CD and DVD Quality

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the most appropriate way for me to archive images for long term keeping. In this case the term archive refers to the storage of images in a way where they can be located and accessed, when needed, at some later stage. Image backup is somewhat different. A backup is a regular (e.g. daily) process that places a copy of significant quantities of important data (e.g. image, word document, powerpoint, etc) on an easily accessible device, such as an external hard drive, that’s separate to your computer. Ideally you’d have at least one other external drive to which you’d back up on a regular basis. That drive should be stored in a separate location (work, family or friend’s house) in the event of fire, flood, theft, etc.

Many photographers choose to archive important files on CD and DVD. While I’ve never been a big fan of that approach, I felt it worthwhile doing some basic research into the longevity of these storage devices.

As far as long term keeping of important images on CD and DVD’s are concerned it’s worth considering the following brands:

  • Taiyo Yuden DVD

  • Verbatim DVD

  • MAM-A Gold Archival CD

  • Kodak Gold CD

Though I don’t like to say it the indications are that CD and DVD’s made in Japan, Taiwan or USA are usually the best option.

The type of organic dye used is the key factor in the long term keeping characteristics associated with these devices. Taiyo Yuden use Super Cyanine, Verbatim use Azo dye and MAM-A's Gold Archival CDs use Phthalocyanine dye. Look for these ingredients on the label as they should identify a longer lasting product.

It’s likely that CDs incorporating actual gold (opposed to those that are merely yellowish in color) may last longer than DVDs. However, the reduced capacity of a CD, compared to a DVD, can be a concern when its necessary to archive a large individual job over multiply disks.

Beware of re-writable disks, such as CD-RW, DVD-RW, or DVD+RW. Such media, while providing the opportunity to write data more than once to the same disk, do not offer great long term keeping characteristics.

Interestingly the humble jewel case provides good protection for the CD/DVD as it places the disk in contact with air, rather than sandwiching it directly up against the plastic case. Inert, polypropylene sleeves provide a less bulky option, but with reduced protection against physical damage.

I hope this post has proved to be interesting and informative. I’II write about portable and external hard drives at a later stage.

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Glenn Guy, Blue Sky Photography
Glenn Guy