Memories, oh so many memories with Epson FF-680W fast photoscanner

Epson FF-680W
100% human

Barbara Streisand was really singing about Epson’s new memory making machine – the Epson FF-680W fast photo scanner.

You see in reviewing this photo (and document) scanner so many memories emerged – a tsunami of memories of things long forgotten that should not have been. Thanks, Epson FF-680W fast photo scanner.

Sorry to get emotional but that is what delving into a hundred years or more of Shaw family memories brings. Three huge boxes (each 60x 40 x 33cm) containing thousands of pictures – let the memory live again.

Did I ever look that young? Oh there is a picture of me with hair! We must preserve those memories for our kids, grandkids and family and friends.

All alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days
Life was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again

Memory (with apologies to Andrew Lloyd Webber)

This rather diminutive scanner took my eye at the recent 2018-19 Epson range launch. I quietly nudged the PR manager and said, “I want to review that.” Little did Epson know the review would cover thousands of photos spanning over 100 years and that the Epson FF-680W would be more than a little used when returned.

I was not sure at first of the scope of this project. Sure, it is easy to scan hundreds or thousands of photos at about one second each. Just throw them holus-bolus (that’s randomly regardless of size or subject) into the document feeder and hey presto – gigabytes, nay terabytes of images without the physical bulk.

But that is not what preserving memories are all about. It is about preserving memories and identifying who, what, where, when and why the shots are significant.

To that end Epson’s FastFoto software was great. In brief, it manages the scan, restoration (makes an enhanced copy), organises and shares those precious memories. Call it an intelligent photo organisation tool.

You have nothing to fear, except fear itself

I could not think of a more appropriate headline except something to do with procrastination. Perhaps “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.”

There were three huge boxes of photos, the repository of grandad’s photos; some of my father’s photos (one of my brothers is responsible for keeping that collection); my wife’s parents and family photos; my photos from the first Polaroid to my Canon EOS; and my family photos. These are quaintly known as ‘hard copy’ and are the missing part of terabytes of photos stored in the cloud or on various flash drives since I had a digital camera and later a smartphone capable of taking a good shot.

Those damned boxes of photos were not going to go away, and I owed it to the kids and rellies to do something.

I valiantly hauled these back-breaking boxes out of conveniently forgotten cupboards. My wife and started reminiscing over the contents. What a grave error that was – many evenings with more than a few tears welling up.

We soon realised that preserving memories was more than about simply scanning them. We had to get organised!

The trick to using the Espon FF-680W scanner effectively (dare I add efficiently) is to pre-sort the memories. We started placing like subjects into separate zip-lock plastic bags marked with the subject matter and approximate date to help preserve logical groupings.

Some photos were in albums (great as this usually meant a grouping of some sort), some in photo-printing envelopes, some in frames etc. In fact, most of the time taken was in removing photos from albums. That is fine for recent photos, but many of the older ones used glue – more on that later.

Let’s just say that our large lounge room floor was covered wall-to-wall with plastic bags by the time we were done. That took several attempts over several days. Our sort criteria also consolidated – perhaps we were becoming a little daunted at the scope.

In the end, all we really could do is guess the approximate year and subject matter. It is amazing how fast you forget what you looked like in school photos.

Setting it up

  • The scanner comes pre-assembled with many metres of blue sticky tape over its parts to protect it in transit. Remove that.
  • Download the driver package (CD-ROMS are useless these days) for Windows, macOS or Unix/Linux.
  • Install the software and connect the scanner via Wi-Fi or USB cable to the PC. We had issues with Wi-Fi, so the USB-A cable is best. It turns out that Wi-Fi only supports the 2.4GHz band and we use 5GHz on all PCs.

What we did find is that it does not support saving to a NAS device like a WD MyCloud, but it will upload to Dropbox or Google Drive. I am sure that this is just an oversight – Epson, please fix it to allow network storage.

Scanning photos

The smallest scannable photo is 3.5 x 4”, and the largest is 8.5 x 36” (panorama). It will handle most photo paper weights up to .23mm thick.

Assuming you have pre-sorted by date and topic you can batch scan – it appears the maximum number per batch is 36. While the scanner mechanism is quite robust, we found that it was better to also sort into similar sizes to avoid jams. We had remarkably few jams this way.

Epson provides a transparent carrier sheet for damaged, dog-eared, crinkled or otherwise imperfect paper. You can only scan one of these at a time,but you can keep the batch open until you are finished.

Naturally, you can’t scan photo’s with staples, lumps of glue or sticky tape etc. It will scan Polaroids (uneven thickness), but you need to be careful and switch to the appropriate setting or use the carrier sheet if there are issues.

We found that scanning in portrait mode (short edge down) was most reliable (although this takes a fraction of a second longer).

It is not a flatbed platen scanner. It is a double-sided, auto-document feeder (ADF). If you can’t use the ADF, you will need to gain access to a platen scanner for difficult to scan photos like drivers licences, ID cards etc.

Overall, we had very few feeder issues. However, on one hot and humid, rainy day we did have misfeeds.If this occurs either dehumidify the room or have a hair dryer handy – the latterworks a treat.

Scanning quality is about DPI

You can choose TIFF or JPEG, 24-or-30-bit colour. Chose the latter if you ever want to manipulate the image.

The lower the resolution, the faster the scan (about a second for a postcard print). You can select 300dpi (dots per inch), but while this looks OK on a PC monitor or smartphone screen, it can’t really be manipulated later.

600dpi captures more detail, and it is not that much slower (two to three seconds) to scan. After experimenting, we selected the default, and it allowed us to view photos up to A4 size without significant pixelation. This produces file sizes of about 4-5MB each.

You can also select 1200dpi that adds enough detail for photos to be blown up to A3 size. Scanning is much slower.

Epson FastFoto Software

The software makes this a great scanner. It has a huge number of features.

  • Scans the reverse side of a photo if there is legible writing on it
  • Makes an enhanced, fixed version of a photo if its faded or colours are off, removes red-eye etc
  • Places batches in different folders
  • Adds metadata to the scanned image (date, topic)
  • Can Rotate images to the correct orientation
  • Reduce lines and steaks (creates a touched-up copy)
  • Can straighten slight off-angle scans

The enhancement is great – it preserves the original and lets you see what time may have forgotten.

Other documents

We intend to reduce the scads of paperwork in our filing cabinets (mostly A4) to scans. You can use another program called Epson SmartScan to do this. With this software, it will scan up to 413gsm (plain, coated or laminated stock) and 215.9 x 6096mm (A4+ and long length)

Here you can scan as an editable and searchable PDF or use OCR to convert to Word, Excel or PowerPoint documents.

The Epson FF-680W also works with the Epson DocumentScan app for Android and iOS.

GadgetGuy’s take:

It is the right tool for the job – both in a hardware and software sense. Consider purchasing the scanner and after you finish the mammothinitial scan, hand it on to your families to do the same.

It should last the distance, and you can obtain replacement rollers if they wear out (the device will tell you when it reaches a pre-set number of scans). Apart from that allyou need to do it clean the scanner ‘slits’ occasionally.

If you put a price on priceless memories, this is a very low-cost option that helps reduce the time a.k.a. pain to preserve them. It costs $799.

The hardest part is disposing of the photos after scanning them – to make space of course. We recommend a good shredder. Now we can peruse the folders online reorganise, make new albums, share with family and friends and maybe let Mr Google try to categorise them as well and play on the Google Home Hub.

Value for money
Easy of Use
Will make an archivist drool
East to setup and use
Fast - very fast and makes short work scanning lots of photos
300/600/1200DPI and great software
Opens a floodgate of memories - keep tissues handy
Can't scan to network attached storage