Epson Stylus Photo 870 and Sony UP-DP10

Two new photo printers - Epson's $799 Stylus Photo 870 and Sony's $680 (ex tax) UP-DP10 - come as close as any that I've seen to achieving this goal. I tested shipping units equipped with pre-production drivers.

In a nutshell: If you're comfortable investing around $700 in a printer that handles only photos, the Sony deserves consideration. It's especially worthwhile if you're satisfied with your conventional printer for documents but want better photos for little loss of desk space. But the Epson's fine print quality, greater versatility, and price give it broader appeal.

Epson Stylus Photo 870

Sony UP-DP10

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At first glance, the Stylus Photo 870 behaves like a typical inkjet. It prints black text and colour graphics on plain paper, and has both USB and parallel ports. This device really struts its stuff when you print your photos on Epson's special paper. The resulting images are gorgeous, with accurate, subtle colours and a continuous-tone look belying their inkjet origins. Although most inkjet photos are notoriously prone to fading, Epson says prints on its new paper will last as long as traditional silver halide photos.

In my tests using a USB connection, the Stylus Photo 870 printed an 8x10in photo in about four minutes; 4x6in snapshots took around 90 seconds apiece. A 4x6in print costs about $1.70 for special paper and ink. My one big gripe: Epson's roll paper, which you can use to print edge-to-edge snapshots, is cumbersome to handle. You have to cut strips of photos apart manually. And as with previous Epson photo printers, black text prints on plain paper a tad fuzzily. Even so, this versatile printer is a find for serious digital shutterbugs. (A wide-format version, the $1099 Stylus Photo 1270, prints at sizes up to 13x44in.)Epson Stylus Photo 870Price: $799 (incl. tax)Phone: (02) 9903 9000URL: www.epson.com.au

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One look tells you that Sony's UP-DP10 is a highly unusual photo printer: its skinny, upright shape fits easily in tight quarters. The compact design is crucial, given that this unit won't be your only printer: it produces only photos, none larger than 4x6in. A 2x3in or 3x4in print costs about $1.20, comparable to what you would pay for film and prints at a mid-range photo finisher. Each photo took about 90 seconds to print in my tests, using a USB connection. (Both printers offer parallel port connections, too, but you'll get slower speeds if you use them.)The Sony creates prints that most people will think you just received from the photo lab - especially since you can mimic the look and feel of a glossy, matte or textured finish. The printer uses dye sublimation, a process that many high-end colour models use to avoid the inkjet's tendency to fade.

The UP-DP10's image quality is better than fair but falls short of the Epson's. Contrast was a little off - details such as wrinkles in dark clothing disappeared - and lower-resolution pictures occasionally showed jaggy edges.

Sony UP-DP10

Price: $680 (ex tax)

Phone: 1800 017 669; (02) 9331 1355

URL: www.sony.com.au