Epson Stylus Pro 4900 review
piezo inkjet, print speed, USB, 10/100 Ethernet, 405x863x1134mm
If you're a professional photographer or print-maker, you no longer need be dependent on third-party labs and equipment, even if your requirements are as exacting as they are ambitious. The Epson Stylus Pro 4900 is massive by the standards of any printer we’ve ever reviewed before, at 430x840x770mm. It has a full colour display which allows you to monitor ink levels and configure paper settings. It can take paper sizes of up to A2 and down to 10x8in and can handle a variety of roll papers, from glossy photo media to fine art stock. It even has an integrated cutter to slice your finished prints off the roll.
While most large format printers have only a rear paper tray, the Pro 4900's main tray is a cartridge at the bottom of the printer, capable of holding 250 sheets of 75gsm paper or 100 sheets of photo paper. When printing on A3 or larger paper, you'll have to pull the tray out and extend it to its full length. Its position and the plastic guides mean that it's possible to accidentally push your paper too far into the printer, which can cause a minor jam. However, this was the only paper feed problem we encountered at any point during testing. The printer can also handle papers of weights up to 1000gsm via its front sheet feeder.
The 4900 takes 11 massive ultra-high-capacity UltraChrome HDR cartridges with 200ml of ink in each, including both matt and photo black, plus light black and light light black for added detail in black and white images. Note that although the printer has both photo and matt black inks, the process of switching between them takes the printer a couple of minutes and expends a little ink, as both blacks share the same print head.
You also get the usual cyan, magenta and yellow, with the addition of green, light cyan, very light magenta and orange. It's an unusual combination of colours, but they contribute to the printer's claimed ability to reproduce 98% of the Pantone colour palette. If your software can create it, the odds are very good that this printer will be able to print it with complete accuracy. The 4900 can also handle 16-bit-per-channel colour spaces, as supported by professional image editing software and some digital cameras.
The inks are pigment-based, which means that they lay small particles of colour on the surface of the paper rather than soaking in like dye-based inks. While dye inks are traditionally regarded as brighter and used to be the favoured medium for subtle shading, pigments are now the industry standard for professional and semi-professional photo printing. They’re bleed-resistant, leading to ultra-sharp detail, and tests show them to have greater longevity under most storage conditions. While some pigment-based printers, notably those in Canon’s Pro range, use a clear overcoat to give a glossy finish to their photos, Epson’s pigmented inks do not require any such coating. If you print on glossy paper, you’ll get glossy prints, although we noticed that these can be inadvertently scratched if not handled with great care.
The 4000's print quality is astonishing, with brilliantly accurate colour and every bit of detail we’d hope for in our photo prints. In side-by-side comparisons at default settings, we slightly preferred the contrast and light tone reproduction of Canon’s Pixma Pro-1, but the differences are just that: differences rather than identifiable faults. Meanwhile, our glossy photos displayed brilliantly accurate colour and outstanding reproduction of subtle low-contrast details. Print speeds are impressive, with an A3 photo emerging in six minutes and 38 seconds. Two 10x8in photos printed in four minutes, 58 seconds.
We’re troubled by Epson’s unwillingness to release ink consumption figures. We were also not provided with a full set of cartridges, which would have allowed us to carry out our own run-down test. It’s obvious that the 200ml cartridges are likely to go a long way, but equally apparent that you can easily use a great deal of ink when printing even a single borderless full-colour A2 image. At £86 per cartridge, you’d certainly hope to get a fair bit of use out of a set, but we were unable to calculate even vaguely realistic yield figures based on available data.
For our purposes, the Stylus Pro 4900 represents the high water-mark of premium quality printing. Although its price of £1,787 is prohibitively expensive for even many professional photographers and print-makers, it certainly has features that will be useful to those who make a living from their prints. For the rest of us, its high quality printing provides a useful point of comparison for less expensive printers.
Both the £551 Epson Stylus Photo R3000 and the £615 Canon Pixma Pro-1 produce A3 photo prints that come surprisingly close to the quality of the Pro 4900. The R3000 even has support for some roll papers, but given the choice, we’d go for the Canon Pixma Pro-1 as the best A3+ printer to buy if your budget doesn’t stretch to A2 monsters like Epson's Pro 4900.