Review: Sony DPP-SV55 (Printer)
Price: $349.95 (retail)
Requirements: Mac with USB and Mac OS 8.5.1 or better (but not Mac OS X) for printing from computer
So you bought a digital camera, and it’s great. You’ll never again have to worry about running out of film, or taking a bad picture only to find about it weeks later, when it’s too late to try again. Best of all, you can store all your pictures on your computer: no more hassles with albums, and the images will never fade. But what if you want to share your pictures with computer-less relatives or friends? Enter Sony’s DPP-SV55.
Unlike a lot of “photo printers” on the market, this one actually prints photos, of the same quality you’d get if you took a roll of film to a developer. That’s because the printer isn’t an inkjet (whose tiny dots you can see on the page if you look close enough), but a dye sublimation printer, which prints continuous tones. The detail is positively stunning. After the image itself gets printed, a layer of what Sony calls “Super Coat 2” is added to protect your images. This should give them the same lifespan as a regular photograph, avoiding the problems inkjet prints have with fading after only a few years.
Printing takes place in four stages: three colors and then the protective layer. It’s relatively quiet, but certainly not silent, and takes about a minute and a half to produce a 4x6 image. (3x4 print media are also available.) Occasionally when printing, I’ll find an image has a small spot of white (I’m guessing due to an imperfection in the print paper, or a piece of dust stuck to it, since white means none of the three colors were placed on the spot), or a small hair-shaped space where one of the three colors didn’t print (possibly from something being on that particular place on the print film). These problems are both quite rare, and are almost never distracting enough that I decide to scrap the print and try again. They also are more likely to occur among the first one or two pictures I print out of a day’s printing, so perhaps it’s just a matter of a little dust accumulating on the media or getting into the print film, rather than a flaw in manufacturing.
The media sizes have a ratio of 3:2, which isn’t likely to be a setting on your digital camera. (Though my camera, a Sony DSC-P1, has a special 3x2 setting for the highest resolution, no doubt designed with this printer in mind.) That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to edit your image before printing, however. The printer will crop the image, a little from the top and bottom, to make your picture into a 3:2 scale image. That means if you cut it close, the printer might end up cutting off the top of somebody’s head. But you can certainly edit the image on your own so it will be cropped the way you want it to be. The printer always scales/crops the image to fit the size of the print media. The final printed image is borderless, once you break off the tabs on the sides. That leaves not quite smooth sides to your image (think, very fine perforation), but its nothing you’d notice visually if you weren’t looking for it.
As you’d expect, the printer uses proprietary Sony media; you can’t just stick any old piece of paper into this thing. At the 4x6 size, you buy print packs (retail $19.95) with 25 pieces of photo paper and a roll of print film sufficient for printing exactly that many images. The 3x4 size gives you 30 prints for the same price. A bit under a buck a print then, which is definitely more than you’d pay to develop film. But keep in mind the hassle of two trips to the developer and the advantage of being able to print only the images you want to, right on the spot…and the price of printing out a picture will seem pretty reasonable.
Online, I’ve seen print media advertised for as little as eleven dollars and change. Advertised, I say, because there isn’t any in stock, nor has there been in well over a month. In fact, many resellers seem to have a hard time getting their hands on any of Sony’s print media. Those that do have some in stock are charging retail. Last time I checked, CDW had some in stock. With shipping prices (I ordered some media from Outpost back when they offered free shipping, in late February, but they’re still out of stock, in spite of an advertised 1-2 week delivery time posted on their site.) being what they are, I dropped by the Sony showroom in Chicago and paid retail plus tax for a few packs of print media.
The printer itself has two slots in it intended for digital camera media: one for (of course) Sony’s proprietary “memory stick” (in Sony’s documentation, they always put it in quotes), and one for a PC card. So if you have SmartMedia or CompactFlash, you can get a PC Card adapter and you’ll be all set. There is also a USB port (though a cable is not included, which I feel is pretty cheap on Sony’s part) for connecting to your computer.
When you insert media into the printer, you can tell the printer to print all images it finds, or just those selected with a standard DPOF marker (again, my Sony camera supports this; I don’t know how many others do, so check your documentation), which can be put on a picture by a digital camera. Once you’ve made that selection, hit Print and let it go. Simple.
If you happen to have a TV nearby with the right kind of input jack (my five-year-old TV doesn’t have one, but my two-year-old VCR does; Sony’s manual just calls the cable a “Video connecting cable.” An old VCR manual calls it a “round (75 ohm) connector.”), you can connect the printer to the TV to afford you a variety of printing options, such as making a card or calendar, or printing the date (of printing, not the date the picture was taken) on the image. I don’t really understand the target market for these doodads; it seems to me they would appeal to people without a computer, but who would buy a digital camera if they didn’t have a computer?
The interface for the TV screen functions is, to me, much more confusing than an image editing program on my computer, though that may just be because of what I’m used to. I had to consult the manual several times in order to get connected (via my VCR) and to get a calendar picture printed out. The process involved going through no fewer than eight screens, and it’s quite slow, at least by computer standards. Also, since TVs have downright awful resolution, previewing doesn’t give you as clear an idea as you might want of how your picture will come out. All that said, I am happy with the results.
Support for printing from a computer, at least a Macintosh, is positively abysmal. I’ve seen many reports on the Web of borderless printing not working when printing from a Mac, and I’ve confirmed that with my own experience. (About 1/8 of an inch of white space is left on one side.) Also, when printing from a computer, none of the automatic cropping takes place to account for images that aren’t 3:2, so if you don’t crop your image to a perfect 3:2 ratio, you’ll again have borders.
The look-and-feel of the print dialogues is decidedly Windows-like, and worst of all, the “Print” buttons visible from “Page Setup” and from previewing the image do not work at all: you have to select “Print” directly. The readme file included with the print software is written in very poor English, surprising given Sony’s high-profile presence in the English-speaking world. All in all, its pretty clear that Mac printing capability was an afterthought, and not tested adequately before sending the product to market. The good news is that these problems could all be fixed by Sony updating its Mac printer drivers…but will they?
Overall, I’m extremely satisfied with the Sony DPP-SV55. I bought it to print out digital pictures, and it performs that function beautifully and easily. The TV interface gives some nice basic options for printing your images, if you’re willing to wade through the numerous screens. My only major complaints about this device are the relative unavailability of print media and the poor support for printing from a Mac. Regardless, image quality is the most important characteristic of a photo printer, and in that area, the DPP-SV55 really shines.