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Backup Your Images![Next Page - Lighthouses]
January 7, 2006

Digital cameras have really taken off the past couple of years, and I wonder what people are doing with all those image files. I'm guessing most don't bother to copy their files off to CD or DVD unless their hard drive is getting full. I have been asked, "My hard drive failed. How do I get the photos off of there?" I say, "Pull out your backup disk and get them from there," which usually elicits a dirty look. I'm also guessing there are some who don't even attempt to save their files; they delete them after printing them out. I may not have the nicest yard in the neighborhood, but one thing I am obsessive about is backing up my image files. Why bother taking photos if you don't want to preserve them?

Up until 1998, 100Mb Zip disks were adequate for my data backup needs. In 1998 I got my first (bad) digital camera, and also got a 650Mb/74 minute CD burner (newer models are 700Mb/80 minutes) and what I thought was a lifetime supply of blank CDs, a box of 100. That was long before I envisioned buying a camera that made an 8Mb file every time I fired the shutter.

I used some of those CDs to make music mixes. Lately, a couple of those old CDs have stopped playing about three-fourths of the way through, so I decided it would be prudent to copy everything off the data disks of the same vintage before they also failed. I just bought a 320Gb external hard drive, so I have plenty of room for the old stuff. My lifetime supply of CDs ran out in the summer of 2002, so that was the cutoff for "old" in the context of this project. As I feared, my new CD drive had difficulty reading the data off some of the old disks. I still have the old PC and CD burner in my basement, and fortunately the disks could still be read by the drive which made them.

The quality of images produced by digital cameras has come a long way since 1998. A lot of those early shots look almost like paintings, and I don't mean that in a good way. There isn't nearly as much detail as a modern camera can produce. As I copied those old 20th Century images onto my 21st Century hard drive, I came across a few where I wish I'd had one of today's cameras with me. Autumn leaves were as colorful as I've ever seen them on a drive across Massachusetts and New York in 1999. This shot was taken Oct. 16 with a Kodak DC210+ one-megapixel camera on the grounds of the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, NY. This image looks OK small, but at full size the detail is not there. There also was a lens flare from the sun on the right that I was able to crop out.

Cooperstown, 1999.
Cooperstown, October 1999

By 2000, I had upgraded to a Kodak DC290, a two-megapixel model. This was shot hand-held. I tried to brace against a light pole, and most of the rest from the sequence showed motion blur. Even with a few more pixels, the detail in this shot doesn't stand up upon close inspection. I had this image as my laptop wallpaper for quite a while.

Washington Monument, May 2000.
Washington Monument, May 2000

I still had the DC290 the following year during another trip to Washington. With lots of light, this one isn't too bad. I just gave this one the full Photoshop CS treatment, and it shows the color of the setting sun on the marble better than the version previously posted. Not that I want to start futzing around with film again, but I have a shot of the Capitol taken on medium format film that has a lot more detail.

U.S. Capitol, 2001.
U.S. Capitol and daytime Moon, April 2001

If fate ever finds me leaf peeping in Cooperstown or strolling the National Mall at dusk again, I would take another crack at these images with the better equipment I have now. But with family photos of years past, there are no second chances. You can go back and use photo editing software features that weren't available back then. But if you deleted the file, or if you hard drive failed and you didn't have a backup, you won't have that chance.

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