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OCTOBER 4, 2010

Digital photos

There's no debate any more about which is better, digital or analog. Today even the cheapest point and shoot digital camera gives you images as good as or better than its film predecessor.

OK, maybe a handful of purists would argue about image quality, but you could make the same argument comparing 35mm film to 8 x 10 plates.

Boxes of photo prints and negativesIn my book, the biggest improvement is your ability to do something with your images once you've captured them. Digital wins this race hands down. In fact there really is no race at all.

This picture shows just a few of the boxes and envelopes that hold hundreds of traditional photos I've made over the years.

Each box holds 500-1000 photos. The smaller envelopes, 30-40 apiece. So we're looking at maybe 2500 photos, give or take a couple hundred. They take up a good chunk of physical space, but the main problem is shown by the thick layer of dust on the green box. In boxes and envelopes your images are mostly forgotten. Getting at them is a nuisance. Finding something specific, an intimidating if not impossible task.

Iphoto library screen shotThe digital alternative is infinitely better. I use Apple's iPhoto to store and organize my images. I'm happy with it but I suspect there are alternatives that are as good or better. No matter. IPhoto does what I need and more.

I have 10,000 still images and hundreds of videos stored on my computer. I use a small external hard drive for a backup. The two devices together take up no more space than my photo boxes would, and I can double or triple the number of digital images without taking up any more space on my desk.

The best thing is that now I can find and use my images. Notice the blue "albums." I've made photo calendars as gifts and photo books as vacation keepsakes. Photos of family and friends are grouped so I can find them easily, as are graffiti photos and stuff related to Tri-C. I know there are similar things in those boxes and envelopes, but finding them is virtually impossible.

Years ago I talked about this after I'd rummaged through old photos trying to find a particular shot of a bottle of Corona beer I'd taken on a trip to the Bahamas. David Weinberger's book Everything is Miscellaneous explains why digital information (bits) is so much more useful than information stored in physical form (atoms).

In the digital world, more is better. In the world of atoms, probably not. Although I'm sad about their unused potential, I'm happy to be put those boxes of photos back on the shelf to gather more dust. And that reminds me: time to back up my iPhoto library.

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