Great pictures, small packages

Features

You won’t see much variety in terms of extra features for this group of printers. The only one with a notably different capability is the PictureMate Zoom, which includes a built-in CD burner. This feature would come in handy if you ran out of ink or paper or you just wanted a quick way to distribute all your photos to family and friends at an event.

Epson PictureMate Zoom PM 290
For special occasions when you’re nowhere near a power outlet (say, at a beach party or cookout), the PictureMate Zoom and mini320 both offer optional batteries that you can purchase separately.

Memory cards

Most compact photo printers support a wide range of memory cards, freeing you of the need to connect via USB to your Mac. The PictureMate Zoom supports CompactFlash (Types I and II), Memory Stick, Microdrive, MultiMediaCard (MMC), SDHC, Secure Digital, and xD-Picture Card. The two HP printers support most of that lineup, along with the Memory Stick Duo.

The mini320 and the Selphy CP740 add the Memory Stick Pro to that list—but they omit the xD-Picture Card, which leaves many Fujifilm and Olympus photographers out of luck unless they purchase a separate card adapter.

If the CP740 doesn’t support your camera’s memory card, you have another option: the printer includes a special retractable USB cable that will connect with PictBridge-compatible digital cameras.

Paper

Compact photo printers were originally designed to print 4-by-6-inch photos, but today most of them can print other sizes too. Both HP models, for example, can print up to 4-by-12-inch panoramas—which comes in handy for people who enjoy snapping landscapes. The flexibility in print sizes these two printers offer will appeal to the flourishing scrapbook and photo hobbyist communities.

The Pixma mini320 can also print several photo sizes up to 5 by 7 inches. This range isn’t as impressive as that of the two HP printers, but the option to print 5-by-7-inch photos is practical.

I mentioned earlier that the PictureMate Zoom was the top performer in quality and speed. Disappointingly, it can print only 4-by-6-inch photos. With compact printers, you’ll probably be printing in this size most often, but the limitation is still unfortunate.

HP Photosmart A826
The Selphy CP740 was the most disappointing when it came to paper size—it can print 4 by 6 photos only as postcards. Canon offers just one type of paper for the CP740 in this size—and it isn’t exactly photo paper, but rather 4-by-6-inch postcard paper, so that the back of every photo you print at that size includes address lines and a box where you can stick a stamp. Because the CP740 is a dye-sub printer, it requires a special type of paper, so you can’t get away with using another vendor’s paper or generic photo paper. I found this limitation frustrating, as the CP740 is advertised as a photo printer, not specifically as a postcard printer. And its prints are pleasing enough so that I’d want to print more than just postcards.

Print price

The PictureMate Zoom was the only printer to use the traditional CMYK cartridge found in most modern ink-jet printers. Thus, the PictureMate Zoom produced the photos with the most accurate colors, the best shadow detail, and the deepest, truest blacks. Ironically, the PictureMate Zoom’s cost per print is the lowest of the bunch. Epson offers an economical ink-and-paper combination pack containing one cartridge and 150 sheets of 4-by-6-inch glossy photo paper, putting the cost per print at 25 cents.

Compare this to the mini320. For $30, Canon offers a similar combination pack containing 100 sheets of glossy photo paper and an ink cartridge, making the cost per print 30 cents. Last year, Canon offered the same combination pack for the mini260 model ( ) for $28, which means that the cost per print has gone up 2 cents. That may seem insignificant, but at 30 cents per print, the mini320 is the most expensive to use of all the compact photo printers we reviewed.

HP offers the same ink-and-paper combo for both the A826 and the A626. At $35 for 120 sheets and one ink cartridge, the price per print calculates to 29 cents for these printers.

The Selphy CP740 has a modest price per print. Canon sells its ink and postcard paper combination pack, yielding 108 prints, for $30; the price per print comes to 27 cents.

 

Compact Photo Printers Compared

Product Rating Price Number of inks Cost per print ¹ Print sizes (in inches) Memory cards Color print quality Black-and-white print quality
Canon Pixma mini320 3.5 mice $180 3 30 cents Credit card (2.13 x 3.39), 4 x 6, 4 x 8, 5 x 7, photo stickers CompactFlash, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Microdrive, MultiMediaCard, SDHC, Secure Digital Very Good N/A
Canon Selphy CP740 3.0 mice $100 3 ² 27 cents Credit card (2.13 x 3.39), credit-card label sheet (2.13 x 3.39), credit-card minilabel sheet (2.13 x 3.39), postcard (4 x 6), 4 x 8 CompactFlash, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick Pro, Memory Stick Pro Duo, Microdrive, MultiMediaCard, MMCmobile, MMCplus, RS-MMC, SDHC, miniSDHC, Secure Digital, miniSD Good N/A
Epson PictureMate Zoom PM 290 4.5 mice $200 4 25 cents 4 x 6 CompactFlash Type I and II, Memory Stick, Microdrive, MultiMediaCard, SDHC, Secure Digital, xD-Picture Card (Type M/H) Very Good Very Good
Hewlett-PackardPhotosmart A626 3.5 mice $150 3 29 cents 4 x 6, 4 x 6.5, 4 x 8 photo card, 4 x 12 panorama, 5 x 7 CompactFlash Type I and II, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Duo, MultiMediaCard, Secure MultiMediaCard, Secure Digital, xD-Picture Card Good Fair
Hewlett-Packard Photosmart A826 3.5 mice $250 3 29 cents 4 x 6, 4 x 6.5, 4 x 8 photo card, 4 x 12 panorama, 5 x 7 CompactFlash Type I and II, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Duo, MultiMediaCard, Secure MultiMediaCard, Secure Digital, xD-Picture Card Good Fair

How we tested: We printed all test files from a SanDisk CompactFlash card inserted into the printer. A panel of experts examined samples of the printer’s output to rate its print quality as Superior, Very Good, Good, Fair, or Poor in comparison to the output of past compact photo printers we’ve tested. ¹Calculated using the price of the vendor’s photo-paper-and-ink package and dividing it by the vendor's estimated yield for a single ink cartridge. &sup2This printer uses dye-sublimation printing technology.—Macworld Lab testing by Brian Chen

 

Macworld’s buying advice

By far, the Epson PictureMate Zoom stood out as the strongest candidate of the five models. It printed the highest-quality photos at the fastest speeds. It provides a user-friendly control panel and interface, and its convenient carrying handle and battery option make it perfect for mobile use. Best of all, given its quality and top performance, the PictureMate Zoom is the least expensive of the five printers to use. Its only disadvantage is its print-size limitation, which its other fine features heavily outweigh.

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