This seems to be the closest thing there is to an official iPF5000 user group, so I thought I'd post my setup and first day printing experiences with mine. I like the machine overall a great deal (coming from an Epson 4800), but there are a few things that could stand some serious improvement, and a few more that perplex me...
Even compared to an Epson 4800 (no small printer itself), this thing is huge. It is six inches longer than a 4800, and deeper as well. It weighs 99 lbs empty, and close to 130 with all the pieces attached and a roll loaded. It is almost exactly intermediate in size and weight between the Epson 4800 and the 24 inch version, the Epson 7800!
Setup was easy, apart from getting the very heavy printer on its stand (I'm using a $40 industrial shelf from Home Depot - ugly, but very functional). There are over 20 pieces involved in getting printing on roll paper (printer, 2 trays, roll feeder, 12 ink cartridges, 2 cables and 6 pieces of the spindle). Fortunately, all but the 6 spindle pieces are nearly impossible to connect incorrectly - even the inks are keyed so they'll only fit in the right compartment. The quick setup guide is actually not bad (the manual, as often reported, is awful). The spindle parts are a puzzle, though, and the quick setup doesn't cover them! The spindle ships set up for 2 inch cores, and includes two blue adapters for 3 inch cores, which just snap into place. The other three pieces are totally undocumented! One is a "borderless spacer" which allows borderless printing on 17 inch paper - it fits right over the 3 inch adapter on the fixed end of the spindle. There's no reason to take it off while using 17 inch paper - non borderless prints work just fine with it in place. I don't have any 16 inch paper around, so I don't know if you need to take it off for narrower paper. The last two pieces are grey end caps, marked, cryptically, "1" and "2". The "2" end cap turns out to be for heavy art paper. Hahnemuhle Photo Rag will not feed correctly without it. I don't know if Canon's 260 gsm satin (the other paper I have here) will feed correctly with the "2" cap - I used the "1" and it worked. I am going to try the satin with the "2" next time I switch rolls, so I don't have to keep swapping the 3 inch adapter between the "1" and "2" caps. The 3 inch adapter itself seems sturdy enough, but I worry about breaking the little "ears" that hold it into the cap if I keep swapping it back and forth.
Does anyone know where to get another $5 blue plastic 3 inch adapter so I can leave one in each end cap?
There are several pieces that seem better designed than the 4800. The roll feeder is much easier to load, due to its built-in motor and better skew checking. It automatically releases tension on the paper when it's done printing (if you forget to release the 4800's tension lever manually, it can leave a mark on the paper). The ink feed looks like it's designed to get all the ink out of the cartridge (it drains from the bottom) - the 4800 is notorious for leaving quite a bit of ink in the cartridge due to a side drain. Of course, the Canon also holds paper in both feed paths simultaneously and switches seamlessly between black inks - both significant design wins for Canon
Once it was set up, I profiled it using an Eye-one Photo and the 918 patch target. My first profile was for the Canon Bright Photo Satin using the 16-bit Photoshop export module. Prints made using this profile are color accurate, perhaps a tiny bit darker than my (also profled with the Eye-one) monitor. The gamut of the iPF5000 is really amazing, especially in dark colors. Comparing the iPF5000 print to a print of the same image made on an Epson 4800 with Epson Premium Semimatte and the Atkinson profile, the Canon shows significantly more detail in the shadows, and produces much better color in the deep blues. I can't see any area on any of the six or seven images I've printed so far where I prefer the Epson rendition - some colors are very close, especially pastels. Uniquely among printers I've used, the iPF 5000 has a gamut that exceeds Adobe RGB in certain areas (it actually helps to use ProPhoto or EktaSpace as a working space, because it will print colors outside Adobe RGB, and the 16 bit export module will get those colors to the printer). With any other printer I've used, Adobe RGB is the optimal working space, because the printer never exceeds Adobe RGB's gamut.
The image quality is a fairly clear advantage to the Canon, although the difference is subtle, it's
certainly there. Right now, the Canon's cheaper than the Epson 4800 as well. It has several feature improvements, one of which can save a LOT of expensive ink (the simultaneous black inks). Is there any reason to buy the Epson 4800 over the iPF 5000? I would say that there is, for certain less technical users. The 4800 is a very mature machine, well-documented by Epson, and with a lot of advice and profiles available from Epson and third parties. The iPF 5000 is not only a newcomer, but one with abyssmal documentation (the user's manual is an HTML document poorly translated from the original Klingon). Michael's review mentions the annoyance of telling the printer what kind of paper is loaded from the control panel. In addition to that issue, the control panel menu is loaded with options, many of them cryptically named, and few of them documented. In that sense, it reminds me of a digital SLR circa 2001 - full of indecipherable custom functions.
Almost no canned profiles are available for the iPF 5000 in its highest-quality mode - printing with the 16-bit export module. Even the Canon-supplied profiles for their own papers are for the 8-bit driver. Very few third-party paper manufacturers provide an iPf5000 profile of any sort yet. For best quality, expect to profile every paper yourself! This means an expensive spectrophotometer and the patience to use it... By contrast, there are a lot of Epson 4800 profiles out there, and some of them, especially the Bill Atkinson profiles for most of the Epson papers plus some third party papers, are really excellent.
The ideal iPF5000 user is highly sensitive to image quality, and technically savvy enough to get the most out of a slightly tricky, poorly documented machine. Owning a copy of Photoshop CS2 and a spectrophotometer wouldn't hurt, either. If you fit that description, the iPF 5000 is a real bargain at $1395 complete with a motorized roll feeder.
I've never even seen an Epson 3800, let alone used one, so I can't draw a fair comparison there, but the iPF 5000 definitely outperforms the Epson K3 inkset. The 3800 will certainly be MUCH smaller, lighter and easier to deal with. The 3800 will be a great deal more expensive to run, both due to the smaller ink cartridges and to the lack of a roll feed (roll paper is often half the price per square foot of 17x22 inch sheets).
The other interesting competitor is the HP Z3100. Very few people have seen one of those yet. It has a similarly complex inkset, suggesting the possibility of an equal gamut. If you consider that it includes a $1000+ spectrophotometer which is a strongly recommended accessory for the iPF5000, plus a printer stand that is worth a couple of hundred dollars (any alternative except industrial shelving will be in that price range), it is about $1250 more expensive than the iPF 5000, for a 24-inch printer. The 24 inch version of the iPF5000 will probably wind up in the same price range as the HP, especially adding the cost of a spectrophotometer. A $2500 17 or 18 inch HP with the built-in spectrophotometer would be a very interesting competitor indeed.