Crisp text and fast print speeds have always been the forté of most laser printers, but as for high-quality photo output? Forget about it... until now. The Konica Minolta magicolor 2430 DL knocks out beautiful colour images that are virtually indistinguishable from inkjet photos printed on matte papers.

At 2,400dpi resolution, it lays down a tight dot pattern that's actually sharper than that of an inkjet. At normal viewing distance it looks like a smooth, continuous tone photo.

However, don't dump your inkjet just yet. The 2430 DL is limited in both output size to A4 and Letter sizes, and the paper types it can use are also limited. Unlike inkjet printers where media determines how the final picture will look, laser toner gets fused on to the paper's surface using heat. Regardless of paper type or weight, your prints will have a matte-satin finish.

On the other hand, you won't have to worry about colour profiles or having to match papers and inks. Printer driver controls couldn't be simpler and are limited to brightness, contrast and saturation, though you can make all the usual adjustments in your imaging program.

Speedy printing

The 2430 DL is certainly speedy with plain text rolling out at around 20 pages per minute. The first colour photo takes just 35 seconds to emerge with subsequent copies flying out every 12 seconds thereafter. Black and white images - which have a rich tonal scale - take 15 seconds for the first print and two seconds for each additional one.

It'll handle up to 163g/mm2 index paper, giving images a hefty photo-feel. The printer is rated to output 35,000 copies a month with a predicted longevity for both colour and black and white photos of more than 100 years.

Then there's cost-per-print. Konica Minolta says a 7.5x10- inch colour photo can be output for as little as 17p, which includes paper, toner and the price of a drum replacement (£85) after 45,000 pages. We did our own calculations and came up with about 25p - still significantly lower than the cost of an average inkjet print.

In addition to 2,400dpi, you can print at 600 and 1,200dpi but there's little point in doing so; there's no increase in speed and only a penny or two savings on toner per image. The printer is also PictBridge 1.0 compliant to enable output directly from a compatible digital camera.

But even after we boosted the 32MB of onboard RAM by 256MB (required for fully-featured PictBridge operation) the results were slow and erratic; that's more the fault of the cameracontrolled PictBridge software than the printer.

Small but noisy

The 2430 DL isn't exactly svelte but it's not as elephantine as most other laser printers. Its toner cartridges rotate instead of being fixed inline, trimming its size to about 395x430x341mm weight to 20kg - so it'll fit almost anywhere. But don't let it get too up-close and personal. It bumps and grinds as those cartridges spin around the paper path, making it noisier than many other laser printers and most inkjets.

Konica Minolta supplies 284 pages of info on a CD; plan to spend about an hour wading through them before installing the drivers and outputting your first print. Buried within them is a caveat you should tape to the printer: Don't remove a toner cartridge until it runs out or it's history.

If you try to re-insert it - even if it's full - the printer sees it as empty. The 2430 DL has a generous one-year extendable warranty, and Konica Minolta will send a replacement and pay all the returns travel costs should you need a fix that tech support can't handle

If you don't need to output large inkjet prints or use a variety of paper surfaces, the 2430 DL will print sharp text, impressive double-sided brochures, and high quality photographs - and do it faster and cheaper than any inkjet printer on the market today. Arthur Bleich