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DVD Photo Backup… Again

Information Superhighway
Creative Commons License photo credit: nickwheeleroz

After posting the Photo Backup: DVD and Photo Backup on DVD: Love or Hate articles, we had a lot of reader comments and discussion about this medium. I realize many of the readers don’t check on the comments section days or weeks after the article is published, so I wanted to follow up the two articles with some new thoughts and insights on DVD backups.

FOLLOW THIS SERIES OF ARTICLES!
TOC — PHOTO BACKUP GUIDE
BACK — PHOTO BACKUP ON DVD: LOVE OR HATE?
NEXT — ONLINE SERVICES

I would also encourage you to read through the comments in each of these articles. They are filled with stories on both sides of the line — users who have had nothing but problems with DVDs, and those who use them currently.

INTEGRITY OF DATA

The problem with any digital storage media is that it has a relatively short lifespan. Hard drives and DVDs alike, won’t last forever. DVDs seem to have a wide range of results when it comes to data integrity. You could potentially burn a disc and have the data be bad right from the start. Or you could burn a good copy and have the data go bad after a very short time (on the order of a year or two). You could also have discs that are 10 years old and still working fine.

The point is that you shouldn’t expect DVDs (or any other storage media) to last forever. Construction, quality, materials, formats, process, handling, storage, and temperature all have an effect on the integrity of your data. I’ll cover a few tips on ensuring good data at the end of this article.

DVD FORMAT WARS

Several people brought up some good points about the various DVD formats. I had stated that the “R” (record once) discs are best to use because they’re inexpensive and you won’t run the risk of overwriting data.

It turns out that “R” discs are less archival than other formats due to their construction. These “R” discs use an organic dye that reacts with the laser. The dye can break down over time and cause data to be lost.

The “RW” discs, on the other hand, use a metal alloy as the recording medium rather than an organic dye. The material is more robust and it gives the disc a better chance of retaining data over longer periods of time.

The “RAM” discs are also good candidates for archiving photos. Their construction is similar to the “RW” discs (metal alloy rather than a dye) and they have built-in error control and a defect management system (don’t ask me how though).

TIPS FOR DVD BACKUPS

Regardless of which format you decide to use, there are a few things you can do to increase the life expectancy of your DVD backups.

  • BUY HIGH QUALITY DISCS
    Like many things out there, you get what you pay for. Higher priced discs generally have better construction than the bargain discs. I personally use Sony discs, and I’ve never had a problem with them in over 5 years of use.
  • BURN AT LESS THAN FULL SPEED
    I don’t know if this one is myth or fact, but I’ve always burned at half of the fastest setting on the drive and/or media. I’ve heard that writing at super-speed can give you a poor burn, but I don’t know how much truth there is to this. I typically use 8X for my DVDs even though my drive and discs are capable of 16X.
  • STORE DISCS PROPERLY
    Once you burn the disc, put it away and leave it alone. Get a sleeve book or use jewel cases — you don’t want your discs sliding around and getting scratched up. Also be sure to store them in a relatively cool dry place. Heat and humidity accelerate the aging process on most materials.
  • REPLACE OLDER DISCS
    If you aren’t using archive quality discs, you might consider replacing old ones after five years (which is why it’s good to indicate the burn date on the disc). If you’re really confident or if you want to risk it, you might be able to push it out to ten years. RW and RAM discs might last a bit longer, but I’d still replace these after around ten years. Regardless, it’s a good idea to check on your older discs every few months to see if everything is still there.
  • DON’T USE AS YOUR ONLY BACKUP
    No matter what you’re using for a backup solution, only having one backup is risky. I would suggest to keep at least two backups, one of which should be off-site. I use DVDs as my secondary backup and I keep them off-site. My primary is an external hard drive that I keep in a fireproof safe on-site.

What other tips or suggestions do you have for backing up on DVD? And I promise, this is the last one on DVD backups.

Photo Backup: DVD

Information Superhighway
Creative Commons License photo credit: nickwheeleroz

I hope you’re all not getting too tired of this backup stuff — I promise, we’re winding down soon. This article deals with a form of photo backup that people either love or hate: the DVD.

FOLLOW THIS SERIES OF ARTICLES!
TOC — PHOTO BACKUP GUIDE
BACK — RAID TOWER
NEXT — PHOTO BACKUP ON DVD: LOVE OR HATE?

After this article, we’ll hit on one last form of backup. Then we’ll talk about software, strategy, and general advice. So stay tuned!

THE BASICS

The DVD, or more specifically the Recordable DVD, is basically a plastic disc with some other stuff in/on it. DVD’s are optical discs, so there are actual pits and bumps in the media (or variations in dye color) that make up the data (kinda like a record, but different). But regardless of their anatomy and inner workings, I think most of us are familiar with the DVD. To backup on DVD, you’ll need a DVD recorder and the blank writable discs.

As technology advances, so do the formats and capacities of the DVD. The most common disc is the single layer DVD with a capacity of 4.7GB. These discs come in various flavors, such as DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, and DVD-RAM. There’s really no difference between the – (dash) and the + (plus) variations, other than the fact that some recorders are built for one or the other (but there are also multi-format recorders out there). The RW indicator just means that the disc is rewritable, and I would caution against using such discs for backing up photos. DVD-RAM is another rewritable format, so I’d stay away from it for backups (though they do have a very long shelf life). You can expect to find DVD-R and DVD+R discs for about $0.30 per disc when purchased in bulk.

Then we have Dual Layer technology, with a capacity of 8.5GB. And again, we have the -R and +R variations. The downside to these discs is that they cost more money per GB. You can expect to pay about $0.90 per disc when purchased in bulk.

And now we have Blu-ray… the latest format for optical discs. These are way new in comparison to the older formats, so they’re not widely used yet. But the capacity is quite amazing at 25GB for single layer discs and 50GB for dual layer discs. The major downside to Blu-ray is the cost. You can expect to pay about $10 per disc, and good luck finding them in bulk.

OK, so you have a lot of options. My point here is that you need to be aware of which hardware you already have (because most new computers come standard with a DVD recorder). Don’t buy DVD+R if you have a DVD-R recorder — it won’t work. And don’t buy dual layer discs if you only have a single layer recorder — it won’t work either.

BACKING UP

I think I’ve said this a couple of times, but I’ll say it again: Don’t use rewritable discs for backing up your photos! Two reasons — they’re more expensive, and they have the potential to be overwritten or erased. The whole idea behind using a DVD to backup is that it’s cheap and permanent (well… sort of). They’re cheap enough that you can recopy the data every 5 or 10 years to new discs, and they’re permanent enough that you don’t have to worry about erasing them by accident.

If you have a DVD recorder, you should also have some software that goes with it. The backup process for DVDs is a bit more manual and labor-intensive than other methods we’ve discussed, but it’s not terrible. Most software now is just drag, drop, and hit a button.

If you decide to use DVDs to backup your photos, you’ll have to decide when those backups will take place. Some photographers like to immediately backup to DVD after the photos hit the hard drive. Others, like myself, just do a DVD backup every week or every month. Either way is fine, just as long as you’re fine with it.

Some photographers also like to use archival quality DVDs for backing up their photos. These can run about $2.50 per disc and they claim to be good for 100 years. Personally, I just use regular discs (but not the uber-cheap ones) and I write the recording date on them (along with the photos contained) — I figure I’ll re-copy them to fresh discs every 5 or 10 years just to be safe. Plus, as capacities go up and prices come down, I can condense my DVD archive as the years go by.

Girl power
Creative Commons License photo credit: aeter

STRENGTHS

As I mentioned above, DVDs are cheap and (mostly) permanent. At $0.30 per single layer disc, you’re paying about $.06 per GB. For a 500GB hard drive to be economically equivalent, you’d have to find one on sale for $32. So anybody who says they don’t use DVDs because of the cost is full of it. You don’t have to use the archival quality discs — regular ones are better than nothing at all. But if you want to invest in the expensive stuff, go for it.

And as I also mentioned above, the data recorded to a DVD (not a rewritable DVD though) is permanent. You can’t erase it by accident. You can’t overwrite it by accident. You simply burn it and stick it in a binder or a case and stow it away somewhere. I like to keep mine offsite — it’s easy just to bring new discs to the location and add them to the stash. No back and forth business.

WEAKNESSES

Effervescing Elephants
Creative Commons License photo credit: Dude Crush

The main downside to a DVD is how fragile they can be. The discs are prone to scratches and dings that could ruin all the data (especially the really cheap no-name brands). It’s best to not handle them any more than is necessary. Get a binder, throw them in the sleeves, and don’t take them out unless you need them. Or put them in jewel cases and leave them on the shelf (though this adds considerable cost per disc). Along the same topic of fragility, DVDs will age and go bad after some number of years.

Another issue with the DVD is the capacity. Unless you have a large budget, you’ll likely be using the old 4.7GB discs. You could potentially be splitting up a single photo shoot across multiple discs. If you’re prone to taking a lot of photos like that, you might consider dual layer discs just for the convenience. And once you have a large collection of DVDs, they take up quite a bit of space in comparison to a hard drive (another reason I like the binders or books).

And the last weakness isn’t so much with the DVD, but the person using the DVD backup method. You have to remember to actually do it. You can’t rely on your fancy automated software to pick up a disc, put it in your computer, and make an up-to-date backup. You’ve got to have a schedule, and you’ve got to stick to it.

CONCLUSIONS

If you couldn’t tell by now, I’m a fan of the DVD backup. I would recommend this method to all photographers. It makes for a great primary or secondary backup solution and it’s dirt cheap.

Sure, it’s not as automated as some other methods and it can even be a little tedious, but burning a couple DVDs each week or month is certainly less stressful than losing all your photos in the event of a catastrophe.

PRODUCTS

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How Big is Your Photo Collection?

Keeping on track with the Photo Backup theme, I wanted to pose another question relating to the topic. When we first get into photography, we don’t have a clue how large a photo collection can become (and how quickly too). These photos can burn up every bit of disk space we have, causing us to upgrade our storage space situation.

FOLLOW THIS SERIES OF ARTICLES!
TOC — PHOTO BACKUP GUIDE
BACK — WHEN DISASTER STRIKES
NEXT — WORKING DRIVES

So for this poll, take a peek at your photo archive and see how large it is (just the originals, not all the backups). I’d also be curious to hear in the comments how long you’ve been in photography along with how much disk space you’ve filled in that time.

{democracy:56}

And make sure you check out the results of the last poll “How Many Photo Backups Do You Have?” Most people chimed in at 2 or 3 copies (including the originals), but we had a whopping 10% state that they have no backups! On the other end of the spectrum, one reader mentioned in the comments that they have 8 backups!

Organize – Getting to Grips with Image Management

A note from Brian: This is a special guest post by our friend Neil Creek. I’ve been following his photography and his blog for quite some time, and I’m thrilled to have him share his knowledge of photography with a guest post series here on Epic Edits.

Part 1 – Introduction

Getting to grips with image management

Digital photography’s greatest strength can be a problem. Fast, easy and cheap photos help you to learn faster, and you’re never afraid to waste a shot, but very quickly you can end up with hundreds or thousands of photos. A strategy to sort, store and retrieve your photos is essential if you want to get the most out of them.

In this short series I will discuss my experience handling tens of thousands of images accumulated over more than four years of intense photography. The solutions covered are not perfect, and won’t be ideal for everyone. However, they helped me turn an unmanageable mess of images into an organized archive, from which I can quickly and easily find almost any image I want. There is lots of room for improvement, and I expect to hear some interesting suggestions and techniques from readers who respond to this series of posts. So please don’t take my word as gospel, but instead glean and adapt what knowledge you can to organize your own collection.

FOLLOW THIS SERIES OF ARTICLES!
NEXT — A WAY OF THINKING

What we’ll cover

Photo of photos

I’ll be covering the subject intensively, using my own system as an example, and taking an in-depth look at major issues facing digital photographers, including the following:

  • Step-by-step organization from capture to output
  • Naming conventions for files and directories
  • Metadata management
  • Hardware setup
  • Backup methodology
  • Search and retrieval
  • Suggestions and stories from readers
  • Looking to the future
  • References and resources of interest

How to participate

There’s a wealth of experience in the huge community of photographers but I can only relate my own experience. I would like to make this series as interactive as possible and to get some real brainstorming going, to make it a more useful resource . Working together, we photographers will be able to create a resource that can save hundreds of photographers much time dealing with disorganized images and save anguish by minimizing inevitable losses.

You may want to participate in the following ways:

Organized images
  • Leave a comment below asking a question about image management you would like answered
  • Post a favourite link or the title of a favourite book on the subject
  • Write a case study of your own management system on your blog and post the link here
  • Leave us with a tip or small nugget of wisdom that others might find valuable
  • Write a short account of a horror story where your poor management caused you to lose some images or a valuable job
  • Make a suggestion for an issue to be covered that I haven’t mentioned above

So if there’s anything you’d like to share, please leave a comment or a link below in this posts comments. If I use your contribution in a later post in the series, I’ll fully credit you and link to your site. Of course you will retain full copyright on your submission, but by posting it below you agree to allow me to use it on this site.

This should be interesting! Please look forward to my next post in the series in about a week’s time. See you then!

FOLLOW THIS SERIES OF ARTICLES!
NEXT — A WAY OF THINKING