If you’re overwhelmed by dozens of storage boxes of old family photos, Epson has a solution that will scan the prints from two to three rolls of film in about a minute. Seriously. Front and back. In high resolution. Dated and named. It’s the Epson FastFoto FF-680W duplex photo scanner.
It’s also a document scanner and chews through (figuratively) documents faster than you can remove the staple from the next stack and get it straightened. The $530 price may seem high to some people. It is. Get over it. The amount of time you’ll save is huge. A scanner like this may give you the inspiration to finally cut into all those shoeboxes of your parents’ images.
Epson got into the sheet-fed photo-also-documents scanner business in a big way with the Epson FF-640 at $650 street and followed it this year with the Epson FF-680W.
It is the perfect device for scanning boxes of old photos. You can toss in a jumble of images of different sizes and it does a good job scanning them and keeping the edges straight. If you’ve marked notes on the backs of photos (along with the print processor’s information), you can capture that as well in a single pass. I ran several stacks of 36 4-by-6 prints through, at 300 dpi, scanning both sides. There’s a warmup period, the scanning time itself, and then some time to write the scans to disk. A 36-exposure roll of prints took about 20 seconds to scan, and about a minute total to warm up before and save to disk after. Compare that with scanning on a standard flatbed that lets you put four 4-by-6s on at a time. It will take you at least half an hour per roll, you may not get the photos scanned in the order you think, and if you just flip the photos over to capture the backsides, they’ll be scanned in a different order from the fronts.
There are a bunch of bells and whistles you’ll find useful. You can scan at 300 or 600 dpi, jpg or tif, although many photo prints of the past two decades came off high-speed printers with resolutions of 300 dpi. Older prints were made with the traditional enlarger process (at high speed) and will benefit from 600 dpi. You can also correct for print aging and red-eye and have the option to store both the uncorrected and corrected scans. If you only save one scan, make it uncorrected. Then it’s easier for you to make corrections on your PC. It also scans prints as wide as 36 inches but the max height remains 8.5 inches. Epson software makes it easy to upload also to Dropbox or Google Docs. The connection is now USB 3, but you can also connect via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
For a user like me, whose family has prints dating to 1874, whose father was a professional photographer for 20 years, and whose relatives shot thousands of rolls of film and invariable had double prints made, the Epson FastFoto FF-680W is a winner. I’m drowning in photos. I have a big (11-by-17) flatbed scanner as well for big prints, kids artwork, newspaper headlines, etcetera. For all the discussion of scanning speed, the real speed to do an envelope of prints is the time to put the prints in order, label the back of the first print with anything you wrote on the print envelope, toss duplicates, wipe the dust off the each print (at least the edges) with a microfiber cloth, then scan, and then when you’re satisfied, toss the prints but not the negatives. I would put it at 30 minutes to do a good job, possibly longer.
I have a film-and-slide scanner as well. Here’s my advice: Send color negatives and slides out for scanning, at prices as low as 25 cents each. Unless you value your time at zero, you come out ahead. Your flatbed scanner has film and slide templates. The quality is decent but doesn’t match up to a dedicated film scanner. That’s for color. For black and white, dust spots show up in your scans; a professional scan shop with clean rooms plus retouching experts is the only way to do B&W negatives right. If you’re lucky, the prints you want were already enlarged to 5×7 or bigger.
To do the best job scanning, and make the images useful to other generations and to get the photos organized in the order-taken within each roll of film (the print number is often on the back), FastFoto software lets you create filenames and folder names linked to the subject and date (date, month, or year, depending on how much you recall). It’s a good time to discard duplicate prints and, once you’ve got the scans stored online as well as on your PC, discard the original prints, saving the negatives in the photo-finisher’s envelope or in archival negative sleeves. Either way, you’ve reduced clutter by about 90 percent.
As for the document scanner part: The older FastFoto FF-640 was quick to scan but the OCR software wasn’t very good. Now, with the FF-680W, it’s a lot better at turning scans into documents and then saving in searchable PDF format, meaning you can search that document, or groups, for specific words. In other words, in between bouts of photo-archiving, you can scan important documents, even unimportant documents. For example: Before sending out holiday cards, we now scan each envelope to make sure we don’t send out two cards or none. Similarly, we scan incoming cards’ envelopes and, after they’ve been untaped from the refrigerator in January, the cards themselves. Maybe this is Type-A behavior, maybe there’s no need. But now that we’ve got 16-terabyte hard disks available, the cost to store is essentially zero.
What else can you do: Scan every credit card in every wallet you and your family has. They scan perfectly. There’s a method to join the fronts and backs of cards automatically. For scrapbookers, you can the tickets from sporting events and plays.
Bottom line: The Epson FastFoto 680-W is a scanner that a lot of homes can use. Now, the document-scanning is good, too. You can justify the cost by saying when you’re done, you’ll put it on eBay and recoup half or two-thirds of your investment. Odds are more likely it will take a year, at least, working off and on, to go through all your old photos. At least the photo-scanning part will be quick.
If you’re on a budget, you can find refurbished FF-640 scanners for $400-$450; often “refurb” means a new unit got returned after light use, but it can’t be sold as new. Used (non-refurbished) FF-640s should be under $400 and you can always order replacements for the wear parts, such as the rollers. But don’t get the FF-640 if you want to scan and OCR documents; for that, you’ll want the latest model, the FF-680W.