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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Digital vs. film storage...

Although not the newest news, the following is worth repeating (and presages my pending post about Polaroid). The New York Times recently reported on the afterlife and storage of cinema, digitally-born vs. film-based:
To store a digital master record of a movie costs about $12,514 a year, versus the $1,059 it costs to keep a conventional film master. Much worse, to keep the enormous swarm of data produced when a picture is “born digital” — that is, produced using all-electronic processes, rather than relying wholly or partially on film — pushes the cost of preservation to $208,569 a year, vastly higher than the $486 it costs to toss the equivalent camera negatives, audio recordings, on-set photographs and annotated scripts of an all-film production into the cold-storage vault. ...

To begin with, the hardware and storage media — magnetic tapes, disks, whatever — on which a film is encoded are much less enduring than good old film. If not operated occasionally, a hard drive will freeze up in as little as two years. Similarly, DVDs tend to degrade: according to the report, only half of a collection of disks can be expected to last for 15 years, not a reassuring prospect to those who think about centuries. Digital audiotape, it was discovered, tends to hit a “brick wall” when it degrades. While conventional tape becomes scratchy, the digital variety becomes unreadable. ...

For now, studios are saving as much of this digital ephemera as possible, storing it on tapes or drives in vaults not unlike those that house traditional film. But how much of that material will be migrated when technology shifts in 7 or 10 years is anyone’s guess.
Of course, still digital photography will also suffer a similar storage dilemma. Besides massive offsite and online storage, which are only bandaids, are we running headlong into a major preservation disaster?

ABOVE PHOTO: Detail of film and ephemera storage in a salt mine, by Mank999. See his Kansas salt mine storage flickr set here, fascinating!

2 comments:

Lucky 327 said...

oh, this is nerve racking! can't use one large hard-drive because it may crash. can't have a back-up hard drive because after a few years of no use, it'll.. crash. Will this increase the value of ink jet prints as they may last longer then the digital file?

LKB said...

Good point Lucky327 and thanks for your comment.

I think you touch upon the issue that manufacturers (doing what they do, meaning sell things) are not looking at this issue with "century googles" on, as preservationists do. Movie film is still more stable and longer lasting as the people at Home Movie Day point out. They urge us to save our film and not throw it away after converting it to digital (if at all).

If price in our photo world is based on limiting (i.e., editions), then anything that reduces numbers (intentionally or not) will increase the value. Not something hard drive people are likely thinking of!