What is the archival potential of CF cards? How long do memories on a card persevere? Were cameras any worse in 2000 AD?

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Belinda walked into the studio yesterday holding a CF card in her hand. She handed it to me and told me she'd found it in a desk drawer. She wanted to know if I needed it anymore. I don't think she assumed that there were images on it because we're both pretty good about always backing stuff up. The card was a MicroTech 64 MB (megabyte, not gigabyte) card. Records show that it is one I bought in 1999 for a trip to Madrid for a company called Tivoli (now a subset of IBM).

I expected that a fifteen year old card would be corrupted by now but I stuck it into the card reader and opened up all the files in Preview. The files originated in a Nikon Coolpix 950. It was one of Nikon's swivel body compact digital camera, sporting a whopping 2 megapixels of sensor resolution and a 3X zoom lens. It took four double "A" batteries and its native ISO was around 80.  You can buy one used on Amazon now for about $35. If I remember correctly the cameras costs about $1200 when they were new.

I used that camera as well as a few other Nikon Coolpix swivel body variants do document trade shows back in the very early days of digital, in conjunction with film. The film shots were for posterity and the digital shots for uploads to news sites and web sites.

When I moved on to bigger cameras, like the Kodak DCS 660 and 760's I handed the Nikon 950 to Belinda to use for fun, social picture taking.

The two images above are of me and five year old Ben. We're playing the Pokemon version of Monopoly which nicely combines two of Ben's favorite games.

While the images were taken with direct flash I think the camera did a good job at exposure and it certainly did a good job getting everything in focus. The skin tones are nice and there's enough detail for a decent snapshot.

I guess CF cards are decent medium/long (10 years?) storage devices. I guess I'll figure out a use for this stack of newer Sandisk, high capacity cards sitting in a stack on my desk. The only camera I have left that uses them is the Sony R1 and I think a couple of 32 gig cards will be adequate for that camera for some time to come....


  1. It's not the card that's of greatest interest -- it's the quality of the photo produced by the early Nikon Coolpix. Few of today's built in flashes combined with current sensors would produce anything like the gentle light seen in these. And a lot of the early digital macro shots contributed to photo websites, originating with the split-body Coolpix remain spectacular even now. One helluva camera.

  2. I remember our first digital Olympus C300Z camera, of which I still have some photos here. It used SmartMedia cards, which aren't produced anymore - one of the main reasons to later switch to a Panasonic TZ (travel zoom) camera which had SD cards and of course a much higher resolution (plus that long super-zoom). My wife didn't like that one's colors and noise too much, so shortly after I gave her an E-PL1.

    Anyway - we still have loads of pictures from that first small Olympus camera - we documented Zuleikha's early years with it, and even some trips to Malaysia. Fond memories, and the biggest print we have made from it was slightly over 10 inches wide. It's still beside my wife's bed.

  3. 64 MB - that's huge! I still have some 8 and 16 MB Smart Cards lying around from the Olympus 3 megapixel 3030 I bought in 2000 (and still have the camera - which documented my niece's trip to Tanzania). Maybe I should see a shrink about starting to let things go?


  4. Thanks for those pics of you and Ben. They brought back memories of me and my son (now 25) playing games like that together. All too fleeting.....

  5. Photos like these break my heart, but in a good way. My girls are a decade earlier than your son, so all of my photos from a similar age are on film. But they fulfill the same need, a way to remember special moments that a photo can trigger. It's more than just the image, it's all the memories of that point it time as well as all the other similar moments from that age in their very young lives.

  6. Flash memory has a theoretical limited number of write/erase cycles. some realy old cards were rated at ~ 10,000 cycles. About 1 million cycles today. Reliability also includes phsycal use, environmental, vendor's MTBF figures, and so on. Hard to tell, a specific card could die today or 20 years from now.

    Most likely, lightly used cards kept enviromentaly safe will outlive the reader technology, like having floppies but no drive.

  7. As a parent, its family photos like this we often treasure the most


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