with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

CD Storage for Images Now Not a Good Idea

If you have been storing your digital photographic images on CDs, think again. There is new news from Computer World that says CDs aren’t good for archival storage.

The problem is material degradation. Optical discs commonly used for burning, such as CD-R and CD-RW, have a recording surface consisting of a layer of dye that can be modified by heat to store data. The degradation process can result in the data “shifting” on the surface and thus becoming unreadable to the laser beam.

“Many of the cheap burnable CDs available at discount stores have a life span of around two years,” Gerecke said. “Some of the better-quality discs offer a longer life span, of a maximum of five years.”

The biggest problem, if you continue to use CDs or DVDs as a storage medium, is that it is really difficult to tell the difference between low and high quality discs. Check with manufacturer’s websites for specific information about the quality and durability of their discs.

This is even more confusing and frustrating for photographers determined to develop consistent and secure storage and backups for our photographs in digital form. Hard drives also have a short life, as do flash drives and many other storage mediums. The only format that has consistently proved long-term and fairly safe are magnetic tape drives. While they don’t last forever, they can last, according to the article, with a “life span of 30 to 100 years, depending on their quality.”

The article sums up the future of digital storage this way:

But he’s quick to point out that no storage medium lasts forever and, consequently, consumers and business alike need to have a plan for migrating to new storage technologies.

Professional and amateur photographers are going to have to make a plan to migrate over several different kinds of mediums before a more permanent medium is found. This means increased expenses and time consuming effort every few years that needs to be incorporated into your plan and budgets. Let’s hope they come up with something more stable soon.

I will do some research on what techniques and hardware are available for quality magnetic tape storage and report on it soon.


  • Posted January 25, 2006 at 21:10 | Permalink

    I found this article on Digg.

    It says TDK claims its CDs will last up to 70 years, as long as certain precautions are made: avoiding rewritable disks, controlling the temperature, not using labels, etc.

    It’s got a lot of good tips about protecting your CDs.

  • Posted November 14, 2006 at 15:08 | Permalink

    Methinks a lifetime of 70 years is not much use when digital formats and standards have changed ten times over that period. Who can guarantee image software will be able to read raw kodak format in ten years from now?
    Storing digital data is an endless blind flight. If you take a two-to-three-year break, panting and sweating from the infernal pace, chances are obsolescence and decay will catch up with your work.
    This is what got me thinking twice before going fully digital. My strategy is to store on mirrored hard drives. Maybe I’ll upload my best shots to a safe internet repository, just in case my computer burns or something…

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