The problem with most printers is that they don't travel well. Olympus's Camedia P-200, however, is small enough to hold in one hand and it's battery-powered so it works anytime and anywhere. The printer has a couple of major limitations, but if you need portability, the P-200 might be a fine accessory to your arsenal of photo gear.
On the Go
The P-200 is packed in a sturdy plastic case that's reinforced with panels of aluminum, and it measures a mere 5 by 6 by 2 inches. The printer accepts both CompactFlash (Types I and II) and SmartMedia cards, and the slots are easily accessible on the printer's face. The top surface also has an LCD that gives the status of the printer's controls and print jobs, and lights that communicate the status of print jobs, battery power, and paper and ink supply. Despite this array of controls and indicators, however, the P-200 doesn't always give adequate feedback. When I inserted an improperly formatted CompactFlash card into the drive, the printer didn't tell me anything was wrong, but beeped three times whenever I tried to print, change a setting, or push any button. Perplexed, I had to call tech support (which, incidentally, is a toll-free number).
The P-200 is a dye-sublimation printer with a maximum resolution of 320 dpi. While this may not sound like stellar resolution compared to the 1,440 dpi that many ink-jet printers have, the P-200 cranks out prints that are almost indistinguishable from photographs. (Dye-sublimation heats a ribbon and presses it against the paper. This gives more continuous tones, in contrast to ink-jet printers, which leave small but perceptible dots.) And compared with other dye-sub printers, the P-200 holds its own -- gradients are smooth, with imperceptible banding; colors are rich and well-saturated; and details are clearly evident even in dark, shadowy areas. The printer created an artifact on one print out of 20 -- a small red splotch. I reprinted that file without incident.
The P-200 also has a filter for softness or sharpness that works well: sharpening helps a blurry picture; softening helps fill in jags in rough, low-resolution images.
Paper feeds into the front through a clip-on cassette. The printer only accepts 3.14-by-4.94-inch paper (available from a variety of companies), and has a maximum print size of 3 by 4 inches -- the P-200 automatically scales all images to fit this format. The printer does have a few thoughtful options for this paper size, however; you can print up to 16 small images per sheet, or up to 30 numerically indexed images. Plus, preformatted sticker paper is available if you print 16 images to a sheet.
Speed and Stamina
Before you insert media into the P-200, it is important to write down the file names for the images you want to print. After the media is in the printer, the LCD will list the file names and you can choose which to print.
The printer takes four passes to produce a print (one each for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black), so it's not the fastest printer in the universe, but, because it only prints on 4-by-3-inch paper, it doesn't dawdle either; it produces 72-dpi images in about a minute and a half, and 300-dpi images in about three and a half minutes.
The ribbon and 25 sheets of paper are packaged together for $25; replacing both at the same time eliminates the risk of wasting paper on low-ink prints.
The printer's NiMH battery snaps onto its back, and it automatically recharges when the printer is plugged in. While the battery claims to provide enough power to print about 50 prints per charge, mine gave up after only 9.
What's a Mac?
The biggest problem with the P-200 is that it offers no direct connection to a Mac. While there is a workaround, it's far from perfect. With a CompactFlash or SmartMedia reader (inexpensive ones cost around $50), you can copy files from your Mac to the CompactFlash or SmartMedia card, and then pop the card into the printer. (With such a drive you can also bring photos into your Mac for editing before you print.) Unfortunately, you must rename the file and reorganize the folder structure on the card so the printer thinks it came directly from a digital camera. To do this, take a picture with a digital camera before you move the card to the Mac and imitate the file-naming convention on the card for the files you want to print. Also, after much trial and error, I realized that files need to be in RGB mode rather than CMYK for the printer to read them -- otherwise, you'll get the dreaded three-beep error response. The P-200 only prints files in the JPEG or TIFF formats. Using Adobe Photoshop or the free Graphics Converter, you can convert just about any graphics file to JPEG format.
Clearly, the P-200 may not be for everyone, but for a portable, battery-powered printer, it produces some very impressive images.Olympus's Camedia P-200