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Ongoing cost of digital storage.


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I (accidentally) got into the old chestnut digital vs film argument with a comparative stranger today. I pointed out that if all the pictures posted on the Web were to be shot on film, it would use several football pitches worth of film area every day, and use approximately a quarter of the world's mining output of silver per annum. They countered with imagining the amount of electricity it takes to store all those pictures - while pointedly ignoring the fact that all those film pictures would have to be digitised anyway, in order to be posted on the Web. 

All this got me trying to (gu)estimate the yearly energy and financial cost of storing digital pictures. I had to make a few assumptions to arrive at any sort of figure. So feel free to correct or amend those assumptions. 

I Googled the wattage consumed by a 10 Terabyte HDD - 6.8 Watts during read/write cycles says Google, and about 5 Watts idling. That's 6.8*24*365/1000 = 59.57 KWH per annum maximum, and costing around GB £14.90p at current prices. However, that disc could be holding 10 million 1 megabyte JPEG files, and only costing less than 1/6000th of a UK penny per picture per annum. 

That seems to me like a very small cost; compared, say, to archiving 10 million 35mm negatives in a climate-controlled environment. 

OK, those figures and costs get multiplied manifold when considering the number of pictures uploaded to the Internet yearly, but surely the digital archiving/storage solution still has to be more cost-effective and therefore less ecologically damaging, than the film alternative? 

Edited by rodeo_joe1
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If we went back to all analogue, the size of the film that would fit inside an analogue Iphone would be much smaller than 35mm, and use far less silver.  Of course most folks would need 3 tiny rolls of film per phone (one for each lens).

It would far less useful using the phone camera to take a photo of where I parked at the SD zoo.

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24 minutes ago, Ken Katz said:

If we went back to all analogue, the size of the film that would fit inside an analogue Iphone would be much smaller than 35mm, and use far less silver.  Of course most folks would need 3 tiny rolls of film per phone (one for each lens).

It would far less useful using the phone camera to take a photo of where I parked at the SD zoo.

Kodak tried something like that with their disc cameras back in the 1980's and it didn't work out too well.  They lost millions but created a market for small 35 mm P/S cameras that made the Japanese manufacturers lots of money. And you're right, it wasn't very useful if you needed an immediate result.

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Quote

That's 6.8*24*365/1000 = 59.57 KWH per annum maximum

Only if you leave your HDD running 24/7. And if you are doing that, you are using a lot more electricity to run the computer it's attached to.  Some people insist it's better to, but in decades of intensive use of computers (starting with the Apple II), I don't think I have ever encountered a problem arising from turning one off. If you turn it off, the cost of storage is vastly lower than even that.

But to hijack the thread: even the annual consumption of the HDD alone would power my EV roughly 220 miles (354 km). Assuming 87W for a laptop and external drive, that's 2750 miles (4425 km) per year.  

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think there's a little bit of apples to oranges comparison here.  That is, I don't believe that people who shoot film do so with the same wild abandon as digital shooters (mainly due to cost).  I believe film shooters are generally more contemplative before pressing the shutter button.  Also, I've spoken to people who shoot digital who rarely, if ever, delete their photos.  Digital storage is relatively cheap and consumes little space so there's not much incentive to periodically cull the mediocre images from your collection.  Also, the photo storage sites encourage people to automatically upload their images to the web where they can be mined for information (e.g., for targeted advertising).  

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To spin "the ongoing cost of digital storage" thing another way, I pay less than 100.00 per year on a photo host site- Zenfolio. I've been "storing" my photos (digital or otherwise) there for more than a few years now, but the service has fallen WAY off lately. I'm not certain they're going extinct... just yet, but they've stopped all support for their app in IOS, and many of my photo folders, seem to have been "sent" to... some place ("the cloud"?). In any case, most of my photo galleries in the Zenfolio app areMIA- AND having just looked, they are also gone from the website. 

Are photo host sites becoming obsolete?

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The vast majority of images and videos produced now are from smartphone devices, not from stand alone cameras.  Most users store literally thousands of images and videos on their personal devices and most are backed up on cloud storage (like iCloud).   I would guess that there are enormous amount of digital resources being used to store and transmit all these images and especially videos, which take up far, far more recourses than still images. 

That said, we did appreciate the videos of our granddaughter's first steps, so I'm OK with all this.  Latest top of the  line Iphone comes with 256gb of storage, and can be bought with up to 1Tb, and people will find a way to fill it up. 

Edited by Ken Katz
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2 hours ago, Ricochetrider said:

To spin "the ongoing cost of digital storage" thing another way, I pay less than 100.00 per year on a photo host site- Zenfolio. I've been "storing" my photos (digital or otherwise) there for more than a few years now, but the service has fallen WAY off lately. I'm not certain they're going extinct... just yet, but they've stopped all support for their app in IOS, and many of my photo folders, seem to have been "sent" to... some place ("the cloud"?). In any case, most of my photo galleries in the Zenfolio app areMIA- AND having just looked, they are also gone from the website. 

Are photo host sites becoming obsolete?

Given the ever smaller market for prints it wouldn't surprise me if some if these sites go under.  As other posters have mentioned, large new hard drives are cheap and it is easy to have redundant drives so that you're prepared for their inevitable demise,  My important files reside on 3 separate hard drives and I replace each one when they get to about 3/4 full.  I have had a couple of drives fail in the past but have always had enough redundancy to be able to restore my files.

Back to the original post:  while 25 years ago any time you fired up your computer or hard drive somebody was probably burning a lump of coal or some oil to make that possible, increasingly electricity is coming from renewable sources.  That doesn't mean that digital storage is completely benign in an environmental sense, but it probably beats film at this point.

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Early on in my newspaper days I  shot between 20 and 40 rolls of film a week. I did all the darkroom work but wasn’t paying for supplies. At a football game I might get half a dozen keepers on a 36 exposure roll. Now I can shoot frames three times faster and have card space in the camera for 2000+ images. Takes longer to download, lots more to edit and not many more keepers. I once heard a wedding photographer brag on shooting more than 5000 images at a wedding, one of the stupidest things I ever heard. At a very long wedding day I may produce 900 or so images and everyone there was photographed at least once. I didn’t miss anything. Now we have shutters good for 200k+ actuations. And the point is?

 

Rick H.

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13 hours ago, Rick Helmke said:

Early on in my newspaper days I  shot between 20 and 40 rolls of film a week. I did all the darkroom work but wasn’t paying for supplies. At a football game I might get half a dozen keepers on a 36 exposure roll. Now I can shoot frames three times faster and have card space in the camera for 2000+ images. Takes longer to download, lots more to edit and not many more keepers. I once heard a wedding photographer brag on shooting more than 5000 images at a wedding, one of the stupidest things I ever heard. At a very long wedding day I may produce 900 or so images and everyone there was photographed at least once. I didn’t miss anything. Now we have shutters good for 200k+ actuations. And the point is?

 

Rick H.

As with many new technologies, the fact that something is possible doesn't necessarily that it will be a good thing to do.  I would hate to be that wedding photographer or his unlucky  assistant who gets to go through all of those files.  This reminds me of a student I had about 10 years ago who managed to set her camera to low quality JPEG and when directed to shoot 35-40 images for an assignment would shoot 400, and then complain about how long it took to look at and edit her image, which still didn't look very good.  I finally got her camera (a P/S, so no raw) set to highest quality JPEG and got her to stop holding the button down when she was shooting and her results improved. 

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On 6/30/2024 at 11:49 AM, Ricochetrider said:

To spin "the ongoing cost of digital storage" thing another way, I pay less than 100.00 per year on a photo host site- Zenfolio. I've been "storing" my photos (digital or otherwise) there for more than a few years now, but the service has fallen WAY off lately. I'm not certain they're going extinct... just yet, but they've stopped all support for their app in IOS, and many of my photo folders, seem to have been "sent" to... some place ("the cloud"?). In any case, most of my photo galleries in the Zenfolio app areMIA- AND having just looked, they are also gone from the website. 

Are photo host sites becoming obsolete?

I don't rely on a photo site for storage, but I do make extensive use of my Smugmug site. I've seen no signs of their going under (knock on wood). However, it's much more expensive. They no longer have a bare-bones plan; currently, their cheapest plan is "portfolio", which I have. It's currently priced at $246/year.

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Posted (edited)
On 6/18/2024 at 10:19 PM, rodeo_joe1 said:

OK, those figures and costs get multiplied manifold when considering the number of pictures uploaded to the Internet yearly, but surely the digital archiving/storage solution still has to be more cost-effective and therefore less ecologically damaging, than the film alternative?

I have deja-vu, so I have probably commented on this subject before somewhere.

To make a meaningful environmental impact analysis of one of the other, one would have to include more cradle-to-grave data than is possible for mere mortals to collect for a casual forum discussion:

Can one assume the number of photos produced on film would be the same as w. digital if digital didn't exist?

Can we assume the usage life and replacement cycle of a film camera is the same as a digital camera?

Can we assume the impact of the metals and minerals mined for creating a digital camera and a film cameras carries a comparable environmental impact?

Can we assume all or most film is stored under ideal archival conditions, or that digital images follows best archival data distribution practice, for that matter?

What about the continued disposal of old archival storage media when migrating to new discs, and how does that compare over time to the one-time-use of metals and chemical used in film?

etc...

 

 

Edited by Niels - NHSN
Niels
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On 7/2/2024 at 7:40 AM, Niels - NHSN said:

I have deja-vu, so I have probably commented on this subject before somewhere.

To make a meaningful environmental impact analysis of one of the other, one would have to include more cradle-to-grave data than is possible for mere mortals to collect for a casual forum discussion:

Can one assume the number of photos produced on film would be the same as w. digital if digital didn't exist?

Can we assume the usage life and replacement cycle of a film camera is the same as a digital camera?

Can we assume the impact of the metals and minerals mined for creating a digital camera and a film cameras carries a comparable environmental impact?

Can we assume all or most film is stored under ideal archival conditions, or that digital images follows best archival data distribution practice, for that matter?

What about the continued disposal of old archival storage media when migrating to new discs, and how does that compare over time to the one-time-use of metals and chemical used in film?

etc...

 

 

I can only really answer one of these questions... more a response than an answer, I guess: RE: "usage life & replacement cycle of a film camera vs a digital camera"- I have a 1930s film camera that works very well, and I have several digital cameras that are basically junk yet I cant make myself throw them away for some odd reason. My other film cameras are also from the 70s, 90s, and early 2000s as well so there are also many years of producing  film photos for each of them. Maybe thats a point in favor digital storage being the lesser scenario; assuming my mid 1930s camera actually has been producing film photos for 89 or 90 years, and my other film cameras have certainly been making film photos for decades? 

 

 

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17 hours ago, Ricochetrider said:

I can only really answer one of these questions... more a response than an answer, I guess: RE: "usage life & replacement cycle of a film camera vs a digital camera"- I have a 1930s film camera that works very well, and I have several digital cameras that are basically junk yet I cant make myself throw them away for some odd reason. My other film cameras are also from the 70s, 90s, and early 2000s as well so there are also many years of producing  film photos for each of them. Maybe thats a point in favor digital storage being the lesser scenario; assuming my mid 1930s camera actually has been producing film photos for 89 or 90 years, and my other film cameras have certainly been making film photos for decades? 

 

 

But a totally different question from the costs of digital storage.

Hardly surprising that a film camera, which has almost no parts vulnerable to degradation, would last longer. Even when the two have similar parts, they aren't really comparable; we worry about shutter life in digital cameras not because the shutters are not as durable, but because people take orders of magnitude more photos with digital. 

But on that different topic: good luck finding someone who is competent to fix an old film camera. I have a wonderful Canon FTb from 1972 that developed a problem many years ago, when I last used it. I vaguely recall that the metering didn't work right, but I have no recollection whether the shutter needed adjustment or the meter did. Until a few years ago, there was a good local camera repair shop that might have been able to fix it at a reasonable cost. No longer.

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I guess the subject is interesting, but what we (so called serious photographers/professionals, using interchangeable lens still or hybrid cameras), are just but the tiniest tip of the proverbial ice berg in terms of usage of data and physical recourses for digital imaging in the world.  Perhaps the next biggest users of digital resources are the folk making feature films/TV shows/streaming content, producing 10's of thousands of shows and movies per year, processing and editing in the digital medium, and distributing and presenting almost all on digital media.

The bulk of the users are those with smartphones, producing millions of images and videos every day.  The genie is way out of the bottle, and you can't revert back to chemical imaging.  Of course the resources to run AI will likely dwarf all of this in the next few years.

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On 6/28/2024 at 2:16 PM, gary green said:

(snip)

I think there's a little bit of apples to oranges comparison here.  That is, I don't believe that people who shoot film do so with the same wild abandon as digital shooters (mainly due to cost).

(snip)

Maybe it is because I used film for so many years, but I am not quite
that wild in my shooting. 

Well, in the early days of my 35mm camera use, at the same time
as 7th and 8th grade yearbook photography, I bought 100 foot
rolls from Freestyle for $4, including shipping.

I wasn't so worried about the cost, and now have 100's of
pictures from 7th and 8th grade.  More than most now shoot
with digital cameras.

I don't use the "shoot first, ask questions later" method.

 

SR061AA003s.jpg.0fb343ea95b7934972ae28b6e2f32427.jpg

 

OK, this is my 5th grade teacher, taken during class.

(She didn't seem to think that was a strange thing to do.)

Taken with a Canon VI, and probably the Canon 50/2.8,
though later the Xenogon 35/2.8 was my favorite.

This is right after my dad got a Canon Pellix, and so
I was allowed to take the VI to school. He trusted
me to take good care off it.

(I still have it, and it still works.)

-- glen

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On 6/18/2024 at 1:19 PM, rodeo_joe1 said:

(snip)

I Googled the wattage consumed by a 10 Terabyte HDD - 6.8 Watts during read/write cycles says Google, and about 5 Watts idling. That's 6.8*24*365/1000 = 59.57 KWH per annum maximum, and costing around GB £14.90p at current prices. However, that disc could be holding 10 million 1 megabyte JPEG files, and only costing less than 1/6000th of a UK penny per picture per annum. 

(snip)

That is fine if you don't need any back-ups.

But you should add the cost of back-up media, and people
to do the backing up.

 

In the film days, an envelope of negatives usually ended
up in some drawer.  Maybe not the best care, but often
enough they would be found later.

Now, there might be CF or SD cards laying around,
and easily lost.  There is no especially good way to
keep track of them, and many people don't.

There are way too many stories of people selling or
scrapping an old computer, and forgetting to get all
the JPG files off first.  Too easy to forget.

We might upload them to the cloud, somewhere.

Many sites like Shutterfly are supposed to keep
them forever, or at least until they shut down.

I have a network attached (SAN) disk, that I can
access from all the computers in the house.

That one stays on, as I never know when I will
need to access files on it. I sometimes, but maybe
not often enough, make backups of it.

I also usually keep the CF and SD cards, as
another form of back-up.

 

-- glen

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One consideration is the advance of computer technology. Floppy discs, 5.5, 3.5, DVD, Flash Drives.  Not that different than the music world.  As long as you have compatible devices, and they work, so be it.  For actual security you need to stay current.  As a side light, I recently discovered that Nikon stopped making the EN EL 14 so bought a few.  Challenges film cameras rarely faced!

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16 hours ago, glen_h said:

OK, this is my 5th grade teacher, taken during class.

That's a nice available light photo Glen, especially for an 11 year old.  (I'll bet a nickel you had a crush on her.)  :classic_rolleyes:

 

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Posted (edited)
17 hours ago, Bettendorf said:

That's a nice available light photo Glen, especially for an 11 year old.  (I'll bet a nickel you had a crush on her.)  :classic_rolleyes:

 

I don't think so.  I did for a girl in the class, though she might
have been my favorite of elementary school teachers.

Actually, now that you mention it, I might have had a crush
on my brother's kindergarten teacher when I was in 2nd grade.

The classrooms were well lit with fluorescent lamps, and also
one wall that is mostly windows.  And I had the light meter
that goes with the Canon VI, when it still worked.

I have another light meter now, same model, which works
some of the time, especially if you tap on it. 

 

By the time of 7th grade yearbook photography, I was
using Diafine, after I learned about it from my
grandfather.  That give 1200 or 1600 for Tri-X.

(It changed over the years, with different boxes.)

OK, here is another from the class.

 

SR061AA001s.jpg

Edited by glen_h
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-- glen

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WRT the profligate shooting encouraged by digital: I think the debate over whether this is a good or bad thing is irrelevant. Digital photography can't be uninvented, and nobody can suddenly demand that people drastically reduce the number of pictures they take - and post online. And in order to have a fair comparison of film vs digital costs, one must of course assume that the same quantity of images will be taken and stored.

I was simply trying to put the energy-cost of digital image storage - one of the arguments levelled against digital by film proponents - into some sort of perspective. 

Of course HDDs and computers aren't run 24/7 by most private users. I was supposing a worst-case scenario of commercial server storage, i.e. online 'cloud' storage, which must of necessity run continuously. 

The fact that as a society we're consuming ever-increasing amounts of energy and resources is a separate issue and debate. With a multitude of causes, effects and implications that go far beyond the field of photography. 

(Personally, I could happily see all the pictures and videos of cats, dogs and other animals doing 'cute and amusing' things permanently deleted from online storage. Then moving on to advertising and 'influencer' blogs, but that's just my own view.)

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Posted (edited)

Comparing the cost of storing 100 or 1M photos in cloud storage to 100-1M photos in a climate controlled environment… well that is barely skimming the outer edges of the energy costs and the environmental impact. With those imposed limited parameters digital is cheaper of course.

The relevancy? Digital photos per year worldwide in 23 approaching 2 trillion. I’ve seen estimates floated that approximately 3 trillion ‘analogue’ photos have been taken since its inception. But no turning back now, they are both here to stay…
For now, if we care the only reasonable option is for all of us to take steps to lessen our own footprints. I have seen many pragmatic suggestions online on what steps are available for film and digital shooters.

speaking for myself I have always prioritized the image… giving only an occasional thought and shiver to the economics and environmental impact. Now I think I should have given more consideration to what was going on behind the curtain. And I am not off the hook because I never used climate control for my negatives.

Edited by inoneeye

n e y e

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I have a water proof plastic storage tub of hard drives with 25 years or more of shooting. It costs nothing for the shots to be sitting in the tub with hard drives unplugged. Each external drive has a label with some info. Not the most efficient organization and painfully slow accessing files but they are there. Fortunately all folders are dated and most renamed to add a shoot location or event. I also have 5 waterproof plastic storage tubs of printed family photos and film going back generations, some people I don't know, relatives from the past my mother had never gotten around to labeling who these people were. It was on her to do list. She died at 93 a few years ago. 

Photos from my parents...the prints may outlast the hard drives. Certainly easier to look at, open the boxes and look at the ohotos vs hook up the drive and search gigabytes or terabytes of files.  After I am gone will my kids care about the photos. All the money and time spent on little static windows of a moment in the past. Digital vs print...hmmm. I look at my older brother at 76, his wife is gone. He is cleaning out years of accumulated stuff, no kids to pass stuff onto. He is leaving go of many photos after viewing one last time. You can't take it with you. Unless you are a famous historic figure, not many will care who the people were in these photos and at best, just a novel look into a bygone time. Maybe I strayed beyond the point of this thread. It's late here. Goodnight.

Edited by Mark Keefer
Cheers, Mark
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