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Thread: The shortfalls of digital media as a product:::

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    The shortfalls of digital media as a product:::

    I know many business out there offer digital files as a product, whether exclusively or as an option in addition to more tangible goods. As a full time photographic professional I have a vested interest in exploring all the available options when it comes to product delivery. Needless to say, I think about this stuff a lot.

    I had an interesting discussion with a friend just this week. In her younger years she had done some modelling for a prominent (and now deceased) photographer. When the photographer's family were going through the process of sorting through his body of work they came across some beautiful big black and white prints which had been made 30 years earlier of my client. They contacted her and gave her the three prints, which she was thrilled to accept. The prints were perfect, just as the photographer had intended.

    It got me wondering where some of my digital files might be in 30 years and whether any of my clients will experience the same thrill?

    I believe one of the major pitfalls of digital delivery is the fragility of the medium. I would very generously estimate that 99.9% of domestic households have the infrastructure to effectively archive digital media. The vast majority of photographers don't even have such a system in place!

    As a photographer, I love photographic prints. They are timeless and tangible. They last. I know that I have work hanging on my clients walls which will be enjoyed (or sometimes chuckled at) by their grandchildren's grandchildren someday. I am not so confident that my electronic data will still be accessible to the same generation that will enjoy the physical prints created from them.

    In short, I have more faith in the longevity of physical prints than digital files and I want to provide my clients with something of inherent value which transcends the here and now.

    I'd be interested in continuing this discussion with some of the folk here.

    Thoughts?

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    I would counter argue that a film negative or a print will be harder to keep and maintain

    even though having an actual product would def give me more thrills and joy, the knowledge that you cant really emulate a negative or an original printed photo without resorting to scanning can be quite scary

    whereas a digital format can be stored in a variety of places and not just at home

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    Quote Originally Posted by JM Tran View Post
    I would counter argue that a film negative or a print will be harder to keep and maintain
    Not in my experience.

    Quote Originally Posted by JM Tran View Post
    even though having an actual product would def give me more thrills and joy, the knowledge that you cant really emulate a negative or an original printed photo without resorting to scanning can be quite scary
    Why is there any need to emulate something that is already a finished work?

    Quote Originally Posted by JM Tran View Post
    whereas a digital format can be stored in a variety of places and not just at home
    Can you guarantee the digital formats we use today will be readily usable in 100 years?

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    Moderately Underexposed I @ M's Avatar
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    I'm with you all the way on that one Zeke, to me, even printed at A4 on a crappy $80.00 bubble jet a picture has far more depth than on a screen.
    Then when they are done at a proper lab they look even better.
    I still haven't seen a digital photo frame that looked really good, let alone even finding one at 20x30inches.
    Andrew
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zeke View Post
    Not in my experience.


    Why is there any need to emulate something that is already a finished work?


    Can you guarantee the digital formats we use today will be readily usable in 100 years?
    well seeing as you only have 1 COPY of that print, or negative, whereas a digital file can be archived in many places. Sure you can photograph that print, and print it again, but it wont be an original anymore no? I am more so referring to the security issues, such as possessing only 1 negative in the world, for example.

    I cannot guarantee u that, but I can guarantee that there will be backwards compatibility to open/use older or obsolete files and formats.

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    Fair enough.

    I'm not so confident. Thinking about how far technology has progressed in the last 30 years leaves me entirely unconvinced that backwards compatibility is a priority for those who are developing new the new technology.

    In any event, it's not the bottom line in my thinking, it's just one aspect.

    I appreciate the dialogue, tho!

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    Technologies have come a long way, I don't think you can extrapolate the first couple of years into the future, ad infinitum. There's always going to be a spike in advancement in the early stages which may result in loss of compatibility. Everyone is far too invested for half the data in the world to suddenly become unreadable (obviously not just photographers and photos, but it's all the same).

    I'm not convinced about the whole thing anyway. I'm sure if you really wanted to, you could get at pretty much any digital photograph regardless of when it was taken.

    On the other hand, a print isn't just a print as I'm sure you're aware. Quality varies massively. And the life of a print is dependent on any number of factors, from the quality of the paper and/or the inks, the quality of the glass and the framing, the conditions it's kept in... to being dropped when they move house.


    Quote Originally Posted by Zeke View Post
    ...
    I believe one of the major pitfalls of digital delivery is the fragility of the medium. I would very generously estimate that 99.9% of domestic households have the infrastructure to effectively archive digital media. The vast majority of photographers don't even have such a system in place!...
    Think I might be mis-reading this, but are you suggesting that photographers are the anomaly in digital storage capabilities? ie a 'normal' household has the ability to archive the files, but a photographer doesn't?

    EDIT: Is there a 'don't' missing from your OP?

    Quote Originally Posted by Zeke View Post
    In short, I have more faith in the longevity of physical prints than digital files...
    Why? Just an assumption about future compatibility?

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    Quote Originally Posted by James T View Post
    Technologies have come a long way, I don't think you can extrapolate the first couple of years into the future, ad infinitum. There's always going to be a spike in advancement in the early stages which may result in loss of compatibility. Everyone is far too invested for half the data in the world to suddenly become unreadable (obviously not just photographers and photos, but it's all the same)
    .

    True. I wonder at what stage we really are, though? Are we out of the early stages? At what point do we look back and put a time span on digital technology. The data my father has locked away in punch cards is not easily accessed right now!

    As I said, it's not the main thing - it's just a thing.

    Quote Originally Posted by James T View Post
    On the other hand, a print isn't just a print as I'm sure you're aware. Quality varies massively. And the life of a print is dependent on any number of factors, from the quality of the paper and/or the inks, the quality of the glass and the framing, the conditions it's kept in... to being dropped when they move house.
    Absolutely. Longevity requires a commitment from the author to deliver a product that will endure. It also requires a commitment from the purchaser to look after the work. In this way physical prints and digital files are the same. I tend to feel that tangible goods are easier to look after, however. There's some urgency, some immediacy about physical goods. I think most people take better care of their physical goods than they do their digital goods.

    Quote Originally Posted by James T View Post
    Think I might be mis-reading this, but are you suggesting that photographers are the anomaly in digital storage capabilities? ie a 'normal' household has the ability to archive the files, but a photographer doesn't?

    EDIT: Is there a 'don't' missing from your OP?
    Oops! Yes, there is. Perhaps a friendly mod could amend it for me?

    Quote Originally Posted by James T View Post
    Why? Just an assumption about future compatibility?
    Yeah, probably. I'm not nearly conversant enough to make any scientific predictions.

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    Interesting. Recently i spent 2 hours "staffing" the local camera club stand at the Orange Show. (NSW) Whilst there were probably over a hundred people who looked at the prints, only 3 sat and watched the 42inch LCD TV with the digital images playing in a slideshow.
    I deduced that the reason is that people could pick and choose what prints they looked at and for how long. They could analyse why the worked (or didn't) Whereas the digital images you had 8 seconds to look at until the next one and the show loop was some 12 minutes long... (we usually get more digital entries because it easier and cheaper)
    So Zeke i'm with you the longevity of a print is still very strong, although i like the versatility (short term) of the digital image...
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    People don't adequately maintain their digital repositories. There are two levels of format at work with digital - the file structure (e.g. jpeg) and the storage structure (e.g. hard disk, cd-rom etc.) The advantage of the basic digital file is that it can be moved from one storage structure to another - e.g. hard disk to cd rom with no loss of quality. A print can be produced from this digital file that is as good as one produced 5 years ago (or 5 years in the future.) The same cannot be said of physical prints and negatives. (Aside - in 10 years time, do you think there will be an easy way to get copies from any negatives you have now?) Maintaining your digital archive at present is the straightforward act of moving files from your oldest storage media to your newest. If Zeke's father had read the information from his punch cards when cardreaders were available but old, and stored it on a floppy, he could have undertaken the same process to move from floppy to CDrom, and still have access to the data today. The same will apply to photos stored on hard disks or cd roms in 10 years time.

    However, the file structure may change in the future - photoshop CS38 may not read jpegs. There is a fair bet though that photoshop CS20 will and also store to the latest and greatest, so you can maintain a file structure as well.

    But, there is an argument to also print out your images - especially if you want people to browse them in the future. Then, you have the best of all worlds - it is not one or the other.
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    A wise photographer once told me that a photo is only a photo when printed, until then it's just 1's and 0's
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    Alternate thoughts. Zeke as a professional photographer your work is printed and displayed in the homes of clients etc. But go back 30 years....*ZAP*

    Most homes would have a few photos of family/friends etc in frames, maybe a wedding album around the place and most likely a big shoe box full of snaps. Those snaps were in a cupboard, under a bed etc in the house. How is that box of snaps, any different to a hard drive of digital photos? Both are being kept, stored away, but often not even looked at.

    Photography has its place on the walls and in the albums of everyone, but for every photo strategically placed in a loving home, there are probably hundreds in shoe boxes or on hard drives, all over the planet Earth.

    I don't think what you are suggesting is a new phenomena, it is just a different shoe box, that's all.

    Many people have lost their shoe boxes over the years (and their albums) when there are fires etc. In the past people often did not consider having 2 prints and getting Aunt Maude to store the extra copy at her place just in case. In the digital era, we are at least afforded a relatively cheap and easy way to give Aunt Maude a copy (extra external hard-drive), and guess what, its a lot cheaper than having had all those old shoe box prints duplicated in the past (remember film processing has never been as cheap as copying a digital file).

    Yes we have a long way to go, to educate people to make backups and keep one copy off site, but there is nothing new here compared to 30 years ago.
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    I think I was more referring to products we sell as photographers, that's why I posted this discussion in the business section.

    There is undoubtedly shoeboxes/HDD's full of photos all over the place, but they're more likely to be personal snapshots as opposed to works commissioned by a professional.

    I really want to get to the bottom of the why we sell what we sell.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zeke View Post
    I think I was more referring to products we sell as photographers, that's why I posted this discussion in the business section.

    There is undoubtedly shoeboxes/HDD's full of photos all over the place, but they're more likely to be personal snapshots as opposed to works commissioned by a professional.

    I really want to get to the bottom of the why we sell what we sell.
    In the real world (non-photography), I sell what the customer wants to buy.

    Who is your customer? (A publisher? An advertiser? A stock photo agency? A real person who will hang it on their wall?...) What are they asking for? Given the flexibility we now have, I don't think it is up to you to limit your customer.

    If your customers want to buy a digital image, I'd guess it is because they need the flexibility that digital provides in the modern world - it fits into workflows, it has an effectively infinite storage life and lossless copying of the original if managed correctly, it can be repurposed with ease.

    If your customer wants to buy something to hang on the wall (or to hand out or some other physical "photo"), that's what you should be selling them.

    If your customer wants to be able to come back to you in 30 years time, it's up to you to store the originals properly - negative, print, digital file or whatever - using the appropriate technology, and filed in an appropriate manner. If you want your estate to be able to find them, it is up to you to index them and file them appropriately. (I'd personally charge if someone wants me to store an image for them.)

    If it is a negative, or a print, or a digital image, unless filed correctly with identifying details and some indexing method that a third party can follow, it might as well be a shoebox full of holiday snaps when someone else goes to look at it. Your model friend's photo would never have made it back to her after the photographers death unless a) someone in the family recognised her or b) it was properly filed and indexed. It doesn't really matter if it is a shoebox or a hard drive.

    I find it very hard to see what the problem is here. Digital files are just another form of negative - you just can't pick it up.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zeke View Post
    I think I was more referring to products we sell as photographers, that's why I posted this discussion in the business section.

    There is undoubtedly shoeboxes/HDD's full of photos all over the place, but they're more likely to be personal snapshots as opposed to works commissioned by a professional.

    I really want to get to the bottom of the why we sell what we sell.
    But that is just it. You have a commodity that is available at a price. As a professional photographer you do not just shoot weddings, families etc. Product shots for example, do you expect a shot for a catalogue for say a fashion house to keep your photo and have it has pride of place. Generally they use it, sell the product, fashions change and the photo gets relegated to the shoe box.

    You sell what you sell cause it is a commodity and there is a demand for that, at the time. I am sure there are many professionally taken wedding photos that were once pride of place on a family wall, that now are either stored away or destroyed. With divorce rates so high, I am sure many an expensive print is not treated the way it once may have been.

    The idea that a photo can endure is correct, but often the world changes and the person/people you sold it too no longer value it the way they did when you sold it. A photo, whether professionally taken, or not, printed or not, has a value only whilst it is associated with something worthwhile. That can change in an instant, or over a period of time.
    Last edited by ricktas; 13-05-2010 at 10:10pm.

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    You've shared some great insights, there. Thanks. I'm going to chew on them for a bit and get back with something a little more coherent when I've had a chance to mull it over.

    One bit that did jump out to me immediately was the following:

    Quote Originally Posted by farmer_rob View Post
    I don't think it is up to you to limit your customer.
    That's a baffling comment and I strongly disagree. If I run a business, it is absolutely my prerogative what I offer my clients. Do you think it's reasonable for customers to demand KFC sell them Big Macs or pizza and expect their request to be taken seriously?

    Obviously it's prudent to test the market and try to gain an understanding of A. what the market wants, and B. what price the market will bear. We have found that there is a massive market for discerning clients who are happy to purchase prints, despite the incessant chorus of photographers (amateur and professional alike) screaming 'PEOPLE JUST WANT FILES'!

    In any case, I think that most photographers who preach the sale of files do so primarily for reasons other than any sense of sensitivity to what they believe clients want. I think it's just easier.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zeke View Post
    ......

    I believe one of the major pitfalls of digital delivery is the fragility of the medium. I would very generously estimate that 99.9% of domestic households have the infrastructure to effectively archive digital media. The vast majority of photographers don't even have such a system in place!

    ...
    Thsi is where I got toally confused.

    i think you got it the wrong way around!

    Film media(lets call it 'analogue' if you like ) has proven itself not to be as hardy and long lasting as a semi secure digital file could ever be.

    many points as to why this is, and it's more to do with the ease of storage, rather than the 'half life' of the media themselves.

    As Rick said, I know of many folks that have suitcases full of old prints, and some negs, and being of Greek origin, almost every household I know of has a large.. ooops!... very large print of the mum and dad at their wedding, which was approximately 40 odd years ago.

    now I know for a fact that these prints, hanging on a wall somewhere for 40 years have faded to about 1/2 their original colour(as a best case guesstimation) because the smaller prints that my mother has archived in the suitcase is so much more vibrant and vivid in colour(being 45 years old now).

    So while Darren is right, in that an image is not a photo until it's been printed, that print is barely guaranteed to last you less than half your expected lifetime.

    Now imagine you have about 20-30 thousand images you want to keep your greedy little hands on... which method is going to be more practical to 'archive'.
    If you're as tenacious as I am, non digital archival mehtods are not an option!(ever!!)

    While I totally agree that a printed image has so much more 'life'to offer as a viewing experience... as a long term proposition of longevity film, prints, any other non digital media is far elss secure as a display option for full time open air display in a light affected environment.

    As much as the advertising speil sounds great with 200 year archival quality prints.. seriously I just don't believe 'garbage like that until the due proces of time has proven it to be accurate.

    A look back through history will verify that with many millions of important images destroyed or diluted by the ravages of time.
    They have to protected behind special glass casements that eliminate light transmission, and have to be protected by the ravages of human hands, and behind barriers that stand 3or more meters back from the subject itself.

    PROOF! that non didgital media is far more fragile than digital will ever be.

    The way I see it is that, the lure of the visual experience that is film and printed media is imbuing a rose coloured tint to their viewing glasses through which they stop and view the images.
    While the technology that displays digital files has yet to fully mature, or is still too expensive to be within easy reach of the average user, that is simply a matter of time.
    Technology moves so quickly that time is starting to become irrelevant.

    The old adage that time waits for no person, is posibly going to change to technology waits for no person.
    Soon enough we'll be using bio-organic plasma inverted tritium emitting null powered displays that will deliver a viewing experience that will blow print into history forever.
    The person that invented these bio organic displays has almost certainly not been born yet, so until then we just have to wait.

    So without rose coloured glasses the analytical way in which to view it is:

    You have prints and slides hidden in a dark safe place under the bed that no one can see, or you place them proudly on your walls and mantles, so that everyone, including that doctor of death.. UV light can see them, touch them rip them up, squash them, spill Coke all over them.. etc...

    OR!!!! you can safely store them remotely, securely.. 3 times over(or more if you prefer!.. but my 3 copies are more than enough for my purpose) pipe them onto many displays, in different forms, over many fronts across the world and even if you want too... across the entire universe. The point being that digital is always going to be more easily accessible, longer lasting either through lack of wear and tear, or multiple copies of the image.

    As for formats changing over time.. I think it's safe to say that I hope they finally do!

    jpg conversion is the single worst offending culprit to producing badly presented media.
    The sooner they banish it to the scrap heap of technological history, the better.
    I'll be one of the first to reconvert all my files to whatever new standard format is the next best thing.. and as quickly as I can.
    And there's the trick. If a new standard fo format is ever introduced to the general public, do you not then start a conversion program to that new format?

    If Nikon introduces a U-bute new raw format that makes the old NEF format obsolete, do you think that they'll simply drop support for the (now old) NEF format and leave it at that? Without even offering a conversion tool to convert your old NEF's to the new foramt?
    if that's the way you see the future of technology, I think you should have a quick peep back into history which should help you to see the future!

    With a possible few exception of an old format being suddenly unsupported, I think history clearly shows that, if the format was popular in any way, that there's going to be at least one Geek that has the ability to quickly write a computer program to batch convert yoru old files into the new format files. All you'll probably need to do is a few button clicks on yoru computer.

    I have no historical experience with Apple(so I''m totally ignorant about their support system) but my PC history has never seen me left stranded for lack of file support.. EVER!

    If Apple have had a history of dropping support for old file types, then maybe it's time to shoot the General, and not the Messenger!
    PC's are cheaper anyhow.
    If Apple has been good with their support and backward compatibiliy for older file types, then why the anxiety about file type support in a hundred years time?
    If that was everto become an issue, simply use that hundred year old computer for which they were designed to work with. I bet it'll still work.

    A slightly funny story!
    Only recently I had an old PC sitting in a back room here at my place. It was from my mechanic, whom I had given an older Pentium500 machine that I and my ex simply outgrew, but was perfect for him. he uses it and it runs everything he wants it too. As a freebie, it''s perfect for him.
    So I open the case of his old PC, and LOL! at what I found. An even older 286(but with no 5 1/2 inch floppy drive, so it must have ben updated ) I had no mouse for it, and totally covered in a thick layer of dust.. mechanics workshop dust. I downloaded a copy of some Linux Distro that supported an Intel 286 CPU, and apart from no mouse.. it started up perfectly! I'd estimate that the PC is at least 20 years old. No idea.. it went onto the hard rubish a few months ago. Point!?
    A digital file will last a lot longer with much less care for it than any film output ever will, but with a modicum of common sense. It won't ever fade, it's harder to spill drinks over, it can be displayed 24 hours a day for an eternity, and if the disply media dies or fades or gets broken in any manner, you simply exchange the display media. The source file is still going to be safe!
    And if there's ever the threat to the source file, then you have a backup of it, or send a backup of it to your friend.. in Iceland.. in only a few minutes. You can'[t do that with an analogue version of the file. The two week trip will be hazardous, frought with danger, cold freezing film snapping conditions, and through the fiery furnace hell of smoke ash and dust of a volcano eruption....etc.

    At the moment, you're correct.
    A printed file almost always looks better than a digitally displayed image'.
    But for future reference, those old prints will be like looking at old cars.. a great curio, but the newer stuff will be just so much nicer to look at.
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    Ok, so I'll take a 'technical' viewpoint, having had mostly an IT background.

    All digital storage is risky. Why? For a number of reasons. The following is based on experience, research, and Archives Office publications (sorry, no links). The format of the image may always be backwards compatible, but the storage?

    Hard drives: unless they're 'spun up' now and again, the bearings can seize, and this is documented. The hardware interface may also change, making it difficult to reconnect the drive to new technology.
    Optical media - CDs, DVDs etc: they're not a guaranteed storage medium. Each can last between 12 months and 30 years. But will you be able to find such a drive in 30 years, that connects to the same hardware interfaces?
    Tape drives: a reliable method, high density, and longer lasting reliability than optical media.
    USB or such: is the hardware interface going to be available 50 or more years down the track? We're now up to USB3, which does provide backwards compatibility. But IDE (ie hard drives)? New machines support SATA and only support IDE for compatibility. In future, who knows???
    Archival images: these are the GUARANTEED method. Microfiche is the guaranteed option, as it can always be re-scanned. Of course, you might need to accept a little degradation in 50-100 years, but this is how archives are maintained.
    Analogue printed images - as long as they're fixed and on non-acidic material, you can consider these semi-permanent, in the order of a couple hundred years.
    Digitally printed - well, depends on the quality of the inks and what they're printed on. Probably between 5 and 30 years.
    Slides? Again, depends on the 'fixed-ness' of the material, but would be considered similar to microfiche.

    But you have to consider the reason for maintaining an image, and it's value over time. The physical storage conditions are a definite issue as you can imagine. Slides, negatives etc stored at > 25 deg at high humidity will degrade faster than some other media.

    Rick raises good points re the 'value' of photos. Wouldn't it be great if images were easily accessible 'forever'? It is interesting for all sorts to see old photographs - both the content and the processing results. So is your focus set potentially useful historically, personally, documentarily, ...

    I love to see the end results on paper, but do little these days. Do 200 year old tree-paper results have more longevity than 50 year old digital prints or 50 year old digital capture? ABSOLUTELY!!!!!!

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    The shortfalls of digital media as a product:::

    I'm in product marketing, one thing is certain, if you don't listen to your clients and anticipate and adapt to market trends, you will fail. A point of difference is good, a rejection of needs is not

    I recommend you read a book called "blue ocean strategy". Example used is cirque de soleil who took a boring concept such as circus and changed it up


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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    what arthur said, while i was typing mine

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