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Archive 2012 · How long will RAW files be readable?
  
 
David Baldwin
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p.1 #1 · How long will RAW files be readable?


I have transparencies and negatives from nearly 30 years ago that I can stll enjoy. Will my RAW files be supported and therefore be readable in 30 years time? When all the current DSLR bodies have been long consigned to the great camera shop in the sky will my CR2s be readable in Photoshop 2042?


Feb 19, 2012 at 12:43 PM
EB-1
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p.1 #2 · How long will RAW files be readable?


If not then there will be a converter long before then. CR2 and NEF are very popular formats.

BTW, have you seen the fading on negatives from the 70s? It sucks. At least one can make digital copies indefinitely without loss.

EBH



Feb 19, 2012 at 12:54 PM
splathrop
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p.1 #3 · How long will RAW files be readable?


If there were some way to record your images on mud bricks, then you could hope for at least 3,000 years of proved archival storage.

Unfortunately, your question is all too pertinent. There are so many ways for digital archiving to go bad, and digital change moves so quickly, that promises of digital permanence seem foolish. It is a major problem. Even paper offers better proof of permanence than anything digital storage can now offer. So for your best images, printing them out using archival pigments and acid-free cotton paper, then storing them properly, is probably your current best hope of letting someone see them 300 years hence.

One possibility that might be interesting, maybe even commercially, would be some variation of the earlier manifestations of the analog technicolor process, where color images were rendered onto three strips of black and white film, one for each primary color. Because of the inherent stability of silver oxide emulsion, that process offers the prospect of very long-lived archival color, maybe limited only by the durability of the substrate. Silver oxide on mud brick might really get the job done. I haven't heard that anyone is proposing to do it though.



Feb 19, 2012 at 01:23 PM
mhayes5254
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p.1 #4 · How long will RAW files be readable?


What EBH said should be true. Perhaps a safer alternative is JPEG. It has the advantage that it contains your proceed version of the image in final form but of course has limited reprocessing options. In my case I am using LR. I need LR to read the file (or some other RAW processor) but I also need the info in the LR library to output the image in final form. I should export JPEGS when I am done processing a set, but generally do not. It is my plan to save both the RAW and JPEG out of LR.

I have family prints that are over 120 years old. Yes they are faded but I only need to open the album to look at them. When I am gone (not soon presumably ), my family cannot see any of my images unless they understand Lightroom. Migration to new hardware/file formats is a new reality.

As splathrop said, physical media has a proven history. Yes they can fade, burn, get lost, etc but saving them is a passive process. Although FM members are probably better at backing up. I bet 99% of people never back up anything. Millions of point and shoot images are currently taken every day. How many of them will be around 100+ years from now.



Feb 19, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Monito
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p.1 #5 · How long will RAW files be readable?


Don't worry, if you do two things:

1) Proper backups, meaning three copies of each file (one on each of three different drives) with one copy off-site. Bare drives are the cheapest and most efficient way to go.

2) Active archiving / backup (technically two slightly different things). The key is to migrate your files to ever larger more capacious media and decommission old media or bundle it up securely "just in case".

Do that, and you will be more secure than your single copy negatives and slides.

There are several reasons you do not have to worry about readability of Raws (with regard to software):

1) The major companies are very stable.

2) There is third party and open source third party converter software to read them: Adobe and dcRaw, respectively. That means it will migrate with processors and operating systems.

3) If at some distant decade in the future it is deemed that all software to read the Raws is not worth supporting by anyone, there will be a period of a decade or more where old machines are still around and files can be converted. After that, it will still be convertible for decades, but at increasing cost.

During that decade (say in the 2080s), you will still have your super duper 300 GHz 256 core computer which will have already converted the files for you overnight, just in case you might ask for it.

So, by now you should be thoroughly reassured and ready to devote worry cycles to things that really need worrying about, like where to go to make your next set of photographs.



Feb 19, 2012 at 02:11 PM
eilerjc
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p.1 #6 · How long will RAW files be readable?


30 years ago == 1982. So while the media(5 1/4 floppy) commonly used for storing data is getting hard to use, most of the data itself can easily be used. Autocad files have been around since the early 80s and there is no problem opening them.

Although the best way to ensure you'll be able to use your raw files is to push for Canon to publicly document their format, or convert everything to DNG (still a raw format). Adobe based DNG on the ISO standards and also provides a complete spec on the data format. http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/extend.displayTab2.html

The only disadvantage of DNG that I've found is that, last time I looked, Canon software like DPP doesn't support it.



Feb 19, 2012 at 03:54 PM
15Bit
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p.1 #7 · How long will RAW files be readable?


In terms of software i am not too worried. There are already freeware RAW converters available, and of course it is possible to save things out in jpg, png and what have you, all of which will be supported long after we are dead.

One thing which does worry me a little is my ability to open my LR catalogue, or my photoshop files. Currently LR is code activated, so i should in theory be able to open my data in the future on any computer that i can install LR on (and with virtual machines that should be just about any). Photoshop requires online activation, and in the new Adobe model, an ongoing subscription. This inherently limits your future access to your files - if Adobe goes out of business or you don't continue to subscribe, you might lose everything saved in the proprietary formats.

In terms of data storage, there is a challenge there. Consider that we all shoot vastly more on digital than we ever did on film. And those who did shoot a lot of film (professionals generally) and made a lot of prints may have had professional help with archiving and indexing. Now we all shoot thousands of images per year, but many of us are making it up as we go along in terms of archiving and organising. Organising files on the computer in a way that is easily understood and accessed by my descendents is then a concern i have. Maintaining the integrity and coherency of that data is another.



Feb 19, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Photon
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p.1 #8 · How long will RAW files be readable?


Also (and this is not meant to disparage any of the good points above about how to back up and archive, and how to make digital readability easy), if we create anything that has great value for our descendants, they will be willing to expend considerable effort to retrieve and/or preserve it. Still, I always try to make clear to my portrait and event clients the advantages of having prints. There's nothing like looking at something hanging on the wall, or pulling out a book and opening it in your lap.


Feb 19, 2012 at 05:02 PM
AJSJones
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p.1 #9 · How long will RAW files be readable?


That might be a good use for the cloud - if the company responsible had a good redundancy and migration record!


Feb 19, 2012 at 05:33 PM
robstein
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p.1 #10 · How long will RAW files be readable?


I don't recall the place - but there is at least one place that will put your digital images on film/slides, so you have a real media that lasts (depending on storage)

There is no way to know - I agree with the earlier points of access BUT RAW files are different..... especially with some brands hiding stuff or scrambling information to make it harder outside their tool sets.

I don't see DNG as a solution for that.... just another format been pushed by Adobe to me (yeah I know it's theoretically "open" but we all know know open formats pushed by 1 vendor go in the long term).



Feb 19, 2012 at 05:53 PM
 

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scalesusa
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p.1 #11 · How long will RAW files be readable?


Lightroom still reads my 1995 raw images in tif from my Kodak DCS 420. However, many image editors will not read the old tif files.

I have B&W negatives that my dad took in the 1940's from a ordinary camera that are excellent. Color ones from the 1950's have faded away, and Polaroid from the 1960's is horrible.

Right now, DNG looks to be the best, being a open standard, it no longer depends on Adobe for its existence. The main advantage is that photo editors do not need to save processing info for the hundreds of raw formats out there, and even more are coming.




Feb 19, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Gochugogi
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p.1 #12 · How long will RAW files be readable?


Most of my color Negs and slides from the 1970s and 80 are horrid. Luckily I scanned the best ones on a Nikon LS1000 in the 90s. Family B&W and kodachromes are nearly perfect although much older. For digital, I prefer to convert to TIFF after processing tweaks. It's a more universal format than DNG and more robust than jpeg.


Feb 19, 2012 at 07:21 PM
harrygilbert
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p.1 #13 · How long will RAW files be readable?




Except for Canon, whose latest version of DPP will not allow adjustment of RAW files (as RAW, only minimum adjustment as TIF) taken by my Pro1. And has formally dropped support for my 5D (still works, but EOS Utility won't recognize the camera when plugged in as earlier versions used to do).

Hewlett-Packard refused to update drivers for it's S-20 film scanner between XP SP-2 and SP-3, rendering a perfectly usable film scanner inoperable.

And how much longer will Adobe make DNG converter available?

Decades? Heck, PCs today are technically obsolete after 6 months, and often functionally obsolete after 2 years as interfaces, peripherals,
...Show more

I've already run into newer PCs dropping support for parallel, series, and SCSI ports (my older tape drives), and hard drive interfaces older than SATA.

On the other hand, I still have hundreds of pages of color negatives and slides that I can scan in and process digitally, not to mention thousands of black & white prints -- some dating to the 1900s.





Feb 20, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Arun Gupta
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p.1 #14 · How long will RAW files be readable?


Are the RAW file formats for the various cameras in the public domain?

Wiki on the RAW file problem:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raw_image_format#Standardization




Feb 20, 2012 at 02:17 AM
kakomu
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p.1 #15 · How long will RAW files be readable?


The good news is that most of the RAW formats are based off of TIFF, which is a fairly wide-spread image format. This means that whatever reverse engineering is required will be minimal. Note the descriptions here.

Historically, the problem with support and data has rarely been due to an inability to decode. The inability to decode something has mostly been a problem with poorly supported software or highly proprietary software (e.g. custom video codecs, custom graphics engines, in-house software, old DRM systems, etc). Otherwise, decoding widely used software has rarely been a problem. There is a vast amount of information on camera raw, so decoding raw images will probably not be a problem any time in the near future.

Of course, if the tides are changing, use your old software to make lossless conversions to wider used formats (e.g. tiff, DNG or whatever the next best thing is at the time). Your copy of DPP/Photoshop/Lightroom isn't going to disappear in a cloud of dust.



Feb 20, 2012 at 03:37 AM
EB-1
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p.1 #16 · How long will RAW files be readable?


I'm sure for the technically challenged in the future there will be professionals willing to process whatever old files for a fee.

EBH



Feb 20, 2012 at 03:40 AM
nathanlake
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p.1 #17 · How long will RAW files be readable?


I have to disagree with those claiming that digital storage is not permanent. It certainly can be if done correctly. No, there is no media currently available that will last hundreds of years, but the correct way to plan for very long term storage of images is not to put an image on a piece of media and let it sit there forever. Record your images on some type of media a(preferably with redundancy) and well before the life expectancy of the media is reached you copy it onto new media.The copy process ensures that the new copy is truly identical and you have extended the life of the image. If and when we see the end of support for the RAW file formats, that copy process will need to include a conversion that moves your images to whatever format we evolve to.

I am in the process of working out a plan to convert my CR2 files to Adobe's DNG since they have stated continued support for that which may very well outlast CR2. Don't need to do this immediately, but am working on a plan.


Do you really think that Getty has their millions of images just sitting static on a drive, tape or DVD? They have a very formalized rotation plan for archiving.



Edited on Feb 20, 2012 at 04:09 AM · View previous versions



Feb 20, 2012 at 04:03 AM
kakomu
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p.1 #18 · How long will RAW files be readable?


nathanlake wrote:
Do you really think that Getty has their millions of images just sitting static on a drive, tape or DVD? They have a very formalized rotation plan for archiving.


I bet they use tape for archived backup. DVDs are too slow.



Feb 20, 2012 at 04:04 AM
nathanlake
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p.1 #19 · How long will RAW files be readable?


kakomu wrote:
I bet they use tape for archived backup. DVDs are too slow.



I used to work for Legato Systems, a backup and recovery vendor. Most major companies still backup to tape, but their archives are not on tape. They are using a rotation process onto harddrives in most cases. They realize there is no permanence to the media, only the image.



Feb 20, 2012 at 04:09 AM
nathanlake
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p.1 #20 · How long will RAW files be readable?


Let's look at a system that is simple enough to have in your home and could essentially give an unlimited life span to your images.

I have a SAN (Storage Area Network). This is simply a secondary network that is not directly attached to the outside world. In my main workstation I have two network cards. One hooks into my main network (with other workstations and an internet connection). The other attaches to the SAN. On the SAN I have two devices. One is a NAS (Netwok Attached Storage) device. It has 4x4TB drives in a RAID 5 configuration (planning on expanding and going to RAID 6 pretty soon). The other is a tape drive for backup of the NAS.

All my images are on the NAS device. Every week (sometimes more often) I do an incremental backup of the NAS (backs up images added since the last backup). Once every 3 months I do a full backup and that allows me to dump the incrementals from the prior weeks. The tapes are stored off site. I am thinking about replacing the tape with a second NAS in a different location. Have not decided about that yet.

Every 6 months I replace one of the drives in the NAS box. They are hot swappable so I pull one out, put a new one in, and the NAS rebuilds it. That means every two years all drives are replaced. If a drive goes bad in between planned swaps, the NAS diagnostics detects that and notifies me. That drive gets replaced immediately. That has happened twice in the past 8 years.


This may sound expensive, but it really isn't. Most motherboards have two network cards in them. Drives are cheap. The most expensive thing is a good tape drive and the tapes. Thus my thoughts about getting rid of them.



Feb 20, 2012 at 04:25 AM
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