News and Views from Dave Wilson

Tag: comparison

Canvas Print Comparison

by on Oct.22, 2011, under Photography

Conch and Sea Grass, Grand Bahama

Until 4 years ago, if you mentioned photographs on canvas to me, I immediately thought of cheesy, over-retouched family portraits in wildly ostentatious frames – photographs faked to look like old master paintings. I never took the medium seriously until our local photography group did a print comparison evening and someone brought a modern canvas print along. Unlike the horrid portraits of old, however, this one was beautifully saturated, vibrant and crisp. I was sold at that point and have been printing large pieces on canvas for exhibition use and for clients ever since. Aside from the superb colours and finish, the canvas also provides a wonderfully forgiving medium allowing larger-than-normal prints that still look fabulous. I’ve printed 6MP originals (albeit carefully upscaled) 5 feet wide on canvas and they look wonderfully sharp and not at all pixelated. Although I’ve printed the same images on paper at up to 50″, I’m generally not happy to take them above 36″ wide due to worries about obvious pixelation.

Another of my reasons for liking canvas so much stems from cost. People often complain about the cost of printing on canvas but if you factor in the cost of framing a 36″x24″ print, the canvas is easily $30 to $50 cheaper, even when using a simple black gallery frame. A gallery wrapped canvas can be hung as-is without any framing at all so the printing cost is the whole cost.

So why am I talking about canvas this weekend? Recently, I was contacted by a new company based in Austin called Easy Canvas Prints offering me a trial 16″x20″ canvas for review. I’m very happy with my current canvas supplier, Canvas Press but reckoned that this would give me a great opportunity to compare the two, especially since I had just created a new Pro account at Canvas Press and had a free 16″x20″ print to use from them too. For the sake of comparison, I ordered prints from each company’s web site using exactly the same 16″x20″ JPEG image with an embedded sRGB profile. So what did I find?

Before I start, you have probably noticed that I have a Canvas Press banner on this site already but, although I’ve been their customer for several years, I have tried very hard to be completely unbiased in my assessment of these two products. If you feel I’ve been unfair (or if you don’t but you just have more information to add), please leave comments with your own experiences for the benefit of others reading this post.

Web Sites

Both company’s sites offer a very easy user interface allowing you to upload pictures, select the print size you are interested in, pick various wrapping options, crop your image, pay for the print and send it for printing. In both cases, the interface is very easy to use, very clean and very nicely designed. Of the two, Easy Canvas Prints probably offers the most intuitive interface in that the controls required to start creating your canvas (selecting size and wrap option) are there right on the home page. Canvas Press, on the other hand, requires you to click an additional link to start the creation process. After this, however, both sites offer essentially the same functionality and do it very well. I really can’t fault either and have no real preference.
Easy Canvas Prints home page

In terms of options offered, both sites offer similar wrap and retouching options. Both companies offer various print sizes, frame depths and three wrap choices, “Gallery Wrap” which wraps the existing image edges around the wooden frame, “Mirror Wrap” which mirrors the edge sections as the image wraps around the frame or “Color Wrap” which allows you to select a flat colour for the wrapped sides of the canvas. Easy Canvas Prints offers two frame depths, 0.75″ and 1.5″ and prints up to 40″x40″. Canvas Press offers a third frame depth, 2″, and supports any print size up to 96″x54″.
Canvas Press home page

For me, the 40″ print size at Easy Canvas Prints is a serious limitation since most of the canvases I want to print are larger than this, typically panoramic images that may be 48″+ wide and 20″ or so deep. For most people, however, I suspect that the size limitation is unlikely to pose a problem and they certainly cover all the major sizes up to 36″x24″ and any custom size you may want within the overall 40″ limitation.

One other web site feature offered by Canvas Press but not by Easy Canvas Prints is a clincher for me. On Canvas Press, your uploaded images and canvas creation selections are saved allowing you to very easily reorder the same canvas or create another canvas based on an image you have previously ordered. On Easy Canvas Prints, however, I need to upload the image each time I want to order a print. Given that these images can be 25MB or so for large panoramas, the upload can take a significant amount of time so only having to do it on the first order is a real plus to me. Again, though, for people ordering an occasional print, this is unlikely to pose a problem since they are probably not going to be ordering multiple copies of the same image at different times.

Print Quality

I can forgive a terrible web interface (not that either of these are at all terrible, of course) if a company produces fantastic prints. To me, the quality of the final print is a lot more important than the usability of the upload and ordering system (as an aside, I use Nations Photo Lab for a lot of my paper printing because their prints are great but their user interface is truly horrible!). So how did the two companies fare?

The photo below shows the two canvases I compared. The top one is from Canvas Press and the bottom from Easy Canvas Prints. This was taken in mixed tungsten/daylight with a bounced flash so can’t really be used for colour comparison. I also suspect that it is slightly underexposed since, although the Easy Canvas Prints canvas looks closer to the original image (above) here, in better lighting, the Canvas Press one actually matched the image on my calibrated display significantly better.
Comparison - Canvas Press (top), Easy Canvas Prints (bottom)

Both images look great and I would have no problem hanging either one. The Easy Canvas Prints print is slightly cooler, brighter and less saturated than the original and is printed on a slightly lighter-weight canvas with a more distinct surface texture. The print looks more neutral compared to the slightly warm tones of the original image. Canvas Press’ print is closer to the original with better colour saturation and a more pleasing surface texture (to me at least). The colour temperature also more faithfully replicates the warmth of the original image. The print finish (coating?) is somewhat more glossy and results in a surface that I prefer. In case I was being overcritical, I asked my wife which she preferred and she also picked the Canvas Press print without knowing which was which. Seen in isolation, however, the Easy Canvas Prints print is still a lovely print but the Canvas Press one is definitely more impressive.

Mounting and Stretching

I have to admit that I broke my rule about ordering identical prints here slightly since I ordered the Canvas Press print with a 1.5″ mirror wrap compared to the 0.75″ gallery wrap I ordered from Easy Canvas Prints. Both prints arrived nicely stretched with no obvious bulges or bad corner folds. The images below show the backs of the two canvases.
Canvas Corners

Canvas Corners (2)

The Canvas Press print definitely looks more “hand crafted” with the framing staples less regularly placed. The Easy Canvas Prints print is more regular and appears to have been printed on precut sheet canvas since the boundary markers, barcode and company name is visible on the rear canvas edges.

In both cases, the frames came fitted with a sawtooth hanger. Personally, I really dislike these and my first job on receiving a canvas is to install rings and picture wire to allow it to be hung using a picture hook rather than a nail. For larger canvases, I know that Canvas Press provide Beehive Hangars which I love since they make hanging large prints very easy indeed. Not having ordered a large print from Easy Canvas Prints, I don’t know what hanging solution they offer when the size gets into the 36″ wide range.

I have no complaints about the mounting of either canvas at all and both will look excellent hung. As an artist who typically resells canvas prints to clients, however, I would likely be unhappy to use Easy Canvas Prints due to the back-printing they have on the canvas. Canvas Press typically put a sticker on the back of their canvases advertising the company and this can be easily removed. In this case, I ordered the print via their Canvas Press Pro service and this automatically removes all Canvas Press markings from the back of the print. Easy Canvas Prints may offer the option to remove the back printing but I can see nothing on their site to indicate whether this option is available.

Customer Service

I have a lot more experience of Canvas Press customer service than I do with Easy Canvas Prints so any comparison I make is unlikely to be completely fair. That said, in the email dealings I’ve had with Easy Canvas Prints, I’ve been treated very well and all my questions have been answered promptly and accurately.

As for Canvas Press, I know they are fanatical about service. They have keen photographers on staff who can offer great advice and I know that they are determined to do what it takes to make their customers happy. On one occasion a couple of years ago, for example, they reprinted a 48″ canvas for me after it was stretched about 0.25″ off-centre. This is the only mistake I’ve ever seen in an order for them and they did the right thing to correct it.

In both cases, these orders were printed within a couple of days of the order being placed. I collected the Easy Canvas Prints image in person but had Canvas Press ship their canvas to me (for the first time – I usually collect my prints from them too).

Price

By this time, you have probably realised that I’m still more favourable towards the Canvas Press product than Easy Canvas Prints. The one area where Easy Canvas Prints currently beats Canvas Press hands down, however, is on cost. For comparison, I looked at the price of a 16″x20″ 1.5″ gallery wrap and a 24″x36″ 1.5″ gallery wrap on both sites. Here’s how they stacked up:

Easy Canvas Prints Canvas Press
Discounted Normal
16″x24″ $87.17 $109.53 $110.31
24″x36″ $142.75 $179.36 $181.26

Easy Canvas Prints is currently offering an across-the-board 25% discount on all its canvases along with free shipping (which costs $15 from Canvas Press) and these amount to a very substantial discount compared to the Canvas Press price. It is worth noting, however, that there is no indication how long this offer will last and that Canvas Press frequently offer limited time discounts of a similar size. Comparing the prices without any discounts applied, we see that they are pretty much identical.

Conclusion

Overall, I would say that both companies do a good job. Easy Canvas Prints strikes me as aiming at the mass market – families ordering an occasional print to hang at home or give as a gift – whereas Canvas Press is geared more towards the professional photographer looking for large prints and making repeat orders. Since I fall into the second category, I will be sticking with Canvas Press but, given the current price difference, I would be quite happy to recommend Easy Canvas Prints to others who fall into the first category. Regardless of which company you use, you will end up with a lovely print and will receive excellent service.


Check out these awesome canvas photos!
Photos on Canvas

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High ISO and Noise Reduction

by on Jun.11, 2010, under Photography

As you’re probably aware, I’m currently enjoying my honeymoon period with the new Nikon D700. One of the most promising features of the new camera is its ability to shoot at amazingly high ISO settings. The basic sensitivity settings go to 6400 ISO with a couple of “Hi” options taking you all the way up to 25600 ISO.

Shooting at up to 6400 looks fabulous. This image was taken at 3200 and has had no processing other than a crop (Click here for the original sized image). If I ran some minimal noise reduction on it, it would definitely be as good as any 800 ISO image from the D90.

Electric Parade Cast Member

How does the camera cope at the stupidly high settings, though?

To try this out, I set the sensitvity at Hi02 (25600 ISO) and shot some tests inside some of the darker Disney rides. The following image illustrates the results both straight out of the camera (top left) and after a run through Imagenomics excellent Noiseware Pro (bottom right). You can’t really see the effect in the small image here but take a look at the original to see just how well the noise reduction worked. The result is a bit posterised but still definitely usable for small prints or emergency use.

Example - High ISO with Noise Reduction

I don’t know about you, but I’m stunned at how well both the camera and the software do on these images. The camera gives me at least 2 stops more usable sensitivity than the D90 and Noiseware probably adds another 2 stops to this allowing me to shoot comfortably at 6400 ISO and not have to worry about significant noise. In an emergency, I can take it all the way up to 25600 ISO and still be confident of ending up with something usable in low resolution applications. Wow!

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