Digital photography is an amazing invention and offers many exciting advantages. One of the downsides involves storing and archiving your images. These jobs are often the least favorite aspect of the hobby. Film lets you be sloppy. You can throw negatives and slides into a shoe box, and fifty years later, they’re still useable. Digital files are more ephemeral–electrons, magnetic fields, dye layers, atoms! Film degrades gradually, but digital degrades catastrophically. A digital file either can be read, or it can’t. There’s no in-between. For this reason, consider this issue very carefully. Indeed, become paranoid about storing your digital files. Form good work habits now!
Currently, the best way of storing files is to burn them onto a CD-R. (In this article, the term “CD” refers to CD-R .) You can keep files on your hard drive for faster access, but you’re taking an extreme risk if you don’t have backups on CD. Since this “round negative” is so important, let’s look at ten rules:
1. Never use CD-RW–only CD-R.
2. The single most important consideration is the quality of the CD itself. This variable can’t be over emphasized. They aren’t cheap, but I can put about 215 JPEG shots from my Canon D60 on one CD. That figures out to about ½ penny per image–cheaper than plastic slide pages. Be sure to check the brand and for the length of time it is rated–fifty years, one hundred years.
3. Burn at a slower speed. Error rates go up as the burning speed increases. Burning at 2x or 4x is safer than the higher speeds of your CD drive. It also makes the dreaded “buffer under-run” less likely. Close all other programs while burning.
4. When setting the “burning” options, choose “Finalize Disk” and “Disk at Once.” Don’t do multiple sessions.
5. NEVER put an adhesive label on an important CD. The adhesives in the label will eventually migrate to the dye layer in the CD and render it un-readable.
6. Use only a CD Pen to write on the CD; it must be water soluble. Do NOT use Sharpie brand pens as they contain alcohol. Do NOT use a ball point pen. The safest place on a CD for writing is on the very innermost hub surface.
7. Burn two copies of every CD, and file one set away–preferably off site. This is your backup of your backup.
8. For maximum safety, store the CD only in a plastic jewel case, upright, in a cool, dark place. Direct sunlight can destroy a CD-R in a few hours. If you must use a sleeve, choose Tyvek; even then, scratches are possible. (Note: Commercial CD-ROM music disks are made differently and can take much more abuse and sunlight than CD-R.)
9. Always handle a CD by the edge. Don’t clean unless you must. Never use a Kleenex or paper product to clean, because they’ll scratch. Don’t use record cleaning substances. Don’t clean in a circular motion. Clean from the center out, perpendicular to the grooves. A clean microfiber lens cleaning cloth can be used. Use canned air first to remove dust. Don’t use your breath to blow!
10. Always verify the files on the CD right after it’s written. You would be wise to see if you can open the files on a different computer.
Keep in mind that in perhaps five to eight years, we’ll have to transfer our CD contents to some new technology. That reality is simply part of the game. You might be tempted to use cheap CDs, thinking that they have to last only a few years. Wrong-o, Pixel Breath! There is much we don’t know about the properties of CDs. Therefore, we must be ultra-conservative and use the very best CDs we can as a hedge against data loss. In my other life as a pharmacist, I saw this principle illustrated over and over. A wonderful new drug comes onto the market amid quantities of hoopla. Much later–after millions of doses have slipped down thousands or millions of throats–we come to understand ALL the effects of the drug. Sometimes the side-effects are very bad.
Remember; the CD is your NEGATIVE; treat it with the utmost respect.
By Steve Traudt