I Zink we have a problem

Back in September, I wrote about the Dell Wasabi portable photo printer that uses Zink ("zero ink") paper. I was excited about the possibilities such a portable printer could open. I am disappointed to write, however, that there is a problem. It seems that the Zink paper does not hold images well over time. The colors on prints from the Wasabi were a little weak to begin with, but three out of four prints that have been attached to my computer's monitor are now almost devoid of color. They look like proofs on Polaroid 672. The fourth one looks roughly like a Polaroid 600 with its dull colors. I don't know if they degrade because of exposure to air (they come in sealed packs) or ultraviolet light or if they simply break down chemically over time. Regardless of the mechanism at work, my enthusiasm has faded with the colors.

I have a Polaroid Pogo printer that also uses Zink paper but I haven't had a chance yet to try it. I don't know if the colors are any better than the Wasabi's or any more durable. I'll let you know once I get around to checking it out.

A bad image

The strangest thing happened to me the other day. Fresh off my euphoria over finally being able to print again, I started having trouble printing a particular image. The image printed fine the first two times but the trouble started when I changed the color density parameter in the new printer driver. Naturally, I assumed that the parameter was the problem. I changed it back to zero and tried printing again. That changed the manifestation, but not the nature, of the problem. I took it as tentative confirmation that I was on the right track and would be justified in blaming the problem on the new driver. I delved into the bowels of the operating system to remove the new driver and installed a driver that was yet newer from the Epson web site. That was a step backwards. I had fewer options, no monitor utility, and still the problem. The metaphorical light bulb over my head turned on and I decided to restore the driver from my previous day's Time Machine backup. That returned me to the familiar driver with the monitor utility and all the options I was used to seeing, but did not fix the problem.

I started analyzing what else could be wrong. I had been printing from Lightroom so I tried to print the same image from Photoshop. No bueno. Then I started thinking... this was a grayscale TIFF. I have an RGB version of the same file left over from some testing I was doing a year or so ago. I tried printing that and it came out perfectly! I printed several other images without any trouble. When I tried to print the suspect image again, I had the same trouble as before. Only part of the image would print but the print queue showed that it was still sending data to the printer. This is a bizarre bug, but apparently the driver or the printer doesn't like something about that particular image file. I will have to do more testing to determine whether this happens with all grayscale TIFFs or just that one file.

So the problem was apparently not the driver after all, but I'm not letting the driver off the hook just yet. The driver Epson has posted on their web site seems to be incomplete. The best I can determine at this point (without further testing) is that the new driver on their web site is missing some libraries and the monitor program. I happened to have the libraries requisite to enabling all the features, probably from the previous (Leopard) version of the driver. This is a reminder that newer is not always better. It also points out the value of keeping backups and the extraordinary utility of Time Machine. If you are on a Macintosh and are not using Time Machine, you are a fool. If you are on a Windows PC, you too are a fool. Okay, maybe not a fool, but missing out on a great feature at the least. I wouldn't be surprised if there is third-party software available for Windows that provides a function similar to Time Machine, but Time Machine is built into Mac OS 10.5 and higher and it works splendidly. If Apple ever reinstates ZFS in OS X and makes it the default filesystem, Time Machine will be even faster and better. Here's hoping!

New Year's resolution

I didn't make a lot of pictures in 2009. There just didn't seem to be time between the photo club, working on the house, making wedding plans, and all the other things that were going on. I didn't realize how busy the year was until I started thinking about it for this post. As I look ahead to 2010, I can't help thinking that it will be less busy. I'm stepping down as photo club president, the wedding is in March, and I hope to have the house mostly finished by early this summer.

One thing I would like to do is get back to participating in the photo club field trips. Sure, a lot of them in the past have started before the crack of dawn in order to catch the good light (I'm NOT a morning person) but it has been worth the sacrifice. The trips present stimulating opportunities and challenges. Take the zoo trips for example. I love animals but I don't particularly enjoy wildlife photography (not that animals in a zoo are considered wildlife in the photographic world, but you get the idea). The trips present the challenge of finding interesting shots that don't necessarily involve animals. The zoo is a haystack and my challenge is to find a few needles. We had a Downtown Houston field trip a couple years ago which netted a nice shot of a fountain and one of a parking garage, among many others. My outings with the Houston Leica Fellowship have been enjoyable and productive as well, and my association with that group provided the opportunity to go on a 2005 photographic journey through China led by renowned photographer Dazhen Wu (吳大軫). That trip was truly a life-changing experience.

I would like to get back to doing more personal work and less work for hire. Sure, it's nice to make money, but personal work is, by its nature, more enjoyable. It can be stress-reducing and therapeutic. It also helps keep the creativity flowing.

I want to refine my skill as a digital printer so I can get what I see on my monitor to appear more faithfully on paper. I mentioned challenges above — printing can be very challenging too. Inkjet printing of black and white images is particularly difficult to do well. This might come as a surprise to some people but for me, printing black and white well is harder than color printing even considering all the color management issues that come with color printing.

I've spent 417 words talking about my resolution without directly saying what it is. In 2010, I resolve to make more photographs. I'm talking personal photos, work I do for my own enjoyment instead of for a cheque. I'm curious what other photographers are planning for the coming year so please leave a comment to tell us about your resolution.