While both the Photon and Photon S are essentially the same printer with some tweaks, the reinforced Z-axis and anti-aliasing make the Photon S the clear choice if you don't have either. If you already have the Photon you don't need to spend money to upgrade.
What are the big differences?
Since the Photon S is an upgrade of the original Photon, there are going to be quite a few similarities.
|Layer height||0.01mm - 0.2mm||0.01mm - 0.2mm|
|Z Axis||Single rod||Dual linear rails|
|Build volume||116 x 55 x 165mm||116 x 65 x 165mm|
|Light source||UV LED||UV Matrix|
As you can see from the spec sheet above, there are a lot of similarities in each printer. The choice of whether to upgrade will come down to some small but key differences.
While the original Photon has a solid powder coated steel chassis, the new Photon S is made of rigid plastic. This doesn't seem to make any difference to the print quality, although the other upgrades to the Photon S may be offsetting any issues. The change to plastic has reduced the weight by around 1.4 pounds, which is great, but I still don't like the plastic body as much as the metal.
The metal body feels sturdy, while the plastic feels cheaper somehow. I would rather pay a little extra for the more solid body.
The addition of anti-aliasing and stabilizing rods on the Photon S are the main reason to upgrade.
That's probably the one downside to the new generation. The addition of anti-aliasing and stabilizing rails on the Photon S are the main reason to upgrade. Instead of having a single threaded rod for the Z-axis like the Photon, the S uses a threaded rod and a smooth rod on either side. This reduces the dreaded "Z-wobble" that can cause prints to have strange lines. It wasn't a huge concern with the original Photon, though I have never experienced it.
Anti-aliasing, like on a computer screen, smooths the edges of pixels, making the resolution of the print seem higher than it actually is. This is one of the new technologies to arrive on DLP 3D printers and should improve quality across the board on the Photon S.
Something to note, however, AnyCubic has said the original Photon will also get anti-aliasing in a firmware update "sometime soon." If anti-aliasing was your only reason to upgrade, then we wouldn't suggest going all-in on the Photon S.
They have also added a new, upgraded UV light source called a matrix, which, along with a 10 Watt increase in power, should increase the print speed. We have heard reports that the speed isn't as high as AnyCubic suggest, but it is faster than it was before.
The last upgrade that I am happy they have added is the touchscreen. The entire interface has been reworked and the touchscreen upgraded so the issues I had in my review — the screen sometimes refusing to work without the use of a stick, for example — should no longer occur.
Should you upgrade?
The decision to upgrade comes down to if the tweaks matter to you. If you have the cash lying around, want a better touchscreen, and want that anti-aliasing and improved Z-axis, then go for the Photon S. However, the differences are minimal, so don't worry if you already have a Photon and don't have the budget for an upgrade. This especially won't matter since anti-aliasing is expected in an update.
If you're looking to jump into 3D resin printing, we would also recommend the Photon S. The difference in price is minimal, so there's no point in buying the original Photon. Saving $30-$40 isn't as good as the perks you'll get.