It’s hard to say what’s the most difficult thing about using Epson’s brilliant new photo scanner, the FastFoto FF-680W.
Is it the crawling around the attic for hours, trying to find all the old shoe boxes of photos that you’ve been meaning to scan for a decade but putting it off because it was too time-consuming?
Too time-consuming until now, that is.
Is it deciding on which order to scan all those photos? As you will see, Epson’s well thought out scanning system helps a lot with that but, having just scanned in some 2500 old photos, I can tell you: start from the back of each box.
Or maybe the hardest part is seeing all the old photos you haven’t looked at or even thought about for years, seeing the terrible fashion you used to wear, or how ridiculously long your hair used to be. Maybe it’s seeing photos of yourself as a young man, with your whole life ahead of you, and pondering where else that life might have led you. Maybe it’s seeing photos of your father, long since dead but never forgotten.
Maybe it’s dragging yourself away from all those memories long enough to write up a review about it. It could be any of those things.
What is definitely not the most difficult thing about using the FastFoto FF-680W is the device itself. The scanner is a work of art, one of the best and most rewarding contraptions we’ve had here in the Digital Life Labs for quite some years. It’s hard to think of anything we’re more desperate to own.
Though ownership of the FastFoto is a funny proposition. The scanner is so very good at what it does – turning old photos into excellent JPEG or TIFF files that get saved to your PC, fast – that you probably only need it for a weekend or, if you have all your old photos at hand and ready, only for a morning. Even on one of its slower settings, I was able to scan old 4 x 6 inch photos at a rate of roughly 1400 photos an hour. 1400! Per hour!
It’s the sort of device that you might buy, use just the once, and still think it was $799 well spent. Then you might pack it up and pass it on to your family and friends to scan in their old memories until it finally comes back to you, many tens of thousands of photo scans and quite a few heartfelt tears later, ready to digitise all your old bank statements and power bills for posterity and the taxman.
Indeed, the very design of the FastFoto FF-680W is suggestive of something that’s meant to be packed up and carried from place to place. The covers and trays all fold back over the scanner until it resembles something like an oversized lunch pail, or a tiny esky. If only it had a handle on top, it would be perfect.
Not that it’s imperfect. The way the document feeder at the top of the device just rips through photos, at a maximum advertised speed of 60 photos a minute and a maximum actual speed of 87 photos a minute in our tests, is just mind-boggling. We just shoved wads of photos into the feeder tray, 100 photos at a time, and it sucked them all in and processed them, never once grabbing two or more by mistake, never once crumpling or damaging a photo, at a speed that has to be seen to be believed.
Top of its game
In 2500 photo scans, the feeder path jammed just once, and took only seconds to clear. Clearly, Epson has been making document feed technology for a long time and, with the FastFoto FF-680W, it’s at the top of its game.
(Our biggest single pile was actually 103 photos, sitting in and on the document feeder, and the Epson handled them all effortlessly. Still, we don’t recommend you shove in more than about 80 photos at a time, because they start to pile up in the out tray and can get shuffled if the pile gets higher than the output slot.)
You might think it’s something of a set-and-forget device – you feed in a pile of photos, and come back a couple of minutes later to put those ones back in their box, and feed in another pile – but actually it’s not set-and-forget at all. It’s mesmerising, seeing all those old memories shoot past.
Now, there are a couple of technical things that might be worth knowing about after you race out and buy one, a course of action we heartily recommend.
Epson offers three scanning resolutions – 300dpi, 600dpi, or 1200dpi interpolated from the 600dpi scan. Even though the 300dpi mode is much faster than the other modes, giving you 87 photos a minute, we’d recommend you choose the 23-photo-per-minute 600- or 1200-dpi setting, and that you save them your photos as uncompressed TIFF files rather than JPEGs, for maximum archival value.
The 600- and 1200-dpi modes are plenty fast enough anyway, and if you’re going to go to the effort of digging up all your old photos, you might as well do the best scans you can.
And while I’m making recommendations, I’ll add that, though the FastFoto FF-680W is dead simple to set up as a Wi-Fi-attached network scanner, it’s best to connect it directly to your computer using the included USB 3.0 cable, at least until you get through the backlog.
Scanning is still very fast in Wi-Fi mode, but in our tests it did stutter a little more often than in USB mode – due, we figure, to the physical scanning getting ahead of the app’s ability to save the files to your hard drive.
The app itself is quite basic, but it’s almost as impressive as the scanner. Because the scanner grabs photos from the bottom of the pile, it scans them in reverse order, which would stuff up the file numbering system except for the fact that the app waits for all the photos in a batch to be scanned in, then goes ahead and numbers them in reverse.
The last photo scanned is numbered 001, and the first photo scanned gets the highest number. It’s clever, and the way it should be, if you think about it. Clearly, Epson has thought things through good and proper.
This does have one drawback, though. It means you don’t see any of the photos until the batch is done, which can be a problem if, as happened to us, some dirt from an old photo gets smeared on the glass of the image sensor, causing lines to appear on all the subsequent images.
We have around 500 TIFFs that will probably need to be rescanned now that we’ve cleaned the glass with a cloth.
Normally, having to rescan 500 photos would be a disaster. But on the FastFoto FF-680W it should take, what, 20 minutes? I don’t mind one bit, watching all those memories pop up a second time.
- Likes Produces high-quality photo scans at breakneck speeds
- Dislikes Can produce streaky scans if you don’t keep it clean
- Price $799