Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online
Just Burn it to Disk - Not So Fast!
Every Month We Hear from Readers with unreadable CDs. Here's What You Need to Know to Preserve Your Images.


The Basics How CDs & DVDs Work
Storing Your Disks

CD & DVD Terms Explained

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Burn it to disk. 

It's a common task in the digital darkroom. It's how we back up our images and for some of us, how we store them. For film shooters Photo CDs are their entry into the digital world. Just about every lab now offers the option of a photo CD when they develop your film and Kodak even offers a "digital" point and shoot disposable film camera, the Kodak PLUSDigital, the cost of which includes having your images put onto disk CD.

But what do we really know about all those shiny silver and gold disks that clutter our offices? We make the assumption that they'll keep our images safe for years to come. But how long is that? 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? 50 years? Does it vary from disk to disk? What about DVD? And is there really a difference between name brand disks from folks like Kodak, 3M and TDK compared to cheapo no-name disks at a fraction of the cost?

Each month we get questions from readers on every aspect of photography. Yet for a long time we received virtually no questions on the subject of CDs. Yet every day our readers were burning images to disk. 

That has changed over the past year as we've heard from more and more frantic readers with disks full of images they couldn't read. What you don't know can bite you.

How big of an issue is it? At PhotoPlus I spoke with a Fuji Rep. He told me that while consumer film sales continue to decline, pro film sales have seen a sharp increase in the past year. Why? As pros have gotten burned by disks they couldn't read and high migration costs when upgrading systems they've reassessed their work flows. Archivally stored slides will last a lifetime and they can be easily scanned, worked in Photoshop, and distributed to clients and publishers. 

Fuji's response to this trend has been to work with photographers on creating a digital workflow that includes film. They've also developed a program to educate their pro market on the process. 

Tips for Choosing and Storing Disks:

CD Recordable (CD-R) and DVDR (DVD Recordable) disks last much longer than rewritable disks (CD-RW or DVDRW). Rewritable disks may seem like a better bargain than disks that can only be written to once. But rewritable disks have much shorter lives and are more sensitive to storage conditions and variations between drives. Depending on how they are written and stored, rewritable disks can experience read errors in as little as three to five years. 
Price = Quality. This is one market where price really does equal quality. Buy junk disks and they may degrade very quickly. We've heard anecdotal evidence of cheap CDs that are unreadable after a year. Good quality disks will cost a little more, but with reasonable archival precautions they should last over 100 years (see below).
Cheap disks have their place. That doesn't mean you should spend a fortune on disks. Throwaways have their place. Buy the right disks for the right use.
Drives can make a difference. Disks created on an old drive may be unreadable on a new drive or a new computer. If you're upgrading your system, go through your old disks and bring up a couple of images off of each to ensure you can read them before retiring the old computer to the scrap heap. 
Take care in storing your disks. A good rule of thumb is if you're comfortable your disks will be too. Extremes of temperature and/or humidity will dramatically shorten the life of your disks.
Make a Master for Important Data. If a disk contains important images or data make a master disk and a copy and work from the copy. That will protect the master from the scratches and damage that are a result of normal handling.


Picture CDs vs. Photo CDs - What's the Difference?

Both are formats that may be offered to you by your photo lab when you get film developed. 

Picture CDs are aimed at consumers and "point and shoot" photographers. They contain one roll of images in JPEG format and some basic software that allows you to do things like zoom, crop, remove red-eye, create slide shows, create wallpaper and print.

The Photo CD format is aimed at the serious photographer. Each image is stored at 5 resolutions ranging from 128 x 192 pixels up to 2048 x 3072 pixels with an option for a sixth format at 4096 x 6144 pixels. A disk can contain up to 100 images in .PCD (Image Pac) format and you'll need Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro or similar software to read the disk.


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