Modern Photography/Storage media

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In the digital photography age, there are essentially two broad categories of storage media: physical (being storage on a piece of electronic hardware in your personal possession) and remote (being storage elsewhere, such as by a third party). In turn, physical storage can be divided in to flash, optical and magnetic-based storage technologies. Remote storage is also often known as cloud storage, though the two are not necessarily interchangeable terms.

In the earlier period of analog photography, and for those who still practice it, photographs tend to be stored on either a film (negative) or 'developed' as prints (positive). There were also alternative methods utilizing glass plates and other kinds of physical objects as the medium for storage, though these methods are now largely considered historical curiosities rather than realistic modern approaches.

Overview[edit | edit source]

The following table compares the general properties of conventional, local, physical storage with that of remote/cloud storage.

Physical Remote/Cloud
Disaster resistance Poor Strong
Theft resistance Poor Strong
Longevity Good Good
Ease of duplication OK Easy
Cost Low High
Cost mode Single outlay Ongoing
Read speed High Low
Write speed High Low
Backups Manual Automatic
Accessibility Local Internet

Storage technologies[edit | edit source]

Physical[edit | edit source]

Overview[edit | edit source]

The following table compares the general properties of flash, optical and magnetic storage technology.

Magnetic Optical Flash
Developed ~1970s+ ~1980s-1990s 1990s+
Density High Low Medium
Write speed Instant Slow Instant
Rewritable? Yes Rarely Limited
Read speed High OK Very high
Cost Low Low Low
Max size Large Small Medium
Devices Computers Few Cameras/computers
Failure mode Catastrophic Catastrophic Gradual
Environment Cool/dry Cool/dry Many
Moisture resistance Low Low High
Scratch resistance High Low High
Impact resistance Low Medium High

Magnetic storage[edit | edit source]

This is the older standard in computer storage. It is based upon a rotating disc with magnetic read and write heads. Data is stored on to the disc at a specific platter, cylinder and sector. Drives tend to fail catastrophically, but this is made up for by their low cost, relative longevity if not in use, and high market availability. Magnetic storage remains the go-to solution for very high data volumes such as very large photographic or video archives.

Optical storage[edit | edit source]

Optical storage was ushered in to popular consciousness with the CD-ROM technology of the early 1990s. At the time, a single CD could hold about 700MB, which was then considered a large volume of data. Today, we have DVDs which can hold ten times that amount, though for the practical reasons of write speed (manual process, careful setup, uninterrupted operation, need for surrounding physical processes) and limited longevity (most home-burned CD or DVD media does not last for more than a few decades without careful planning) the technology is being largely supplanted by the same magnetic storage it originally successfully competed with. Popular in the 1990s and 2000s as a distribution medium for software and video products, it has now been largely replaced in this regard by online distribution.

Flash storage[edit | edit source]

Flash storage popularly emerged on the market approximately around the end of the 1990s, offering relatively high data density in a small form factor, and due to its lack of moving parts very strong performance under operating environments considered harsh or dangerous to other storage technologies. In addition, read speeds (random or sequential) are very high, and write speeds (random especially, but also sequential) are generally acceptable. Today there are a range of competing form factors for portable flash storage media, such as CF, SD and MMC. In general, high end modern SLR cameras use CF (Compact Flash) cards for their superior write performance, which is critical when high resolution (50 megapixel and above) raw frames need to be written to the media in rapid succession, such as during an event, sport or nature photographer's action-oriented "burst shooting" scenario. Not all cards are equivalent, however, with different types of cards available to match consumer preferences in terms of price and performance. In general, the most critical factor for photographers to consider is write speed. The popularization of flash storage resulted in its translation back to the desktop computing market, where it is known as SSD (solid state disk) technology.

Remote/cloud[edit | edit source]

Remote storage is storage that is located away from your premises, for example on one or more servers on the internet. The great benefit of remote storage is disaster and theft resistance: if your home, office, or place of business is burgled, burns down in a fire, collapses in an earthquake, or is consumed by rising oceans, you will not lose your photographs and other data. The drawbacks of remote storage tend to be cost, the need for a high speed internet connection, and the need for ongoing payment to and trust in the remote storage provider. Cloud storage is a term that became popularized in the second decade of the 21st century and refers to remote storage on vague, third-party operated infrastructure in a storage as a service model. The benefit of such a model tends to be that you pay only for what you use, and pricing is highly competitive versus setting up dedicated infrastructure, though long term costs can be high.