Lightening the Darkroom

Lightening the Darkroom

If there’s one thing to love about digital photography, it’s the instant gratification. There’s no reason to wait one hour for your prints. If you have your own home digital photo lab, within minutes, you can shoot, print, and flip through a stack of prints - and you don’t have to spend a ton of money on heavy equipment.


Printing your own photos at home is easier now than it’s even been. Home photo printers and point-and-shoot cameras are filled with features that make it easier than ever to print your shots, and most cameras and printers produce great pictures right out of the box. Prices are so low that you can put together a great printer and camera combo for $600 or less - we mention the manufacturer’s suggested retail prices for each product, but chances are, you can find a printer or camera for a few dollars less than the MSRP.


The only problem is the surfeit of options. So we’ve tested and paired five cameras with five printers to conjure up a few examples of the perfect photo lab. The Best Bet section (below) features a great camera and printer. The Price/Performance category (p2) will cost you a little less money but doesn’t require any significant compromises in capability. Our Budget combo (p3) produces the best bang for the buck, and we also give you a couple of additional options to consider. Almost all of the printers featured here don’t even require a Mac. You can use either the PictBridge technology that lets you print directly from your camera via USB, or you can insert the camera’s memory card into the printer’s memory-card slot.



The 10-megapixel Nikon Coolpix P5000 is a small camera with a big set of features that can dramatically improve the images you capture. Nikon’s Red-Eye Fix does an excellent job of ensuring that your photo subjects won’t look like crazed, laser-eyed werewolves. Face Priority finds and automatically focuses on your subject’s faces rather than some arbitrary other point in the frame. D-Lighting subtly bumps up brightness and detail when you’re shooting in dim conditions, while Vibration Reduction cuts back on out-of-focus shots due to unsteady hands.


All of these features worked perfectly in our tests. With its complement of manual controls, this is also a camera you can grow into. You’ll get great shots whether you put the camera on automatic, opt for full manual control, or land somewhere in between. Optional add-on lenses (a telephoto converter lens that extends the reach of the zoom to 378mm for long-distance shots, and a wide-angle converter lens with a focal length of 24mm) also extend this camera’s potential.


Our only small gripe: Like virtually all compact digital cameras, the Coolpix P5000 takes its time focusing (about 1.6 seconds to focus in perfect lighting conditions) and so it isn’t best suited for capturing action shots unless you prefocus (frame the image, depress the shutter button halfway, hold it there until the perfect picture presents itself, and then fully depress the shutter). But the images we took with the Coolpix P5000 were terrific overall, with vibrant, natural color, good contrast, and virtually no noise - even the ones captured in dim outdoor lighting and harsh indoor lighting. And the P5000 accepts an external flash unit, a nice plus.


Pair the Coolpix P5000 with Canon’s Pixma MP610, with its printer, scanner and memory-card reader, and you have a home photo lab capable of turning out excellent prints. The Pixma MP610 speedily produces crisp, true–to-life color pictures and decent black-and-whites from its five ink cartridges (cyan, magenta, yellow, and two black inks). It has a bright 2.5-inch color LCD for previewing photos, and you can set it to print a contact sheet of the last 36, 72, 108, or 144 pictures stored on your camera’s memory card, which is much quicker than flipping though a slew of photos on a card. It handles paper sizes from business cards to 8 by 10 inches.


Camera: Nikon Coolpix P5000 ($399.95), Printer: Canon Pixma MP610 ($199.99), Total Cost: About $600






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brad Beauchemin

Are you sure this printer can print up to 44" in length?

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