Anyone born before digital photography became popular -- oh, let's round it to the year 2000 -- or who has parents or grandparents who became adults during the 20th century knows the pain of trying to do something, anything, with the surfeit of physical photos accumulated over time. If they're anything like my family, they've been added to and removed from albums, secreted in tons of locations around the house, and scattered across multiple family members. The more organized actually wrote notes on the back of each one. Scanning them with a flatbed scanner is insanely tedious, and most feeders can't handle stacks of photos in varying sizes.
So Epson's taken its decades of scanner know-how and created a scanner designed specifically for the -- shall we say, "technologically uninterested" -- to digitize the reams of photos they have. The $650 FastFoto (about £495, AU$870, directly converted) can scan a stack of up to 30 photos, in different sizes ranging from tiny 2x2-inch (51x51mm) up through 8.5x120-inch (22x 305cm) panoramas. (That expansive dimension applies only to Windows users. folks will have to make do with 8.5x14.5 inches.) It also has a second scanner inside to scan the backs of the photos to capture notes, identification and processing-date stamps, which can be very useful.
And it's pretty fast: I timed it at 1.6 seconds per photo for a 4x6 at 300 dpi, and at 4.2 seconds per photo at 600 dpi. That doesn't include the pause during processing, though.
As intended, the scanner's easy to set up and use. You peel off a lot of tape and attach the output tray, go through the step-by-step software installation, and connect to your computer via USB. There are a handful of configuration steps to go through, such as defining what applications launch when you press the buttons on the front, choosing resolution, how to handle scans of the back, and what kind of enhancements to perform automatically.
After you load up a stack of photos, you press a button on the front and it launches the scan utility. Optionally, a dialog will pop up giving you the ability to incorporate a date and keywords into the file name. This is really useful: in addition to giving a specific year, you can get fuzzy and specify "1970s" and "winter", for example.
It scans the entire stack and processes them afterwards, followed by launching into the application of your choice. Sort of. Your options are Epson's own FastFoto application on Windows or Finder, Photos or Preview on the . There's no option to not launch an application, which is annoying when you're just trying to power through stacks of photos. Epson's FastFoto application (as opposed to the driver/utility of the same name) lets you browse the photos, share, upload or edit them. The editing options are rotate, crop, auto-enhance, remove red-eye and restore colors. There's also an option to add a date to the photo that appears in the metadata as a creation date, which is nice.
However, there's no way to batch rename or update the files in the software -- say, if you accidentally named them with 1971 instead of 1972, as I did. And that's not an easy thing to do without downloading a third-party utility.
And at least to my eyes, the scans and automatic corrections aren't great; the corrections increases contrast so you lose detail and the color restoration is way too blue. Plus, the scans are really soft with a sharp original; if the original's even a bit soft it gets really mushy. The photos are saved at 15:1 compression, which probably doesn't help. And while you can use the FastFoto as a regular document scanner as well, it's still kind of expensive at $650.
The scanner occasionally jammed for reasons I couldn't determine, but it never harmed a photo when it did.
The FastFoto seems to have limited ambition, so it achieves what it nominally sets out to do: quickly scan photos without requiring technical know-how. Unfortunately, unless you literally have shoeboxes of photos still in the envelopes (so they're already organized by date and subject), most of the ancillary pain of digitizing tons of photos remains, and it seems like some of these deficiencies could be fixed by adding more intelligence to the software.
If they're haphazardly stored, you still need to sort through them all, at least to weed out the ones that the scanner can't handle or the ones so small that they'll feed skewed (and are beyond the ability to the software to de-skew). You have to assemble them into meaningful batches if you want the file naming to work. Unless you want to spend hours manually rotating them, you have to spend the same hours separating the portrait-orientation photos from the landscape ones so that they scan properly. And because the options are all-or-nothing -- it can't analyze the photos to only enhance or restore colors when necessary -- the quality varies. You have the option to save the enhanced version as a copy, but that produces double the photos to sort through to decide whether you prefer the enhanced or unenhanced. Or you can turn it all off and apply the enhancements one by one. All of those lead us back to tedium.
I couldn't help but imagine what the software would have been like if it integrated processing intelligence from companies like Google and Apple that Epson doesn't seem to have. Since most photos have people in them, if the software had face detection it could automatically orient them properly and adjust for better skin tones when doing color restoration, at least. As long as it's performing enhancements, it needs to be able to fix midtones rather than just increase contrast and to perform some form of sharpening. It could ask if you want to automatically remove white borders. It makes no attempt to fix dust or scratches. You could argue that all of those operations can be done in a real editing application, but that defeats the purpose of being the dead-easy solution Epson envisions.