The Canon G650 proves quality isn’t tightly linked to printer size.
As regular victims of my self-pitying rants on digital-printing complexity know, I’ve been looking at ways of doing my own test proofs at home, rather than send 50 euro bills to my favourite lab in Paris for this.
My previous printer was a Canon Pro-1000. It delivered very nice results in colour, as well as good results in black and white. The latter was my main reason for selecting this specific model. And it didn’t disappoint. But, to my eyes, the piezography prints from Picto were head and shoulders better than anything my limited skills were ever able to achieve with the Canon. This, combined to the fact the A2 capacity gobbled up a significant amount of my work space, led to its ending up … in the bin. Horrible, I know. But moving a printer like that means it empties its vastly expensive tanks (700€ last time I looked) and becomes essentially worthless.
A simpler, smaller, cheaper option was needed. One that made life easy, but managed to handle b&w with grace.
My small Epson 6100, while great for quick scanning and low volume printing fails at the photo aspect of its brief. Prints are OK for a quick family share but not something you’d want to hold on to. Which is perfectly reasonable at the giveaway price it cost.
And changing its inks happens way too frequently to make sense for photo use anyway, as replacement cartridges cost nearly as much as the printer and run out after very few A4 prints. So large ink tanks figured high up my list of priorities.
For a while, the tiny Canon Selphy cp1500 felt like a nice option. Fuss free, with a tiny footprint and very affordable to use, it has been recommended by many respectable photographers as a great tool for test prints that you can handle physically and arrange into various layouts for projects and photobooks.
Still, 6×4 inches is quite small for any print. Particularly if, like me, you enjoy white borders around your images. Perfectly fine for arranging like playing cards, but probably not something you’d want to look at often. And not big enough to inspect as a proof for a larger and more upmarket print.
Having recently made a test print on my son’s A4 Epson Ecotank model made me hopeful that there was light at the end of the tunnel. That printer is perfect for the graphic arts my son uses it for, and did a solid job of a monochrome print, but with a very strong magenta cast. It is also quite an expensive little machine.
The Canon equivalent, according to reviews, is not quite as economical to run, or as good for general printing, but better for photos. It also costs significantly less, making the blind purchase less of a potential disappointment. Out came the credit card.
Fast forward a few days, and the printer is now set up into my daughter’s room. She chose uni over her mum & dad, having her room turned into my print studio is the price to pay. Satisfaction of wardrobe-annexation aside, what is the printer like?
Early days. But, so far, brilliant. For me, the hunt looks to be over 🙂
To sum the Canon G650 up, it is a small footprint, affordable (under US$300), photo printer with large-ish ink tanks and good print quality. Let’s unpack this in a little more detail.
A CD is included in the box. For those who no longer own anything capable of reading those plastic pancakes, step-by-step instructions are also available online. Following them is easy, and the various matching sets of notches cut into both the provided ink bottles and the ink tanks makes it completely impossible to insert the wrong liquid anywhere. Fool-proof and satisfying. Full tanks should be good for roughly 1000 A4 prints. And a refill will set me back about 100 €. Excellent value.
I chose not to install Canon software, only the drivers and WiFi connection that would let me print from Lightroom.
While every step is easy, finding the proper method for inserting the proper WiFi code proved a little challenging. All in all, from opening the box to printing my first samples took about an hour. Definitely not as plug and play as the Canon Selphy, but still very acceptable for a relatively stress-free and one-time-only job. After this setup, waking up the printer takes only a few seconds of whirring, which is brilliant compared to the for-ever antics of the Pro-1000.
Take this early review with a pinch of salt. For one thing, I’ve mostly done b&w tests, and on glossy paper at that. And, also, I’ve no idea of quality over time, obviously.
Still, with those caveats in mind, print quality looks to be excellent.
Remember this purchase was intended for proofs, small prints to check for defects, fine-tune tone curves on, and possibly organise into books or folders. In spite of this, all the prints so far are keepers.
There’s a purple elephant in the room that must be dealt with.
As you can tell from the photographs above, the b&w prints suffer from a cyan/magenta shift. The first samples suggest that highlights and deep shadows are largely immune (which is normal, given those tones have less colour) and that most of the shifting happens in the mid tones.
I’ve also found that the shift seems to fade a bit after a few hours (drying?). And those photos make the cast look worse than it is in the flesh. But, still, it is definitely there.
The jaw-dropping print quality (at this price-point) makes this cast very annoying. Because suddenly, seeing those first results, I’m no longer thinking in terms of proofs or cheap printing, but enjoying what I see – almost – every bit as much as more elaborate efforts from a pro lab costing 15% of the printer’s price each. The prints are simply too nice for me to allow the colour cast to remain.
So, in spite of my whole-hearted dislike of software complexity, I’m going to look into profiles to see how neutral those gorgeous little prints can be made. I hope the photos above show how nice they look, in spite of the issue. At this price, this size, this level of simplicity, consider me a happy camper 🙂
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’d like to reiterate how nice it is to print. There are two main reasons for this:
First of all, a print is a physical object. As with all crafts, there is some learning to do before you can create something worth keeping. But when you do, the beauty of the object itself takes on a life of its own. Typical photographic considerations fade away, and you just look at that thing in your hand or on someone’s wall, and think “I made this”. The beauty of the paper and the beauty of the tones both add to and go far beyond the simple beauty of the photograph alone. Even though the medium of paper and inks imposes severe limitations on the dynamic range, physical prints look much more exciting than photos on a screen (even a large, well calibrated screen).
Secondly, learning how to print takes your mind away from the typical considerations of digital photography. It adds layers that make resolution, ISO and fps seem less important. It’s a liberating feeling.
The fact that this little printer is so good out of the box, with so little actual learning to do, is an exciting added bonus. And it makes me want to get the absolute best out of it. There is a level of excitement the mightier Pro-1000 never triggered, because it was huge, expensive, and high-maintenance, while still not as good as piezography. I understand why the Pro-1000 and similar printers are attractive to advanced amateurs and pros who can do away with lab printing. But, for my process, the convenience/quality ratio of something like the G650 is more conducive to experimentation and … simply … more fun. The top 1% will be sent out to Picto or, better still, hand-made printing shops 🙂 but the other 99% is probably where the most satisfaction will come from! The test printer may well become a cheap and convenient personal archive printer! Brilliant, and (so far) highly recommended.
So, the next steps are trying to profile it with a few chosen papers, selecting said papers, and trying some colour work to accompany my attempts at mastering colour photography a bit more proficiently.
Two packs of Ilford Premium glossy paper is all that’s available to me, right now, all my preferred Canson and Hahnemüle papers being in A2 format. If you have any idea how to cut those sheets in 4 in straight lines, I’m all ears. Using scissors feels like a recipe for disaster, so I’ll have to find other ways. As for profiling, zero is my amount of knowledge of the topic. But duckduckgo is my friend, and early results have made me want to try.
This sure feels like the beginning of a beautiful friendship. More confirmation soon, I hope 🙂
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