.

Nikon has the largest range of available glass, in large part because the F lens mount has remained largely unchanged for almost 50 years. There is a vast range of new and used glass for the Nikon system.

Canon has the next most extensive range of lenses for their relatively recent EOS lens mount. They offer arguably the largest selection of specialty lenses available, such as Tilt/Shift and Image Stabilized optics. Both Nikon and Canon also differentiate their lens lines by also offering high-end specialty optics designed to a higher standard, both for pros and those seeking more rugged construction and the highest image quality.

I ended up choosing to switch to Canon a number of years ago because they provided me with a range of top quality zoom lenses (the L series) along with T/S and IS optics which were unavailable from any other manufacturer. Others might choose a system based on the availability of extremely wide-angle, wide-aperture or tele lenses, or some other specialized criteria.

Ultimately the choice must be based on your particular shooting and financial requirements and abilities.

Depth of Field 

Q: "I'm doing some extreme close-ups for animation purposes. The character puppets are about 9 inches tall and most of the sets are pretty small.  In order to achieve a realistic depth of field, what lens would you suggest I use.?  I thought maybe a wide angle lens like the Sigma 14mm f/2.8.  Would a macro lens be necessary?  "

A: One of the little known realities of photography is that wide angle lenses do not give you more depth of field. That's right! When the subject is the same size in the frame (whether a 9" puppet or a 10,000 ft. high mountain) the depth of field is the same at any given aperture whether you're using a 14mm ultra-wide angle or a 300mm telephoto.

The only reason that wide angle lenses appear to provide more depth of field is because they put you further away from the subject. 

About 25 years ago when I was working as a stills photographer in the motion picture industry I won a $50 bet with a film cameraman on this subject. Don't believe me? Try it yourself. Or read my tutorial on the subject.

Buying a Digital Camera

Q: I'm ready to buy a digital SLR (Canon D30) , but I'm concerned that there's a new model coming soon, and then what I've just bought will be superceded and/or available for a lot less money next year. What should I do?

A: Your issue is one that concerns many people.  Here's my take on it.
 
From the computer industry we're all aware of Moore's Law, which states that every 18 months the power of microprocessors will double and the price will halve. Computers have pretty much followed this rule for some 20 years now. It's been said that if cars followed the same rule we'd all be driving Rolls Royces that cost $5.
 
My current computer (Spring 2001) is less than 18 months old. It has a 600Mhz chip.  Today I can buy one that has a 1.5Ghz chip, and within 6 months 2Ghz chips will be out. This doesn't change the fact though that my current machine does what I need it to do. That there are faster computers makes not one iota of difference to my work. ( I may want one, but that's another story).
 
There's no doubt that the digital camera industry is currently going though a phase in which the price/performance ratio is changing dramatically. But, if you wait for the next generation you'll never buy anything. There will always be something better along in 6 months. That's simply the nature of fast-changing high-tech industries. In fact what you'll find is that when a new camera is announced, you usually can't get your hands on one for 4Ñ6 months. Then, shortly after it comes out the rumours of the next model start.
 
My suggestion therefore is to buy what's currently available, if you think it will meet your needs. Eventually, when you can afford what's come next, step-up. In the meantime enjoy working with what you have. That there's something better coming around the corner changes nothing in terms of your own work.

You should also look at the articles on selecting tripods and heads and a discussion of hand-held and incident light meters.

Photoshop

One of the most frequent questions that I'm asked is, "Is it worthwhile upgrading to Photoshop 6? I currently have Photo Deluxe, Elements, etc and don't know if I should spend the extra money for the full version of Photoshop."

My answer is Ñ if you are serious about photography; if you have more than $2000 invested in your camera and lenses; if you have more than $2000 invested in your computer set-up for image processing; if you currently make or would like to make high quality prints larger than A4 (8X10"); if you are interested about learning and experimenting so as to be able to achieve the highest image quality possible, then you have no choice. Photoshop is the program to have.

There are many reasons, and most have little to do with the deficiencies of other programs. They have to do with the strengths and market position of Photoshop.

Photoshop is the standard tool used in the photographic and graphic arts industry, and has been since 1991. Because of its market dominance an entire cottage industry has grown up around it. There are literally hundred of books about Photoshop, with tutorials, learning guides and the like. Most schools that teach photography and the graphic arts teach courses in Photoshop. Magazines publish articles, tutorials and hints & tips on Photoshop on a regular basis.  Plug-Ins (helper programs) abound, and enhance the functionality of Photoshop. There are dedicated magazines published each month just about Photoshop. Most pros use it almost exclusively, making finding local assistance that much easier. There are numerous web-based resources available, including this site.

Of course Photoshop is the richest and most complex photo editing software out there. This means that you're unlikely ever to run out of capabilities. At least the program won't. While many of Photoshop's features are esoteric and will remain unused by most photographers, some like Channel Mixer, Duotones and the ability to work on 16 bit images make a huge difference in being able to achieve ones vision and not being hampered by the tools available.

Though expensive; usually not found for much less than USD $650, there is a way to buy it for about a third the price. Buy the educational version. Anyone who is a registered student at a college or university can buy books and software from the school bookstore, and Adobe, as do most publishers with their software, makes Photoshop available at a considerable discount in a educational version. By the way, this version is completely identical to the retail version.

Depending on the school and local situation it can almost be worth signing up for a course or two of your choosing so as to be eligible to obtain the discount on Photoshop. If one of those courses is actually on Photoshop, so much the better.

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Concepts: Wide-angle lens, Inkjet printer, Photography, Printing, Hewlett-Packard, Digital single-lens reflex camera, Printer, Camera

Entities: Nikon, Canon, Leica, Adobe, Contax, Pentax, U.S., printer driver, CMYK, image processing, Moore's Law, RGB, Michael Reichmann, Epson, Archival Matt, Matt, Ron, Carl Zeiss, Ron Harris, Photoshop, SLR, animation

Tags: Epson, Photoshop, prints, image quality, camera, high quality, Epson Stylus Photo, photo printers, manufacturer, Archival Matt, Archival Matt paper, camera bodies, printing, Stylus Photo printers, wide angle lenses, highest image quality, computer, color, Epson photo printers, Heavyweight Matt, printer driver, CMYK, review, affected cartridges, CMYK mode, CMYK devices, fine art, new epson colour, green cast, exposure latitude, common question, slight change, negative film, lens mount, Epson printer, photo papers, transparency film, color performance, graphic arts, educational version