Musings on Photography

Comparing the z3100, 9800 at LuLa

Posted in equipment, hardware, hp z3100 by Paul Butzi on March 17, 2007

Michael Reichmann and his pals have gone and compared prints from an HP Z3100 and an Epson 9800 (along with an older Epson 9600 loaded with Piezography K7 inks), over one Luminous Landscape.

Naturally, this makes for interesting reading.  Unfortunately, there’s a little gotcha that’s almost not mentioned and is difficult to spot (if you, as I do, tend to read such things by skimming rather than plodding).

Reichmann goes to great lengths to tell us about which version of printer firmware he’s loaded into the HP Z3100, practically telling us what brand of laptop he’s used to download the firmware update.  We are told exactly what sort of paper is used – all very good, although I think it would be better to compare prints on more than one paper, especially since the red gamut problem with the z3100 appears to be linked mostly to matte papers.  But that’s for another article, perhaps.

But that’s all fine, as far as it goes.  The gotcha is hidden further down, where we learn that the Epson 9800 is being driven by the Studioprint RIP.  Ok, well, that’s fair, I suppose.  But to go this long into the comparison without divulging this pretty major detail about the setup is more than a bit screwy.

This highlights a major point – when you’re reading comparisons of gear on the web, it’s often the stuff which seems minor in the text that has a major impact.  I don’t know much about the Studioprint RIP, but at least in marketing theory, it’s supposed to improve the quality of the output over the stock manufacturer’s printer driver.  You might think that it’s being used on the 9800 would be something they’d mention up front.

That doesn’t mean that we should ignore such comparisons (I’m addicted to them, myself).  But it does mean that we should have a huge quantity of salt handy during reading, just in case.  And it also means that, when we’re making purchasing decisions ourselves, it makes sense to try to arrange our own comparisons that reflect our own patterns of use.

4 Responses

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  1. Ed Richards said, on March 17, 2007 at 8:43 am

    While it was not at the beginning, one of the participants in the review commented that he was amazed that the HP, right out of the box, did as well as the Epson with every tweak, including a rip. I also think that is amazing, and expect the HP to get better as their firmware improves and as the rip folks get to it, although the built in profiling may make limit the importance of the RIPS on print quality.

  2. Dennis Allshouse said, on March 17, 2007 at 9:17 am

    Your point is well taken ie don’t take everything you read at face value. In some blogs I’ve perused, MR took a bit of a hit based on the way he handled his M8 review. It’s clear to me that MR makes no claim of being purely neutral in his ‘reviews’ or in his opinions for that matter. As noted in the previous outcome, pretty nice result for HP: out of the box vs. custom RIP. (from my reading, the RIP is question is inhouse custom).

  3. Lynn said, on March 19, 2007 at 4:58 am

    Maybe we should use the salt to throw it back over our shoulder.

  4. Peter said, on March 31, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    The comparison was interesting but frustrating. It is curious that they chose to test the machines with mat paper. It kind of makes the rip discussion moot.

    I could be wrong but glossy paper would really show how they perform in areas such as metamerism, bronzing, gloss differential, sharpness, and, well, just gloss.

    A 9600 would have performed very well with mat paper; in the end I didn’t get much from it.

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