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  • Mike

Film isn't forever! why you need to digitize and how to protect your memories.

You've heard it said, "take a picture, it'll last longer." For a long time that was true, in fact we have photos well over a hundred years old in the hands of many families. So why should you not keep your photos in protective sleeves like baseball cards and let them sit forever? The answer is you should leave photos in proper acid-free albums to protect them. But what about film in the form of slides and negatives? That's another story and one that a lot of people didn't see coming.

First we have to go back and look at what spawned the idea that film negatives were the best way to store photos. Back in the day scientists working for Kodak published a couple papers saying that their film would last 1000 years if stored properly. What everyone seems to have missed was that the 1000 year number was only for very specific and controlled conditions. The papers actually said that in order to achieve that number the temperature had to be at 30-32F and a humidity of 40%.

The paper went on to state that under typical conditions found in the home film could be expected to last from 20 to 50 years without serious degradation. 50 years ago would put us at 1969, and that's the high end. So if you think your photos from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, are safe, you really need to consider archiving. But how do you do so?

The easiest way is to digitize your negatives with a reputable company that will return your negatives. We offer such a service at ¢ .25 each. This may seem high but we use gloves and hand place every piece of film on a flatbed film scanner so that nothing can scratch or tear the film.

Automated film scanners that use rollers to feed the film through the scanner can create creases or tears in old film since the film if often curled or bent badly and can jam in the feeder.

What to do once you have your film digitized.

Wherever you get your film digitized, there are a couple things you should start doing as soon as you have both your film and digital files back.

Above is a link to what are called 'negative archival storage sheets.' You should totally be storing your negatives in these for several reasons. First, the storage sheets are acid-free. Without getting into the technical, certain plastics can have an acidic layer of chemicals or leech acidic gasses into what they touch. This can cause the chemistry of the film to change, changing the colors or even causing the film itself to break down. The archival sheets also protect the film from moisture and dust by covering the film. Another good thing is that the sheets have binder holes for 3 ring binders. A binder will allow your film to sit completely flat. This can actually reverse over time the curling that is common in film. This also protects your film negatives from physical damage.

So once your negatives are sorted to last as much longer as they can, what about the digital files? I recommend that you invest in at least one USB portable hard drive and make copies of your photos to it. Then I suggest that you put said hard drive with the rest of your photos, or in a safety deposit box, preferably in an air or water tight container. I also suggest that you make an archival copy of your photos on DVDs to provide a second backup.

Suppose you have to evacuate your home. A fire or flood happens. You may lose your photos, but a DVD will still be readable after a flood, and a hard drive can be taken with you as you leave your home, boxes of photos cant. Bugs can't eat a DVD and EMP attacks can't destroy a disk. You are literally protected from all the most common disaster scenarios.

One last point about protecting your digital files. Make sure that you can still access the files every few years. Many computers no longer have DVD drives, and who's to say that USB ports will have changed. Think how few people have the hardware to read a floppy, then think how devastated you would be to not be able to recover your digital files you worked so hard to protect because there isn't a way to read them.

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