Epson Stylus Photo R800 review

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Like Canon and HP’s flagship A4 photo printers on test, Epson’s is also the same model that we saw in our last inkjet Labs. The R800, however, beat the other two to take the coveted Labs Winner award. This time around, things are different. The R800 is only £10 cheaper than it was last year, while HP’s 8450 has plummeted in price from £220 to just £132.

Epson Stylus Photo R800 review

Of course, nothing has changed in the print-quality department: both printers offer outstanding photo quality. The R800 uses eight ink tanks, the usual cyan, magenta, yellow and black, plus matte black for text, red and blue (to extend the colour gamut) and lastly a gloss optimiser.

The latter is there because the R800 uses pigmented inks throughout. Pigment-based inks resist fading well, because they aren’t absorbed into glossy photo paper like dye-based inks. Instead, they rest on the surface scattering light and creating a matte appearance. The gloss optimiser is therefore needed to give a glossy surface that resembles a dye-based print.

You won’t find unnecessary features on the R800 – no card readers or display – as it’s aimed at enthusiasts who simply want the best quality, just like the Canon iP8500.

According to Wilhelm Imaging Research’s latest figure, the R800’s prints on Epson’s Premium Glossy photo paper should last for 104 years before you can detect any fading. Using Epson Matte Heavyweight paper will increase this to over 150 years. However, don’t forget that the HP 8450 and 8750 offer lower running costs and almost equal permanence.

On our photomontage test, the R800 printed natural skin tones and detail was pin-sharp. Grain was virtually invisible and colour reproduction was as accurate as you’d want. The sheet appeared in two minutes, 38 seconds – ahead of the HP but way behind the Canon, which managed to print the image in 91 seconds.

The Canon again sped off into the distance in our other photo tests, managing to print three 6 x 4in photos in the time the R800 takes for just one, but it’s worth noting that the HP 8450 produced better results than both, with stunning life-like results. While the HP’s tri-grey cartridge is a theoretical advantage for mono photos, we had no complaints with the R800’s black-and-white effort. No grain was visible (partly thanks to the tiny 1.5pl drop size and high resolution) and tones were neutral.

Likewise, graphics on plain paper and coated paper were beyond rebuke. Plus, mono text was excellent; the only problem was speed again – it appeared at 2.1ppm in normal mode. In draft mode, this sped up to a decent 11.5ppm, although characters turned rather more grey than black.

Running costs are the R800’s biggest problem, though – not speed. As you can see on the left, we found the Epson cost significantly more than the HP 8450 to run. Not only this, but the HP also holds the dual advantages of a much lower price to start with and the fact that its cartridges have integrated print heads: any blocked nozzles are a trivial problem as they’re replaced with a new cartridge.

Due to this, and the fact that the HP offers direct printing from memory cards, the R800 isn’t the winner it once was. If you can live with the HP’s speed (which isn’t dissimilar to the Epson’s overall), it’s the better choice.

Running costs

The Epson R800 was unbeatable on the A List for almost a year – we loved it for its no-nonsense approach to printing.

But over time, the glow of the R800 has dulled. This is largely due to the massive price cut on the HP 8450. But running costs are another big bugbear. When we first reviewed the R800’s bigger brother, the A3 R1800, we mentioned the horrendous inefficiency of purging all of the ink cartridges when you replace a supply, but now we can put numbers to it.

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