Is it dumb to "downgrade" my photo archives?
June 10, 2013 2:42 PM   Subscribe

When digital photography was new, I saved everything at it's highest settings. Now that I currently have nearly 80 gigs of photographs, would it make sense to "downgrade" all of my photos to smaller sizes?

I would consider this mostly to allow iPhoto to run faster and save on storage space, but also because it seems unlikely that I would ever need HUGE copies of all of these photos. The largest I'd ever print any of them would be 8x10. Is this a terrible idea? What am I not considering?

TOO MUCH INFORMATION: My iMac hard drive is failing, so I'm preparing to port everything to a new computer. I work in five separate iPhoto archives (Everything before new Camera, Everything After new Camera, Scanned Slides, Scanned Photos, Scanned Negatives) and I've exported them all out to redundant flash drives, because I'm terribly afraid of losing everything. I'd like to put the first two categories into the same archive, but I don't because it causes iPhoto to run too.damn.slow. So, now that I've done all this (which took literally DAYS to export), I'm starting to wonder if I need all these high-detail photos and if it wouldn't make more sense to just have smaller versions.
posted by ColdChef to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Setting aside that we all have different levels of disposable money - if it's me, I'd look at 80GB and see that as a tiny corner of a terabyte hard drive I can pick up on Amazon for $80 and have a little more piece of mind.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:44 PM on June 10, 2013 [19 favorites]

If you upgrade to Aperture, you can have photos that your library knows about but are stored on external drives....and it's much faster.
posted by Brainy at 2:45 PM on June 10, 2013

Hmm, I have ten years of full size archives in a single iPhoto instance. It is currently about 1.5Tb in size. It does take a minute or so for iPhoto to load them all up, but the latest version is very stable and hasn't crashed on me since I updated to Mountain Lion (earlier versions would crash often if I did too many things too quickly).

80Gb of photos isn't all that much, but I admit I did have to buy a new iMac with a 3Tb drive in it because I was running out of room on the old 2Tb model. I bet once you have faster hardware and more space, moving everything into a single archive should be fine.
posted by mathowie at 2:46 PM on June 10, 2013

2nding Tomorrowful on getting a ~$80 1TB external drive. This doesn't address the Getting iPhoto To Run Faster issue, but you're upgrading to a new computer anyway so that right there should help with speed.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:49 PM on June 10, 2013

because I'm terribly afraid of losing everything.

Based solely on this, I'd say keep the high res versions. Because 50 years from now, your kids will prefer those versions on their 3D-OMATIC while they're stationed on Mars.

Get two 500gig drives, at least, and back up your computer nightly to both.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:50 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

2nding Tomorrowful on getting a ~$80 1TB external drive.

Thirding, but please get two of these drives. Don't put a lifetime of photos on a single hard drive and hope it will never fail. it's inevitable that it will, probably within five years.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:52 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

At the rate technology is changing, there will probably be a good reason to have the highest resolution possible photos in the future (programming your holodeck, etc.). Keep them.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:57 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you're currently running any backup software, I highly recommended SuperDuper! It's simple, creates bootable backups and at $30, it's a steal.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:04 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Printing them at 8x10 will be completely irrelevant in 10 years. How do you'll think they'll look on whatever comes next after 4k resolution displays if you downgrade them? Hard disks are cheap.

Your iPhoto will also likely get a lot less slow on your new computer, especially if it has a solid state disk.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:04 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

It will take you longer to resize them than it will to copy them to a new $100 hard drive. If you're afraid of losing them, buy two external hard drives. Hard drives eventually break down, but if left unpowered they generally don't spontaneously degrade.
posted by GuyZero at 3:07 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm going to go against the trend here, sort of. You may very well be able to downsize the scanned photos. Zoom all the way into the scanned photos, slides, and negatives. Is the physical grain of the film/print larger than the resolution of the scan? (This is pretty common, at least in my personal experience.) If so, you're storing too much data for the actual photo, like converting a low-bitrate MP3 to a lossless format. You may not be gaining any resolution with the higher-dpi scan.
posted by supercres at 3:12 PM on June 10, 2013

Questions about storage arise often in the photo community. The general advice is to save every photo you ever shoot, at full resolution. I tend to dissent. I think we're becoming packrat-ish about digital storage. Yet even coming from that perspective, when I hear you ask pointedly about reducing file sizes and not deleting any of your photos, and since you state that you're "terribly afraid of losing everything," my advice would be the same as everyone else's: Keep what you have.
posted by cribcage at 3:13 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Keep them all full-res. Seconding that 80GB is not all that much. I would buy an SSD hard drive and keep your photo library on it. I have approx 120GB iPhoto library on my Macbook Air, and it is pretty sprightly. SDD is the single best upgrade you can give yourself, performance-wise.

Also, sign up for Backblaze so that you have off-site storage, and do something else to have a complete local duplicate copy as well - whatever system you will use religiously. For me, it is CrashPlan running locally, so it happens in the background, automatically, and never requires active attention by you, other than to check every once in a while to confirm the system is working.

To sum up: don't make short-sighted decisions about your irreplaceable pixels based on what appears to be abnormally sub-par computer performance. Maybe you have slow-spinning hard drives, maybe you need a new machine? But you should expect better performance from iPhoto for an 80GB library than what you are describing.
posted by misterbrandt at 4:05 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I will go with "Both." Archive a copy of everything full-sized, then downgrade the resolution for a set that you will use with iPhoto and such. The archiving is a small, quick, relatively inexpensive step that will not only preserve the highest resolution copies of your pictures for the future, but also serve as a backup.
posted by 1367 at 4:21 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

An additional analogy: think of archiving the high-resolution version of the images as the equivalent of safely storing film negatives. You may never want or need to use them, but if you do (or someone else does) life will be much better for having them available.
posted by 1367 at 4:24 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Buy two 1TB or 2TB external hard drives and keep copies on *both*. 80GB is a trivially cheap amount of storage these days at 4 cents/GB.
posted by thewalrus at 4:34 PM on June 10, 2013

Heh. Coincidentally, I was just tidying up some things in iPhoto and looking at my late 2009 mac mini's specs, wondering if I'll be able to upgrade to Mavericks. I've bumped up the RAM in the mini to 8GB, but even with 129GB of photos and video in iPhoto, I really almost never notice it running too slowly. Yeah, big batch jobs take a few seconds, but it's very rarely frustrating. Once you upgrade your computer, your iPhoto performance will be excellent. Keep all the pixels.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:29 PM on June 10, 2013

Also, for offsite backup, CrashPlan lets you back up to a friend's computer for free, so I have my computer at work set up as a "friend", and I back up all my photos to it.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:35 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't just get two drives. Get a drive, and something like backblaze.

Anyone who doesn't think you need offsite backup hasn't had anything actually shitty happen. And the cloud is the easiest way to do that now.

I've had my computer stolen multiple times directly from my house or a friends house. And the first time it turned out that my flash drive with the files on it was corrupted, and my external hard drive had failed. That covers why you need offsite, and redundant offsite. If you blow a drive your data is toast. If they blow a drive they're running massive RAID arrays and nothing is lost.

Oh, and both times i was robbed they took everything surrounding the computers. If my only backup had been right there, i would have lost everything.

So yea, do backblaze and let them handle incremental constant backups. If your 1 or 2tb drive explodes you just buy another one and restore. I also like backblaze better than stuff like crashplan because in the end, two systems managed by a home user will just not be as reliable as a server run by pros. It's like the difference between having two cars, and having two cars and a bus pass/membership to a black car service(or something similar). They're handling the maintenance and "driving" for you, and they don't just have one extra car reserved for you, but any one vehicle out of an enormous fleet.

Oh and on preview, before you replace your mac(or replace the drive) buy your new drive and do a time machine backup now. Copy all the photos to it separately, but restoring an old mac to a new one with time machine is so awesome. It's the computer equivalent of those moving services that set up everything in your house exactly as it was in the old place by using photos and cataloging. Even the browser will have the same tabs open. It's nuts.
posted by emptythought at 6:40 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Storage is cheap. If you really don't want to spring for hard drive space just burn the archive to a few DVDs. However, I am a pack rat especially digitally. It is easier to buy more space than go through and decide what to save so I just buy more space and save literally everything.

By the way, if your iMac drive is failing, time to upgrade. You can do this yourself if you are mildly handy and it is cheaper than buying a new computer. Of course new computers usually come with way more than 80gigs. So many options here rather than permanently throwing away good data.
posted by caddis at 6:43 PM on June 10, 2013

If money is the issue I would downgrade and use the money to make backups. Backups so much more important than resolution the two issues don’t compare.

I don’t really subscribe to the idea that you’re really going to need those high resolution files later.
1. I never hear people say they wish those old family photos were new high resolution versions instead. Why would they do that in the future? People are instead going out of their way to make new photos look like old ones. Any photos from more than a few years ago are not going to be high resolution anyway, are they going to be worthless?
2. People care about what’s in the photos, not the technical parts. This is a current fetish that a lot of people are wrapped up in. Can you see your dog in the photo? Good enough.
3. There’s a good chance no one will ever look at those pictures again, at least after a certain point. I’ve thrown away piles of family photos no one wanted after someone died. It’s depressing as hell, hard to do, but it’s true. Don’t make your life harder for some theoretical future person who’s going to want specific resolutions. If someone in the future wants to look at them they will just be glad they’re there at all. Even if that future person is you.

All that said, if it’s not any more trouble to keep the high resolution versions, why not? Hard drives are cheap. (Plural)
posted by bongo_x at 7:24 PM on June 10, 2013

Seconding the thought of making sure that you have an off-site copy of your precious stuff. 80GB won't take THAT long to upload to crashplan or something along these lines.
posted by nostrada at 8:26 PM on June 10, 2013

Yes, that would be very dumb. 80 gigs of storage costs nothing. You will regret it later, and if you don't somebody else will! Don't do it!
posted by devnull at 2:23 AM on June 11, 2013

It is not only an issue as to printing. The current trend is toward higher pixel density monitors. Right now most large photo files are downsized to display full screen on even big monitors, although I notice that some of my very old digital photos taken with low megapixel cameras do not fill the screen. With increasing pixel density even today's images may no longer need much if any shrinking to be viewed full screen. Your old files are probably not that big to begin and if you shrink them even more they may look bad on future monitors
posted by caddis at 6:24 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

You get a terabyte of storage on Flickr now, 80 gigs is nothing now.

(I completely filled two 16gb cards shooting a wedding last week...)
posted by brilliantmistake at 11:10 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Keep them. 8x10 is tiny compared to current monitor and TV sizes so it is no longer a relevant reference point. I love playing slide shows in the background on my TV and my digital pictures from the early 2000s look like crap. Everyone said 3-5 megapixels were all you need for 8x10s. In five to ten years when common resolutions are even better you will be glad you saved them.
posted by stp123 at 4:57 PM on June 13, 2013

« Older Alternatives to PagerDuty   |   I am afraid of commitment. Should I get married? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.