We are currently charting out several aspects of our digital preservation process, and as a last effort to get this ever so right, I've decided to ask the broader public for considerations:

In my business we have no timeline, but we work to consider digital archeologists 500+ years in the future. We've been recommended camera equipment from the National Archives: Nikon Z 7 that fit within our budget, but there are no particular guidelines as to what light, settings or other options we should use. Replies from them were "best possible options".

Space is not of any concern, but we would like for the files to be of reasonable size. So far we have landed on NEF + TIFF 16bit for preservation storage, and TIFF 8bit for access with todays technology. We use X-Rite for color correction.

What we haven't really touched on, are settings such as ISO, distance from object, DPI, temperature and possibly a lot more. What EXIF, XMP, IPTC data should we store, what color profiles and so on. We want the best possible outcome with what we have available, when we consider factors such as Machine learning (e.g. image recognition) and digital archeologists in the future?

Another aspect is that to ensure readability (Focus) we use glass on top of the object. Are there considerations here in regard to glass color, is glass the best material for this?

If anyone has any comments or maybe someone with experience from this kind of work can share their thoughts?

  • What do you mean by digital archeologists? Is the data professionally cared for during the centuries, or do you want to prepare for the scenario that someone will discover your hard disks and cd-roms in the future? – Jere Kupari May 1 at 21:48
  • It is an umbrella term we use to cover any possible future reader of the archives we store - both digital and paperform. Since we consider the amount of data in the future to be immense, we assume that readers will have to "dig" to find stuff. – Ole Aldric May 7 at 6:56

I think you maybe asking two separate sets of questions: 1) What are recommended settings and conditions for the best photo and 2) What is the best format to ensure longevity of the digital file?

For 1) it depends on your subject, but otherwise I suggest reading on product shot information or better yet, hire a professional photographer that shoots similar shots for a living. They could recommend the best conditions, lighting, camera settings and other items, which will vary by location, subject, lens, etc. Having an experienced professional, on site, and available to analyze the final images would be a good spend of money and time, and will ensure that you have the best conditions for your subject and location.

As for 2), this represents a significant issue. Not only must you concern yourself with the file and file reading capability, but also the media. 500 years is a significant timeline. Given your timeline, I do not think any file format will be preferred over others. IMHO, likely any of them will be lost to time, forgotten and be unreadable in that timeline.

The Library of Congress (LoC) might be a valuable resource, and perhaps you should consider their approach: They preserve the original as current knowledge advises, and constantly improve their methods over time. They never store and forget. In addition they are constantly updating to the latest storage methods, for example digitally scanning, and also converting those scans to newer formats as time goes on. Most importantly, the LoC also preserves the devices needed to read those artifacts.

Edison invented the phonograph, and recordings sold by his company and others were wildly popular. Many of these earliest recordings are preserved in the LoC. Yet there are likely very few readers of this answer that can listen to the Edison Phonograph recordings, because those were recorded on wax cylinders, not records as we know them. Records did not become popular until they were standardized in the 1940s. So, in less than 100 years, the ability to play the original format had all but disappeared and is rarer still today.

So, picking the most popular format is no guarantee of success. I would recommend picking a non-proprietary format, save and maintain the equipment needed to read and access those files and then put in place processes to maintain other more current formats of the original over time. NEF obviously is proprietary to Nikon, and the specifications of the format are not published. While the TIFF specification is technically owned by Adobe, they allow its use broadly, publish the format openly and it is well supported by software and hardware today. TIFF is included in the LoC recommended format standards. But, your plans should include maintaining a computer or other device capable of reading, displaying and digitally transferring those images for future generations to convert into modern future formats.

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