Digital photos are good?

Filed in General, Technology

For the past 6 months, I've tussled with trying to set up a reliable backup system for my digital photographs and film scans. I have been scanning my photographic film with a film scanner at 4000 dpi. The raw images are around 130MB each and it takes a long time to scan a whole roll of film. My 200GB external drive had numerous scanned images on it and the last thing I wanted was a hard disk failure. A backup was of the utmost importance.

People using computers today are working more and more with digital photos, movies and music and all of these require massive amounts of disk space. Archiving these for protection is not easy. Tape drives are expensive. RAID 5 towers are probably the best option but are also too expensive. That leaves DVD because CDs are too small to consider.

So in August of 2004, I purchased a 8x DVD writer and upgraded my backup software to take advantage of it. Little did I know that the road to successful and reliable DVD backups was going to be so difficult.

Frequently and randomly during backup, the backup program would report DVD drive errors. More than a hundred hours of problem shooting and more than 50 coasters later, I discovered that the DVD drive was the problem. It wasn't good enough for the strict requirements of my backup program. I have now swapped the drive for a wonderful Sony DRU-720A Double Layer 16x drive and everything is right again in the world. My backups work and my hours of scanning are secure.

However, this episode has made me examine the idea of digital photos much more closely. What so many people with digital cameras don't seem to realise is that it's very easy to lose those photos. Hard drives die. CDs and DVDs change and become unreadable. There is simply no way to guarantee that your photos will always be there for years to come. My research has shown that the best option is probably to backup to DVD+R, maintaining at least two separate sets of backups, preferably on two different brands of discs just in case one brand is not as durable as the other. It would also be prudent to duplicate the backups to new disc media every 3 to 5 years. That's a lot of work but remember; once those photos become unreadable or inaccessible, they're gone, forever. Nothing you can do will bring them back. It will be as if they had never existed.

I have a nice Canon EOS 5 camera. It shoots film. I've decided to go back to shooting film instead of digital. If I shoot slide film, scanning with calibration is simple and I'll always have the original film to go back to if the scanned images evaporate from the world of the living.

Digital photography is extremely convenient, but until there's a more permanent way of preserving those photos, film may still be the better option (as long as you can afford the film scanner of course).