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Taking many pictures with your digital camera lately? Are you backing them up? HOW are you backing them?

Mar 24

Written by:
Tuesday, March 24, 2009 9:43 PM  RssIcon

What would happen to your sanity if you lost, yes I said LOST your digital photo album tomorrow?  Read on for some archival strategies to keep your precious memories your's forever.

First digital camera with a modern oneNow that it's been a few years (maybe? :>) that you've had your digital camera for, you've amassed a few pictures, right? I’m guessing a few thousand precious memories eh? Hhhmmm what would happen if you lost your computer/hard drive tomorrow? How many pictures/files/documents/CVs/websites/source code directories would YOU lose? 

Phillips introduces the first CD 1979

If you’re thinking “that’s ok, I back up my pics to CDs/DVDs.” Hhmmm you might have another think coming, you might be VERY surprised to learn a CDs/DVDs lifespan is very short! :<

I’ve been through a similar scenario mentioned above, a few years ago, and I have a friend who’s going through this right now. There is a potential he could lose a few years of pics/vids. :< Me? I was whipped out by a virus :< 
My solution was simple, I just bought CD burner and backed up my pics to CD. Cool. But the 750MB quickly became my limiting factor, well, that and my burner took over an hour to burn a whole CD. :< Then I learned about the sullied world of CD disks, quality, lifetime, archivability, and other things that affect how much I rely on those shiny little disks to back up my precious snapshots in time.
DVDs to the rescue right?! Well, my burn time dropped to a minute or two, COOL! But I still had the archival problems associated with disks. Huh? Ya, the term “archival” in terms of disks/CDs/DVDs references how good they are at being able to read the data off them when you REALLY need it. Like after a HD crash. Some cheap disks are very, VERY weak, like 2yrs. 
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying ALL your CDs/DVDs are dead after two years. And there is a lot that goes into determining how log your disks will last. It’s just that the likelihood of getting the data/pictures/source code off those disks after two years drops dramatically as they age.
HP My Passport portable hard drive“That’s OK, I’ll just back them onto a portable hard drives.” That’s cool, and a smart idea! The only problem is they aren’t cheap. :< Last time I checked, an HP “My Passport” was going for over $100. Cheap when compared to losing a few thousand pictures or the cost of data recovery but it’s still $100. That’s expensive compared to the cost of a DVD disk. There’s also the problem of a spinning disk which will have physical wear as it ages. And when these things go, they fail badly, catastrophically you could say. What do I mean by that? The drive stops working and your data is toast. With disks your drive has a fighting chance of recovering some of the mangled data. Data recovery could work but it’s expensive.
USB drives are showing promise, but are limited in capacity. 16GB are going for $50-$100, range depends on quality of construction, parts and speed. But that’s still pretty low on ROI.
So what then? What are you supposed to do? Disks have a lifetime and portable hard drives can fail and USB keys are pricey. One option is to spring for the portable hard drive for your yearly backups and continue with the DVD burning for your “deltas” (new pictures). It’s always better to have MORE pictures than not enough (this strategy helped to relieve some of the virus sting I experienced).
Now I have another potential option for you computer savvy readers. If you have a spare computer at home or even just a small hard drive doing nothing but collecting dust, maybe you can bring it out of retirement and give it a new job! You can get a hard drive enclosure relatively cheap now a days, stick in that hard drive and you have a cheap portable hard drive! If you’re lucky, you can get a few old hard drives to protect yourself against physical failure. The drives are old right, not perfect, but if you can get two/three to have multiple backups, if one dies on your, you have multiple copies.
This brings up one last point I’d like to make. Having a hard drive crash is something we geeks don’t wish on any other geek. But having a house fire and losing your entire computer/home office/sweet setup is just downright horrific and scary to just think about. BUT if you have multiple backups (disks and portable hard drives), it could make for one less thing to worry about losing in such a terrible event.
Time to think about your picture backup strategy. Now go grab a coffee and get coding. :>

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5 comment(s) so far...

Re: Taking many pictures with your digital camera lately? Are you backing them up? HOW are you backing them?

Another option which i know many people are taking advantage of today is uploading it to a 3rd party server. Most recently i heard that is you buy more then 20$ worth of prints online you can store photo's for free on the Kodak site.

By Sylvain on   Wednesday, March 25, 2009 7:32 AM

Re: Taking many pictures with your digital camera lately? Are you backing them up? HOW are you backing them?

That's true, I missed that third party option. Websites like Flickr ( are based solely on sharing pics. KodakGallery ( has made a living out of making prints and sharing them online (FuturePhoto was moved here a few years ago). Even facebook ( lets you post/share your photos online. These are great site but like everything else, there are pros and cons.

-relatively easy to use
-let someone else manage the IT/computers/servers/user accounts/password maintenance/sharing of the albums/photos
-leave the backups to someone else
-relative peace of mind

-you give someone else total control over your copyrightable material/photos
-since someone else is managing all the computer infrastructure, you do not control their security or know when/if they get hacked into (facebook has been broken into a number of times and even they couldn't hit it)
-you risk that company going out of business and potentially losing ALL your pictures (don't think it can't happen, it DID happen in the late 90s, around 1999 a company went belly up and people were trying to hobble money together to get the ISP to put the servers back online)

So there you have it, the fifth alternative, thank you SB! :> I've tried to present an unbiased view point. Now it's up to you to pick on (There is a sixth option, of course doing nothing is an option, but not a very good one IMHO).

By phenry on   Thursday, March 26, 2009 7:57 PM

Re: Taking many pictures with your digital camera lately? Are you backing them up? HOW are you backing them?

I backup all my pictures, video, data, etc to Amazon S3 ( for long term storage. No worries about giving away copyright rights and I trust that Amazon has the resources/ability to provide all the security/infrastructure that I only dream about.

By Colin on   Sunday, March 29, 2009 2:09 PM

Re: Taking many pictures with your digital camera lately? Are you backing them up? HOW are you backing them?

I used their monthly estimating calculator and it estimated my monthly bill to be ~3.50US. That was for initial uploading and ongoing uploading (archival purposes only). If the unfortunate were to ever occur and I needed to get it all back, it would go up to $7.71US. Very interesting. The costs go up, but that is of course cause of an emergency and I needed to get all my data back. Over a year the 3.50 is less than $50/year.

Interesting option, thank you Colin for your input! :> Much appreciated!

By phenry on   Sunday, March 29, 2009 2:16 PM

Re: Taking many pictures with your digital camera lately? Are you backing them up? HOW are you backing them?

I read last week about a concept called "Data Rot." Yup, it's exactly what you think! Read more about it (or watch the news broadcast).The New York Times, March 29, 2009:
CBS News Video:

Two key phrases:
"Migration is the key word"

"The basic lesson is, look after your own data and make sure that you take steps to keep it moving onto new formats about once every ten years. "
"Just follow these three easy steps, you convert what ever you can afford to, to digital, store your tapes and films in a cool dry place, and above all remain vigalent as you now know, every ten years or so you're going to have to transfer your important memories to whatever format is current at the time. Cause there never has been or never will be a recording format that lasts forever."

By phenry on   Sunday, March 29, 2009 9:12 PM

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