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GOING DIGITAL - Week 4: Storing All Those Pics!
by Rob Brainard (editorial)

 

Sorry for the delay in getting this week's journal done...with the holiday and all :(. This week's topic is how and where to keep & store all the digital picture files that I'm starting to accumulate. They take a LOT of space...and we'll look at the options I'm aware of on how to deal with this.

First, I've had my camera for a few weeks now, and over all, I can tell you that digital photography is pretty fun and exciting. I still very much like the "immediate" feedback about seeing the picture. It's also great to be able to just delete that last shot, and take over again, after a quick review in the camera gallery shows you that you didn't quite get the shot you intended to.

Also, a few notes about the camera before getting into the picture storage problems...The viewfinder is nice, but absolutely useless outdoors in bright sunlight. It washes out completely. The batteries continue to be a pain in the you know what, but at least the rechargeable ones seem to be getting the job done. I do have to take two sets of batteries with me when I go anywhere with the camera, as I don't want the first set to run out in the middle of whatever I'm shooting.

Ok..how can you store all of those nifty little (big!) digital picture files. I've been shooting my pics on fine mode, which is pretty good resolution, but not the maximum of the camera. My pictures seem to average about 750KB now. So, take a couple of hundred pics...need a couple of hundred megabytes.

Lesson: If you shoot more than just a few pictures, you will have to buy something else to store them on for the long term.

There seem to be a number of options for storing pics:

  • Leave them on the flash card, and buy new flash cards,
  • Transfer them to your hard disk and store them there,
  • Store them on a Iomega Zip! Disk,
  • Store them on an Iomega Jaz! Disk,
  • Store them on a CD-R or CD-RW (CD-ROM)

Ok, we'll look at each of these options:

1) Leave the pics on the flash card:

While certainly the easiest solution (sort of), it is the most costly and most dangerous in terms of safekeeping of the pictures. The Cost/MB of storage for flash card memory is SIGNIFICANTLY higher than any other option above, so I'm not sure why this would make any sense, other than for leaving the pics on the cards for a few days or weeks until you can store them somewhere else. There is some concern about how long CompactFlash cards retain their memory if left unused. I've tried to determine that, but couldn't. If someone knows...drop me an e-mail so I can let others know.

2) Transfer them to hard disk for storage:

This seems like a pretty straightforward task. Take the CF card out of the camera, use the PhotoReader to zap them over to the hard-disk, and voila...done. Well, the real world just isn't quite so simple. I don't know about your computer(s), but all of mine have nearly full hard disks. It seems like regardless of how big the disk is when I buy a new one, it fills up quickly. And leave it to Uncle Bill (Redmond Bill, that is...) to accelerate this process with new fat MS Office 2000, etc. Also, I'm kind of paranoid about my computer/disk crashing, and if that were to happen, I'd lose my dear old pics...so that's not the best solution. Anyway, my computer, and hard disk have a life (MAXIMUM!) of about 5 years, so I think I'd like to keep my pics a while longer. Also, what if a thief stole my computer...and whisked away my pics...not too cool. One big negative is that you can't take your hard disk (obviously) into your local camera shop to have prints made from the pics. 

3) Store Pics on Iomega Zip! Disks

Hey, this is looking like a better solution. The Iomega Zip! disks hold 100MB (about 125 digital pics or so), and cost about $10 each. Not too bad. I'd have to buy a Zip drive, but they are only about $100, so that's ok too. Works with Macs and PCs, has pretty good transfer performance to/from Zip disks. I can store them away in a locked cabinet for safety. Since they are still magnetic, they could get corrupted, or have something bad happen to render the disk unreadable by the computer, but I've not heard that this is a big problem. I can also send them to Printers to have photos made, take them into the local photo store for the same, etc. This is a pretty good solution. Being a magnetic solution, I'd not place reliability on the disks above 5 years, regardless of what Iomega says (just try to get a 5 year old floppy to read properly 99% of the time!!).

20-20Consumer does not currently track the prices of Iomega Zip drives, but we will soon! :)

4) Store Pics on Iomega Jaz! Disks

This looks like another good solution. The Iomega Jaz! disks hold 1GB (about 1,125 digital pics or so), and cost about $100 each. Not too bad. This is a little expensive, and the Jaz drives are a bit more than the Zip drives ($250'ish). The Jaz does work with Macs and PCs, has pretty good transfer performance to/from the computer. I can store them away in a locked cabinet for safety. Since they are still magnetic, they could get corrupted, or have something bad happen to render the disk unreadable by the computer, but I've not heard that this is a big problem. I can also send them to Printers to have photos made, take them into the local photo store for the same, etc. This is a pretty good solution. The only downside is that the Jaz is not nearly as "common" as the Zip! drives, so if you need to take your pics somewhere, there's less chance of them having a Jaz drive available. The initial costs are a bit higher also for the Jaz drive and cartridges. Being a magnetic solution, I'd not place reliability on the disks above 5 years, regardless of what Iomega says (just try to get a 5 year old floppy to read properly 99% of the time!!).

20-20Consumer does not currently track the prices of Iomega Jaz drives, but we will soon! :)

5) Store Pics on CD-R/CD-RW discs (CD-ROM):

This looks like a very good solution, but is a bit more "techy" and costly to implement initially. Everyone knows that CD-ROMs hold tons of data (650MB), are very inexpensive (about $2 per disc), have a long (99+ years) lifetime, etc. This sounds like a perfect solution. The only bad part is that writing CDs requires the use of a CD-R (CD-Recordable) or CD-RW (CD-read/write) drive, and these cost about $250. This not too bad, but they are also require some computer savvy to install, and to use the software. I don't mean to scare you away from this solution, but be prepared to spend some time to learn how to install and use the drive and software. The resulting CD-R or CD-RW discs are "equivalent" to a CD-ROM...they can be placed in any CD-ROM drive and read by the computer. This is great in terms of compatibility. They are also very portable, non-magnetic, and suffer only from getting scratched or melted by heat. One caution though...buy quality CD-R or CD-RW media for a few bucks more...they last much longer and suffer less from environmental (heat, humidity, UV radiation) degradation. You can buy archive grade media. This also seems to be the ONLY solution that has a really guaranteed lifetime of more than a few years. This is definitely worth considering (a side note...I've also had a lot of experience with CD-ROMs, and CD-Rs, so I know they are a great thing :).

20-20Consumer does not currently track the prices of CD-R/CD-RW drives, but we will soon! :)

Summary:

Well, we've covered a lot of options, and let's see if we can sort this out. The table below summarizes the most important qualities of each storage method:

Storage Method CF Cards Hard Disk Iomega Zip! Disks Iomega Jaz! Disks CD-R/CD-RW
Cost Per Picture $2.50 (today's card prices give or take a bit) $0.02 (today's disk prices give or take a bit) $0.08 (today's disk prices give or take a bit) $0.08 (today's disk prices give or take a bit) $0.003 (today's CD-R prices give or take a bit)
Estimated Life TBD (someone please e-mail me with this info) 5 years 5 years 5 years 50-100 years
Security Fair (could lose them, could be stolen, could get corrupted) Poor (Disk corruption, stolen computers, crashed disk, etc). Good (can lock them away in a cabinet, can store in separate location in case of fire, etc) Good (can lock them away in a cabinet, can store in separate location in case of fire, etc) Good (can lock them away in a cabinet, can store in separate location in case of fire, etc)
Portability Excellent None Excellent Excellent Excellent
Compatibility Fair (Camera shop could not read them directly) None Excellent Fair (Camera shop could not read them directly) Excellent

I've decided to use the following system/procedure. This works for my needs, but you may prefer something different.

  1. I get the pictures off the Flash Cards within a day or so of shooting them. Heck, I need the flash card again for taking more pics, and I can't use it if it's full :).
  2. I created a directory on my computer's hard disk that I use to "store" the pictures for a while (weeks/months maybe). This is where I edit them, post them to my web site, use them for other tasks, etc, so it's handy having them on the hard disk for quick access.
  3. I also save them on Iomega Zip! disks, which are labeled, and marked, so I have a back-up copy. This way, I can offload them from my computer later as required to free space up for new pics, and I can lock the Zip disks up as needed for safety.
  4. When I've gotten a few zip disks full, I'm "archiving" my pics on CD-R for long-term storage and safety. This multi-tiered approach offers quite a bit of flexibility. For writing the CD-R's, I've purchased one of the HP CD-Writer CD Rewriteable drive for my computer.

Lesson: A multi-tiered storage system seems to make the most sense. Long term storage leaves few options except to put the pics on CD-R discs for safety, longevity, portability, and security.

On a side note, Robert Meakins was kind enough to add some information on the permanence (or lack thereof) of negatives and/or slides: "The 'permanent' film negatives and slides-- aren't. They require keeping in a nitrogen atmosphere at around 20 C. However a CD-ROM with your digital pix on it will keep for ever if you don't scratch it or melt it, and it can be copied perfectly (try that with film). Did I mention cheaply too." Many thanks for the additional info.

Still to come in the coming weeks:

  • How to make prints of digital pics.
  • How to keep track of all your pics so you can find them later.
  • How to manipulate the pictures, edit them, resize, make ready for a web site, etc...

See you next week.

Item Quantity Cost
Nikon Coolpix 950 1 $761.95
CF Digital Film Cards (32MB and 80MB) 2 $82, and $260
Batteries (12 cells & Charger) 1 $64.95
CompactFlash PhotoReader 2 $110.00
Iomega Zip! Drive 1 $100.00
          Zip! Disks 5 $49.95
HP CD-RW Drive 1 $250.00
          CD-R discs 10 $12.00
Total To Date $1689.95
Week 1   Week 2   Week 3   Week 4

 

 

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