Epson printers have a strong reputation among photographers, and that's likely to continue with the latest in the A3 Stylus Photo range. The R2880 is Epson's flagship professional photo printer, with an eight-colour print engine that includes three different blacks for added subtlety.
It uses Epson's UltraChrome K3 ink with a micro-piezo print head, and comes with the usual Cyan and Yellow, plus Light Black, Light Light Black, Vivid Magenta, Light Cyan and Vivid Light Magenta. As with previous Epsons, you'll have to switch manually between Matte and Photo Black to suit your needs, which is a little irritating, though Epson says redesigning the print head to fit both simultaneously would add substantially to the size of the printer.
As it is, though, it's a compact device, yet it packs in some strong features. As well as sturdy and large input and output trays, you get a CD printing tray and a rear adapter to allow the flat feeding of fine art papers and thin card. In the box are two adapters which fit at the rear and hold rolls of paper, although it's not the sturdiest of arrangements. The control buttons are on the front, and when you get an error indicator, the print head lights up to let you know which cartridge has run dry. Finally, although it has no Ethernet connection, the R2880 has two USB ports, so two local PCs can connect at once.
But a printer like this is judged mainly on the quality of its output and this is where the Epson excels. Using Epson's Premium Glossy paper we printed a wide array of test images and were astounded by the results - it's hard to recall anything we've seen that can match it. Detail and colour accuracy are incredible, with the reds of our photomontage bulging to life in a way most printers can't manage, and the fine edges of the cotton reels and foliage easily visible. Contrast is superb, greyscale images are perfectly neutral and gradients are exceedingly smooth.
Selecting the best quality settings, a borderless A3 photo arrived in 8mins, 33secs, while an A4 picture took just over five minutes. A 6 x 4in print took 1min, 52secs, so it's a little slower than the best home inkjets - but speed isn't so important with a professional device like this, it's quality that counts. And the good news is that it's surprisingly quiet in use.
It's primarily a photo printer, but it can print documents, too. Here, it's not quite as strong as some of the best, such as Canon's iP4600, with slightly mottled characters and a lack of clarity, but it's good enough for most jobs. Draft quality is legible, and colour documents are as good as you'd expect given the number of cartridges in use.
The R2880 may not be crammed full of bells and whistles, but there's more than enough here to keep professionals happy. And the quality is good enough that the lack of things like network ports really isn't a huge deal-breaker. It's a quiet yet powerful device at a not unreasonable price, so we have no hesitation in recommending it.