Genealogy Basics · Scanning family photos

Review: Epson FastFoto 640 High Speed Photo Scanner

I thought I’d share my thoughts about the new Epson photo scanner – billed as being the fastest photo scanner on the market today. That’s a big promise, but does it deliver?

Why consider a high speed photo scanner?

As soon as I saw the ad for the Epson FF-640, I knew it was the scanner for me. I’d spent 2.5 years carefully scanning 3000 slides, negatives and fragile old photos. I have 8000+ more to scan, but they are all prints from ~1970-2000. A high speed scanner that is built to scan photos from 3×5″ to 8×10″ is the machine of my dreams.

www.past-presence.com
The machine of my scanning dreams. Copyright 2018. Past Presence. All rights reserved.

How much was it?

It was pricey – I got it for $700 on a holiday sale at Staples. It’s regularly ~$900, plus taxes. Shipping was free.

That’s a lot of money for a scanner. What else does it do?

It’s a hard copy scanner, for documents and photos. The ads say it will scan documents at 45 ppm.

So what are your first impressions?

This is my new favourite toy. On my first day of scanning, I tallied 1023 images. That’s the equivalent of 10 scanning sessions with my flatbed scanner. Put another way, I achieved in one afternoon (4.5 hours) the output of 10 months.

There are a couple of caveats, of course. My previous sessions included working with slides, negatives, and delicate, old photos. Some needed special handling and cleaning. All of those originals were scanned at higher resolutions, which slows a scanner down.

But still. A thousand images in one afternoon. Hallelujah!

OK, I’m interested. What’s in the box?

www.past-presence.com
Copyright 2018. Past Presence. All rights reserved.

From top, clockwise: scanner and document tray; scanner power cord; USB cord; quick start instructions and warranty; carrier sheet. Not shown: two microfibre cleaning cloths.

Anything else included?

Software, but what is offered will depend on your hardware and OS setup. Epson doesn’t support all platform equally. It broke down like this:

MacBook Air running OS 10.13
  • Document Capture
  • Epson Scan 2
  • Epson Scan 2 Utility
  • Epson Software Updater
  • Event Manager
PC running Windows 7
  • FastFoto
  • Document Capture
  • Epson Scan 2
  • Epson Scan 2 Utility
  • Epson Software Updater
  • Event Manager

I’ve been using the Epson Scan 2 software.

Was it easy to set up?

Mac

It was easier to set up on a PC than a Mac. That’s a first. The Mac installation wasn’t difficult, but it was clunkier and seems to be missing the FastFoto software.

www.past-presence.com
Firmware update for Mac

This is a shot of the screen I got to look at for ages while Epson searched for a firmware update. Epson will advise you not to do anything else while it performs this manoeuvre, which gives you plenty of time to admire the GUI.

PC

When I repeated the process on my PC, I found the setup much more fluid and automatic. The only hitch was when the software checked for updates, and the Windows firewall blocked the Epson Event Manager from fully installing. This is a known issue for Epson, but not for me, because I will not be using the scanner over a network.

How fast is fast?

Fast. After doing a few series of test scans, I started loading photos into the automatic feed tray (the ADF). Batches of 30 photos scanning at 300 dpi will be scanned in 22-25 seconds.

I have photos with important information on the back. Will the Epson scan both sides?

Yes. It’s an important consideration for the would-be archivist – how to keep the information on the backs of the photos? With my flatbed scanner, I’d have to scan, open the scanner & flip the photo, scan again, and then make sure to tag the scans so that they’d be consecutively ordered. That’s a lot of work when you’re facing thousands of scans, so many people opt to skip scanning the backs, or try to capture all the information when naming the scan, e.g., 2012-12-25 – Christmas at Kingsland Restaurant with Fred and Wilma Wong, John and Janet Koreman, the Tang family, Vancouver, BC P00425.

The Epson will scan a whole stack of photos 2-sided, and the scans will be consecutively ordered.

I have a collection of scans with unique ID numbers already. Will the Epson FF-640 let me continue with my number system?

Yes. I was worried about this issue. After 3200 scans, I didn’t want to have to start a new system at “P00001”. The Epson Scan 2 software will allow you to set the start number, in my case P03221, and will remember to count consecutively for all future scans.

I’ve heard the scans from the Epson FF-640 will be soft. Do you find them soft?

I was worried that I was sacrificing scanning quality for speed, but the Unsharp Mask setting in the Advanced tab of the Epson Scan 2 program does a good job of keeping photo scans sharp. In my mind, it’s perfect for the photo collector who doesn’t need advanced photo handling software.

I continue to use my flatbed Canon Canoscan 8400F for other originals:

  • Polaroids (too thick for the Epson’s feed design)
  • Photos mounted on thick cards or boards (won’t fit in the scanner)
  • Pictures still in their frames (see above)
  • Negatives and slides (the Epson does not have film-handling capability)
  • Small and fragile photos

I have advanced photo handling software. Can the Epson scan photos “as is”?

Yes. Except for Unsharp Mask, I use the scanner with the automatic photo adjustments turned off. I use Adobe Lightroom for more detailed work. The Epson will also scan photos in TIFF, PNG, and PDF, in addition to JPG.

I don’t have any fancy photo software. Can I have good quality photo scans in one pass, even if the originals are faded and scratched?

Yes. The Epson has automatic colour correction, red eye reduction, and fine line erasure.

My photos were all stuck in those “magnetic” (read: glue) photo albums and are now sticky. Can the Epson still scan them?

Sort of.

The rolling and scanning mechanism is the most fragile part of the machine. Any glue or tape stuck on the glass scanning plates would really compromise the scans and potentially damage the scanner. Epson suggests you clean each photo thoroughly before scanning. If the glue or tape isn’t coming off, you can use the carrier sheet to protect the scanner. Be sure to clean the carrier sheet from time to time too.

Any complaints so far?

Clean Freak
www.past-presence.com
Copyright 2018. Past Presence. All rights reserved.

Either the machine needs constant cleaning, or I have a really dirty pile of photos. I am sure it’s the latter. In my first 1000 images, I had to stop 4x to stop and clean the scanner. In future, I will think twice about sorting photos on the floor.

The Epson works by automatically picking up each photo in a stack, rolling it through a scanner sandwich, and out the other side. Any dirt, dust, lint, hair, glue, tape remnants, or label fluff will get stuck in the rollers and scanning plates, and show up as lines in the scans. Once you see these lines appearing, you’ll need to stop, shut down the software, unplug the scanner, pop it open, and clean it carefully with the microfibre cloth.

Epson provides cleaning 2 cloths in the box, but I can see myself needing more. A lot more.

Mistakenly scanning photos as documents

From time to time, the Epson will scan a photo as a B&W document. I’m not sure why this happens, but it seems to be dependent on the photo image, because rescanning the photo will produce the same result. Luckily, I’ve been checking the scans after each batch, because I’d hate to have to find the mis-scan after having scanned a few hundred photos.

Afterword

If you’re facing a monumental photo scanning project, this may be the machine for you, too. If you have any other questions I didn’t cover in this review, please pop me a comment below. Thanks for reading!

What’s up next week?

BC has had some eye raising laws on the books in the not-so-distant past. I’ll talk about one of them, and how it’s impacting people today.

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