Don’t lose your digital photos to disc-rot or a hard drive crash. Choose the best archival options. . . . .

Short CD List:
MAM-A Gold Archive
Delkin eFilm Archival Gold
MAM-A Silver Archive
Verbatim DataLifePlus (with Super AZO dyes)
Taiyo Yuden

Short DVD List:
MAM-A Gold Archive
MAM-A Silver Archive
Taiyo Yuden

Short List of External Hard Drives:

It is a terrible feeling to go looking for that prized photo you took three years ago, only to discover the data on the CD-R is gone. The same can be said for a hard drive crash and the resulting loss of unretrievable files. I’ve heard too many sad stories from both friends and strangers that have lost important photos. A couple of days ago I received yet another frantic “What happened to my photos . . . ” email.

If you want your photos to be around 5, 10, 20 or more years from now, you need to back up your photos on the best drives and media. The best current approach to archiving your photos is to use both external hard drives and removable optical media (CD-R and DVD discs). After reading a number of web sites and wading through dozens of pages of government optical media tests and recommendations, here are my suggestions.

Maxtor and Seagate make some of the most reliable external hard drives. Any hard drive can fail, even from one of the more reliable manufacturers, so the best plan is to have two external drives. Archive your best photos to one external drive and have the second external drive mirror the first. Maxtor one touch drives have software that make mirroring a simple process. (While you are at it, think about having another external drive that mirrors your internal hard drives.)

Burn your photos to two archival CD-R or DVD discs. Store one disc on site and the other disc at another location. In the event of a local disaster (think Hurricane Katrina), you will have a set of your photos in another location.

I’ve listed the best CD and DVD discs in order of quality, starting with the best. MAM-A Gold discs are the best for both CDs and DVDs. Delkin eFilm Gold is equal or close in quality. MAM-A Silver comes in second. MAM-A discs are made in the U.S. You can learn more about MAM-A here.

Verbatim DataLifePlus comes in third. Read the labels carefully and make sure you are getting the discs with the Super AZO dyes.

Taiyo Yuden is the only company making CD-R discs in Japan. They are higher in quality and much higher in consistency than the discs that are made in Taiwan, Mexico, and other countries. Taiyo Yuden makes discs for Maxell, Sony, Imation, and other companies, but not all of the discs sold by these companies come from Taiyo Yuden. Just read the label. If it says “Made in Japan”, it was made by Taiyo Yuden.

For short term use, transferring files, and sending photos to publishers, I use less expensive Maxell, Memorex, and other discs. For long term storage I use archival discs plus external hard drives.

A slightly different version of this article appears here, and an article on the use and care of CD-R discs is here.