Digital Life

License article

Think negatively

Despite huge advances in data storage, film is still reliable for photos.

A REQUEST came recently for advice on archiving image files. We were terrifically helpful but not entirely honest. We should have prefaced our good advice with some warnings.

Such as that two years ago, when installing a new computer and transferring files from the old one, we managed to vaporise 1000 image files. Or that we were the dud prophet who once reckoned no one would ever need all the 1.44 megabytes of space on the newfangled 3.5-inch floppies.

We discovered our mistake and became enthusiastic about the LS120 Super Floppy - one of three people in the known universe who actually bought and installed an LS120. We didn't use it for long, because we were then mesmerised by the storage capacity of the CD. Ha! Who will ever have 720MB of files?

Then came the rewritable CDs and DVDs - what a great invention. Except that after two rewrites and retrievals, they died and the files were lost forever.

Right now, we have the hard drive in the PC - 1TB (that's terabytes); one external hard drive (another terabyte); plus a 500GB drive and another for automatic system back-up. All USB 2.0, which by this time next week will no doubt be obsolete. And any or all of them could suddenly develop fatal problems and all the eggs, even in four baskets, will be broken.

Hard drives capable of storing 2TB have now broken the $100 barrier, but how risky is it to trust so much to one device?

We suggested to our inquirer that the famous cloud might be the way to go. SkyDrive (Microsoft), iCloud (Apple), Google Drive (Google) and Dropbox all offer a small free storage space - typically about 5GB to 7GB, which is less than the capacity of an average camera memory card. Charges for extra space vary; for instance, Google charges $10 a month for 100GB, which is steep compared with the cost of hard drives.

Assessing the long-term reliability of cloud services is impossible. One of the first companies into cloud storage of photos was Eastman Kodak. At the time the company offered the service, we could say with absolute confidence that the great company would still be around long after we had gone to the ultimate cloud. How wrong we were! We understand that customers who placed their photos on the Kodak server can still retrieve them.

Here is something to keep in mind: we still have, in perfect condition, negatives, transparencies and prints from photos taken with our Kodak Retina 1B in 1956. So, if eternal life and perpetual accessibility are your requirements, use film.