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Digital Storage

by James Cook
Film based images are converted to digital form by scanning. The scanning can be done by a service bureau (used to be lab). Or you can purchase your own scanner and digitize images for yourself. Either has its benefits and its disadvantages.

Having your scans done by a service bureau means letting someone else invest in the rapidly changing technology and in high-end scanners that exceed your budget many times over. You also leave it for them to commit the time and effort required to develop the necessary skills for creating high quality scans. The down side is much like having a lab printing your photographs; the results are subject to their interpretation of what you want and the delivery time is pretty much determined by their schedules. By the same token, their equipment in the hands of a skilled operator is likely to provide scans that far surpass the quality of anything you can produce with a desktop scanner.

To do it yourself means you need to buy a scanner that is likely to become old technology within a few years. Then you have to not only put in the time to learn and master the scanning process and associated software, but also the time to do each and every scan. Of course, you get your scans when you want them and looking the way you want them - skill permitting.

If you have scans done by a service bureau you need a medium to physically transport your digitized images. Even doing your own scans requires expandable storage to satisfy the voracious space appetite of images. A film quality scan of a 35mm image requires at least 60 megabytes of storage capacity so you can see that storage requirements mushroom as you accumulate digital images. (Which, by the way, also demonstrates the efficiency and the incredible amount of information stored on a piece of film.)

All of this points to the ultimate problem of digital storage. No matter what you choose as your medium, it will be eventually replaced with another. Our information age is in jeopardy of becoming the lost information age as more and more information gets locked into past technologies. Have you ever tried to find a player for your old 8 track tapes or a turntable that can play 33rpm records? How many photographers have images on SyQuest, Zip, Magneto-Optical or other past formats that can no longer be accessed? Even SCSII hard drives have become tombs for images as computers have moved on to new ways of physically connecting to external hard drives.

It's important to keep an eye on the changes and be sure your images don't get caught in an orphaned medium.

For any images that you really care to preserve for the future, have the digital file recorded on film. It's still your best long term storage solution.

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