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Survival of electronic image storage

The demise of classical photography by the general public is mostly unrelated to the weaknesses or chemical instability of the photographic process, but instead to the ability to have electronically recorded storage systems with CCD cameras. Less obvious is that film photography required many skills in actually taking pictures with the correct exposure and focus, plus a major skill in the film processing, since any error at that stage was irreversible. Similarly, editing and printing of the film images needed highly professional methods, which meant a poor photograph remained a poor photograph for ever.

This contrasts with images taken and stored electronically. Because of the potentially immense and lucrative market, the number of CCD pixels that define an image has increased remarkably fast and, even more surprisingly, the price per camera has fallen steeply. This has been matched by great improvements in the quality of the lenses, even on mobile phones. The advantages of a modern CCD camera are very obvious: they include compactness, good colour fidelity, high resolution, high speed, time lapse, an enormous number of pictures stored in the inbuilt memory, plus the ability to instantly review the attempt and, if necessary, take another picture. Video and high-speed action shots, short bursts of images, plus electronic auto-focus and anti-shake features all add up to a camera package that, for the general user, is far more convenient and superior to silver halide photography.

There are further advantages that with subsequent processing of the digital image, it is easier to change colour balance, or edit pictures to modify them. Critically, the changes can be made on electronic copies, so the original is still available. Professional photographers will still find some preferable features of the photographic process, but even they will routinely use electronic CCD cameras, not least as modern detectors can have more than 30 megapixels. This gives a resolution formerly obtainable only on high-grade film.

The one-generation pattern is again evident, as within less than, say, 10 years of high-definition CCD cameras appearing, their sales are falling, as most snapshot photos are now taken on mobile phones. They are instant and the pictures can be immediately sent to friends and, as predicted by my survival ‘law’, viewed once and never seen again, or erased within hours.

In my own photographic and CCD records, I am a typical camera user:

1 progressed from film through several generations of CCD camera. The earlier CCD quality now looks so poor that I have deleted many of the images. Equally, of the later ones that I have kept, there is an overload of pictures on my storage system, so rather than having a few special photos of key events in my life that I might revisit, I have hundreds of images of minimal long-term interest, so I look at all of them far less. In terms of information survival, the average picture lifetime and viewing has rapidly fallen. This is precisely the message of this chapter. More means less.

The mobile phone cameras extend the pattern. Users of mobile phone cameras are not extreme if they take 30 pictures per day when with friends, which equates to around 10,000 pictures per year. If they receive an equivalent number from their friends, and spend as little as

2 minutes or so per picture in terms of taking, sending, receiving, and viewing, then this is consuming an hour per day of their waking life. Phrased differently, it suggests that many CCD pictures have a viewing lifetime of minutes, at most. The associated negative factor is that they are clogging the Internet and mobile phone signal capacity.

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