Genealogy: The digital advantage versus film advantage

The digital advantage versus film advantageBy Barry J. Ewell

As I have sought to learn about my ancestors, I’ve been fortunate to travel to some of the areas where my ancestors lived. I have had the opportunity to do on-site research at local courthouses, libraries, genealogical societies, family cemeteries, and long-ago home sites—as well as meet new “cousins.”

These experiences have ranged from half-day excursions to a month-long stay.  I have used the full extent of resources including photocopiers and scanners to digital cameras.  The appropriate tools were dictated by the keeper of the records/situation, fragile one-of-a-kind nature of materials, time available, and the purpose and use of the image.

Defining digital imaging

  • A picture is encoded as a series of numeric values, with each value representing some aspect of a tiny spot in the picture.
  • Images are acquired by scanning–or ‘digitizing’–a printed image.
  • Once digitized, the image is just a series of numbers, and those numbers can be copied by others without any further loss of data.
  • Copies can be copied over and over again as long as the data is transmitted (copied) without error.
  • Digital images may also be transformed, manipulated, and combined in various ways, making them a versatile and convenient format for preserving images.
  • Storage can be in various computer formats, but the most stable and long-term form currently available is CD/DVD.
  • It is currently believed by many that images encoded on DVD/CDs will continue to be available, with absolutely no degradation, a hundred years from now.

The digital advantage versus film advantage

Film cameras have

  • Reoccurring film costs.
  • Processing costs.
  • Wasted shots.
  • Full rolls of film to expose before you can see any of the pictures.
  • Film expiration dates to worry about.
  • Necessity of protective film bags when passing through airport security.
  • Negatives or slides which are easy to scratch and collect dust.

After exposing a roll of film with 24 or 36 pictures

  • You have to reload the film camera.
  • Take the exposed film to be developed.
  • Pick it up and hope you have the pictures you wanted.

Most digital cameras

  •  Record and store photos on some sort of removable media card.
  • Allow you to shoot numerous photos.
  • Easily download images to a computer.
  • Clear the card to be used again.

With a digital camera you can

  • Look at the pictures as soon as you snap.
  • Decide whether they’re good enough to keep.
  • Reshoot (if images aren’t good) before you leave the library or cemetery.
  • Create opportunities. (For example, you can visit relatives, have them pull out their old photo albums and take photos of them on the spot.)