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The remarkable Epson FastFoto FF-680W photo print scanner

Chuck in a bundle of assorted size photo prints and the Epson FastFoto FF-680W scanner does the rest

There is no need to carefully sort and separate different sized prints

The Epson FastFoto FF-680W is a very clever solution to a familiar old problem. What are the odds that you have a box (boxes?!) or a drawer full of odd-size photos lying about the house? Wouldn’t it be great to scan them so you could share them conveniently via the cloud or social media?

But have you tried scanning dozens or more old prints? It’s a thankless task and it takes ages. A quick demo of Epson’s new and unassuming-looking FastFoto FF-680W scanner at Photokina genuinely wowed onlookers.

Unfussy

The FF-680W’s feeder is remarkably unfussy; you can place a wad of of different size prints up to A4 dimensions into the feeder and they will processed by the scanner without any fuss, one by one, at a rate of about one print per second.

The companion software then automatically crops the prints and even scans the back of each print to detect written or other notes, which are also scanned and saved as images linked to the front image.

You can configure the software to automatically upload the images to Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive or DropBox. For a stack of, say, 30 prints, the whole process takes literally no more than a couple of minutes. You really have to see it working to appreciate how clever the Epson FastFoto FF-680W is.

The Epson FastFoto FF-680W looks like a business sheet-feed document scanner but it’s designed specifically for scanning photo prints

Too good to be true?

So is the Epson FastFoto FF-680W too good? in a sense, some will think so once they learn the prospective price, which is around €600. The FF-680W is not aimed at household consumers. Instead, Epson hope you will see them in retail locations for customers to use as a service and for other companies to offer photo print digitising services.

Touching Photokina anecdote

A rather lovely anecdote shared with me by the Epson staffer, Julian Maddock, demonstrating the FF-680W on the Epson booth here at Photokina was that an elderly gentleman produced a Photokina pass and ID from way back in 1954, In fact the person first started attending Photokina in 1950. Of course, the precious souvenir from 1954 was duly scanned by a FF-680W for posterity.

You can even scan items as tiny as stamps using a supplied carrier sleeve.

The Epson FastFoo FF-680W in America and will start shipping it in Europe at the end of the year.

You can find more information on Epson’s website.

 

 

 

Exclusive Russian Zenit Leica M rangefinder clone

A Leica-built, Russian-designed Zenit M rangefinder clone with a 35mm f/1.0 lens

The Russian Zenit is making waves at Photokina this week. We’ve been to the Zenit booth to find out what all the fuss is about.

The Leica phenomenon

We’re in Cologne, Germany for Photokina 2018 and it’s a German company that keeps on making the headlines this week. That company is Leica. Next to the Leica booth is Huawei, whose premium smartphone models, like the innovative triple-camera P20 Pro, use Leica-branded optics.

Leica also revealed it has licensed the use of its mirrorless system L-mount to its long-time partner, Panasonic Lumix. Even Sigma’s CEO was a guest at Leica’s Photokina press conference. So who else might we find with Leica-related news?

Zenit? Who are they?

A Zenit E with Helios m42 screw thread standard lens from the late 60s, early 70s

Zenit of course. Zenit? Who are they? Some readers will be familiar with the name. Back in the 60s and 70s Zenit, a Russian manufacturer, produced primitive and cheap SLR cameras and lenses popular with beginners. But Leica represents the exact opposite end of the camera spectrum.

Limited edition Zenit M and Zenitar 35mm f/1.0

So how could Zenit somehow join forces with Leica? Well, it’s happened. Zenit is showing a digital full frame M rangefinder clone. It’s a limited edition camera bundled with a remarkable 35mm f/1.0 Zenitar branded lens.

Designed in Russia, made in Germany?

Etched on the back of the Zenit M body is the message ‘Designed in Russia’ though I understand the body is actually produced at Leica’s Wetzlar facility in Germany. It certainly contains Leica components, Andrey Verfolomeev, vice president of the Zenit company, confirmed to me.

Designed and made in Russia

The Zenitar lens, however, is entirely the work of Zenit, both designed and manufactured at the company’s Krasnogorsky base near Moscow. Verfolomeev points out that much of their work is for the Russian military, so the optics of the Zenitar 35mm f/1.0 can be expected to be top-class.

Just 500 Zenit M and Zenitar 35mm f/1.0 combos will be produced, according to Verfolomeev, 450 of the bodies will be light grey (it’s a matt grey, not the customary silver) and only 50 will be black.

The price is €5,500 and most are reserved for the Russian market, though around a hundred will be available to European buyers.

Original leather

If you’ve used the old cheap Zenit film cameras, you may recall the strong Russian leather odour that came as a no-cost extra. Apparently, the leather used on the Zenit M has been specially chosen to match the hide used back in the old days.

Verfolomeev says Leica and Zenit have been working on the Zenit M project for two years and it owes much to the enthusiasm of Dr.Andreas Kaufmann, chairman of the Leica Supervisory Board.

Fundamentally, the project is designed to remind everyone, in Verfolomeev’s words, “that we’re still here”. Zenit, which is owned by the Russian state holding company Shvabe, employs 3,500 people and apart from its military work, the facility is gearing up to produce more mainstream cameras and lenses.

A range of Zenit lenses compatible with a variety of camera mounts is already on the market and the 35mm f/1.0 design will eventually join the rest of the range.

While the Zenit M is a strictly limited-edition model, less expensive successor camera models are in the pipeline and these will sell at a lower price, if not at the bargain basement prices of notorious old Zenit Bs and Es. Watch this space!

 

ProGrade CFAST™ & SD Dual Slot USB 3.1, Gen 2 Workflow Reader review

Not all USB 3 card readers are made the same

We have been using a couple of new products from a new player, ProGrade Digital, in the professional category of the memory card business. Here we’re reviewing their ProGrade CFAST™ & SD Dual Slot USB 3.1, Gen 2 Workflow Reader. It’s a bit of a mouthful! We’ll review their UHS-II V90 SDXC card separately.

ProGrade was formed earlier this year by a group of former Lexar and SanDisk personnel and they have a particular focus on the needs of photographers. The reader we’re looking at in this article supports both UHS-II SD card and CFAST cards. Please note we are only examining its SD card performance in this review.

For years now we’ve ignored the USB 3.0 card reader at our office (a Lexar Pro SR1). But now UHS-II cards have come onto the scene the limitations of first-generation USB 3.90 card readers have been exposed.

UHS-II cards are capable of much faster read and write rates thanks to improved data transfer protocols and interface electronics. You can tell an UHS-II card from a ‘standard’ card by the extra row of contacts on the card.

UHS-II cards are compatible with older SD card readers but you don’t get the extra performance. The ProGrade reader we’re reviewing fully supports UHS-II, but that’s only half the story. Memory card performance is limited by bottlenecks. Where the bottleneck resides depends on the memory card itself, he card reader, the connection to the host device and the interface at the host.

The ProGrade CFAST™ & SD Dual Slot USB 3.1, Gen 2 Workflow Reader not only supports UHS-II but also data transfer at up to a theoretical Gen 2 10Gbits/sec, or 1.25 GBytes/sec via its USB 3.1 Gen 2 interface using a USB C-type connection. That’s double the theoretical speed of USB 3.0 Gen 1. But as we shall see, it’s more complicated than that.

First, here is a quick look at the hardware:

 

ProGrade have come up with a robust device that gives you confidence it will last and withstand a degree of abuse. It is supplied with a pair of high quality 45cm cables, USB-C to A and USB-C to C.

Magnetic

The reader also has a magnetic base so you can secure it to a convenient steel surface, like the surface of your PC case, for example. W word of caution; the magnet is quite strong and, personally, I’d recommend taking care to keep the reader away from sensitive magnetic devices like hard disk drives.

Tests

To start with we didn’t have a USB Gen 2 capability on our office desktop PC. This was solved by installing a suitable interface card. We also tested the reader on a laptop with a USB 3.1 Gen 1 type C port.

To explore the kinds of benefits possible we tested the reader with ProGrade’s own high performance 64GB UHS-II U£ V90 UHS-II SDXC card, a Toshiba M301 U3 UHS-II MicroSDXC card fitted to a UHS-II SDXC adapter, and a Samsung Pro 64GB U1 SDXC UHS-I card. The Samsung card is representative if typical mid-tier good performance cards that you can get for a reasonable price.

First we tested the three cards using both the ProGrade reader and our old Lexar Pro reader connected to our PC’s standard Type A USB 3.0 port.

On the Lexar reader there was minimal difference between any of the cards despite their considerable differences in potential performance. None managed to break the 100MB/sec threshold.

Using the ProGrade reader the two UHS-II cards were liberated and both easily exceeded exceeded 250MB/sec for read actions and the ProGrade card sailed past 200MB/sec for write operations. The Samsung UHS-I card hardly benefited, however.

Next we fitted the ProGrade reader to the Gen 2 USB 3.1 Type C port we installed for this review. There were only small improvements for the UHS-II cards. Our deduction is that the cards have effectively become the bottleneck and are basically maxed-out. If we get a chance to test a faster CFast card we’ll update the review.

Finally, we connected the ProGrade reader to our laptop’s USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type C port. We only tested the ProGrade UHS-II card this time.

We still enjoyed healthy UHS-II read and write speeds but not as spectacular as the results using the desktop PC. This isn’t a big surprise as laptops are optimised for power efficiency rather than outright performance.

Incidentally, we also compared the peformance of an inexpensive Kingston MobileLite G4 UHS-II card reader which needs a Type A port. The ProGrade reader easily out-performed the Kingston reader, though both were a lot better than the old Lexar Pro reader.

Conclusion

If you use UHS-II cards now, you can save time time by investing in a good UHS-II card reader, like the ProGrade one tested here. Upgrading to a Gen 2 USB 3.1 interface on your PC is not justified at present. That may be different if you use faster CFast or XQD cards.

Can we recommend the ProGrade CFAST™ & SD Dual Slot USB 3.1, Gen 2 Workflow Reader? Yes, if your budget allows.

UK drone flying restrictions given legal backing

The new measures are designed to keep small drones and large manned aircraft well apart

Remotely flying a camera around in the sky, thanks to the affordability and sophistication of drones, is one of the newest and most exciting avenues for photography. You can buy a camera-equipped drone for well-under £100 and ones with decent photo quality start at £100-150. However, it’s not a free-for-all in the skies and concerns about safety are beginning to impact on even the hobbyist drone flyer.

New UK laws to keep drones safe and away from conventional aircraft

The UK government has announced new legal measures aimed at deterring drone operators from flying their aircraft irresponsibly. New laws will mean many hobbyist drone flyers will need to register their aircraft with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and take an online safety test. The main aim is to protect passenger aircraft in airspace near to airports and aerodromes. Statistics suggest there have been nearly a 100 near-misses in the UK alone last year.

Altitude and distance limits

The first of the new regulations to come into force will happen on 30th July. By default, it will be illegal to fly a drone above 400ft (120m) or closer than 1km (0.6 miles) to an airport or aerodrome. Prior to that date the 400ft altitude limit has only been a recommended best-practice limit, as stipulated by the CAA and NATS (UK air traffic control) backed Drone Code. Many low cost drones are capable of exceeding this limit easily.

A DJI Spark like this can be bought for as little as £300 and will happily sail past 120m (400ft) above you or fly out of visible sight.

In the words of the government press release; “Drone users who flout the new height and airport boundary restrictions could be charged with recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or any person in an aircraft. This could result in an unlimited fine, up to five years in prison, or both.”

Safe and responsible drone flying – the Drone Code summarised:

  • Make sure you are familiar with the manufacturer’s instructions for the operation safe operation of your drone
  • Keep below 120m altitude
  • Keep well away from airports and airfields
  • Keep your drone in visual sight at all times
  • Keep a minimum 50m distance from people and properties you don’t have control over
  • Keep 150m away from any built-up areas or crowds
  • Be aware that you are responsible for the safe and responsible flight of your drone. You could be liable for criminal prosecution if you fly dangerously or irresponsibly

Drones heavier than 250g

Later, from 30th November, operators of any drone with a take-off weight of 250g or more will have to register their drone with the CAA and pass an online safety test. Most drones fitted with cameras capable of good quality stills and video photography exceed the 250g threshold. If you don’t comply with the registration and test requirement you risk a £1,000 fine. It’s not yet clear if the online test will carry a fee or not. Currently, drones exceeding 20kg require licensing and must only be flown by people licensed to be qualified operators.

Zerotech’s Dobby is a rare example of a drone with a competent camera built in, totalling less than 250g

The new regulations are being brought into law through an amendment to the Air Navigation Order (2016). A quick perusal of social media sites specialising in drone discussion reveals a split in reaction to the news. Some drone flyers whose main interest is flying as high and as far as possible are, naturally, disgruntled. But other drone enthusiasts believe the regulations were inevitable and many already stick within the limits to be enforced anyway and hope that their hobby, or even profession as commercial drone operators, will be protected from bad publicity generated by irresponsible drone flying. However, whether the new regulations can be enforced effectively is greeted with widespread cynicism. While more sophisticated drones equipped with GPS positioning receivers usually record a log of their flightpath, containing valuable evidential information, other large and powerful drones don’t.

Airline pilots say measures don’t go far enough, literally

While the changes are designed to protect passengers and pilots flying big planes, the pilots trades union, the British Airlines Pilots Association (BALPA), has been critical of the 1km airport boundary, saying it should be more like 5km. Apparently, an airliner could quite legitimately be well under 400ft 1km from the runway.

Because the drone industry, both for recreational and commercial flying, is estimated to be worth over £40 billion by 2030, the government stresses that it does not intend to hinder the responsible operation of drones.

Taking your drone abroad to fly is now increasingly common but there are no internationally agreed drone flying rules. Nevertheless, the same 250g weight threshold and 120m altitude limit do seem to be mentioned frequently in local regulations around the world.

Guard yourself from fake memory cards

With a trained eye you can spot that the ‘4’ in 64GB is not the same typeface as on a genuine SanDisk card.

Fake or counterfeit memory cards that look like premium branded product, including convincing retail packaging, are a problem that everyone should take seriously.

What is a fake or counterfeit memory card?

Ciunterfeits will often look just like the real thing. Even slick retail packaging can be faked. Fake cards will often not have as much actual storage capacity as they claim and read/write speeds will be a lot slower. It may also be possible to spot visual clues as well. The counterfeiters can make cards that have much smaller usable capacity appear to contain a much higher capacity. These hacked cards work at first but once the memory has been used up, files already on the card start to be overwritten, causing file corruption.

Fake memory cards can do this to your files

About 18 months ago I saw a good deal on eBay for a 64GB SanDisk Extreme UHS-1 microSDXC memory card – ideal for my phone, I thought. It arrived and came, as advertised, in retail packaging. I was pleased. Much later, when downloaded music started playing back unreliably, and then photos and videos started to get corrupted, did the consequences of receiving a fake memory card come home to roost. By then the eBay seller was long gone and it was far too late to get any recompense.

A genuine SanDisk card

Before I suspected my card of being a fake, I thought it was only faulty. I tried scanning it for errors on my PC. Errors were found and, according to Windows, were fixed. But the problems eventually returned. Next, I tried a ‘slow’ re-format of the card, as opposed to a ‘quick’ format option. A quick format only reinitialises the table of contents, not the actual data across the entire card space. By un-checking ‘quick format’ you will reset all sectors on the card. This method should, in theory, uncover any bad sectors. But the reformat seemed to work fine. Surprise, surprise, file corruption eventually returned.

Suspecting your card is a fake

By this time I did some more simple tests. Copying large files to and from the card showed that the read speed was, incredibly, only 3MB/second and the write speed was, perversely, faster, but still a lethargic 7MB/second.  A 64GB SanDisk Extreme UHS-1 microSDXC card should allow data to be read at around 80MB/sec and written at 50MB/sec. It was beginning to dawn on me that this wasn’t a real SanDisk Extreme card, but a counterfeit. Later on I also spotted that one of the typefaces on the card itself did not match that of a genuine card.

Get the evidence for a refund or replacement

You can avoid an experience like this easily. All you need to do is test your brand new memory card as soon as you receive it. Don’t delay; the sooner you know the card is a fake, the better your chances are of getting recompense. Only buy via respected or protected sources; eBay and Amazon, for example, will help you get a refund or replacement even if the original seller does not cooperate. All you need is proof your card is fake. Here is how to do exactly that.

Green means good – this card has passed the test

 

After doing a little research I decided to use a free Windows utility called a h2testw which you can download from Softpedia: http://www.softpedia.com/get/System/System-Miscellaneous/H2testw.shtml. Mac users can use a similar utility called F3 downloadable from http://oss.digirati.com.br/f3/

Confirmation it’s a fake

The h2test2w utility writes to every sector in the card’s memory map as well as verifying and speed testing. It is capable of overcoming false capacity hacking of the card’s specifications. After running the utility it was clear that my 64GB SanDisk Extreme card was a fake, with only 8GB capacity, despite appearing to Windows and my phone as a 64GB card.

Red means trouble and a large proportion of the stated card capacity is non-existent.

I’d also recently bought a couple of other cards, one of which was another steal of a deal on an eBay auction; a Panasonic V90 U3 64GB SDXC card, which normally sells for £200. My £55 auction win needed urgent validation! Thankfully, it passed the test with flying colours. I already had one of these cards so tested that as well and the results were pretty much identical.

The testing process can take a while, depending on the speed of the card, but it’s a great way to make sure you’re getting what you paid for. It can also serve to identify a genuine product that is non-maliciously faulty. I will be testing all new card purchases from now on.