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Digital Image Storage

Digital Image Storage
Jim Doty, Jr.

It is a terrible feeling to go looking for that prized photo you took three years ago, only to discover the data on the CD-R is gone. The same can be said for a hard drive crash and the resulting loss of unretrievable files. I've heard too many sad stories from both friends and strangers that have lost important photos. A couple of days ago I received yet another frantic "What happened to my photos?" email.

You don't want to lose your digital photos to disc rot or a hard drive crash.  If you want your photos to be around 5, 10, 20 or more years from now, you need to back up your photos on the best drives and optical media.

A few short years ago, CD-R discs were the best option. DVDs weren't as reliable and hard drives were quite expensive. CD-R discs are still a good option but have limited storage space. Hard drives have come down dramatically in price. Experts now consider DVDs to be more reliable than they were a few years ago.

The best current approach to archiving your photos is to use a two prong approach: (1) external hard drives and (2) removable optical media (CD-R and DVD discs). I've read a number of web sites and waded through dozens of pages of government optical media tests and recommendations (links to some of my sources are here ).  Here are my suggestions.


Copy your photos to external hard drives. Maxtor and Seagate make some of the most reliable external hard drives.  Any hard drive can fail, even from one of the more reliable manufacturers, so the best plan is to have two external drives. Archive your best photos to one external drive and have the second external drive mirror the first. If one of the drives fails, reformat and restore the data from the other drive. Maxtor One Touch drives come with Dantz Retrospect software that makes mirroring a simple "push a button" process. (While you are at it, think about having another external drive to mirror your internal hard drives.)


Burn your photos to at least two identical sets of archival quality CD-R or DVD discs. Store one set on site and the other set at another location. In the event of a local disaster (think Hurricane Katrina), you will have a set of your photos in another location. Don't use rewriteable (RW) drives for archival storage.

Here are the best CD-R and DVD discs in order of quality, starting with the best.

MAM-A Archival Gold discs are the best for both CDs and DVDs. Delkin eFilm Gold is equal or close in quality to the MAM-A Gold discs. 

MAM-A Archival Silver discs comes in second.

MAM-A discs are made in the U.S. You can learn more about MAM-A discs at the manufacturer's site.

Verbatim DataLifePlus discs comes in third. Read the labels carefully and make sure you are getting the discs with the Super AZO dyes.

Taiyo Yuden discs come next. They are the only company making CD-R discs in Japan. They are higher in quality and much higher in consistency than the discs that are made in Taiwan, Mexico, and other countries.  Taiyo Yuden makes discs for Maxell, Sony, Imation, and other companies, but not all of the discs sold by these companies come from Taiyo Yuden. You can tell by the label. If it says "Made in Japan", it was made by Taiyo Yuden. If it was made in another country, it isn't from Taiyo Yuden. I just bought some "Maxell CD-R pro" discs that are "Made in Japan", i.e. by Taiyo Yuden.

For short term use, transferring files, and sending photos to publishers, I use less expensive name brand discs from Maxell, Memorex, and other companies. Don't buy bargain basement discs, even for short term use. Cheap discs can lose data in two years or less.

For long term storage I use gold archival discs plus external hard drives. MAM-A Gold archival CD-R dics are a little less  less than $1 per disc from the Amazon link below (100 for $97 and shipping is free). DVDs are a little less than $2.00 per disc (as of December 2005). Your photos are worth it.

You can save some money (and support this site) by getting your MAM-A and Delkin discs and Maxtor external hard drives from Amazon.com by clicking the links below.  (I stopped at two major computer discount chains yesterday and  their prices were $20 higher than the Amazon price for the 200GB Maxtor drive and $40 higher for the 300GB drive.)

MAM-A and Delkin discs

Maxtor and Seagate USB 2.0 External Hard Drives

December 16, 2005

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