Canon Pixma MP970 All-In-One Printer Review

by David Rasnake Reads (18,169)

As an urbanite living in a tiny apartment, space to house all of the requisite equipment for my digital darkroom is at a premium. Given that my work space is a sliver of what many photographers I know have at their disposal, I’m forced to consider not only the price and performance benefits of a particular equipment purchase, but also its size and storability. In spite of this, however, I’ve tended to avoid space-saving multifunction devices after a bad experience from several years ago left me jaded: the printer didn’t come close to the performance or flexibility of a true photo-res printer, the scanner was marginally useful at best, and for what I paid for that monstrosity I could have bought a better printer and a better scanner. Trying to save space by combining devices seemed to me like a losing proposition.


Canon Pixma MP970

Thankfully, the times have changed, and the Canon Pixma MP970 Photo All-In-One Printer is proof of just how far both consumer-level printing and scanning technology have come. Though it still makes some compromises, this is clearly a multi-function device with the printing and scanning power to keep even photo enthusiasts happy while successfully pulling double duty as a general home/home office print and copy solution.

Specs and Features

The Canon PIXMA MP970 is a multi-function device capable of scanning, copying, and printing both documents and high-res photos. Maximum print resolution from the MP970 is 9600×2400 dpi, with the Canon handling 4×6 borderless prints at this resolution in as little as 35 seconds.

As a copier, the MP970 is able to dash off 30 black-and-white copies per minute, and 22 copies per minute in color. Scanning is at a maximum resolution for 4800×9600 dpi using the Pixma’s CCD scanner element; a built-in film scanner renders up to six 35mm frames in a single scan.

Canon Pixma MP970
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A built-in card reader allows users to print images directly from most standard memory card types with or without connecting the device to a computer. Computer connections are made via USB, Bluetooth, or Ethernet; the device is also PictBridge compatible, for direct camera-to-printer connections. The Pixma supports the latest operating system versions for both Windows-based and Macintosh machines.

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.

Design, Interface, and Build Quality

The first thing that impresses in unboxing the MP970 is its size and weight: while it’s not as big as, say, a large business-grade laser printer, the 27-pound Pixma will take up significantly more room on your desk than a typical consumer inkjet.

Canon Pixma MP970
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With all input and output trays (there’s a lower-level paper cassette, as well as a backside sheet-feed tray) closed up, the Pixma has a footprint of 15.75 by 19 inches; you’ll need at least a foot of clearance above the device to fully raise the scanner lid, and the output tray, which pops open automatically when printing commences if closed, extends forward another six inches or so.

Canon Pixma MP970
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The MP970 has a sleek look that should blend well with a home office – very clean-lined and professional. Admittedly, for something this heavy, the Pixma’s plastic can feel a little thin and flimsy at times. I also found the scanner lid, especially, to flex more than might be desirable, and everything definitely feels “consumer grade.”

Canon Pixma MP970
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Unless you plan on moving the portly Pixma around a lot, though (a word of advice: don’t), there’s no reason to think that the MP970 won’t last a long time.

Canon Pixma MP970
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On-board controls all sit beneath the flip-up screen on the scanner lid. The LCD itself, a 3.5-inch unit, is the biggest I’ve yet seen on a consumer printer, making it easy to navigate the device’s menus or review images loaded in for direct printing from a memory card.

Canon Pixma MP970
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Physical controls are all relatively straightforward and easy to comprehend, though there are a comparatively large number of (slightly thin feeling and clicky) buttons on the MP970. The menu system is navigable using the printer’s on-board scroll wheel and d-pad. To this end, the basic menu screen displays all available sub-menus in a circular arrangement.

While it’s not always clear how to get around in some sub-menus (sometimes the OK button dismisses menu options, for instance, while sometimes a press of the Back button is required), overall impressions are that the system is very polished and designed to be easily accessible for a wide range of users. To this end, some of the device’s more involved configuration options are a little buried, but not terribly difficult to find if you know what you’re looking for.

Setting Up the Pixma

Before the fun can begin, of course, the Pixma requires a little setup on both the hardware and software sides. From a hardware standpoint, the hardest part may well be wrestling the bulky device out of its packing. With the printheads and ink tanks all requiring installation and calibration, the physical setup can be a little time-consuming (and perhaps a little daunting for non-techs). To this end, Canon provides multi-page step by step setup instructions to help get the ball rolling.

Canon Pixma MP970
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Like most nicer modern photo printers, the MP970 uses individual ink tanks (in this case, seven of them) rather than multi-color catridges, theoretically saving cost by using ink more completely and efficiently. Once installed – they’re color coded and drop into place easily – ink levels are monitored via Canon’s computer-size printer utility.

Canon Pixma MP970
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Optical sensors provide data to an automatic early warning system that notifies users when ink levels are beginning to run low (at somewhere around 20 percent remaining). The printer also sports a user-replaceable, 3,584-nozzle printhead capable of laying down ink in ultra-precise 1-picoliter droplets.

Physical connections from the Pixma to your computer or network are made via one of the two ports – USB or Ethernet – located on the back of the device.

Canon Pixma MP970
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Beyond the front-side card reader and PictBridge connection, these ports are the device’s only connection options, making connectivity pretty clear cut with the MP970.

With the printhead and ink tanks snapped into place and the printer plugged in and powered up, the Pixma requires a few minutes (more like 10) for its automatic printhead alignment process.

Configuration and Control

I tested the MP970’s setup process on a PC using both a direct-to-computer USB connection and an Ethernet connection across a wired network. Both methods worked just fine, with Canon’s on-screen configuration tool prompting the user based on the kind of setup required, whether network or direct-connect.

While Canon’s utility seems well thought out for those looking to serve the printer off a wired network, I had some difficulty using the configuration tool to get things worked out over a wireless network. After some manual configuration, I still haven’t worked out a setup that’s completely satisfactory (though someone more skilled in network setup might not have trouble). In any event, though, if you’re looking to tap the Pixma into your pre-existing wireless network, be prepared for the fact that the setup isn’t plug and play – making the technologically challenged wish Canon had followed trends from other manufacturers and offered the MP970 with built-in Wi-Fi.

Even with a custom installation limited to the tools I needed to review the device, the Canon still created five separate desktop icons.

Canon Pixma MP970

While it’s a minor gripe at most, would it have been so hard to merge all of these functions under the “My Printer” control panel?

Speaking of My Printer, I found Canon’s basic control panel intuitive and easy to understand.

Canon Pixma MP970
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As noted previously, several printer status items – including ink tank levels – can be accessed through this interface. If you’re looking for even more basic access to the device’s full range of functions, Canon’s Solutions Menu provides a walk-through approach to various uses for the MP970.

Canon Pixma MP970
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If desired, the Solutions Menu can even be configured to auto load on startup.

Scanner Use and Performance

On the scanner side, the Pixma comes bundled with a couple of different scanner utilities with varying levels of complexity and functionality. The MP970’s basic utility, loaded out of the Solutions Menu, provides simplified access to either platen or film scanning with a limited number of settings.

Canon Pixma MP970
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For more control, the device’s ScanGear controller also installs with the MP970’s drivers. This interface gives much more control for specifying parameters like output resolution, cropping, and driver-side image processing (including automatic dust/scratch fix and unsharp mask).

Canon Pixma MP970
(view large image)

The ScanGear controller also communicates flawlessly with Photoshop for direct-to-editor image importing. Access to scanner functions via the Photoshop command, however, was extremely slow and laggy on my (slightly underpowered for graphics work) notebook.

At maximum output resolution, the Pixma was able to scan an 8×10 print in color mode from a cold start in 28.4 seconds. Results were generally very good, with rich colors and decent gradation, though the Pixma’s scanner definitely gives up a step to a good dedicated flatbed scanner in terms of reproducing subtle tone transitions in highlight areas.

As noted, the MP970 also features a built-in film scanner. The device is supplied with a lid-mounted backlight and 35mm negative carrier.

Canon Pixma MP970
(view large image)

Film scanning resolution maxes out at 4800 dpi – on par with other flatbed and dedicated film scanners out there and plenty capable for making decent sized prints directly from film – and the Pixma is configured to handle either negative or positive (i.e. slide film) scanning. If you have slides or negatives sitting around in need or archiving or still use 35mm film, the Pixma offers a reasonably affordable solution for turning your film into digital prints of decent quality.

Overall, with good speed and quality for most applications, the only real drawback to replacing your standalone flatbed scanner with the Pixma is the lack of medium or large format film support, at the very least. Given that I, at least, quit shooting 35mm awhile ago but still tick off a roll of 120 with some regularity combined with the fact that many sub-$200 flatbeds are now medium (and even large) format ready, going the all-in-one route may not make sense if you’re a medium or large format shooter.

Printer Use and Performance

As a device designed with photographers in mind, the MP970 shows good, if not stellar, all-around performance as a photo printer. Though I couldn’t find a spec for maximum paper feed thickness on the MP970, in testing the printer had no feed issues with heavyweight glossy photo papers, and even handled most heavier art papers with ease. The ability to print borderless photos up to 8×10 is also a plus for photo users.

Testing the MP970 with three different photo papers (Canon’s supplied glossy photo paper, plus a glossy HP paper and a matte from Ilford) all produced good results. Using a canned output profile for the MP970, colors were vibrant and acceptably accurate in each case, with some slight and expected shift when moving from glossy to matte stock. In keeping with the typical manufacturer’s claim about OEM papers providing the best performance, ink lay was in fact best on the Canon paper, coming out a little light on the HP stock, especially.

With the Pixma’s multi-ink black system, blacks were deep and rich in both color and black and white prints. Overall sharpness/crispness wasn’t quite up to the level of high-end lab prints, but will easily meet and even exceed the expectations of most amateur shooters. Durability and scratch resistance on Canon’s default gloss paper was excellent, with the nice, hard gloss holding and protecting the ink against fine scratching – even when torture testing the prints by dragging them across a dusty desk face-down. Print speed was also not bad at all either, with the Canon cranking out an 8×10 color print in around 50 seconds.

What I didn’t care for, however, was the amount of bronzing visible in black and white prints using all three papers. Similarly, our Pixma test unit showed some visible roller banding running the length of the page approximately three inches from the left-hand edge of the sheet. While neither issue is serious enough to trouble most shooters of any level, though those who are particularly picky about their prints (especially their black and white prints) should be aware.

For office users working with standard copy paper, performance was good, with reasonable speed and very nice image quality. In spite of Canon’s use of a specialized text ink that’s supposed to provide superior text printing performance, pages of black text aren’t quite up to laser quality; still, they look nice enough for most uses nonetheless. Color printing on copy-weight paper is equally good, with vibrant, saturated ink lay that simultaneously avoids the heavy, globbed appearance seen with some inkjets when printing large swaths of color.

The printer’s ability to automatically duplex pages (that is, print two-sided sheets without manually feeding the paper one side at a time) is a nice touch as well, and easy to select when printing out of standard word processors and the like: just click the “Duplex” checkbox and the Pixma handles the rest. Still, print speeds suffer pretty considerably as a result of the process, even when printing text only: a single sheet of double-sided black text took right at a minute to spool and print using the Canon’s USB 2.0 connection.

Overall, the connections are simple and straightforward, and the MP970 works like any other printer out of both standard office and graphics-specific applications. Printing directly from memory cards is equally easy and intuitive using the on-screen menus, and several in-printer color correction and control options make this ability a great solution to grabbing quick prints straight from your camera. Serious photographers will likely find the MP970’s maximum sheet size of 8.5×14 inches too limiting to use the MP970 as a dedicated photo printer replacement; while acceptably crisp, images from the Pixma aren’t quite up to the standards of high-end photo printers either, and the amount of bronzing will irritate black and white shooters. For casual and even serious amateur users who don’t routinely print larger than 8×10 and are looking for a cost-effective, flexible photo printing solution, however, the MP970 more than holds its own in this area.

Some time spent working with the Canon Pixma MP970 multi-function printer has caused me to reconsider my opposition to all-in-one devices for serious photographic use. While prints from the Canon may not have quite been high-end lab quality, for proofing, home use, or even light professional/portfolio work, the MP970 offers enough performance and enough “tweakability” to serve a wide range of users. Combined with very good scanner and office printer capabilities, the MP970 would be a great first device for serious photographers looking to buy a high-performance photo printer that also handles general home/office duties: if you also shoot 35mm film or have old negatives or slides in need of archiving, the MP970, with it’s built-in film scanner, is twice as appealing.

Moreover, with easy setup, built-in network capability, good photo-res printing performance, and some advanced document printing features, the MP970 is a reasonably space-efficient, extremely cost-effective ticket to some very good all-around performance.

Pros:

  • Photo prints are crisp and vibrant
  • Interface is simple to understand, set up
  • Very good document printing performance
  • Built-in 35mm film scanner

Cons:

  • Default install a bit bloated
  • Some bronzing and banding in photo prints
  • Wireless networking not seamless
  • Doesn’t handle larger print or scan sizes


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