Epson Expression Photo XP-950


    Photo Review 8.8
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    Epson Expression Photo XP-950

      In summary

      On paper, Epson's Expression Photo XP-950 looked like a pretty good product – with an affordable price tag that represented good value when you consider all the things this device can do (hence the relatively high overall rating). And, while it will probably suit snapshooters very well (particularly if they have a taste for bright, contrasty prints), it's not as well suited to serious photographers.

      For starters, it doesn't provide enough control over output quality and doesn't support ICC profiles. But also its inherent tendency to boost contrast and saturation limits its ability to produce excellent results across the wide range of image types most photographers produce.

      As an occasional printer of JPEG images, the Expression Photo XP-950 will suit households and small offices with limited desk space. It also provides useful printing, scanning and copying facilities for office documents as well as a useful range of wireless controls. And there are plenty of downloadable apps to facilitate printing from the cloud and with mobile devices like tablets and smart-phones.

       

      Full review

      We don't usually review multi-function printers (MFPs) as they're not designed for photo printing. But Epson's Expression Photo XP-950 is in a different class from the others as it is the first six-colour MFP to support A3 printing. A special rear feed slot is designed to take A3 sheets of paper, and Epson papers supported include Premium Glossy Photo, Premium Semigloss Photo, Matte Paper Heavyweight, Double-sided Matte Paper, Ultra Glossy Photo and Glossy Paper as well as iron-on transfer and sticker papers. 

      Angled view of the Epson Expression Photo XP-950 with the scanner cover raised and paper loaded in the rear feed slot. (Source: Epson.)

      Like the Epson Artisan 1430, which we reviewed in February 2012 (INSERT LINK) and carries the same price tag, the Expression Photo XP-950 uses Claria inks, although they are differently branded. According to Epson, Claria inks are rated for up to 98 years on prints framed under glass or 200 years in album storage.

      The  XP-950's ink set is branded 'Claria Photo HD' and has the 277 product identification number, whereas the Artisan 1430 uses 'Claria Photographic Ink' with the 81N product ID. Both printers use the same six ink colours: Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, Light Cyan, Light Magenta and Black. (More about this in the Print Quality section below.)

      Who's It For?
       Essentially, the Expression Photo XP-950 is a multi-function device that should be used mainly for everyday printing and copying in normal home and small office situations. However, it has been designed to accommodate people who produce the occasional A3 print and want a simple workflow that is easy to follow and delivers reliable results.

      Although not a dedicated photo printer, the XP-950 nevertheless supports 'photo quality' printing and includes suitable driver settings for making prints on 'photo' papers. This device is ideal for anyone with limited desk space who wants scanning and copying capabilities.

      This device isn't designed for high-volume printing, largely because even the high-capacity cartridges are relatively small. Nor is it designed for serious photographers who want capture-to-output control and those who like to print larger than A3 size.

      Nevertheless, the Expression Photo XP-950  is capable of producing nice-looking prints on the right kind of paper. Epson papers are preferred since only the 'canned' profiles are available. There appears to be no way to create and save ICC profiles and third-party profiles aren't supported.

      As an output device, the XP-950 is more versatile than dedicated photo printers which don't include scanners. And it offers a wide range of output options, with borderless printing and auto duplexing are available for photo and document printing, respectively. Printing on CDs and DVDs is also supported.

      For printing images, the printer driver lets users print through their favourite editing software while, for those who prefer direct printing, the options available include direct printing from memory cards (two slots accept all popular camera card formats) and via USB, LAN  and WLAN  interfaces. PictBridge direct printing from cameras is also supported.

      Epson Connect (www.epson.com.au/connect/) enables users to print wirelessly from a tablet, smart-phone or laptop computer and also scan documents and save them to the Cloud. The XP-950 is also compatible with Google Cloud Print.
       As a scanner, the Expression Photo XP-950 can't scan film originals. It can only handle reflective originals, such as documents and prints, but its hinged cover provides enough flexibility for scanning pages from magazines and books. (Details of scanning and copying functions are outlined in the Scanning section, below.)

      Setting Up
       Once you have removed the printer from its box and detached the numerous pieces of blue sticky tape and sheets of semi-adhesive transparent plastic that protect the shiny surfaces, setting up the printer follows the usual routine of connecting it to the mains power and installing the software.

      The software set-up steps you through the remaining stages, which include installing the supplied ink cartridges, selecting the printer's connection (Wi-Fi, Ethernet or USB), as shown in the illustrations and screen grabs below. 

      Installing the cartridges.

       The cartridges are supplied in airtight plasticpacks and each comes with a lime green plastic cover protecting the ink outlet. This must be removed before installing each cartridge. Be careful not to touch the pad in the cover as it contains some ink.

      Each cartridge slots into a colour-coded bay with an audible click. Cartridges are 'chipped' with an integrated circuit that continuously monitors the amount of ink remaining. This lets you remove a cartridge before it is depleted and re-insert it. If the ink in a colour cartridge runs out, the printer can continue to be used with black ink only for a short time.

      When all the cartridges have been installed, the print head is charged automatically, which consumes some of the ink. An 'initialising' message is displayed on the LCD monitor, as shown in the screen grab below. Initialising takes approximately seven minutes.
       
       The next step involves selecting the method you prefer for connecting the printer to your computer or mobile device. Three options are provided: Wi-Fi, Ethernet and USB. Choose one of the first two if you will mainly print from a mobile device and once of the last two when printing through a computer.

      Next, you are asked to load some paper in the lower cassette and print a test page. Plain paper is the best option for this step, which is illustrated in the screen grabs below.

       

       

       
       

      If the test page prints satisfactorily, clicking on the Next button takes you to a registration page, which will add your details to Epson's database and enable them to send you notifications of updates to firmware or software.

       Finally, you are taken to a page that allows you to download additional software such as apps for printing from smart-phones and tablets,  printing and scanning apps and 'Essential Printer updates'.
       
       

       The additional software includes Epson Connect, which allows the printer to interface with other devices so you can print documents, photos, emails and web pages from anywhere via a home or office network or via the internet. Cloud-based services like Google Cloud Print and Apple AirPrint are also supported.

      Build and Ergonomics
       For its price, the XP-950 is reasonably well built, although it looks and feels slightly flimsier than the Artisan 1430. It's also noisier when operating and at times sounds a little clunky. A quiet mode is available, which is noticeably quieter than the normal operating mode and doesn't appear to make much difference to printing times.

      Two cassettes are provided for holding stacks of paper sheets. The upper (Cassette 1) one is designed for papers up to 180 mm long and 130 mm wide, while the lower one is for A4 paper and 'Legal' sized (216 x 356 mm) paper. Each holds a maximum of 20 sheets at a time.

      Paper must be loaded with the printing surface facing downwards. It's nice to be able to load a stack of paper into either of the basement-level cassettes and we had no issues with paper handling when printing photos in A4 or smaller sizes.

      Printing on larger sheets of paper, even if they are only slightly larger than 'Legal' size, requires single-sheet feeding via the rear paper feed slot. This process is really annoying to anyone who is used to a dedicated photo printer because you can't load a sheet of paper until you have committed to printing.

      In other words, you have to set up the printing process in the printer driver and actually hit the Print button before loading the paper. The printing process will pause until the printer is ready, which means having a sheet of paper loaded when it tells you to. If you don't wait until the instruction to load the paper is displayed on the printer's LCD screen, the paper will pass straight through the printer and emerge unchanged.
       

      The driver interface when printing at A3 size through an image editor.

      This is noted in the User Manual: Note: Before sending your print job you cannot load paper into the rear paper feed slot. And a message pops up when you hit the Print button if A3 output is selected. But it's totally counter-intuitive and can be quite frustrating because it adds to the total time needed to produce prints.

      The rear slot is also used for thicker papers and printing on envelopes,  so its paper guides are adjustable. However, the same delays are imposed each time you make a print.  We had no problems printing on any of the papers we fed in through this feed slot, including envelopes of various sizes.

      A tray to accept the printed sheets slides out automatically when the Print button is pressed, either on the printer's control panel (it's indicated by a diamond-shaped icon) or in the driver. This tray has a recessed section in its centre for separating the smaller snapshot and 5x7 inch prints from the larger output sizes.

      A CD/DVD printing tray is also provided and it's located in a special slot below the lower paper cassette. You must select Load CD/DVD on the control panel screen and then lift the control panel as high as it will go in order to slot it into position. Arrows on the tray and the printer's front panel indicate the correct alignment.

      Epson has designed this printer for generalist users; not for photo enthusiasts. Accordingly, the instruction manual leads with instructions on printing  from memory cards or via direct connection with a digital camera through either a USB cable or wireless connection. A multi-card reader is located under a lift-up cover to the left of the paper cassette bays.
       
       

      The Control Panel is tilted upwards to allow the paper tray to move out. (Source: Epson.)
       

       The touch-screen interface that is used to drive printing and scanning directly from the XP-950.

      With all these options, printing is driven from the Control Panel (shown above). This lets you browse memory cards by date, select one or more images, choose from six paper sizes and seven paper types and select the paper source. You can also choose between borderless (which enlarges and crops the image to fill the sheet) and bordered printing  and set the output quality to Draft, Standard or Best. Photo Adjustments include the following settings: Enhance, Scene Detection, Fix Red-Eye, Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness and Saturation. There's an option to select Sepia or B&W conversion and Crop and Zoom tools are provided.

      Connectivity
       Most of the networking connections are similar to those on the Artisan 1430 and users can choose between Infrastructure mode (communicating through a router or access point), Wi-Fi Direct or AdHoc settings. We tried the Infrastructure and AdHoc modes and also used the printer on an Ethernet (wired) network. As with the Artisan 1430, full instructions for setting up each interface are provided in the separate Network Guide.  

      Users will generally have to disable any Firewall or unblock the security program to allow the printer to connect to a network. When the software disk is inserted into the host computer, the installation screen should pop up automatically and the wizard will step the user through the set-up process. The XP-950  supports Web Services on Devices (WSD) and should install the driver automatically.

      When using the XP-950  on a wired network you must set up separate connections for the printer and scanner and install separate drivers. The Network Guide provides an easy way to connect the printer to a smart-phone or tablet with a Q-code icon that can be read by the device's camera, providing a quick way to download Epson iPrint from the Epson website. (It's also available from the Apple App Store or Google Play.)

      What happens next depends upon the type of connection you use. The XP-950  supports both WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) options (Push and PIN) as well as Wi-Fi Direct  via access point or peer-to-peer connections.

      Setting up an Ad Hoc connection provides a direct connection between the XP-950  and one computer and requires the software disk to be in the computer. Users must enter the network SSID and security key before a connection can be made. If none of these work with your setup, you can also create a link between a the XP-950 and networked device via the Epson Connect service.

      The Printer Driver
       The printer driver is similar in many ways to the drivers of other general-purpose Epson inkjet printers but lacks some functions provided in the driver of the Artisan 1430. The Main pages of both drivers are almost identical with settings for  five 'Quality' options (Draft, Text, Text & Image, Photo and Best Photo), the paper type and size and page orientation. You can also select from four Print Options (PhotoEnhance, Fix Red-Eye, Reverse Order and Print Preview).
       
       

      Much of the Advanced page is also the same. However, the XP-950  lacks the ICM (Image Colour Management) controls provided in the Artisan 1430's driver and, instead, will only let you check a box that switches ICM off. (This is the normal setting to use when you want editing software, such as Photoshop, to control output colours.)
       
       

      Leaving the ICM box unchecked uses the colour  matching system in the computer's operating system to automatically match the colours in the printout with the colours displayed on the screen. Epson augments this with two additional Colour Management options: Colour Controls and PhotoEnhance.

      The Colour Controls setting uses colour matching and image-enhancement methods provided by the printer driver. The PhotoEnhance setting (shown below) lets users select from five Scene Correction options, provided in a drop-down menu, which cover typical subject types. Auto Correct is included, along with Sepia and Grey (monochrome).

       

      Like the Artisan 1430 lacks the Advanced B&W Driver found in Epson's more up-market printers. However, like its predecessor, it is capable of monochrome printing (see below).

      Printing and Scanning Times
      Output speeds for the XP-950 are pretty average, although users can select from different quality and speed settings to suit different requirements. The table below shows the average printing times we obtained at the different quality and speed settings using glossy paper.

      Paper Size

      Best Photo

      Photo

      High speed off

      High speed on

      High speed off

      High speed on

      5 x 7 inch

      2 min. 12 sec.

      1 min. 29 sec.

      1 min. 16 sec.

      55 seconds

      A4

      4 min. 6 sec.

      2 min. 32 sec.

      1 min. 58 sec.

      1 min. 12 sec.

      A3

      6 min. 35 sec.

      4 min. 51 sec.

      3 min. 16 sec.

      2 min. 31 sec.

      Adjustments for speed and quality are reduced in Copy mode, which contains only three quality settings: Draft, Standard and Best. The best setting is the only one that delivers acceptable quality when copying photos.

      We didn't find much difference in copying times for colour and B&W originals and measured an average copying time on one minute and 40 seconds for a 5 x 7 inch output size and three minutes and 10 seconds for A4 output. Copying documents at Standard quality was a little faster, averaging 1.5 minutes per A4 page.

      Scanning speeds were a slightly faster again, with a typical A4 scan at 300 ppi taking roughly 10 seconds to preview and a little more than a minute to deliver to a computer. Scans of A4 colour photos at 1200 ppi took 54 seconds, with the end result a JPEG file measuring 2477 x 3500 pixels with a bit depth of 24 and resolution of 300 dpi.

      Print Quality
       Assessing print quality is difficult because it's essentially a subjective judgment and, unless you make direct comparisons, it can be difficult to quantify what constitutes an 'acceptable' rendition of an image. Seen alone, most of the prints we made with the XP-950 could be considered 'acceptable' - or even 'very nice'.

      It was only when they were compared with prints from other printers and examined very closely that differences became apparent. So, let's start with some general observations.

      Unlike the Artisan 1430, we couldn't see much difference between prints made with the Photo quality setting and the Best Photo setting. Nor was there a huge difference in the appearance of colour photo prints made with the High Speed box on the Advanced settings page checked or unchecked, although both settings did influence the time it took to make prints, as shown above.

      Photo prints made with the Best Photo setting and High Speed box unchecked on the XP-950 we reviewed were similar in appearance to the prints we made with the Photo quality setting on the Artisan 1430. But they appeared slightly more contrasty and with marginally higher saturation. Tonal subtleties were also more discernible in prints from the Artisan 1430.

      The XP-950 produced its most attractive output when the original images were shot in bright, fairly contrasty lighting and when colours were recorded with slightly elevated saturation. The inherent colour and contrast biases appear to be inherent in either the ink set used or the way the driver has been set up. For such images, the printer proved capable of replicating the detail in the originals and also boosting the characteristics that made the images attractive.

      The illustration above shows the original image (top) and a print made with the XP-950  and scanned with its scanner. The inherent increased contrast and slight magenta colour bias are not particularly problematic for this image.

      Not surprisingly, images with subtle tonalities and delicate colours were not printed particularly well. The default printer settings tended to darken the darker hues and increase contrast and saturation, which meant most – if not all –  of the subtlety in the original was lost. We tried reducing contrast and saturation before sending these images to the printer but the printer kicked back and pushed both characteristics up again.

      Images with subtle tonalities fare less well with the XP-950, as shown in this comparison. (The original image is shown at the top; the lower image had contrast and saturation reduced before printing.)

      Printing black and white originals produced similar results to the Artisan 1430, which isn't surprising as both printers have only one black ink. But, whereas the B&W prints from the Artisan 1430 had a very slight yellow bias, those from the XP-950  had a slight magenta cast (which was less attractive). Both biases were relatively slight and, unlike the Artisan 1430, the XP-950 's bias was fairly consistent.

       

      The three B&W images shown above were printed on similar paper stock from the same image file and scanned with the XP-950. The top image came from a printer with three monochrome inks, the middle image was printed on an Epson Artisan 1430 printer, while the bottom image was printed with the XP-950.  

      The take-home message is that if you prefer very punchy-looking prints and don't print originals like are misty scenes with  subtle tonalities, the XP-950  can deliver vibrant colours and enhanced contrast. Although colour biases are present in both colour and B&W prints, many viewers are likely to overlook them because their eyes will be drawn to the high level of detail and strong contrast the printer produces.

      We found no evidence of gloss differential (surface irregularities) in prints on Epson's  Premium Glossy Photo Paper and no apparent metamerism (colour changes under different lighting conditions) on matte papers. There were no instances of paper mis-feeds during our tests.

      Consumables
       It's difficult to provide accurate printing costs for the Artisan 1430 because Epson doesn't publish ink capacities for its cartridges. In addition, we were unable to calculate how much of each cartridge was used to prime the print head.

      Epson Australia lists the price of the standard cartridges at $15.99 each, with the high capacity cartridges at $26.99. On its US website, the standard cartridges are priced at $10.99 each, with the high-capacity cartridges at $16.99.

      Value Packs containing a full set of six ink cartridges are available in both regions, with the US website showing a pack of six standard cartridges for $52.90 and the Australian website listing a pack of six high-capacity cartridges for $144.99.

      We don't understand Epson's Australian pricing policy, given the 81N inks used in the Artisan 1430 are also used in 25 different models, while the 277 inks are only used in two. It seems counter-intuitive to price the standard capacity cartridges for the 277 inks at $5 below the 81N inks, while the High capacity Value Pack is $5 higher. The table below compares the pricing of the different inks.

       

      277 inks

      81N inks

      Standard capacity cartridge

      $15.99

      $20.99

      High capacity cartridge

      $26.99

      $26.99

      High capacity Value Pack

      $144.99

      $139.99

      Shopping online will save you money. The lowest price we found was around $131.38 for the Value Pack containing all six cartridges with genuine Epson inks. The lowest price we found for individual cartridges was $22.33 and you may need to add freight costs for orders less than $50.

      The cost of individual cartridges should be factored in if you plan to purchase this printer because the inks don't run out at the same time. The review printer displayed a low ink warning for Light Cyan ink after 8 A4 prints but we decided to continue printing to see how far we could go.

      The Light Cyan, which ran out half way through the 13th A4 print and the paper was ejected half-printed. When we loaded a new cartridge, another sheet of paper was drawn up and the remainder of the image was printed on it. Effectively, this wasted two sheets of paper as well as the amount of ink required to cover one sheet.
       
       What happens when a cartridge runs out of ink half way through making a print. (Note: The second half of the image isn't positioned correctly to merge with the first half, assuming the paper remained in the printer while the ink cartridge was changed.)

      The Light Magenta and Yellow cartridges were the next to be depleted, the first after an additional 12 A4 and two A3 prints and the second after a further three A3 prints.  The last cartridge to run out was Magenta, with the Black cartridge one A3 print before it. By the time we had used up all the original cartridges supplied with the printer, we had produced a total of 12 A3 prints, 27 A4 prints and five 5x7-inch prints.

      One nice feature is that a message is displayed on the monitor LCD each time a cartridge is exchanged to let you know the ink cartridge is installed correctly.

      Conclusion
       On paper, Epson's Expression Photo XP-950 looked like a pretty good product – with an affordable price tag that represented good value when you consider all the things this device can do (hence the relatively high overall rating). And, while it will probably suit snapshooters very well (particularly if they have a taste for bright, contrasty prints), it's not as well suited to serious photographers.

      For starters, it doesn't provide enough control over output quality and doesn't support ICC profiles. But also its inherent tendency to boost contrast and saturation limit its ability to produce excellent results across the wide range of image types most photographers produce.

      As an occasional printer of JPEG images, the Expression Photo XP-950 will suit households and small offices with limited desk space. It also provides useful printing, scanning and copying facilities for office documents as well as a useful range of wireless controls. And there are plenty of downloadable apps to facilitate printing from the cloud and with mobile devices like tablets and smart-phones.

       

      SPECS

       Printer type:Multifunction on-demand A3 inkjet printer
       Resolution: 5760 x 1440 optimised dpi with (with Variable Sized Droplet Technology)
       Minimum droplet size: 1.5 picolitre
       Paper sizes: A3 (through rear paper tray), A4, Letter, Legal, 8x10", 5x7", 4x6", 3.5x5", 5x8", A6, A5, B5, Half Letter, Envelopes: No10, DL, C6
       Ink cartridges: 277-series Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, Light Cyan, Light Magenta, Black
       Scanner/copier: A4 Flatbed colour image scanner with CIS sensor, 4800 x 4800 dpi resolution
       LCD Screen: 3.5-inch TFT Colour LCD with touch-screen and gesture navigation
       Interfaces: Hi–Speed USB, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, 10-Base-T, 100 Base-TX Ethernet
       Wi-Fi Direct, PictBridge
       Card slots: CF Type II SD/MMC, Memory Stick Duo, SD, SDHC, SDXC; adapters required for MiniSD, MiniSDHC, MiniSDXC, MicroSD, MicroSDHC, microSDXC, Memory Stick Micro 
       Power consumption: Approx. 21W (copying, ISO/IEC 24712), 7.0W (Ready Mode), 2W (Sleep Mode), 0.4W (Power Off )
       Acoustic noise: 37dB
       Dimensions (wxhxd):  479 x 148 x 356 mm (storage); 479 x 295 x 668 mm (printing)
       Weight: Approx. 8.8 kilograms (without ink cartridges, CD/DVD tray and power cord)

       

      Rating

      RRP: AU$399; US$350

      • Build: 8.5
      • Features: 9.0
      • Print quality (Colour): 8.0
      • Print quality (Monochrome): 8.0
      • Print speed: 8.5
      • Scanning: 8.5

       

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