Wednesday, April 22, 2015

First impressions of the Canon imageFORMULA DR-F120

[Edit 2016-08-27]:  Ended up settling on an HP Scanjet Enterprise Flow 7500.  First impressions here.

[Edit 2015-04-24]:  Both DR-F120 units I tried had problems with tearing up pages, so both have been returned.  See https://youtu.be/nCEgXA_f7og and read the bottom of this post for details.

I am leaving this review up because I really wanted to like the unit.  I probably would have been very happy with it, if it had not tried to eat my documents.  If I'd wanted a paper shredder, I'd have gotten a proper one.

Assuming Canon fixes this in the future, however, this information might still be useful to somebody, at some time.

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Seems few people have bought one of these yet. I'll try to relate a few things you may not get from the existing photos or reviews.

Be aware that I had a Fujitsu fi-4220c for many, many years, so many of my impressions will be from that baseline.

Capsule review:  This is a tidy, nice looking and proper little butler of a scanning unit.  Just ask and it'll get done - even if you didn't ask quite right.


Hardware:  It's quite a bit smaller than the Fujitsu - it's shorter in length and taller in average height, though not as tall as the Fujitsu sheetfeeder unit.  It's black and looks good in a typical modern office (the Fujitsu looked dated).  It's lighter than it looks and takes up less space than you might think, especially for a dual legal size sheetfed/flatbed unit.  Looks good but not imposing.

The top paper tray feeds like a fax machine, and it returns the paper to the same side of the machine.  This is really quite nice on a desk since you don't need to worry about keeping space in front of the scanner clear for the documents to eject, meaning the machine outline is all the footprint it ever takes. 

It also means you can shove it mostly to one side and still reach the input and output trays really easily - unlike the Fujitsu or Xerox units, which force you to load one end and recover documents at the other end.  The 180 degree return also means it takes up less space.

You can even put small items on the top without worrying about the document paper pushing them around.  Poor idea obviously, since the lid raises to access the flatbed, but for paper handling it's much more like a printer than an old-style straight-through sheetfeed scanner.


You do need room to raise the lid more or less completely.  Nothing stops you from slipping a document under a partially raised lid, but the lid support mechanism is just not strong enough to hold the lid open at an angle, so open it partially and it'll fall down. It needs to be about 90 degrees to stay open on it's own.  This is, IMHO, a strange way to design the thing.

Setup:  Setup was really easy, no surprises.  As one reviewer complained, there are a lot of setup programs, but it just takes some clicks to get through them all.  To hear others moan about it you'd think they had to do pushups until the installs were all complete.

Note you might have to invoke the CaptureOnTouch software manually the first time, just after install.

Operation:  Scanning is reasonably fast at 300 dpi - puts the fi-4220c to shame, obviously - but there is a huge speed hit when moving from 300 dpi to 400 dpi.  Be aware of this if you plan to use high resolution.

However, the 300 dpi setting is perfectly adequate, IMHO, for nearly every document scanning need.  Fine text such as on financial statements may suffer a bit, but the problem seems to be about the same at both 300 dpi and 400 dpi.  So that may be a PDF compression problem, not a scanning problem

Note the scanner handles >small< text just fine - it just seems a little thin with >fine< text.  I have not compared it against any old output so maybe it's nothing to do with the DR-F120 at all.  (Note that everything is still perfectly legible, so this is a minor quibble at worst.)


I've only run a few pages through it and there have been a couple of cases where the scanner has mangled the edge of the document.  I believe the first case of this to be my fault, as I accidentally left the slightly thick, folded Setup Guide for the scanner on the flatbed platen when scanning my first sheetfed document.  The second time the scanner left little teeth marks on the very edge of the page.  After my 3rd scan, though, these items appear to have disappeared.

There were a few cases where I cringed because the paper went in skewed, but it hasn't jammed yet.  This is hardly indicative, though, since I just got the thing.  Lets see how it does on a 375 page standard or some dog-eared receipts.

There were a few pages that came out dog-eared that were not before, which doesn't bode well, but then again the fi-4220c jammed often so I'm paranoid.  (Not a quality problem with the Fujitsu, more the fact the poor thing never saw a service kit.)


Software:  The Canon CaptureOnTouch software is fairly nice and would be most excellent for the novice.  It makes sending scans to different places really easy, and supports a zillion places including Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, Onedrive, SugarSync (whatever that is), Sharepoint, your Desktop, your My Pictures folder, email or even just a printer (photocopy mode).

I imagine these native plugins will be really handy for some - the Evernote fanatic, for example - and the software is easy enough my wife could probably figure it out.  I can probable get it set up so that it works just like a photocopier, which is nice since she asks me for copies occasionally.

Note you don't have to have all of this $hit installed, but I imagine the software footprint is small.  If you do, you can remove them from view in CaptureOnTouch and just leave the ones you actually use.  They're still there for future use, but won't clutter up the workspace for the novice users.

Behind the UI, the software works a charm.  Set everything to full auto and it'll figure out B&W, grayscale or color, page orientation, paper size, paper souce (flatbed or sheet feeder), plus it'll remove blank pages, rotate/orient, deskew and automatically OCR with hardly a pause.  There is no need to pre-adjust the scanner for file size vs. quality, and hardly any need manual post-processing after - unless you get a partially skewed scan or other image anomaly, in which case you'll re-scan anyway.

Good stuff - and compared to the old system where everything had to be preset before starting, it's just so easy.  I'd be embarrassed to count the number of times I scanned a blank platen or an empty sheet feeder, but the Canon handles it all with aplomb.  It'll even right your upside-down scans for you.

The front buttons are assigned through CaptureOnTouch.  Everything is configurable and they just work.  It's so nice.  You get 5 buttons with different icons on them.

There's a pretty full suite of scanning, image and capture options, but not a ton else.  For example, when scanning to file you can postfix the date, but only in YMD, DMY or MDY formats.  There is no option to add dashes, to do the date as a prefix, or to add the time, though oddly enough the option says "Add date and time".  You can also add a counter of 1-6 digits, but again this can only be added as a postfix to your default file name. And that's about it for that.  I don't really care myself, though the ability to add a custom dymanic prefix like "YYYY-MM-DD -" would be cool.

My one bitch about COT is the "Save to folder" option makes you pre-define a single file name and folder for the output file.  The software will adjust by counter or date options as described above, but you have no opportunity to change folders or file names on the fly.  This means you have to save everything to default and rename/move it later, which is a pill, and is not what I wanted.  I want to be able type / paste a unique destination on the fly.

There's a reviewer out there that makes a big deal out of the fact the DR-F120 doesn't come with and "programs".  But as you can scan with nearly any other program that supports a scanner, this is really a nothing concern.

For example, I'm using Acrobat to let me do per-scan file names, and it's working OK for me, but there are 1001 other programs out there, many of them free.  Chances are you have something installed already that will let you scan from the Canon; if not, finding what you want is just a matter of time.

Besides, not having costly programs bundled lowers the price.  Do you want to pay an extra $50 for some collection of programs you'll run once and never actually use?  The lack of software is a pro, not a con!

Conclusion:  I admit I spent quite a bit of time trying to convince myself I needed the Fujitsi fi-7260 or even a  Kodak i2900, but in the end I couldn't justify spending triple for the faster speed.  (Note I need a flatbed AND sheetfeed, not either/or, so units like the ScanSnap were out.)  I don't need a 10,000 page per day / 250-page behemoth, and as much as I'd love to own one - because cool, duh!- I think my desk space is just a little bit too small.  I'm not paying $2.3k to find out of I'm right or not.

Besides, if I decide I just gotta have one, I'll just sell the Canon for a little less than I paid.  At about $600, it looks like a screaming deal for what it is, seeing as it's comparable (not equivalent, comparable) to scanners costing $1500-$2300.  You can buy 3-4 Canons for the price of an i2900, and the Canon is smaller to boot.

More later if I get the energy or discover something the butler doesn't do well.  But I'm hopeful once we get used to each other, it'll just be there when I want it.


Note to any Canadians:  the best price I found on the DR-F120 was Amazon.com.  Yes, .com, not .ca.  Even with exchange, credit card conversion fees, duty, tax and TWO-DAY shipping, it was $50 less than in Canada.  The 2-day shipping alone should have made it $100 more, but not so.  In Canada, it was $50 more, plus shipping, and all shipping options were 2-3 weeks.  It even showed up a day early.

The DR-F120 is still new, so availability and price are bound to improve.  But in the short term, it doesn't hurt to check with the neighbors.

[Edit 2015-04-23]:  The scanner is tearing up the edges of my pages.  Not all, but even one is too many.

I would post pictures and video, but I can't - Blogger is hanging on the add process.  I'll try again later.  Direct video link is http://youtu.be/nCEgXA_f7og.
 
Canon Canada believes it is defective, but can't honor the warranty; Canon USA  can't handle a Canadian address and can't even log the call, much less arrange a return.

Fortunately, Amazon is awesome.  Steps to get a new unit by talking to a real live human being:

1.  Go here.
2.  Fill out the fields.
3.  Get an immediate call from a nice friendly native English speaking customer service rep.
4.  Get replacement unit and return address label shipped to arrive in 2 working days.

[Note:  The contact link above appears to work on all country-specific Amazon sites, once you fill in the correct site.  For example, instead of "amazon.com" for USA, you can edit the link to "amazon.ca" for Canadian customers, "amazon.com.au" for Australian, and so on.]

I had some issues initially trying to work the problem through their A-to-Z guarantee and return policy pages.  However, calling them was easy and everything was sorted in about five minutes. The only trick is finding the contact page URL, which is above.

The rep was knowledgeable and even suggested an option that might have let me get a replacement from Amazon.ca, restoring the Canon unit warranty.  It didn't work out, but damn nice of her to try!

Return shipping was free too.  Even from Canada.

Note the above does not necessarily apply to items bought from third-party vendors, rather than Amazon.

Note to Canadians:  "Amazon Export Services" - as listed on the invoice - is, for all intents and purposes of this discussion, "Amazon.com".  It's not an arms-length third-party contract vendor or any other such sketchiness, and Amazon will not give you grief for daring to live in Canada but Buy American.  Return shipping for defective items is supposed to be free too.

Note to Americans:  Amazon's return and replacement policies kick butt.  Meaning you are obviously a bunch of totally spoiled brats.  Appreciate how good you have it.

[Edit 2015-04-24]  Replacement unit arrived early.  Tested the flatbed, no problems.  The very FIRST page I ran through the sheet feeder came out mangled in precisely the same manner as scanner #1.  A test run of 48 pages, just to be sure, mangled three.

Amazon did not come good on their free return shipping offer, as the generated return label requires shipping to be paid by the sender (i.e. me).  They say that they will refund me any shipping costs I incur by returning the first unit; I trust this will hold true for the second unit as well.

It appears that in order to get my preferred rotary/flatbed combo, I'm now on the hook for a $1600 Fujitsu or a $2200 Kodak.  Now that the old scanner is gone, I'm going to have to revisit my desk layout to see if I do actually have room for separate flatbed and sheetfeed scanners.

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