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Epson SureColor P600 review
Using the SC-P600 A3+ printer
The Epson P600 is the first appearance of the SureColor brand in higher end A3+ desktop printers. Although very similar in some respects to the R3000, there are a range of differences and improvements reflecting the several years difference between the introduction of these printers.
Keith reviewed the R3000 a few years ago, and has been able to give the new SC-P600 a thorough look over, after being loaned a brand new printer, courtesy of Epson UK.
A lot of paper and ink has gone through this printer - please do make use of the comments feature at the end if what you want to know isn't included in Keith's article.
This review concentrates on using the printer for high quality print output, rather than covering the bundled software in any great depth.
There is a comments/questions section at the end of the review if you want to ask Keith about the printer
Keith has written numerous other printer related articles and reviews. Have a look in the site 'Articles News' section for details.
The SC-P600 is well packed and comes with an install set of ink carts (in box with roll paper holders). The pile of ink cartridges behind it (in Epson's 'Killer Whale' series) were sent for the review - This review includes some observations on ink usage, worth taking note of, if stocking up on spare inks.
The full technical specs. are listed at the foot of the article
In the box...
Note: USB and Ethernet cables not included
Key Features (info from Epson)
The printer is quite light, compared to some of those of similar size. It's easy to move around, even if you're not particularly strong.
The ink carts are positioned to the left of the printer, under the main top cover.
Initial setup was easy, requiring the installation of the nine ink cartridges. These are starter cartridges that will provide ink to charge the tubes between the cartridges and the moving print heads. This process takes some 10-15 minutes, and is guided from the front display. The ink in the lines and print head never runs dry, so when you put your next cart in, it is what's used first. I don't know how muck ink is used in the setup process, but it does mean that you'll get fewer prints from your initial set of carts.
After the setup, all carts show as full. I've a photo in the conclusions that gives an idea of how many prints I created before the first cart needed replacement (Vivid Light Magenta).
Many functions are directly accessible from the front display.
The printer is very easy to connect into a network, with 3 methods of connection.
There are details for setting up wired and wireless printer connections in the accompanying SC-P600 printer setup article.
The advantages of the new touch screen display are readily apparent when connecting up anywhere away from directly next to your computer. Such information may not be vital to running your printer, but immediately gives confidence when something goes wrong.
Both Apple AirPrint and Google Cloud Print are supported.
The printer was visible to my iPad without any further configuration, and even announced its presence on the network on Karen's Mac in another office, so be prepared for shouts of 'What's this' from other users on your network ;-)
We don't have any Win PCs here to test with, but I believe almost all features of using the printer are similar on other supported platforms.
Software installation for drivers and additional software can be initiated via the install CD. This downloads the latest software, from the net, so is not the disk of driver software you may have used with printers in the past. Note that the CD itself only contains windows software - Mac software needs downloading.
Since I had it to hand, one of the first prints I made with the printer, was from my iPad.
It's test image (in the sRGB colour space) that I've had for some time and use quite often for quick testing. It was in a Kodak test image kit I reviewed nearly 10 years ago.
I'll start off with a print on plain paper - this goes in the main sheet feed at the rear of the printer.
I'm just using A4 size copier paper.
The screen allows me to set paper size and type at the printer. This may seem like extra trouble, but if you're sharing a printer with other people, there is nothing quite so irritating as when someone prints out a word document, after you've loaded several sheets of expensive photo paper.
Even if you're the only user of the printer, it's all too easy to forget exactly what you've set if you load several sheets and the phone rings... (yes, I've done that).
The iPad finds the printer straight away - I've not configured anything at all on the iPad.
Moments later, the print starts to emerge.
I hadn't selected borderless - this just happened to be the default. If you're going to be printing from such devices, probably best to read a bit more in the on-line manual (clearly written and mostly helpful).
Here's the print - PK (photo black) ink on plain paper was never going to be great.
A sheet of Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper (PGPP) looks pretty much spot on.
Changing the black ink to MK (matte black) allowed me to produce a print on Epson Archival Matte (lwr. left)
So, using Epson papers and the sRGB colour space I get perfectly acceptable prints straight from an iPad.
There is free print software available from Epson that I installed on my iPad and even my old iPhone 3GS - this lets you set up paper size and type. It works really well, even if I don't much like using either device for any form of photography ;-)
For someone like myself who prints from Photoshop and goes to the trouble to make advanced colour profiles for papers, this bodes well for the printer.
I'm trying most of my printing via Photoshop (CS6), using custom printer ICC profiles to match the paper.
Epson supply some profiles for their papers, and they are very good - much better than ones you might have got 10 years ago, where there was much more variation in printer performance. This printer will undoubtedly be popular, so expect many paper suppliers to offer profiles, or even profiling services (if you buy their paper).
I've got much more detail on profiling later, but you first need to print a 'target' with coloured patches, to make your profile for any particular paper.
In this instance I'm telling Photoshop to leave colour management to the printer and selecting 'No Color Adjustment' in the printer driver.
When printing with an ICC profile, I'll select the profile in the Photoshop print dialogue. This deactivates the colour settings in the driver.
I'll not show this in too much detail, since it varies depending on what software, operating system (and version) you are using. The manual has more details.
For black and white printing I'm using the B&W print mode (note how Photoshop is set to 'Printer manages colors' for this).
I'll cover this B&W 'ABW mode' printing in more detail later, since it's a very good way of producing monochrome prints.
You need to select your paper type here, and it needs to match the settings you've entered on the printer when loading paper.
You should also note that matte and art papers need MK ink, whilst PK black is for photo type papers (this for colour and B&W printing).
The ink type is listed after setting the paper. The printer will swap between the two, but bear in mind that it does use a small amount of ink, so it may be worth batching your print types if like me, you use a variety of papers.
The B&W mode has a number of settings, but the default Neutral/Darker setting is generally the most linear.
Indeed, if you find that you need to lighten it here, it's a pretty good indicator that you are editing your images to make them too dark. 90% of the time this is because your monitor is too bright.
I'm testing the printer on another floor of my house, so although the exercise is good for me, I'll often check the printer queue information, to check that printing has started, and the printer is on (it defaults to powering down after a few hours, and by default goes into 'sleep' mode after 3 minutes non use).
This is on my OSX 10.9 Mac, but similar options are available on any computer.
Eventually an ink cart runs low, so you will need to change it...
Here is the printer's display after I'd produced a lot of profiling charts and quite a few initial test prints, with a roughly even mix of colour and B&W prints.
The vivid light magenta hit the buffers first.
It first flagged low, and interrupted printing, offering me the chance to continue.
Unfortunately, I was upstairs and it aborted the print.
This was whilst I was testing with a pack of 5x7 glossy paper, making multiple prints, and it continued printing thereafter, so I got one half print in a pack of otherwise fine prints (you can see them later in the part about borderless printing).
I then decided to do two A3+ prints at 1440 dpi and 5760 dpi, to see if I could see any difference.
70% of the way through the print it stopped - it was serious this time, no carrying on.
I popped in a new cart - if you've got them nearby, this is a minute's work at most.
The print carried on, but get the light reflecting on it from the right angle and you can see where the printing paused.
So, I'd say that from the first stop for ink change, to the 'absolute must change' stop, you can probably get another 2-3 A3+ prints - maybe...
Like all inkjet printers, the SC-P600 benefits from regular use - leaving any printer several weeks between prints makes it more likely that you will need to run cleaning cycles, especially if you live in a climate with low humidity or at altitude. If you really must leave your printer unused for extended periods of time, then consider sealing it in a big plastic bag, or perhaps get someone to pop in and print off a nozzle check on a sheet of plain paper?
Changing black inks
We're well past having to physically swap ink carts to switch black inks, but the need is still there.
You can initiate the change from the control panel, or through the printer software (it can also be set to automatic, depending on paper type)
The first swap I made (from PK to MK) took just over 3 minutes, accompanied by lots of whirring noises from inside.
Swapping back only took about a minute and a half.
If you go into the printer's utility and settings menu, there is an option to switch to a 'reduced ink use' black swap mode.
I'm not sure exactly what this does, but most likely doesn't flush out the print head quite so vigorously. Thus your first print at the new setting may be at a reduced quality - whether this is noticeable is not something I've tested.
I note that this option is not settable anywhere in the printers web page or from the normal Epson printer utility (if it is - please let me know, I couldn't find it).
The printer supports a very wide range of pre-defined print sizes, many including borderless printing.
Borderless printing is not something I use a lot, but it's great to see real flexibility in paper size and the handling of print borders.
The photo below shows a pack of 5x7 sheets of Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper loaded into the sheet feed slot.
Apart from the ink running low, that I mentioned earlier, it took no effort to run off a whole pack of postcard sized prints.
You will likely lose a bit of print area off the edges, so do experiment with the two different borderless print modes on cheap paper first, particularly if you have text near the edge (once again see the printer manual for more details).
Thicker art papers
Thicker papers (and board) are loaded at the front. Here I've selected a thick art paper type.
I'm loading it via the front slot - there is loading information available on the display.
There is more information available if you just scroll down the display. Mouse over the image to see.
The front load tray pops out if you press it (note the guide on the screen).
Once you've loaded the sheet (printing side upwards), it's drawn into the printer.
The paper will rise up out of the rear slot, so do make sure there is space, if it's large paper.
You then need to push the loading tray back into the printer, before printing - ideally before you walk back upstairs to print ;-)
Large paper and custom sizes
The printer takes a wide range of custom paper sizes, as you can see from the setting screen below.
There are some limitations on paper types, but the setting above was for some custom greeting card paper I had.
Of more direct interest to me is the ability to print on large sheets for panoramic images.
I'm using some 900mm paper, but the maximum (Win PC) is over 3 metres (129 inches or nearly 11 feet).
Here's a 900mm sheet in the normal feed slot.
I'm trying a special panoramic paper size here from Paper Spectrum (based near where I live in Leicester in the UK).
Here's a black and white print (using the ABW print mode).
The full size print - high resolution panoramic shots deserve to be printed large (my largest is over 14m long)
Here's the print setup for a colour one. This is a paper very like Epson Archival Matte, so I'm using my EAM profile.
Here's the final print (from a fall trip to Colorado). I'd normally use a lustre or semigloss paper for this image, to really bring out some of the colours.
Using Roll paper
The roll paper guides fit at the back of the printer. Note that the manual feed support is also opened, to accept the paper.
Unfortunately I was out of roll paper this size, so unable to test it. However, I did get to try this with our R3000 review a while ago, which discusses roll paper use with this size of printer in much more detail. Given the similarities between the R3000 and the SC-P600 I suspect differences would be negligible.
The printer can print to 129" (3.27m) in banner mode - enough for most people's panoramic print needs. I note that the maximum print length if you're using a Mac is only 1.3m
One of the software packages for the printer provides a complete design solution for CD Printing. It has hundreds of sample files, pictures and graphics elements to try.
Not all CDs/DVDs take ink the same way, so there are a range of options for setting print density and positioning.
The disk fits into the plastic tray. Note the rack at the side, which engages with an internal drive cog, to move the tray.
Paper size is set to CD.
The tray is loaded into the lighter grey front loading area.
Printing just worked, with no misfeeds or problems.
With any new printer I've a series of known test images that I always start off printing, I know what these images look like on different types of paper and many different printers.
It's a quick way of seeing if the printer is up to more detailed testing, since if it can't manage one of these images, it's not going to suddenly look better with others.
I always suggest using such images when testing new papers, rather than your own favourite photos. If you can print an image you like the quality of, from these, then it makes refining the printing of your own work so much easier.
The images (and many others) are available for free download on this site.
Both images have lots of components to specifically test different aspects of printer performance.
I also use both for testing the performance of printer profiles. If you make use of them, then do be sure to read the explanatory notes that go with them.
I normally stick to just a few papers from the printer manufacturer, but this time I've included several other papers, such as a gloss metallic and a Fiber Baryta (IFA69) from Innova and a cotton rag paper that I believe is from Hahnemuhle. It's the paper I looked at recently wrote up a detailed article covering its identification, testing and profiling for colour and black & white.
In the process of writing this review I've made many custom ICC profiles and ones for B&W use. These are listed at the bottom of the page and are available for personal, non commercial use on request.
I also tested three new papers (inc. two 'metallic' types) from Innova which I've included in their own short review (see review for OLM 70, 71 and 72).
The choice of what image works best with what sort of paper is a personal one. If I could come up with some decent guidelines, I'd have written them up a long time ago.
The two examples below are both on the cotton rag paper. The spider and wasp looks good, but the black on this matte paper just doesn't give quite the depth I'd like (for this image), whilst if the church was printed on a glossy paper it might look too dark and harsh - it looks great on the cotton rag paper (printed using ABW and linearisation).
Note that this is a general observation on the suitability of different papers for different types of images.
Here are two more prints, both printed on an unusual metallic gloss paper (note the blueish reflection on the rear sheet in the feed tray). It actually has no optical brighteners in it and shows the smooth ink surface. There is still some gloss differential with the current inks, but no real bronzing on any paper I looked at.
Here are two borderless prints on fine art papers, loaded via the front slot.
The A4 one is on Epson VFA and the A3+ print on a textured watercolour type paper.
The display does warn of potentially reduced print quality at leading and trailing edges, but with flat paper, there was no problem at all.
Note - if you are not that much into colour management, you really might want to skip over this section
To make a profile, I need to set the correct media type.
This isn't too difficult for Epson papers, such as this EAM paper.
With other papers, look for the suggested settings from the manufacturer or supplier. If that fails, then go for something similar.
I'm printing both colour and B&W test targets for each paper.
This one is Velvet fine art - you won't see much difference in these web images, but the VFA has deeper blacks and richer colours than the EAM above (note too the rear paper support, since the VFA was loaded through the front).
The image below is from when I was building my colour ICC profiles in X-Rite's i1Profiler. The red shape gives a feel for the gamut of Epson Cold Pressed Natural paper.
The only problem is that from profiling other papers, I'd expect the shape to be larger...
Well, it so happens that I'd accidentally set the printer driver to sRGB rather than 'No Color Adjustment' when printing the target.
Move your mouse over the image to see the results from when I printed the test target correctly.
You can see how the incorrect 'sRGB' one chops off the full range of colours that could be printed.
One of the uses of such a graphing tool is to spot obvious errors in your profiling process.
I don't produce profiles commercially, so there just enough time between doing them that I have to be extra careful with the details.
The colour profiles I'm making have nearly 3000 patches on them, compared with the hundreds that most companies offering custom profiles use. If you do make use of any of the ones I've made, please let me know what you think. In particular whether you find using them with Perceptual or Relative Colorimetric rendering intent better (if you use RC, it should be used with BPC on matte papers). The two intents have distinct differences in my normal profiling setup, and work better for different types of image (YMMV).
The B&W print mode of the driver gives very good results on many papers, but I know from experience that it often crunches up tones in the deepest shadows. Not much, but enough to show in my prints if I want to be able to show the difference between 100% black and 95% black.
I need to linearise the output. That's what the step wedge pattern on my test image is for.
I'll measure the 51 step wedge with my i1Pro2 spectrophotometer, although at a push, you could even use a good flatbed scanner, if you're prepared to do a bit more experimentation.
I'm using the free ColorPort 2 software from X-Rite for the measurements.
It actually offers far more data than I need, but I've included some screen shots to show some more info about papers, since I know that a lot of people like to see it (don't get too hung up on the numbers, is always my advice though ;-)
These are the readings for Epson PGPP paper at 100% black
By the way, there is far more about the process I'm using, in some articles specifically devoted to this aspect of profiling.
I'm using the excellent QuadToneRIP package for producing my linearising profiles.
It's actually designed for high quality B&W printing with Epson printers, so will likely be worth looking at for your B&W printing, particularly once the SC-P600 becomes more widely available, resulting in many more specialist QTR printing profiles.
I'll also show some spectral data for measurements at 10% black. The first one is Innova's IFA69 Baryta paper - a really nice finish, if you want to match some darkroom papers (I don't remember them, but just really like its finish for B&W)
Note how the spectral response drops off in the violet, but has no obvious bump in the blue. This is typical of white Baryta papers with no significant optical brighteners.
Move your mouse over the image to see the relatively flat curve from Epson's Cold Pressed Natural paper. The gentle upwards slope is typical of a good cotton rag paper with a slightly warmer tone.
Both are really nice papers to use - choice should depend on the image and your personal tastes.
Printing with the correction profiles is simply via the normal ABW printing method.
The difference is simply that you apply the correction profile -before- printing.
Put your B&W image into a colour space such as sRGB and then convert to the QTR profile.
There should be no change to the look of the image. Now Assign the original profile (sRGB in this case) to the image.
The resulting image is lighter, reflecting the fact that the default print setting makes shadows a bit dark. I'm making my image lighter to counteract this. (if this isn't clear, have a look at some of my other B&W printing articles).
For Epson VFA paper, here is the measured curve from the test target:
Here's the correction curve from the created profile. You can see how it curves in the opposite way to the line of 'L's above.
The corrections are relatively minor and the 'a' and 'b' lines fairly smooth, all things that suggest that this is a good printer for B&W. Something borne out in actual prints.
And now a bonus graph for those who really like looking at the numbers... ;-)
I tried my 'unknown' smooth rag paper using both the 'Normal' and 'Darker' settings - Once again, I'd note that the default setting in the ABW driver is actually 'Darker' - mouse over the image to see the difference.
Move your mouse over the image to see the change.
I note how both curves show how the ABW mode tends to block up deep shadows, whilst the 'normal' setting seems to apply a general 'brightening' curve to the whole image (needing the big opposite correction in the profile curve)
Epson Print Layout software is supplied with the printer. It works well and might be worth a look if you're not printing from within Photoshop, Lightroom, or some other application that supports printing.
The Easy Photo Print software is the same as I looked at with the R3000, if you're curious, see the details about Easy Photo Print in that review.
Also available is Epson's Colorbase software for colour calibration (note that this is not a full ICC profiling package).
At first glance the printer looks very much like the Epson R3000 I reviewed a few years ago, and I don't doubt that if I pulled it apart there would be many design similarities.
The new tilt up touch screen is very useful for both setting up and general use when printing.
It reminded me of some of the frustrations I've had in that past with printers that didn't have displays, yet alone ones in colour and touch sensitive. From a usability point of view it's a definite step forward.
If there is a (minor) downside to this new display, it's that it feels a little 'plastic' in its build quality. The shiny top cover at the front looks good, but is a fairly soft plastic, so prone to fine scratches.
The printer is advertised as having a new ink set with deeper blacks:
The numbers when profiling do back this up somewhat, but it's not going to be something that leaps out at you when looking at prints. Well, perhaps not unless they've been prepared specially and you're at a trade show ;-)
I did note from profiling, that the new printheads of the SureColor range, and of course the software that drives them, seems to produce much more linear output straight from the start. It's easy to see improvements of gamut when profiling, at the extremes, but real world images tend not to have huge amounts of such intense colours in them. What I noticed in the the SC-P600 output was a smoothness in tone over flat areas, with no obvious banding or awkward transitions. The speed that the vivid light magenta and other light inks were used up suggests that the stronger inks are used less than in some older printers. The 2pl minimum ink drop size will help too.
So, prints that use the PK ink can have a bit darker blacks - are you going to notice? I don't blame Epson for trumpeting this number, but I've long believed that arguments over DMax numbers are best left to some on the forums, whilst others (myself included) go out and take photos.
This brings me back to the 'problem' I find with almost all new kit I'm reviewing these days. The days of massive leaps in performance with almost all new printer (and camera) models are behind us. To say that the SC-P600 is vastly better than the R3000 would imply that there were obvious deficiencies in the R3000, and as I remember it, it was a very nice printer to use.
If you've an older Epson printer from when you needed to swap black cartridges, the jump should be well worthwhile from a print quality point of view, particularly on more modern papers.
During all the time I used the printer I never had a single paper feed issue, and that's with quite a range of papers.
There was no smudging of inks or signs of ink on the back of prints (usually from rollers). I'd suggest though for printers likely to be heavily used, you pay attention to the various cleaning options, especially if using papers that shed fibres.
The range of available paper sizes and availability of borderless printing, along with roll paper and custom paper sizes are very good, with no arbitrary limitations on media type.
The printer offers 1440 and a much higher 5760 dpi resolution.
Looking at prints normally, or even under a moderate magnifying glass really doesn't show much difference to me.
I decided to print two versions of my B&W test print, but reduced in size to take the resolution of the files up to 1200 ppi
Here's an actual pixel view of the 'N' of the Northlight logo - the shape is barely visible looking at the tiny prints. It's printed using the ABW mode.
Getting out my USB microscope, here's the view of the (greyscale) image printed at 1440 and 5760 dpi on a glossy paper.
Differences are there, but how much difference it will make to your prints, I leave as an exercise for the reader. Those with more spare time might like to resize to multiples of the ppi figures...
It's very difficult to give ink usage figures from the testing I've done.
The pile of prints that (IIRC) precede the first ink change give but an introduction to working this out (remember that some ink is used during setup).
You can add in a small pile (5) of 5x7 colour prints, and maybe subtract 2-3 of the A3+ prints, but it gives a good feel for how much printing I did before the first cart (VLM) ran out (don't forget a few black ink swaps too).
A full set of carts will set you back about £180
Epson do give figures for the number of 'pages' that you can expect from each cart, but do read the explanation of the methodology behind the figures.
I'd note that if you do much black and white printing then these figures are -considerably- skewed.
When you get the printer, a full set of inks might be worth considering, but at currently over £20 a cartridge, it might be worthwhile noting how quick various inks go down for the mix of printing you do.
Oh, the elephant in the room...
There's still there's that need to swap black inks for paper type. I swap between paper types quite often and it's disappointing to still see this 'feature' in Epson printers. Indeed, a few years ago when I used to have an Epson SP9600 44" printer (with MK ink), I also had a SP7880 with PK loaded, just for work on lustre papers.
It uses a small amount of ink, that at current UK ink prices is going to cost you a few pounds per swap. I'm not sure why this is still needed. It suggests that some core aspects of print head design from the R3000 have not changed that much.
Cleaning, reliability and other bugbears
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With all inkjet printers there is the question of clogging and ink used for cleaning - this is an area of shall we say... heated debate on some forums.
At no time during the month I had the printer did I see any indications of poor print quality. The printer arrived just before Christmas, so was left unused for over a week after setting up.
The printer has inks in carts that don't move with the print head, so there needs to be a pressurisation system to ensure proper ink flow. It seems to work intermittently as needed.
It's this that I suspect has been misinterpreted by some as 'cleaning cycles' during printing.
Printers need regular use - I'm convinced that a not insignificant portion of complaints about inkjet printers are 'user related'. Printers are getting better, and things like the display on the SC-P600 certainly help, but buy a printer like this and only use it every two months, then (IMHO) you are asking for trouble.
The printer didn't leave any marks on smooth paper surfaces that I could see.
I know that some printers show these marks much more readily (the R3000 I looked at had actually been damaged in transit). The SC-P600 has the 'pizza wheel' parts in the print output path, although I note a 'fix' for problems with such marks, that was sent to me concerning the R3000.
One other personal gripe is the occasional 'Windows only' features you see in the manual. The maximum print length on the Mac for example, is only ~1.3 metres (over 3 metres on the PC). Now, I'm sure that some of these limitations are not Epson's doing, so why not say so ;-)
Will getting an SC-P600 massively improve your prints?
Of course not ...The truth (IMHO) is, that many print problems I see are due to 'user fixable' issues.
So, a good colour managed workflow, good monitor calibration/profiling, paper choice and profiling, editing skills, and an appreciation of how best to handle aspects of sharpening. That's before you even approach the content of the photos themselves...
If I had a perfectly good R3000 I'd not rush to update, but if I was perhaps printing from a smaller all-in-one style printer and wanted to really push my print quality, then the SC-P600 is an excellent way to go.
Sure, it's producing slightly deeper blacks than before, but in reality you're probably not going to notice without detailed comparisons.
The performance numbers are improved, but more than often it's going to be the printer that will show the limits in your work, not vice versa.
The printer offers the chance to create stunning exhibition quality prints - if you have the pictures to match.
An easy to set up and use A3+ printer that produced excellent quality prints for colour and black & white. A wide range of paper size options, including roll paper, lets me simply print anything from small borderless postcards right up to wide panoramic images.
On second thoughts, that sounds almost too simple, but that's what I want to see in a printer.
You can also leave comments/questions about this review below
A pigment ink based A3+ printer that produces excellent black & white and colour prints.
Supports a range of media, including thick paper (to 1.3mm), roll paper and printable CDs.
Paper / Media Handling
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