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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Canon ImagePrograf 2000 Review - Part 5

Way back in August and September of last year I wrote a four part review of my new Canon ImagePrograf 2000 wide format printer. I had bought the new printer following three print head failures in two Epson 7900 wide format printers over several prior years. Therefore, I think it is only fair that I provide a follow up to my Canon review (you will see what I mean shortly).

The print quality of the ImagePrograf 2000 has been excellent, both in black and white and in color. I have not done formal testing of any sort comparing Canon to Epson, but I can say that, to my eye, the print quality of the Canon is every bit as good as the Epson. If one reads reviews on the internet you can learn how one machine handles a specific color a bit better than the other and vice versa. But the bottom line is that both brands make professional level printers that are capable of producing excellent quality prints in both color and black and white. 

I could quibble a bit with the method of loading sheet paper in the Canon. The Epson method is easier (at least in their wide format models) but it's no big deal really. I also find that if one is using thick art paper in roll form that the auto paper load for rolls often fails.....but, no matter, you can still load it manually quite easily.

But here is why I thought I needed to add a part 5 to my review of the Canon ImagePrograf 2000. I had an early head failure after approximately 8 months of using the machine. There was loss of small segments in the nozzle check pattern of the yellow channel that would not come back with multiple cleanings, though I have to admit it was hard to tell there was a problem in the prints. Nonetheless, I could not restore a completely normal nozzle check pattern. Shades of the Epson 7900, though head failure in the Epson's always led to visible banding on prints.

Here is the difference though. With the Epson (once off warranty), the cost to replace the head by an authorized repair person (which was only guaranteed for 30 days post replacement if I recall correctly) was enough that you might as well toss the whole machine and buy a new one. Plus, besides the frustration, I also needed to pay a mover to get a new replacement machine where it needed to get to. All in all, an expensive proposition.

The Canon experience was different though. First of all, the machine was still on warranty and Canon had no problem sending me a new print head. So no scheduled repair people, no need to be home, no need to see your printer dismantled and lying in pieces. If the machine wasn't on warranty the replacement would cost a not insignificant $675, but still dramatically less than a replacement printer. And forget the inconvenience of needing a mover like I did when the Epson needed a new print head and I had to replace the whole thing.

And here is the best part.....replacing the print head was EASY. It took about fifteen minutes without having to undo as much as a screw. Just set the menu to replace, open two latches, pull the old print head out, drop the new one in, close the two latches and you are good to go once the machine does an auto adjustment and color calibration. Problem solved. 

Yeah, it was a little discouraging that it occurred so soon, and I did choose to redo my paper profiles (which cost me some time), but I'm back making beautiful prints again without having had to experience major hassles!

Canon ImagePrograf 2000 Review - Part 3

Setting Up The Printer

Prior portions of this review can be found her:

As one can see from Parts 1 and 2 of this review, getting the printer to where it needed to go was no small task. It is very clear to me that there is simply no way the 48 inch Canon IPG 4000 could have made it up to my 'Photography Man-Cave'.  Perhaps one day in a different location.....

Moving the printer to where it needed to go required turning it onto its side and lifting it vertically to get it up a narrow and winding staircase. There is no problem doing this (assuming one doesn't drop the nearly 200 pound device.....between the weight of the printer and the size of one of the two the fairly burly people doing the moving, one of the wooden steps actually broke) as long as the printer is new and not charged with ink.  Once filled with ink you would do well to keep the printer fairly level.

Reading the setup manual that came with the printer made me a little nervous, as it sounded like it might be a bit complicated. There were three items that worried me.  Most concerning was the bit about installing the printhead by yourself.  Ah, that printhead......the Achilles heel of my old Epson 7900! Second, the ink cartridge insertion levers seemed far more complicated than my old Epson, where you just pushed the cartridges into the slot and were done with it.  Finally, there were some adjustment parameters to be made.

Well, as it turns out, the whole setup process was actually very simple. In fact, you could pretty much do it by simply following the directions that the printer itself gives you on its LED control screen. The screen tells you what to do step by step, along with images of what you should be doing. My concerns really were unfounded. This was very nicely done by Canon! 

As it turns out, the oh so delicate printhead was extremely easy to insert. You simply open two lever locks, drop it in, and close the two lever locks. That's it!  If you can manage to get it from the package to the printer without dropping it you are good to go. That was no easy feat despite the fact that it only weighs a few ounces considering that I just knocked my coffee over onto the keyboard of my laptop while I am typing this.....really!! How the laptop is still working must be a miracle.

Ink cartridge insertion was just as easy. The Epson cartridges were pressurized and could therefore be inserted on a horizontal plane by just pushing them in. I don't know if the Canon cartridges are pressurized or not, but they load on a vertical plane and the slot has to be deep in order to accommodate the largest size cartridges. This means that if you were using smaller cartridges you would have to stick your arm down into the slot if they were inserted by simply pushing. Instead, there is a 'carriage' which holds the cartridge and which is controlled by a lever that lowers the cartridge into place and then locks. Again, it is very easy to do and once you do one it takes only a couple of seconds to do the others. As a nice touch, there are little plastic tabs on the cartridges that match the ink color slots and prevent your inserting the wrong color cartridge into any of the slots.  I decided not to test this feature out :)

Lastly, the printhead adjustments......nothing to fear. They are all automatic. All you have to do is feed the printer paper (supplied with the printer) when the LED panel asks for it. Once again, the process was really quite easy and required no user 'decision making'.

The printer offers various options for connectivity including USB (2.0), Ethernet cable, and wireless. Since it sits right next to my computer and I intermittently have problems with my router I simply connected via USB. One thing that is very nice is that once connected you simply open your web browser and type in a URL that you are given and are presented with the latest driver to install along with a nice array of software.  This includes accounting software that lets you keep track of the cost of your printing, a media configuration kit that lets you put together printer settings for custom media (I mostly print on third party papers) and several other useful programs.

My next (and final) installment of this review will talk about using the printer (including an annoying quirk) and the admittedly subjective quality of the prints (spoiler....the print quality is really superb to my eye).

Canon ImagePrograf 2000 Review - Part II

Unboxing, Moving, And General Impressions:

Part I of my review, Getting It Into The House, can be found here.

I have never been one to be overly excited about 'unboxing' information. But given the struggle to get this wide format printer into the house there is something to be said for assessing the packing material. In my mind probably the most important part of this involves how the printer is situated relative to the wooden shipping palette itself. In this case, the bottom of the wooden palette actually only has a very thin piece of cardboard covering it BUT there are two large pieces of Styrofoam that lift the printer off the surface of the wood and appear to provide good protection from palette damage. The top and sides of the printer are also well protected with Styrofoam, which has cutouts at the top to hold the supplied ink cartridges (starter cartridges only.....just like Epson....nobody wants to give the consumer a break!), printhead, and parts for the printer's stand.

Once the machine is unpacked and the stand assembled the next challenge is getting the printer to where you want to keep it. One no longer has to worry about a 300 pound palette. The printer itself weighs 'only' 185 pounds. Not too bad. However, it is VERY bulky and you have to be careful to lift it only from certain areas that can support the weight. There are very nice built in 'handle grips'. Two strong people can lift it, but more would be preferable.

But where to put it? Unless your home 'studio' or office is on the first level of your home, the machine is going to have to go up or down stairs. My situation was a real challenge. In the city where I live the homes can be very old and have a fairly unique architecture that is common in the region. My house is well over 100 years old and my 'studio' is on the third floor. Homes of this age are typically built with third floors! And worse, while the stairway to the second floor is normal in size, the stairway from second to third floor is extremely narrow and makes a 360 degree turn!. My Epson 7900 required professional movers to get the machine up to the third floor and I took the same approach with the Canon. It was NOT easy, but it was accomplished, though the machine did have to be turned on its side to traverse the 360 degree hairpin turn. Plan for the difficulty of moving the machine once unboxed!

In order to provide some information that I would have found very helpful, but was unable to locate on-line, I am going to give the maximal measurement for each of the machines dimensions (in inches) OFF the stand. The Canon website seems to insist on including the stand. The length is 43 3/4 inches , the depth (front to back) is 28 1/4 inches, and the height (top to bottom) is 25 inches. This information may be useful if you are trying to figure out if the printer will fit through a door or up a stairwell. The stand is no problem as it comes unassembled.

So what about the build, particularly as compared to my old Epson 7900?

The entire machine is structured very differently from the Epson printer. The ink tanks, paper roll holder, and paper feed are all in different locations. Once I get the machine going and get facile in its use I will be able to tell if I feel the arrangement is any better, worse, or the same. However, the Canon, to me, does feel somewhat 'flimsier' or more 'plasticy' than the Epson. Of course, this also contributes to its being a bit lighter, which is very helpful in terms of moving the machine to where it needs to be. Other than for protection while moving I doubt that the difference in build is likely to be meaningful in everyday usage.

The printer stand is solidly built and easy to assemble.

There are two items which I feel are missing and should have been supplied. First, no USB cable for connecting to the computer.....really?? And how about a printed manual. There is a small printed pamphlet on loading up the inks, inserting the printhead, and starting and calibrating the printer. But beyond that you are referred to the on-line manual. I do think that for a device as sophisticated as this, enclosing a printed manual (Epson does) is really scrimping in a foolish way.

Coming in August......firing up the printer, ease of use, and subjective print quality!

The Canon ImagePrograf 2000 makes it to its third floor 'resting place'

Squarespace - The Cons

When I first decided to write a post about the cons of using Squarespace to build and host my website I actually had a far larger list than I do now.  Like any tool, it takes some getting used to.  Let me state at the outset that now that I have finished putting together the site I am extremely pleased with Squarespace overall and can VERY HIGHLY recommend it to those interested in building and hosting a website.

I should add that the site is now live (which I guess you already know if you are reading this) at www.howardgrill.com.  

Also, see my post about the 'Pros' of Squarespace.

So what do I think could be improved?

  • The 'blocks' from which you build your pages are mostly a big plus and the various types of 'blocks' are varied (text, image, forms etc.), but when moving them around it can sometimes be difficult to drop them exactly where you would like them to go.  Its pretty easy if you want the whole page in, say, two columns.  But if you want one column in half the page and two in the other half (such as in some of my Carrie Furnace with audio pages) it can get a bit difficult to get the blocks to behave.  In this instance I found it far easier to build the two column part first and then drop in a single column above or below. But I wasted a fair bit of time discovering that.
  • Although you can add custom code to the templates there is still a bit too much restriction.  For example, I can't have my home page play an auto-run slideshow without every other gallery also being on auto-play.  My home page configured as a gallery can't display text on it.  If I configure it as a 'Page' with a 'Gallery Block' I can have text, but then the image won't be as large.
  • Although the degree of configurability and options are quite good there are some simple options that are missing.  For example, having the ability to have a border around your content, or to have a stroke and a watermark automatically added to uploaded images.  I would think options such as that would not be too difficult to add. The ability to make changes to one specific page's appearance would also be welcome.
  • The blog pages functionality and appearance vary greatly from template to template. Since blogs are often a large draw into a website and often the most updated and added to portion of the website there needs to be more options and customization. SOME templates have a good number of blog options, but this one that I chose did not. There is no sidebar in which to insert a search function or calendar to pull up old posts.  No blogroll. It was a battle to even get the header with the title Motivation onto the blog page and it took some manipulation and custom coding.  These are real shortcomings for a blog page. I did finally manage to at least make a blog summary page that has a search function and calendar but those are things that are out of place on a separate page. 
  • What, no preview mode for unpublished posts?
  • The e-commerce function uses a credit card processor only (at a very reasonable rate I should add) but there is no ability to use Paypal.  Paypal is so popular these days that this should really not be the case.

Switching away from the negatives, I also want to mention their customer service.  It simply doesn't get any better and I should have mentioned it in my last post.  Response time is always under an hour and mostly significantly less than that.  Unfortunately they will NOT help you with any custom coding, however, I can well understand why that might be the case. And when there is something you want the template or service to do that it can't they will right out tell you they can't do it.  But let me point out two examples of what they can do besides help you accurately and rapidly with the routine built in building functions:

  • My product search block on the template simply wasn't working properly.  It clearly was a problem with the template code and not anything I did.  They didn't BS me.  They told me there appeared to be a problem and told me they were referring it to the tech side to work on, but that they couldn't tell how long it would take.  I gave it up as a lost cause. Like many things with the templates, I found a work-around that did the job another way. But three days later I got an email saying they hadn't forgotten and they fixed it.  Sure enough, it worked.
  • My domain name is held elsewhere and I couldn't figure out the myriad of settings that needed to be made over at the company that held the domain in order for the URL to point to my new site.  It took about ten emails back and forth with the Squarespace customer service.  But they responded every thirty minutes like clockwork with screenshots and specifics of what settings on the screenshot needed to be changed and what to change them to.

In summary, nothing is perfect, and neither is Squarespace.  But given the myriad of specifics that I wanted, it was clearly the closest to perfection that I think is out there.  In fact, if they would just make all the template blog pages as good as the best ones they already have they would be 95% of the way to being pretty perfect.

With the knowledge of the above issues, I recommend Squarespace highly and without reservation.  Give their free trial a try if you are thinking of building that website that you really do need!

Gura Gear Bataflae 32L Review

I recently purchased the Gura Gear Bataflae 32L camera bag and sold my Kiboko bag. I ended up never really using the Kiboko because I just didn't like the fact that I couldn't completely open it in the traditional style.  I purchased the Bataflae just prior to going on a trip to Smoky Mountains National Park and got to give it a good 'real life' workout.  Given the relatively hefty price tag for the bag, I thought I might review it in a slightly different way.  Most of the reviews out there are exceedingly positive and say little about the negatives or areas of possible improvement with the bag.......I want to give 'both sides of the coin'. Let's start with the positives:

1) It is extremely well made, no question about it....high quality craftsmanship.

2) The sailcloth it is made from seems to live up to the durability that Gura Gear claims

3) It holds a ton of camera gear.  I fully loaded mine for the trip and, even if it were bigger, I don't think my back could carry much more.

4) As most reviews state, the zippers are amazing.  Why get so excited about zippers? Zippers are often a weak point in bags, especially the internal ones (I don't think I have a single Lowepro bag where the internal zippers still work properly!).

5) Great array of flaps and pockets for smaller pieces of equipment

6) It feels comfortable when worn

7) The ability to open the entire cover like a more traditional bag is a big plus, at least for me.

But you can read all the above in an array of on-line reviews.  I am going to now talk about what I think (opinion here) are the areas that could be improved upon and that I didn't find mentioned in other reviews:

1) OK, this first comment isn't really going to be a negative, but just a statement of compromise.  The bag, to me, clearly seems less protective than the Lowepro and Tamrac bags that I have had or have.  The dividers are thinner, less rigid, and less padded, as are the sides and bottom of the bag itself.  If I had to put all my equipment in a bag and drop it onto concrete this is not the bag I would choose.  Would the equipment survive......I have no data to base it on, but my sense is that it probably would.  But, despite having no hard data, I just don't feel that the protection is as great as in the other bags I have owned.

But here is the kicker.  It is far lighter than those other bags.  I can't load up and wear those bags for very long.  So if the gear is better protected but I can't bring what I want because I can't wear the bag, then what good does it do me?  In short, I feel that Gura Gear has really hit a very nice compromise between protection and weight/usability.  If you want to carry very little gear then, by all means, get a bag built like a tank......because putting a body and two lenses in it isn't going to make it weigh very much more.  But if you are like me and would like to bring the kitchen sink if you could, then I think this bag really hits the 'sweet spot' between weight and protection....so, in retrospect, perhaps I should have listed this comment as a positive.

2) I think Gura Gear made a poor decision in increasing the depth of the bag compared to the Kiboko.  Now this is a personal opinion and may simply reflect the equipment I own, but there aren't any lenses that I can stand upright in the Bataflae that I could not already stand upright in the Kiboko.  So why make it a bigger bag, making it that much more unlikely to get on board a plane or regional jet, etc.  For example, I can not stand my Canon 180 macro or 70-200 upright in the bag.  All the other lenses that I can stand upright, I could also store in the same position as the Kiboko.

3) The top flap for smaller items that opens without giving access to the inside of the bag is very, very convenient.  But why only allow it to zip on two sides, limiting accessibility to the inside. The only reason I can think of is that the pocket, while very large, is shallow and if you opened it all the way perhaps objects it contained could spill out.  However, there are pockets within the flap to contain items and that is where I store things, not loose inside to 'jangle' around.

I think that a better design would be for the zipper to go around three sides of the flap to improve opening and access.  A compromise might have been to have it go around three sides with an expandable pocket along the short third side to keep the flap contained but able to open wider.

4) A warning:  Using a bag with side flaps as opposed to the traditional opening design takes some getting used to.  With the traditional design, if the bag is open it is clearly open.  Even if you close the cover and don't zip it up you can pretty easily tell at a glance that the bag is open.  In the side flap access method, the flap doesn't really lay open if the bag is loaded.  With there being two flaps, it is easy to look at the bag from the side of the closed flap and think both sides are zipped.

True horror story:  One day during the trip I was exhausted from the early morning sunrise shooting and, since it was bright in the afternoon, took a mid-day nap.  When the alarm woke me in a daze to get things together to go back out for the evening shooting, I put the bag on thinking it was closed....it looked closed.  In actuality, I had left one side flap unzipped in order to put a new card in the camera. I made it all through my carpeted motel room and down the stairs out to the car when out crashed my brand new Canon 24-70 f2.8 L MkII lens to the pavement.  Goodbye VERY expensive lens with the front element scratched , a noise inside when you shake it, and 'jamming' when you zoom past 5omm focal length!  So it is always good advice to make sure you are all 'zipped up'!

5) Though the sailcloth is quite tough, my gray bag developed a small yellow/orange stain after it was in use for only a few days.  I am not sure where it came from but I certainly wasn't dripping any foreign substances onto it.

In summary, I do think that this is an excellent bag for people that would like to carry around a fair amount of gear.  It is an extremely nice compromise between weight and protection.  But, as my friend Bob who went on the trip with me always says, 'everything in photography is a compromise'!  And he's right.

The above caveats notwithstanding, I do recommend highly recommend the Bataflae!