The best cameras, lenses and printers for large format printing

Award-winning bird photographer Jonas Classon reveals his go-to gear for creating large-format photographic prints and explains why printing his own images has helped to improve his process.
A seated man holds up and examines a large print of an owl swooping over grass. A Canon printer is on the desk in front of him.

"This was the first shot I took on the Canon EOS R5 and this is the first moment I saw it in print," says Swedish photographer and Canon Ambassador Jonas Classon. "It was a real 'wow' moment, compared with just viewing it on screen. It's printed on Canon's Photo Paper Pro Luster Photo Paper, which really makes the colours pop."

Jonas Classon is a professional bird photographer, who started his own business at 15 and is best known for his stunning multi-award-winning shots of nocturnal great grey owls. He regularly prints his photos, in sizes up to an impactful 120 x 160cm.

Turning spectacular digital images into detailed large-format photographic prints is something of an artform in itself, and it's a process that many photographers find a little daunting. Here, Jonas shares his secrets for success, exploiting the synergy between his high-resolution Canon EOS R5 and L-series lenses, and the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 A2 printer, while Suhaib Hussain, printing expert and Product Marketing Manager at Canon Europe, also offers his technical insight.

A man holds up a large print of an owl on a branch with the moon overhead.

Jonas chose fine-art rough paper for this print of his award-winning Night Hunter shot. "It works really well with this image and the absence of any surface reflection makes the dark tones really rich and deep, with a beautiful magical quality," he says.

A man leans over a table, laying out small prints of nature photographs in a grid.

"It's not just about large-format printing," says Jonas. "I always make small prints when I'm planning a book or an exhibition. Being able to move the prints around to see how they work together is something you just can't do on a computer screen. I also find it helpful being able to make handwritten notes on the back of each print."

Shooting detailed images

Jonas currently shoots with a Canon EOS R5 and finds it perfect for capturing images destined for large-format prints. "The 45MP sensor gives me the freedom to crop images creatively and still retain more than enough resolution for really big prints that are incredibly detailed. Indeed, you can appreciate whole new levels of fine detail in print, compared with looking at images on screen."

Shooting nocturnal owls, Jonas captures the vast majority of his images in near-darkness but the in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) system in the Canon EOS R5 – and in the EOS R6 and EOS R3 – which delivers up to 8-stops when paired with compatible lenses, enables him to work for longer. "It gives me an extra hour of shooting first thing in the morning and late into the evening, as well as producing pin-sharp results with incredible consistency," he says. Jonas also finds that the camera's DIGIC X processor gives a similar benefit. "I can push the sensitivity to ISO16000 or more and still get really clean image quality with really fine detail yet minimal noise, so I can create poster-size prints that look fabulous, even though they were taken with barely any light."

Suhaib adds: "For a full-sized A2 (420 x 594mm) print, you only need around 32 megapixels for the finest quality output, printing at around 300dpi (dots per inch). You can therefore create an A2 print from the 32MP 8K movie frame of the EOS R5 and get superb results. It's great for wedding and event photography, and for shooting sports and wildlife, so you can be sure of capturing the definitive moment. Even so, it's important not to get hung up on megapixel count. People sometimes feel you need the highest-resolution cameras for large-format printing but, in truth, you can create stunning big prints from images taken on any Canon EOS camera."

A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

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An open laptop sits in front of a large Canon printer, its screen showing the Professional Print & Layout program with an image of an owl in flight.

Canon's Professional Print & Layout (PPL) software is designed to work with the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 and Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 "It makes everything so quick and easy to tailor the output to a huge range of photo papers and fine-art media," says Jonas. "I really like the Pattern Print function, which creates a selection of thumbnail images on a single sheet, with subtle differences in tone and colour. I can then simply pick my favourite version for the final large-format print."

Add an L-series lens

Jonas's go-to lenses for his bird photography are the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM and Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x, which he attaches to EOS R System cameras using a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R. He finds they give him the perfect blend of super-telephoto reach and aperture speed, although he's also very much looking forward to trying the Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM lens.

"For clarity and sharpness across the whole image frame, as well as for autofocus speed and build quality, Canon L-series lenses are a must for me," he says. "The optical image stabilisation of these lenses was pretty amazing when I used to shoot with my Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, but the EOS R5 takes stabilisation to a whole new level. Working in tandem with the camera's in-body stabilisation system, I can shoot at just 1/50 sec and pretty much guarantee getting consistently sharp images."

Jonas feels he often doesn't really appreciate the quality of his lenses until he sees his images on paper. "You don't really get a sense of just how sharp these L-series lenses are until you create prints. Compared with viewing the images on screen, there's an instant wow factor. Even tiny specks from sensor dust become visible in prints, which is actually a big help when you're preparing images for poster-size prints or creating output for exhibitions or books."

Suhaib says there are key benefits to RF system lenses, compared with their older EF counterparts. "The large mounting flange and the closer proximity of the rear of the lens to the image sensor gives optical advantages, and the electronics and innovative 12-pin connection enable massively faster data communication between the camera and lens," he explains. "The difference in speed has been likened to that between a bullet train and a moped, helping to enhance the performance of image stabilisation and autofocus tracking."

A Canon camera next to a Canon printer and a selection of black-and-white prints.

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A man lifts a large edge-to-edge print of an owl from a Canon printer, while sat at his desk.

"Printing your own photos is quick and easy," says Jonas. "It only takes a few minutes to print a full-size A2 print with the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000, and I can still use my computer to keep on working during the process, so it really takes no time at all."

A large number of prints of owl photographs, of differing sizes, are laid out across a desk. A hand is placing the closest one down.

"I'm a bit of a paper nerd," admits Jonas. "I tried around 30 different fine-art papers before deciding which one to use for a particular poster, but I generally narrow it down to two or three favourites."

Pick the perfect printer and paper

There are currently three models in Canon's pro photo printing range, each aimed at slightly different uses. The Canon PIXMA PRO-200 A3+/13-inch printer uses eight dye-based inks that give an unbeatably smooth finish on glossy paper, whereas the 10 pigment inks of the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 work better for fine art and matte media. Stepping up to A2 printing, the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 has an even larger range of 12 pigment-based inks. Both of these imagePROGRAF printers feature a Chroma Optimizer cartridge, which ensures excellent uniformity when printing on glossy and semi-gloss or luster papers.

Jonas spent years getting his prints made at a local lab, which involved a two-hour drive, several times every week. He'd been put off creating large-format prints at home, thinking it would be time-consuming, complex and costly. "I was honestly shocked. The Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 was easy to set up, after which I phoned a friend for technical advice on print settings. He told me to just press Ctrl-P and that everything was pretty much automatic. I created my first big print of an owl in flight, taken a year before, and felt like I'd been transported back in time. The print was so realistic, with such incredible detail and natural colour rendition, that it was like reliving the moment.

"The speed is pretty amazing too," continues Jonas. "With the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000, I can create an absolutely top-quality A2 print that will last for well over 100 years, in less time than it takes to have a cup of coffee. And speaking of quality, I love making prints on matte paper and fine-art media. The printer delivers an incredible tonal range with the kind of ultra-deep yet detailed blacks that you just can't get with a computer monitor. I also love the way that I can make borderless prints on matte and fine-art media, instead of just on glossy and luster papers. That adds a lot of creative freedom."

Suhaib says that accuracy is a key element of the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000's design. "There's an anti-skew system to avoid any errors from misaligned paper, and a vacuum paper transport section that ensures the paper remains perfectly positioned throughout its transit through the printer."

Ultimately, Jonas strongly believes that every photographer should have their own printer. "Until you create a print, you can't really judge the quality of the image. Making your own prints is also deeply satisfying, and makes your work much more fun and creative. It'll even save you a lot of time and money in the long run."

Matthew Richards

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