Rejoice! You won’t have to scan photo prints one by one anymore, or risk having them ripped in your scanner’s document feeder. The Epson FastFoto FF-680W ($599.99) is a worthy successor to the Epson FastFoto FF-640, which was the first sheet-feed scanner that could quickly scan a stack of photos with a minimal chance of them getting torn, creased, or otherwise damaged. Geared largely toward people who want to digitize and archive their photo-print collections (think shoeboxes full of snapshots), the FastFoto FF-680W does considerably better at scanning documents than the FastFoto FF-640. This makes it a much more versatile home scanner, one that won’t become irrelevant once you’ve completed scanning your snapshot collection. It also makes it a PCMag Editors’ Choice for photo-centric household scanners.
A Photo-Happy Sheet-Feed Scanner
Its photo wizardry notwithstanding, the matte-black FastFoto FF-680W looks like a typical desktop document scanner. It measures 6.9 by 11.7 by 6.7 inches (HWD) when closed. It has a top tray that curves down to feed the automatic document feeder (ADF), and a bottom tray that curves upward to hold scanned photos or documents. You can adjust plastic guides at the feed slot to fit different widths of paper, with marks for 5-by-7-inch and 4-by-6-inch photos. Unlike the Epson FastFoto FF-640, the FF-680W supports Wi-Fi as well as USB connectivity.
On the front of the scanner, near the right, is a vertical line of buttons identified by icons, topped by an on/off button…
Others include Wi-Fi, double-feed detection skip (if scanning stops because a double feed was detected, press it to resume scanning), slow mode (to slow down scan speed following a paper jam), and scan. Rather than immediately starting a scan, pressing the scan button launches the FastFoto software—the main interface, plus a pop-up dialog box that lets you classify a batch of photos by year and other identifying info.
Eyeing the FastFoto Software
The FastFoto software saves scanned images in subfolders in a FastFoto folder in your Pictures directory. When you initiate a scan, you are given the option to create a subfolder for a batch of photos named by year (or decade) and month (or season)—each chosen from pull-down menus—and then add some descriptive text such as a place or event (for example, “1986_Winter_NYC”). You can leave either of the first two fields blank.
From the software’s Settings button, you can select the resolution (300dpi or 600dpi), as well as opt for an enhanced scan, which applies FastFoto’s automatic enhancement. You can do the enhanced scan in addition to or instead of a scan that matches the print as closely as possible. You can scan photos to your choice of JPG or TIFF format. When the scan is done, thumbnails of the images in your batch appear in FastFoto’s main pane.
With FastFoto, you can rotate, crop, enhance, or restore images, as well as apply red-eye reduction. You can also upload images directly to sites such as Dropbox and Google Drive.
You are not limited to scanning photo prints with FastFoto; you can scan postcards and other graphics, too. For example, I have used it to scan amateur radio QSL cards, the postcards that hams use to confirm two-way contact with other stations. Often, the front of the card contains a photo or other graphical image, while the back will have a data box with information about the contact (call sign, time, date, frequency, and more). You can set FastFoto to scan both the front and back of an image automatically; if the back is blank, the FF-680W won’t bother to scan it.
Assessing Scan Quality and Speed
All told, I scanned hundreds of photo prints in multiple batches with the FF-680W. Most of the prints were at least two decades old and ranged widely in quality and preservation. For most, I let FastFoto apply its enhancements and save both the raw scan and the enhanced version. The scanner did well in converting these prints into digital form. In general, the enhanced versions—to which the software applied tweaks to contrast, brightness, and saturation—were more pleasing than the originals. The enhancements didn’t work miracles, but they did well as a quick fix. Most of the photos I scanned were 3-by-5-inch or 4-by-6-inch prints, though I also scanned a batch of 4-by-11.5-inch panoramas.
Epson gives the speed of scanning photos with the FastFoto FF-680W as one print per second at 300dpi and one print every 3 seconds at 600dpi. In my test runs, the actual time spent scanning the prints at both resolutions was close to the Epson claims; I used a stack of 36 4-by-6-inch prints.
When you include warmup and save times, though, scanning can take considerably longer. At 300dpi, the FF-680W took 49 seconds to scan the prints, and 1 minute and 51 seconds (1:51) to both scan and save them. At 600dpi, it took 2 minutes to scan the same batch of 36 prints, and 4:08 to both scan and save them. This, especially at 300dpi, was slower than its predecessor, the Epson FastFoto FF-640, which has the same rated speeds as the FastFoto FF-680. With the earlier model, I’d scanned a larger (50-print) stack at 300dpi in just 43 seconds (eight-tenths of a second per print, compared with the FastFoto FF-680’s 1.3 seconds per print), while to scan and save to file took 1:35. (That’s 1.9 seconds per print, compared with 3.08 seconds per print for the FastFoto FF-680.)
At 600dpi, the FastFoto FF-640 was still faster, but the difference was significantly less. That model took 2:22 (2.8 seconds per print) to scan its stack, and 5:20 (6.4 seconds per print) to both scan and save. The FastFoto FF-680 averaged 3.4 seconds per print just to scan, and 6.8 seconds per print to scan and save.
In our testing, the FastFoto FF-680W proved slower than its predecessor, although it was still close to its rated speeds. To put it in perspective, however, the FastFoto FF-680W scans and saves photos a lot faster than a flatbed photo scanner. (Our current Editors’ Choice for a consumer flatbed photo scanner is the Epson Perfection V39($138.94 at Amazon).) We are not able to accurately test their scanning speed for groups of photos, however; that’s because the speed depends, in part, on how quickly you can open the flatbed’s cover, remove the scanned photo and add a new one, and press the scan command again.
It Scans Documents, Too
I did all of my document-scanning testing with the FastFoto FF-680W coupled with the included Epson ScanSmart utility. For documents, the FastFoto FF-680W is rated at a speed of 45 pages per minute (ppm) for simplex (one-sided) scanning and 90 images per minute (ipm) for duplex (two-sided) scanning, where each side of a page counts as an image. These ratings are typical of today’s document scanners. They are based on what I call the raw scanning speed, the time it takes for the scanner to physically scan the sheets, excluding any time spent in warming up, or in post-scan processing before the scan is saved to file. In this manner, using our 25-page, 50-image test document, I timed the FastFoto FF-680W in simplex at 50ppm, a bit better than its rated speed.
For our official speed tests, we count any lag before the scan begins, and add any post-scan processing time, as well. In scanning to a 200dpi grayscale image PDF, the FF-680W scanned the same text document in 38.5ppm in simplex and 69.8ppm in duplex, losing little time in handling two-sided documents. Both are respectable times, if short of the scanner’s rated speeds.
When I switched to scanning to searchable PDF format, which is generally considered the best format for archiving documents, it took 1:19 to scan the same document in duplex. That’s definitely an improvement: I had not been able to get the FastFoto FF-640 to scan to searchable PDF at all when I reviewed it.
Good Character Recognition
The FastFoto FF-680W’s OCR performance also proved considerably better than the FastFoto FF-640’s in our testing. OCR performance was average for document scanners; without error, it read and rendered both our Times New Roman and Arial test pages, in converting the scan to a Word document, at sizes down to 8 points. Its scanning of our group of less-common fonts was a mixed bag, with great results with two of our five fonts, fair results with another, and some struggles with the other two. This, once again, was a very typical result for a document scanner. The FastFoto FF-640’s OCR performance, on the other hand, was quite poor when I reviewed that scanner two years ago. It tended to run words together, sometimes even at larger type sizes. So OCR matters have gotten better with this model, to be sure.
Although the FastFoto FF-680W’s document-scanning ability and its scan utlity are much improved over the first-generation model, it could use a more robust software selection for document scanning, particularly considering that this product is meant for households, and many home users won’t have any sort of document-management software.
Verdict? It’s a Winner and a Keeper
Epson pioneered the photo-friendly sheet-feed scanner, and the FF-680W is a step forward from the original FastFoto FF-640. Able to scan documents, but with photo scanning as its forte, the Epson FastFoto FF-680W is primarily meant for home archivists who want to scan teeming stacks of photo prints.
It’s slower at photo scanning than the FastFoto FF-640, but it’s far more versatile, because it is much better at document scanning, which means you’ll still have plenty of use for it once you’ve scanned through all your shoeboxes of old snaps. This makes it our Editors’ Choice home photo-centric sheet-feed scanner—and a keeper after your big archiving job is done.