Blue Earth
Glazer's Camera

Archiving: The Digital Shoebox


Whether you're a casual shooter or a working professional, how and where to store your digital images is a growing concern.

For my fifth—grade English class, I had to write my autobiography, complete with photos. So one evening after dinner, Mom and I sat down to work on this "huge" project, thoroughly documenting the first 10 years of my life. Mom pulled out this old shoebox that contained all of our family pictures. Everyone, in those days, had a shoebox full of envelopes from the photography store. Each envelope contained negatives and a set of black—and—white or color prints, with scalloped edges and the month and year printed in the border.

In today's digital world, media cards, CDs, DVDs, and hard drives, along with Jaz, Zip and Orb drives, have become our digital shoeboxes. Even film shooters can get their images processed or scanned onto digital media. We are filling up terabytes (a terabyte equals 1,000 gigabytes, or 1 million megabytes) of storage with our precious memories, but getting more storage space is a lot more expensive than buying new Nikes and snagging another shoebox. (Well, maybe not a lot more expensive, given the price of brand—name sneakers, but you get what I mean.)

Whether you're a casual shooter or a working professional, how and where to store your digital images is a growing concern. The "older" technology drives, like Jaz, Zip and Orb, had their limitations and costs, and are now giving way to CDs and DVDs. As the output files from digital cameras and scanners increase, even 700MB CDs are becoming too small to hold many images.

Take a test drive

Fortunately, the computer hardware industry is keeping up to date with new media and new drives. CD—writable drives have been standard in most new desktops and laptops for several years and commonly are used for image archiving. DVD burners are already standard in most new Apple systems. There are several excellent internal DVD drives for PCs and also some excellent external drives that will work on both PCs and Macs.

Before you start your research on drives, it is important to become familiar with the four main DVD formats currently available on the market. The DVD "dash" format was invented and developed by Pioneer in 1998. It is supported by the DVD Forum, including manufacturers Apple, Hitachi, NEC, Pioneer, Samsung and Sharp. The dash format comes in a recordable version (DVD—R), which can be written on only once, and a rewritable version (DVD—RW), which can be written on up to 1,000 times. Another disk format, known as DVD "plus," also comes in a recordable version (DVD+R) and a rewritable version (DVD+RW). Both of the plus formats are supported by the DVD+RW Alliance, including Microsoft, Dell Computer, Hewlett—Packard, Mitsubishi—Chemical/Verbatim, Philips, Ricoh, Sony, Yamaha and Thomson Multimedia.

Pioneer's DVR—A05 and Sony's DRU—500A are very popular internal PC drives. The Pioneer drive writes DVD—R and DVD—RW, while the Sony drive writes all four DVD formats. Sony recently released an upgraded version, the DRU—500AX, which writes all DVDs at quadruple speed. The Sony drive also comes in an external version, the DRX500ULX, which supports both USB and FireWire, so you can use it on Macs and laptops as well as desktop systems. Keep in mind that all DVD drives will also burn CDs, so a DVD drive will provide you with a built—in upgrade path — at least until the next generation of DVDs hits the market.

Once you decide what drive to use, you will need to buy the media. DVDs are significantly more expensive than CDs, but they hold more than six times as much, and the difference in price between CDs and DVDs is dropping.

CDs and DVDs also come in two versions, gold and silver, depending on which type of precious metal is used in the manufacturing process. The primary difference between gold and silver is longevity: Gold media is rated for 300 years, silver for "only" 100. The reason for this is that the gold CDs and DVDs use different organic dye layers than the silver ones. The dye layer is what actually gets "burned" when the disk is written.

Gold media have been the standard for image archiving, but Mitsui, the one manufacturer making gold CDs and DVDs, appears to have discontinued its gold DVD products. However, they and other manufacturers are still making silver CDs and DVDs, which also have excellent archiving characteristics.

Feel the burn

Once you have a drive and some disks, how do you actually archive the images? Both Windows and Mac OS have built—in capabilities to burn CDs and DVDs, but they also have their limitations. Roxio makes burning software for both platforms: Toast for the Mac and Easy CD/DVD Creator for the PC.

However, most CD/DVD—burning software is designed to copy files, not images. The only software I've found that is designed specifically for archiving images is Archive Creator from PictureFlow. This easy—to—use product has several features that make archiving images simple. It will process a selection of images, even if there are too many images to fit on one disk, and it will tell you how many disks it needs to create the archive set before you even burn the first disk. In addition, it can create an index of all the images on each disk and put a copy of the complete index on each disk. The index contains both thumbnails and larger JPEGs, so once you have your archive set, you can put any disk of the set into a drive and see the complete index for the set. Best of all, the index is written in HTML, so you need only a browser to view the index.

Professional shooters can use this software to create CDs and DVDs for submissions with complete indexes that will open automatically and can be read on PCs and Macs. Also, the archive is readable without using Archive Creator, and it handles most file formats, including various RAW formats. In fact, Archive Creator arguably has only one limitation: it's currently a PC—only product.

Long—term care

Labeling the disks is the next step. Avery and several other manufacturers make CD/DVD labels, but they are not considered archival. These companies' general consensus is that the adhesive on the label may leach into the media in "less than 10 years." The PTouch—type labels have the same problem. At the moment, the only totally safe way to label is using a certain kind of Sharpie marker, made by Sanford Corp. Most Sharpies are acid—free, so you can safely write on CDs and DVDs without worry. You can check the Sanford web site to find out which Sharpies are safe.

The final step in the process is determining what to do with the disks once you have your archive. Jewel cases offer the most protection, but they take up a lot of space. Most storage binders and sleeves made by companies such as Case Logic and Avery are not considered archival by the manufacturers. Avery does, however, make a two—disk sleeve that can be inserted into a binder that is acid—free and meets archival standards. Light Impressions sells several types of Safety Sleeves pages and a binder for them that meets archival standards.

One final thought: With technology transforming our removable media every few years, we don't know whether the DVDs we burn today will last for 25, 50 or 100 years. As a working professional, I need to keep up with the technology, so I expect to be converting my DVDs to something else before they wear out. But average consumers may not want to keep pace with technology. Those DVDs they burn today may wind up somewhere in the attic — stored in a shoebox.

Richard McEnery
Story Author: Richard McEnery

Richard McEnery started photographing as an amateur in 1976 at rock concerts and sporting events in New York City. Today, he is a professional photographer specializing in sports, travel, nature, and underwater photography. His nature and underwater work has been featured at the Long Beach Aquarium and the National Museum of Wildlife Art as well as in Popular Photography, Outdoor Photography (UK), Sport Diver, Scuba Times, and Dive Travel magazines. He has also received a "Highly Commended" award in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Richard has worked at the US Open as an assignment photographer for Tennis Times. He is also a regular contributor on digital photography subjects for PhotoMedia magazine.

Website: www.mceneryphotography.com/ E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it