In the last 10 months or so, there has been considerable buzz in the photo inkjet world about Epson’s new line of Legacy papers, a phenomenon accompanied by equal amounts of fact and hyperbole. What’s more, a number of prominent photo industry names, such as R. Mac Holbert, Greg Gorman, Stephen Wilkes and Amy Toensing, have allowed their names and images (not to mention in several cases, video interviews) to be attached to these papers, which Epson touts as products “developed for those who intend to exhibit and sell their prints, both to art collectors and investors.”
So, do these papers actually perform? Since I have tested a bevy of baryta papers in recent months, Legacy Baryta made for an appealing investigation.
I contacted Epson’s marketing department in hopes of securing a SureColor P800 and sample papers for testing and a review on Field & Studio. Unfortunately, Epson failed to return any calls, so I bought paper for testing, and ran the tests on my Stylus Pro 3880. That second part is the problem; with Epson’s emphasis on the new Ultrachrome HD and HDX inks’ longevity, density, tonal transition, and color fidelity in combination with the Legacy stock, running both a 3880 and a P800 for comparison is important.
Here’s the rub of this situation: I can’t vouch for the absolutely jaw-dropping quality Epson is claiming with the combination of the P800 and the Legacy Baryta, since I haven’t seen it for myself, so I’m recommending healthy skepticism as a result.
Before I continue any further, I’ll say this up front: When you choose to purchase printing papers such as Hahnemühle, Red River, Epson, Canson or Moab, please do so using the links on this blog. Dick Blick Art Materials provides all the papers listed above, except for Red River, which provides its paper direct. Whenever you purchase by clicking through from this blog to these sites, it helps pay for all the materials, ink, time and technology I need in order to provide you with these reviews. Thanks, in advance.
In this article, first I’ll look at the data Epson provides for its Legacy Baryta, and the paper’s characteristics. Then, using my standard zone testing system method, I’ll show how the paper performs in black and white tonality; next, I’ll show the results from printing one of my standard testing images, “Young Cowboys.” To conclude, I’ll provide some parting thoughts, as well as my Zone Ranking for the Legacy Baryta.
Paper Data and Characteristics
Perhaps the most notable part of the Baryta is its longevity rating. Wilhelm Research reports that the papers, when used with Epson Ultrachrome HD or HDX inks, has a permanence of “up to 200 years for color prints, and likely in excess of 400 years for black and white prints.” That’s spectacular performance, without a doubt, and such statistics reinforce Epson’s aim at marketing these papers at high-level professionals with archival needs. (NOTE: the full dataset from Wilhelm Research tests has not been made public as of this writing).
In terms of feel, Epson Legacy Baryta is a mid-weight paper in the hands; it feels substantial, but not overly so. For example, it lacks the heavyweight feel of Canson Infinity’s Arches Velin Rag, or Hahnemühle’s Museum Etching. Moreover, if you’re used to paper weights with nice multiples of five, forget it here, because the Legacy Baryta hits the scale at a unique 314 gsm. Despite its mid-weight feel, it’s a heavyweight stock, so it’s one that should be fed through the manual front feed of Epson printers for best results (this avoids the dreaded “pizza wheel” marks, which I found printing the zone cards for this test after using the sheet feeder). On Canon’s imagePROGRAF line, this is moot, since that is a vacuum-fed system without the toothed wheels used by the P400, P600 and P800.
I find the paper’s surface to be extremely smooth, and almost without expressive characteristics. That makes it ideal for reproducing details, resulting in tack-sharp images that have the crispness of a traditional high-gloss paper; when combined with the low-glare glare, satin finish of this paper, it should create exceptional tonal gradations with a wide optimal viewing angle range (see Figure 01).
Translation: This paper should make inkjet images that truly approach the sharpness of traditional silver prints, all hyperbole aside. Note that I write approach, since I believe a silver gelatin contact print made by a master, and using an 8×10″ negative, remains superior to nearly any photographic print in the world, due to its depth, blacks, detail, and tonal transitions.
But in the inkjet world, this paper’s surface characteristics would seem to be among the best-suited papers for finely detailed prints. That’s usually good, with some potential downsides, including finish-edge overspray and feed adjustment issues. More on that later.
In terms of whiteness, Legacy Baryta’s is a bit lower in comparison with some of its closest archival competitors, such as Hahnemühle’s Photo Rag® Baryta and Canson’s Baryta Photographique, and tone differs slightly (see Figure 02). I found the Canson Baryta Photographique to be the whitest, and most neutral; the Hahnemühle is warmer, and the Epson has a darker, grayer tone, which you’ll see is reflected in its zone results later in this article.
This lower whiteness is most likely due to the Legacy’s low levels of OBAs (Optical Brightening Agents), since both the Hahnemühle and the Canson have medium amounts of whiteners. Those can result in yellowing of the paper over time. Epson is clearly favoring the archival arms race, preferring to sacrifice a touch of whiteness in exchange for an improvement of multiple decades of print lifespan. That means Zone IX and X results should see about a 4-5 percent reduction in luminance values during the second phase of this test.
Those results are next.
Epson Legacy Baryta Paper Data
|Weights||Thickness||Surface||Color||Material||Media Profile||Acid Free||Optical Brighteners||Buffered||Whiteness|
|314 gsm||.305 mm||Smooth Satin||Bright White||α-cellulose||Ultra-Premium Luster||Yes||Low; Barium Sulfate||Yes||90%*|
|* Epson lists their whiteness in percentage form.|
It’s important to remind everyone (or inform new readers) that I test papers in the same way every time. I print my photo zones file from Photoshop to my Epson Stylus Pro 3880, and the first print on 4×6″ test paper is a control print. I do this by selecting File > Print > Print Settings > Printer Settings > Advanced Color Settings, and set Color Toning to Neutral, and Tone to Normal. This gives me a baseline print that I can use as a litmus for the changes in the test across other Epson presets: Darkest, Darker, Dark, and Light. In the case of the Epson Legacy Baryta, I did not print a Light version of the zone scale, as that setting is perhaps the least-used in Epson’s Advanced Black and White Printing mode. Thus, I printed four of these zone scales through the sheet feeder, not five, using the Legacy Baryta paper. I also created a test print (my “Young Cowboys, Elwood Rodeo” image), printed at 2880 dpi through the manual front feed, with High Speed deactivated, and Finest Detail activated. This allows the most uncompromising examination of detail and real-world tonal performance.
I took the four zone and “Young Cowboys” prints to the copy stand (a Beseler CS-21) and shot high-resolution images of each on a Sony A7R using the exact same settings for each image (ISO 400, ƒ/11, 1/30 sec.). The images were then cleaned up in Lightroom to 5000 K, +10 contrast, to ensure comparability. I then exported them to Photoshop, compiled the zones for comparison, and using the Info tool and a 31 x 31-pixel average, measured the luminance values of each of the zones. You can see them labeled in Figure 03.
You can see my results in Figure 03. As this is a new type of paper, I have included readings of all zones for clarity. Zone 0 and Zone I show outstanding separation, indicating the density performance of this paper is exceptional. In fact, it is almost possible to see the difference between the Darker and Darkest Zone I results with the naked eye on a calibrated screen. Zone 0 is perfectly consistent at a luminance of 2 across all four test strips, providing a strong comparison base for nearby, slightly lighter tonalities (a good tonal base is necessary for helping the eye make tonal differentiations; see Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color if you’d like to know lots more).
Zone V should display exactly 50 in a perfect world (each zone represents an increase of 10 percent luminance), and in the control strip, the Legacy Baryta achieves it exactly. In truth, though 9 of the 10 zones at the control setting, this paper is never off by more than 3 luminance points at any time; it is only in Zone X that the paper fails, managing a value of 90, 4 to 5 points off where a good inkjet paper should be. However, this reading matches the whiteness rating of the paper exactly, so it is unlikely it can achieve higher values; in spite of this shortcoming, overall results show that this is an extremely accurate paper for black and white printing.
I have noted in other articles that Epson’s Dark setting in the Advanced Black and White mode is often the most neutral and balanced among the five, but in this case, the Control setting exhibits the most neutrality. Darkest showcases the paper’s ability to differentiate between low zones, but also drops Zone V to a very-dark value of 42.
All-in-all, other than the disappointing (but expected) Zone X performance, these are among the strongest tonal results achieved by an inkjet paper during testing for this blog. I’ll interpret them in the conclusion section, but for now, will move on to the actual print performance.
When the 6×9″ print of “Young Cowboys” (see Figure 04) emerged from my Stylus Pro 3880, I could see immediately that this paper produces massively detailed photographs. Tonal values were exceptional, as were separations. Film grain was superb when viewed with the naked eye, but almost too sharp, approaching a feeling of being digital, not analog. I’ve included a sample (Figure 05) that highlights two areas of interest in the print.
I use “Young Cowboys” as test image because of two elements: the lead lad’s white hat against a hazy sky, and his facial details. A poor print paper without high-zone range will blend the hat into the sky; a paper without detail ability will obliterate the boy’s eyelids and blur the outline of his nose excessively.
The hat detail is extremely nuanced, and I have tested myriad papers unable to reconcile the two elements; both are Zone IX, except for sunlit parts of hat that are a bit brighter. Here, the Epson paper performed reasonably well. The hat is evident against the sky, and we don’t need to guess where the line between the two lives. I think the difference would be even more pronounced if the Epson paper had those extra 4–5 points of luminance performance in Zone X, however.
In area 2, the lines of the upper and lower eyelids are well-defined. The nose line is clean and sharp. Often, a paper can’t keep grain and lines like this separate, but again, the Epson Legacy Baryta was outstanding in this part of the test. The only concern—a purely esthetic one, mind you—was the nature of the grain itself, its “digital” feel, which is a symptom for a larger characteristic of the paper, and one which should be a consideration for anyone considering purchasing it for their studio. It’s simply very, very sharp.
My concern with the paper’s excessive detail (yes, I’m concerned about the paper being too detailed) stems from a saying by one of my idols, the late Julius Shulman, who said, “Any photograph can be made impressive in a large size. It takes a master to make a small photograph.” Small photographs are viewed at closer range than larger ones, in general—just like at a movie theater, most people don’t sit too near the screen—and that means any issues with the print are immediately apparent. While those who spend entire careers learning to work at a high standard of output can certainly make this paper sing, it’s very unforgiving.
Here’s an example. When I create my numbered prints, I look at the details of the image using a 5x loupe (most often; at times I’ll use my 15x) in order to check the performance of the ink on the paper. I like perfection, and nothing less. But with the naked eye on a 6×9″ print, I could see print feed adjustment issues in the chaps of the center cowboy (see Figure 05).
Look closely: there are dark stripes visible in the smooth areas of the chaps. Such problems become even bigger issues in areas containing clouds or subtly-changing tonalities, meaning a strong photograph becomes an intensely frustrating print. Those of us who do this a lot can commit to fixing that problem in prints, but realistically, not many others are willing to take the time to do it. Because it will take a lot of time (a standard print feed calibration process can take hours for just one type of paper), paper, and ink.
In the case of using the manual front feed, these lines can also be caused by dirty lower print rollers, or dirty/dusty rollers on the upper paper assembly, as the paper is not feeding with a tight grip. This results in minor slipping, and messy edges or feed inconsistencies in a print. I have fixed this on my 3880 on multiple occasions, but my guess is that this operation is something rather intimidating for many people. If a paper is this susceptible to displaying the problems that can commonly occur in inkjet printers, it will spell endless frustration for the casual, amateur photographer looking to print impressive photos.
I suppose that’s why Epson says this paper is for pros only. If absolute precision in detail is what you’re after, this delivers, but that comes at the price of the same unyielding demand of the person printing.
In my undergraduate education, one of my professors was fond of saying, “Perfection is something for which we strive, but never obtain.” This paper makes a very strong showing toward that goal, missing the mark by only a very few characteristics. Were it slightly brighter (perhaps 3–5 percent), a touch more forgiving in printer adjustment, and a bit less synthetic in its rendering of grain, it might approach attaining the unattainable. As I have written before, inkjets have some distance to go before they equal the humanist beauty of a silver gelatin print, but Epson has upped the ante on that journey.
This paper’s performance in 9 of 10 zones, details, and archival ability is profound. It is worth any professional’s consideration; its finicky nature should give any amateur pause. Black and white images sing with this paper’s tonal ability. I cannot confirm that the SureColor P800 will enhance the quality of these prints, unless Epson decides to return my calls and allow me to test the combination. But I can assure you, dear readers, that a great deal of the buzz surrounding the Epson Legacy Baryta paper is anything but hyperbole. And as always, I hope your best print, is your next print.
Questions? Comments? Please leave them below so we can all learn from the conversation, and please be respectful.