The Plustek ePhoto Z300 ($199) is one of the few sheet-feed scanners built primarily for handling photo prints, and it’s easily the least expensive that we have come across. It’s also the slowest, because unlike the Editors’ Choice Epson FastFoto FF-680W, it lacks an automatic document feeder (ADF), meaning you have to feed each photo or document page by hand. That said, it’s much faster than flatbed photo scanners like the Canon CanoScan LiDE220. The Z300 falls a bit behind its competition in terms of scan quality, but its output is easily good enough for household use, especially if you’re simply looking to digitize a bunch of snapshots.
The Perils of Sheet-Feed Photo Scanning
Traditionally, flatbed scanners—which scan photos or documents set on a glass platen and covered with a lid—have been the preferred choice for photo scanning, because such machines treat the prints gently. Flatbed scanners tend to be slow, though, both in the time spent scanning each photo and in removing the old print from the platen and adding a new one. Photo-scanning services, which can quickly scan prints in quantity, have become a viable and reasonably priced option. For example, ScanMyPhotos scans prints for as little as a penny each (for low-res 150dpi scans; 7 cents per 300dpi scan), and for an extra fee can upload the scans the same day the prints are received if they arrive early enough. These services, though, are not nearly as convenient as having a photo scanner on hand for immediate use.
Over the years, we have discouraged readers from using sheet-feed document scanners, as you run the risk that the print will get damaged while it is being fed through the scan mechanism, a particular problem for old or delicate prints. Epson’s FastFoto scanners like the FF-640 and the FF-680W have been a welcome exception—they look and act like document scanners but are primarily built for scanning photo prints. They use a gentle feed mechanism to minimize any possibility of damage to the prints. The Z300 is designed similarly, a big difference being it is limited to manual feeding of each print into the scanner while the FastFoto models can automatically feed a stack of prints.
Like the Epsons, the Z300 handled our test prints with aplomb, and they all made it through the feeding and scanning process unscathed, even the signed photo of an astronaut that I was a wee bit concerned about.
An Unusual Design
The Z300 has a unique form factor, looking like a sort of wedge with a pale blue, matte front that angles sharply back and a glossy white base. A flat strip of plastic covers the scanning mechanism and helps form the feed slot. In back, along with a handle for easy transport, are the power switch, a socket for the power adapter, a slot for a Kensington lock, and a USB port for connecting the Z300 to a computer, its only connectivity choice. Apart from the power switch, there are no controls on the scanner; all operations are performed through the software.
The Z300 is very easy to set up. You install the scanner’s software (Windows or Mac) on your computer from the enclosed disc, plug it in, and connect it to a computer with the included USB cable. (Don’t worry if you don’t have an optical drive; you can also download the software from the Plustek site.) Turning the scanner on should complete the installation. You will be prompted by the software to calibrate the scanner with an included calibration sheet, which is a simple procedure. Clicking the Finish button will restart your computer, so be sure to close all other windows first.
Now, when you launch the ePhoto software, an LED at the right side of the scan bar will glow blue, and you’re ready to scan. You simply insert a photo or document into the feed slot above the scan bar, aligning the paper’s right-hand edge with a hash mark. A sensor within the feed slot detects the sheet, which is then pulled through the scan bar to complete the job. As a manual-feed scanner, the Z300 can’t tackle a stack of photos or documents. If you put multiple sheets in the feed slot, it will pull the whole lot through at once, only scanning the sheet on the bottom.
Once pages or prints are scanned, thumbnails of them appear in the large open area that dominates the ePhoto software’s interface. At the upper left corner of this area, the most recent file format to which a scan was saved is displayed. Touching a down arrow next to the format name opens a drop-down menu with a list of formats you can save the scan to. They include JPEG, Multi-Page PDF, PDF, PNG, Searchable PDF, TIFF, and Windows Bitmap.
A bar at the top of the open area lets you rotate the image 90 degrees right or left and delete or save files. There’s also a Cabinet button that opens a sidebar on the left side of the screen that shows where your scanned images are stored. From this sidebar, you can also create a slideshow of images by selecting them and adding music. At the screen’s upper right corner, along with the Help menu, is a Settings menu, which lets you change resolution, file name, color, and OCR language of documents you scan. Double-clicking on an image in the open area takes you to an Edit screen, where you can apply some simple edits to the image.
Middling Scan Speed
In testing, I scanned hundreds of photos to JPEG and one to TIFF. Most were 4-by-6-inch prints, though one was letter-size. I also scanned letter-size documents to multipage PDF and searchable PDF formats.
See How We Test Scanners
Despite the Z300 being a manual-feed machine, I was able to scan at a decent clip. I scanned 36 4-by-6-inch photo prints at 300 dpi in 2 minutes 9 seconds. That is much slower than the 49 seconds it took me to scan a similar stack with the Epson FF-680W, which benefits from an automatic feeder for the unassisted scanning of multipage documents or multiple photos. That said, the Z300’s rate translates to a none-too-shabby 1,004 prints per hour. Although you couldn’t maintain that pace for more than a few minutes, you should have no problem, say, in scanning a thousand prints in the course of an afternoon.
When I boosted the resolution to 600 dpi, the Z300 averaged 18 seconds to scan each 4-by-6 print and 40 seconds for a letter-size print. While in scanning a stack of 4-by-6 prints, the FF-680W averaged 3 seconds per print. The Canon LiDE 220 flatbed scanner took a pokey 35 seconds to scan each 4-by-6 print, not counting the time to open the cover, remove the current print, insert a new one photo, and launch the next scan.
As a scan quality test, I pitted the Z300 against the Epson FF-680W and Canon LiDE220, with each device scanning the same set of 11 4-by-6 prints selected to cover a wide range of subjects and lighting conditions. Of the three, the LiDE220’s scans looked the best, with good scan quality and detail, closely followed by the FF-680W. The Z300 brought up the rear, with generally darker prints with less accurate colors. The Z300’s scans were still good enough for household use, archiving snapshots, and the like.
The Z300’s efficacy as a document scanner is extremely limited: You can scan to image PDF or single-page searchable PDF, and you have to feed each page by hand. The same is true of the Canon LiDE220, which by its nature as a flatbed scanner is limited to your placing, scanning, and removing one page as a time. The Epson FF-680W is much more versatile in scanning documents, with the option of saving them to searchable PDF, as well as editable Word and Excel files. It can also scan multipage documents.
Good for Quick Photo Scans
The Plustek ePhoto Z300 is a rarity: a sheet-feed scanner that can safely handle photo prints. It’s also easily the lowest-price scanner of this type that we have seen. Although you’re limited to manually feeding photos, print by print, the Z300 can scan fast enough to make quick work of dozens, or even hundreds, of snapshots. Unlike the more versatile Epson FastFoto FF-680W, a PCMag Editors’ Choice, the Z300’s document-scanning abilities are limited, though. And while the Z300’s photo scan quality isn’t the best of its competition, it’s more than suitable for household use such as archiving snapshots, a task it can do much quicker than a flatbed scanner.