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The digital dark ages

Karl

SE
170 posts

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Karl Registered since 25th Sep 2002
Tue 28-Sep-04 01:08 PM

Since Nikon announced the F6 and the D2x there's been some talk about the future of film versus quality and the ease of use of digital cameras. Some one posted a graph showing the sales trends of cameras - film camera sales decreases rapidly and at the same time digital is sky-rocketing.

Last night I saw a very interesting documentary on TV about archival difficulties with digital information.

Today’s rapid technology progress makes computers, cameras and other equipment obsolete in only 6 months. The pictures you make today may be unreadable in only five years as software and hardware has developed and no longer supports your picture format.

This summer my mother was forced to move from her house to a smaller compartment as my father past away and she no longer could afford the cost of the house. When we moved all of her belongings I found a big box with thousands of old photos. These pictures were taken by both my father and my grandfather. Some of the negatives date back to the -40's. All of this information was easily readable; I just had to hold them up to a light to see what data they contained.

Fast forward 50 years from now, do you think your grandchildren will be able to look at your pictures? Will they be able to hold a CD to the light and see all the pictures on it?

In fifty years from now, there will probably not be any hardware around that can read your CD's and DVD's and there will probably not be any software that can interpret the data on those discs. Don't believe me? Go to your computer store this afternoon and try to buy an Iomega ZIP drive or a SyQuest drive...

So what can we do about this?

If you want to use your digital camera and to be able to save the output for future generations - you'll have to migrate your data every five years. This will, to some extent, ensure the existence of your data. The problem though, is to keep the data intact. Every time you migrate from one media to another or convert from one file format to another, there's a great risk of altering the original information. The Canadian magazine Photo Life ran an article last year that showed that digital images will loose bits of information every time they are copied or resaved. You will probably not notice this until it's too late to do anything about it.

Contrary to analogue film, the life span of a CD or DVD disc is no more than five to ten years. The manufactures tend to tell us that their disc will last for many years. However this is not true in "real life". Normal handling will eventually make your disc unreadable. Even if you keep your disc in a dark and closed environment, they still risk degeneration. The coating of CD's and DVD's is prone to fungus attacks - the discs are very sensible to heat and humidity.

With this is mind, I would recommend you to migrate all of your discs every two years to ensure a longer life for you pictures and data. Also, make sure that you save your images in a lossless format – uncompressed NEF for instance.

My father had just stuffed the box with his negatives, no archival order to speak of. Many of them were not even in plastic or paper sleeves. The environment in which they were stored where freezing in the winters, and baking hot in the summers. Humidity levels fluctuated heavily. Still, the images were readable. I can drop them of at the local lab and collect prints hours later without problems.

I feel sad when I think of this. My grandchildren and future generations will most likely not be able to see pictures of them selves as babies. They will not be able to see pictures of how I lived my life and of all the places I've been.

I'll give you some examples they showed in the documentary that further illustrates the sadness in our digital way of living:

When East Germany fell, the West got a hold of the old Stasi records. Unfortunately most of it was in digital form on old magnetic tapes. They found the mainframe, but no one knew how to operate it. Even if the Germans would be able to scan the tapes, there is no way to interpret the 1's and 0's to understandable data. The Germans has lost years of historic data.

Here in Sweden, the Royal library has kept all written documents about our government and country since the early 14th century. I can go to this library and read letters from (for instance) a member of the church sent to the king complaining about taxes in the year of 1558. But there is no way I can read a copy of an e-mail sent yesterday from one member of the government to another member.

So in context of this, I praise Nikon for releasing a new member of the venerable Nikon F family - the Nikon F6.

I've already placed my order for the new Nikon D2x as well as the Nikon F6. I will continue to shoot digital (as I have done for the past five years) but whenever there is a subject that I want to be able to keep for future generations - I will use the F6 and plain old analogue film.

Kind regards,
Karl

"You don't need eyes to see, you need vision"

Kind regards,
Karl

"You don't need eyes to see, you need vision"

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