NOTE: This unit was given to me to perform this review. It is an unbiased review and opinions of the unit are solely my own.
First, let us hear from the Epson news bulletin and what they have to say.
“Epson has announced its FastFoto FF-680W scanner to help customers preserve and digitally share precious printed photos. This provides the perfect alternative to having stacks of photo albums and boxes containing hundreds of photos.
Manually positioning and scanning a printed photo can be time-consuming, so when you have hundreds of photos it can seem like a monumental and unachievable task. Thanks to the auto feeder, the FastFoto FF-680W scanner provides the ultimate solution as it can scan up to 30 photos in 30 seconds1″
Epson goes on to say it can scan both the front and the back of photos, capturing important handwritten notes and can OCR text and save to PDF ready for searching.
Potentially this feature alone could be great for those scanning documents and needing to research large volumes of data.
If you wanted a quick look at how fast the FastFoto is, I’ve included a rapid 3-minute look at the scanner on my youtube channel below.
What is in the box?
The unit is surprisingly compact and comes in a box 37x26x29 cm. The unit is roughly 16 cm deep,18 cm high and 29 cm wide, with all lids and drawers, closed.
- Inside is a Power Plug (total length approx 3.5 m)
- USB to USB 3.0 cable 1.5m. This is not a standard USB cable but fast USB 3.0 type.
- Some very brief set up notes and information booklet with one tiny paragraph of English instructions warning of safe disposal. In this leaflet is a what could be a warranty form but it is all in Russian.
- A Software CD
- Micro Fiber Cloth
- A carrier sheet protecting very poorly damaged images from getting jammed in the scanner.
If you need longer USB cable like me you will be up against it. The cable is only 1.5m long. Perhaps you have more than one peripheral and need to set up the unit further away from your PC? You will need to go out and buy a USB extension cable (female to male) to make the cable longer. A 2m cable would have given the bit extra room for placement options, taller desks or non-standard PC setups.
It does have Wi-Fi but I am assuming for the moment this is aimed at folks who are wanting to archive their own photo collections, of the older generation and therefore setting up Wi-Fi is too complicated beyond simply plugging it in.
The unit has rubber feet and both power and coms connectors are at the back, along with a Kensington security slot for securing to an anti-theft device.
Features – A quick look at the listed features.
- Automatically scan up to 30 photos in 30 seconds1.
- FastFoto software simplifies and speeds up processing with auto: cropping, deskew, rotation, restore faded colours (old photos), enhancement (brightness, contrast and colour), red-eye removal.
- FastFoto software lets you share images via email, and directly upload images to cloud services such as Dropbox and Google Drive2.
- It detects and captures special handwritten notes on the back of the photo automatically.
- Scan photos with different shapes and sizes. It can scan standard, square, panoramic and instant photos, from 9x13cm up to 21x91cm (panoramic).
- FastFoto software batch-processes photos and saves images efficiently e.g. option to save just an enhanced version, or with the original and enhanced version
- Choose a file type that’s right for you: small and easy to share JPEGs or large TIFFs for maximum quality at 600dpi optical resolution.
- Archiving single or double-sided papers at 45ppm3 from newspaper clippings and children’s drawings, to receipts, important school achievements, birth certificates, house deeds and household admin.
- OCR software makes scanned documents editable in Word or Excel and PDFs are searchable
- Protect delicate photos, stamps or documents by scanning inside the supplied carrier sheet while in slow-scan mode.
Software and installation.
After skimming the PDF manual for installation instructions, there is a brief mention not to plug the USB cable in unless instructed to do so. Switch on the power and install the software. The setup wizard advises of the license agreement, options, installation and download of the latest software. “Connection detection” via USB took about 10 minutes.
The software claimed to not find the scanner despite the USB being plugged into the front USB 3 port on my computer. I swapped to a USB 2 no luck. Despite the instructions telling me to power on the unit and then plug the USB in, it only worked when I turned it off an on again. Curiously it would not turn off until I pulled the plug from the back. Only then when I turned it on did things go according to plan. The connection was quick and it sprung to life.
At this point, it advised of updates that were needed via the “firmware updater”. The firmware updated very quickly up to 84% complete, where it paused for a scary amount of time. Eventually reaching the end it advised the firmware version 14I9 could not be updated and I should try again. This time it zipped through the firmware and completed. It then advised me of some “PDF extensions” that needed an update. I installed those too.
Checking the installation folder for the “drivers” revealed a 479Mb install! compared to the 10Mb of software I need to drive my Canon scanner. This seems a huge install for what is essentially a printer driver and some OCR software.
Real Life Testing
Before we start, take note of materials you cannot scan. Take a breath the list is comprehensive.
You can not scan photos with
- Correction fluid or tape, or other liquid or residue
- Materials stuck on the back sides, tape or stickers attached
- Sticky photos, freshly printed or processed, staples or clips
- Photos with curled corners. Photos that are peeling
- Instant camera photo paper, including peel-apart or thermal-transfer types (other than sheet film types 3.5 to 4 inches [89 to 102 mm])
- Photos thicker than .011 inch (.3 mm)
- Photos longer than 36 inches (914.4 mm)
You can not scan Documents with
- Thermal paper
- Coated paper
- Uneven surfaces, such as embossed documents
- Wet Ink
- Ripped, curled, or wrinkled documents
- Staples or paper clips
- Holes, other than standard hole-punched documents
- that are bound
- Carbon paper backing
- Glossy documents
- Carbon paper
- Non-carbon copy paper
- Perforated documents
- Documents with labels or stickers
However the good news is with the carrier sheet, you can scan
- Photos in shapes other than squares or rectangles, large uneven shapes
- Photos smaller than 2 × 2 inches (50.8 × 50.8 mm)
- Perforated photos
- Torn photos
- Fragile or ageing photos
- Curved or wrinkled photos where the thickness of the stack is greater than .07 inch (2 mm)
My first test was with one A4 black and white print with a stamp on the back. I chose no enhancements.
Inserted the correct way round the scan produced was overly black but the scan of the back which had a stamp came out in perfect tones. When I flipped the photo over and repeated the scan the tones of the photo were perfect and the back was washed out. It seems the two scanning heads give different results and I am not sure why this would be?
For capturing all the tones in the photo, inserting the photo in the wrong way was far better. See the results below.
Scanning batches of commercially printed colour photos from my youth was easy and simple and the machine sped through my test batch without a hitch.
OCR – double sided and PDFs
Using Epson ScanSmart software you have the option to scan documents, double-sided and as searchable PDF files. I inserted an old tax return form and chose the options for “searchable PDF”. After a quick scan, I saved it accordingly and got a reassuring message to advise me it was “Processing”. I took to this to mean it was converting the text to a searchable PDF format.
Eagerly opening the PDF the search box was active and everything worked as it should, the document was fully searchable. Adding more pages jammed the machine. The tiniest of ripples on the edge of the paper caused it to drag in more pages and they bunched up.
Is it likely that archiving old documents you are going to get paperwork with the odd bent corner, crease or ripple in the edge? If you do see any of these be prepared for a jam. The sheer speed of the machine means, it is very sensitive to jams when the paper is not perfectly flat. There is a “slow mode” button on the machine to slow things down if you feel this is going to be a problem.
The speed has not been tested or timed here as all I have to compare this to, are 3 FlatBed scanners. It is of course significantly quicker in all aspects than using a FlatBed. With a FlatBed, we can fill the scanning area with photos and each one can be scanned with different resolutions and settings. A different methodology is used with the FastFoto. The resolution and file type and settings are fixed before the scan takes place. Therefore it is advisable to choose a set of photos to scan, in a similar size and pick the resolution needed before hitting the go button. NOTE: The machine is supplied with a USB 3.0 cable. Fast data speeds are likely to be slowed down if you own an older machine with only USB 2.0 ports.
The Auto corrections I experienced were mainly to correct issues with the photos I scanned. Personally, I preferred the results with no correction so I can edit them later if needed. It would be advisable to test which modes give pleasing results for your tastes.
Notes on the back
There is an option to enable the scanning of the back of photos automatically if there are handwritten notes. (It does not OCR these notes.) You can choose the sensitivity of the “note detection” with a simple slider. This works as it should but depending on your type of note, should choose or test the settings to see what works for you.
File Types and the quality difference from a dedicated flatbed.
I found the quality of the images saved much better than printer scanner copiers but not as good as a dedicated flatbed scanner. If both the front of page and rear of page scanning heads could scan with the same consistency then it would be a good alternative to making scans on a day to day basis for office work and document archiving. This strange discrepancy between the two scanning heads may be just an issue with my unit, or I may have missed a small piece of technical data explaining any differences.
Should you use it for archiving? If you are using this machine to scan reams of very specific photos on thin enough photo paper and the originals can be boxed up again, then great. If however, you see this as a way of scanning said photos and binning them because they are considered clutter then think again. Should you ever want to get any of these photos restored, the maximum scan resolution is 600 DPI. 1200DPI is offered by way of Interpolation but this is essentially “added in” pixels and of no use to adding to the real quality of the scans.
Restorations require a very good resolution and those smaller photos from home-printed, Box Brownies and 3 x 2-inch snaps, will only have resolutions of 1200 pixels wide. Fading, colour staining and damage, needs a bit more resolution to produce acceptable restoration results. Don’t throw away your smaller photos just yet. The likelihood is they will need a much better scan for restoration than the Epson offers.
If you are of the older generation and don’t understand how your Wi-Fi works then plugging it in via USB is reassuring. However, you are limited where you place the unit by the relatively short cable provided. In contrast, the power plug assembly is about 3.5 meters long. I assume the product is aimed at this older generation? How many of our current generation have reams of photos to archive? Perhaps now it is just us folks who used 35mm cameras in the photo printing boom of the early 80’s and 90’s
Also if you are of the older generation and your computer only has USB 2.0 ports and not USB 3.0 you may find images take longer to transfer to your computer.
Take note of What you cannot scan…
You should also take careful note of what you cannot scan. So many photos from the past are thicker than the required limits. Many of the old photos I wanted to scan required the use of the carrier sheet and slowed down the process to a crawl. Each time I read through the list of what could not scan and had to use a carrier sheet. This scanner is not meant for archiving old photos that have all the typical problems you associate with old photos.
If you have boxes of Carte De Viste photos then you best not buy this unit. The maximum scanning thickness is 0.3mm so any postcards made from a photo, mounted on card won’t go through. It does have an “embossed plastic card” mode to 1.24 mm so it can clearly do this thickness. Perhaps there are the delicate pickup rollers to consider when trying thicker media.
If you have reams of old typed letters or documents then you can, of course, use this machine to great effect and turning your archive digital into searchable PDFs.
This machine requires maintenance in the form of constant cleaning. If you do not follow the scanners guide, which insists you clean each of your hundreds of photos you are about to scan them, the dust from those images builds up in the scanner. This causes dust of the scanning heads. As the images pass through any dust can produce a streak down the length of your image. They do have a built-in process to try to minimize this but the suggestion is to clean it after each batch of photos with the provided “Epson” cloth. Also, the delicate rollers that move the photos through the machine need cleaning as well and have a finite life and will need replacing from time to time. With constant use, this cleaning regime could eat into its time-saving benefits but not by much.
Although it took a bit of work to get all the features working it is a great scanner that fills a gap for very fast scanning of photos. It works best on blocks of film photos you got from the processors in 36’s or 24s. Great for scanning printed documents too and making a huge time saving with saved, searchable documents as PFDs. If you need a scanner for your collections of older postcards or thicker sports card collections then don’t junk your flatbed scanner just yet. If you think it might help you, you can get one at the link below.