I am wondering if long term storage on blu-ray discs is a good idea or not for photos. Do professional shops that want long term storage use magnetic drives or blu-ray discs? Is there a reason not to use blu-ray discs for photography? Would accessing photos off of a blu-ray disc be faster or the same(i.e. slow) as a DVD? Is this question and its answers identical if I was asking about DVDs?

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    If you already have things on a local RAID, and offsite backups I think you'll be more than fine. (The concern with BluRay would be whether or not you'd be able to find a drive in 50 or 100 years that could read the media) Jun 17, 2011 at 20:08
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    I would say Blu-Ray is a good mid-term storage solution, given that it isn't actually that proven as a long-term storage solution yet. If you truly want good, solid, long-term (i.e. 100 years) storage for your photography...prints are the only way to go. Print several copies, keep em stored in various locations, and get a few hung on the walls of friends and family. Its not exactly storing an original digital file, but there probably isn't a better way to "permanently" preserve your work.
    – jrista
    Jun 18, 2011 at 3:13
  • I would strongly agree with @Jrista, in a more philosophical sense the best storage and preservation is in peoples minds (hearts/consciousness?).
    – Jahaziel
    May 28, 2012 at 4:59
  • One more vote for @jrista comment, once we are talking about time ranges greater that our working lifespan we really can't control what happens to our stuff (aside from creating a company/foundation to do it). May 28, 2012 at 14:35
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    Facebook seems to think so: arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/01/…
    – User
    Sep 15, 2014 at 3:10

9 Answers 9


The simple fact of the matter is that we don't know how good writable Blu-Ray discs are yet -- there isn't sufficient data to say whether or not they'll stand the test of time. Accelerated aging tests can only get you so far. They certainly make a degree of practical sense in terms of cost, shipping, and so forth, but as a long-term solution, right now, you would have to be willing to engage in a rigorous program of periodic disc duplication in order to stave off any potential "bit rot". At least until the medium is proven, or its archival qualities are properly understood. (And I's stick to single-layer, since clouding -- obstructing the deeper layer -- is one of the more probable failure modes.)

Of course, the same can be said for any digital storage medium. Magnetic domains aren't forever either, so periodic rewriting is essential. Then there's always the question of long-term readability -- there was a time when ZIP disks and magneto-optical storage sounded like a good idea, but now we have the problem of sourcing readers for those disks. How long will it be before it becomes the next best thing to impossible to find an interface for an EIDE/PATA hard drive? SCSI? When will SATA be superceded? Or USB? Even file formats change over time, so there's no real guarantee than twenty years down the road your files will still be readable (this will be less of a problem for well-entrenched formats like JPEG or TIFF than with any proprietary format, but you never know).

The advantage to magnetic storage is that the storage capacity of individual drives is much larger than optical disks, so when you need to re-archive (and you will need to) there's a lot less donkey work involved in the process. I'd much rather swap 1TB hard drives than 25GB optical discs any day.

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    Good point about dual layered discs as well as the pains around re-archiving. ZIP disks!! Ah I still have a stack of those somewhere, I hope nothing good is on them!
    – dpollitt
    Jun 17, 2011 at 20:34
  • I think you're relatively safe with USB. That particular standards body makes a Big Deal ^TM about backwards compatibility, which is one of the big reasons USB is now everywhere, and FireWire, is, well, not. I can still plug a USB 1.0 mouse from 15 years ago into a brand new USB 3.0 port and it'll work perfectly. Jun 17, 2011 at 23:11
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    The point is to remember that it's only relative -- there may come a time when another bus (or even a completely wireless protocol) becomes the preferred means of connecting. Then, for a while, new machines will support both conn types, and one day USB will just quietly go away. The trick is to remember to transfer things to the new devices before the old ones go away.
    – user2719
    Jun 17, 2011 at 23:55
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    +1. I had some really bad experiences with CD-R disks several years ago where the reflective surface flaked off. AFAIK, DVDs are pretty much the same. And as Stan said, you will absolutely have to re-archive, if for no other reason than so that you will actually be able to read your archive.
    – Mike
    Jun 18, 2011 at 1:58
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    +1 - I have to agree, especially on your last sentance. If I was using blu-ray, I'd already have a stack of discs instead of a couple of nice, and easy to use, 1TB hard drives that I keep mirrored.
    – Joanne C
    Jun 18, 2011 at 1:59

I would say yes to Blu Ray for a few reason:

  • More cost effective than harddrives when producing multiple backup. I'm not saying its cheaper overall, but if you want to backup in small chunks, you don't have to spend 100s of dollars in one go. You can backup when you need it, instead of accidentally running out of room on a hard disk drive and needing to spend a sizable amount of money to keep backing up.

  • Probably more reliable in the long run. Harddrives are generally more susceptible to weather, magnetics, etc

  • BluRay spec require a hard coating on the disk to prevent scratches.

  • One source, said the expected shelf life of a BluRay disk was around 50 years.

The most obvious problem is usability - its much nicer to just have one disk attached and use it all the time. If this is something you're willing to trade on, BluRay may be for you.

If we're talking about long term archival, the problem is bound to be reading the data off the medium - but the same problem applies for just about any storage. 10 years ago, IDE harddrive was commercially king, but 10 years from now and you'll have trouble finding an easy way to read it either.

  • "One source said the expected shelf life of a BluRay disk was around 50 years." Yeah, but on Tomorrow's World they scratched the life out of a Chariots of Fire CD and it still played fine - try that with today's discs and a consumer CD player! ;) May 31, 2012 at 19:58
  • Afaik, audio CD is PCM encoded, meaning it's just sampled audio wave. When you scratch it you introduce audio glitches which might be audible or not but the song will still play. A data CD is different, you change one bit and it can render the whole thing useless.
    – Davorin
    Mar 28, 2021 at 11:16

I would recommend you to be very careful when backing up to optical disk based media.

  • Test every disk you burn on multiple readers. In the past I found that occasionally a disk could be read on the reader that burned it but not on other readers.
  • Make multiple copies. A single disk might be scratched or in some other way destroyed. A second copy provides redundancy and can be stored in a separate location. Consider that if you store a set of disks in your house and a set of discs at a friend's, then if your house burns down you still have a copy.
  • Test your backups regularly. Regardless of which media you use, make sure that you go back and try to read data from the disks every few years. You don't want to come back in 10 years time and find that all your backups have been destroyed by mold or whatnot.
  • Ideally use multiple backup strategies. Consider keeping a copy on a hard drive that you set up to be made nightly, a copy on a hard drive or disk that you keep at a separate location, and perhaps make use of an internet back up solution like Carbonite or CrashPlan.

Ultimately you need to consider each copy you have as fragile and unreliable. Whether you are storing on an hard disk, optical media or in the cloud, you can not rely on that any individual copy will exist in 10 years time. Prepare accordingly.


This doesn't speak to your exact question, but if you are backing up a lot of files, I would highly recommend creating PArchive parity files for the data you back up.

Basically PArchive files (generally *.par, *.par2 or *.par3) are checksum and parity files. As such, they allow the detection and recovery of files from limited bit-rot, using a mechanism similar to the common RAID-5. Basically, creating par files allows the input files to be somewhat damaged, or truncated, and you can still recover the original files at a later date.

When I archive things for the long term, I create parity files so I can verify the files are intact, and possibly reconstruct them in the future.

The ratio of parity file to original file is variable, depending on how much damage you want to be able to withstand. I typically choose 10%, which for a 10GB file collection means that your parity file is ~1GB. However, it also means you can loose ~1GB of the original file collection to bit-rot, or corruption, and successfully recover it.

Of course, this is only useful in addition to the normal safe-storage practices. Make sure that there is NO place where the failure of a single device/disk/CD will cause you to lose data.

  • Great idea, I didn't think of that for photos before. I've used parity files to recreate things from newsgroups, and they are magical!
    – dpollitt
    May 25, 2012 at 14:00

There is optical media specifically designed for archival purposes. It's available for CD and DVD, but I'm not sure about Blu-ray. This article has some good information.

Personally I go with SATA HDDs. Hard disks have known longevity characteristics, they're quite cheap for reasonable sizes (certainly cheaper per GB than any archival optical media). I think any concerns over obsolecence of the drive interface can be remedied by buying an appropriate adapter at the time when the interface becomes obsolete. Buy a drive a year, and back them up to somewhere online if possible (like Amazon, Mozy, CrashPlan, etc.) A good way to keep the drives in tip-top condition is to plug them in every year or so and run SpinRite in maintenance mode.

Hope that helps.


I would not trust any media that starts with a flat plastic disk and burns bits into it. CD, DVD, Blue-Ray, whatever is next. The track record for CDs and DVDs is bad, they go bad in as few as five years. I don't want to start using a media and finding out that it is as obsolete as a 8 inch floppy.

Plastic disks are also dog slow. Hundreds or thousands of times slower than magnetic disks. And its not clear that they are actually cheaper, with 2TB disks selling for under $100, you don't have to use that many plastic disks before you have spent more than the mag storage.

Two fundamentals:

1) No disk/media is good "long term" if you mean decades or more. You will have to replace it. But with working disks, you can trivially copy your data from the old slow 60GB disks to a new 2TB disk, and then in a few years, copy from the old 2TB disks to whatever 100TB or 2PB disks that are cool then.

2) you need your data/photos in three places. Less than three is not sufficient. And one of the three has to be outside your house/office. Houses burn down. You can use the cloud if you want, but are you sure that Apple or Google will still be in the storage business in 20 years? Are you willing to bet on that?


I recently came to the conclusion that almost none of this is ideal. I would rater put my items in the cloud with someone else doing the backup maintenance.

Here was my dilemma. Just the other day I went to turn on my two external HDD and the newest of the bunch (WD 3TB) refused to be recognized by my computer. I thought it just needed a reboot so unplugged and tried to recognize it again. No luck. Several steps later and frustrations/concern running high I went to Best Buy Geek Squad to try another power cord (hoping that was the problem) and still no luck. According to the Geek Squad employee they try 3 different methods to power on my device and none of them worked; my HDD had an obvious electrical problem.

To retrieve my data from 2 different companies will cost me around $500 minimum; could cost up to $1000 or more. This is just so ridiculous and makes me ticked off more than I can say. Luckily I have some files (maybe all of them) already backed up on different drives or in the cloud.

I know that iCloud has some or most of my videos/music/etc but I have yet to verify which of my items are missing or backed up through the cloud. In addition I have a WD 1TB that has my photos/videos/music/etc that is working fine (for now). Lastly, I have at least 3 other smaller HDD drives that I owned from earlier that I was using as backup and never got rid of the data on them and they still work.

I purchased a Blu-ray burner today with eSata/USB 3.0 connectors and a pack of 15 discs to start out with. I will now put everything on disc, put those in a safe or safe deposit box and in addition I will put everything into the cloud with someone like IronMountain or Mozy.

I hope this helps anyone else with this dilemma as it costs too much money and time to not do it any other way. Thank God for cloud services since they routinely backup to multiple locations and keep your files, etc up to date.

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    What ever you do, NEVER let your data be only in one place. If you only have one disk which contains your data, you are exactly as vulnerable as you were with your one hard drive.
    – Fake Name
    May 25, 2012 at 9:17
  • Frankly, I would not, and do not regard CDs/DVD/Blu-Ray disks as a reliable backup at all, as I had backups on both CD-R and DVD-R that failed after as little as 5 years, even though they were carefully stored. Really, buy two hard drives, put them in RAID-1, and spin them up every few months to make sure they work.
    – Fake Name
    May 25, 2012 at 9:18
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    RAID is not backup. Repeat: NOT backup. RAID is useful and good, but you still need backup. You really need all images in three places. One can be your main computer. Second is another computer on your home/office network (maybe a Drobo), and the third is outside your house. Three, not one. May 26, 2012 at 18:01
  • @PatFarrell, as I read it FakeName is suggesting that the 2-drive RAID-1 set is itself the backup, of original data on another medium.
    – mlp
    May 28, 2012 at 6:24
  • As a follow-up to this one, about 6 months ago I had one of my USB hard drives (WD 2TB) also fail to be recognised, taking all my music files with it. I used a programme called Recuva to get the files back - it's not the prettiest of front ends but it will get your files back. Now I have a RAID1 server backing up up my working files, and DVDs & CDs used for off-site although I'd agree with the other comments about multiple discs and regular checks. May 28, 2012 at 11:54

A blu-ray disk stored properly is preferable to long term storage on hard disks. There are no moving parts on a disc while a hard drive has motors and electronic parts that can fail. Also a hard drive that sits and is rarely used is a disaster waiting to happen. Hard drives a made to spin all the time.

I feel that storing important information such as photos on a blu-ray discs is better than using hard drives. I recommend making two copies and storing them in different places and coping them every 5 - 7 years.


Uhm, I think this question is a bit off-topic, but I doubt anyone will vote to close it for a user with reputation like yours, so I'll try to give an answer.

Blu-ray discs are similar to DVDs when it comes to their life warranty, so the question of the "long term storage" could be answered with "it doesn't matter."

However, blu-ray discs have a lot faster read rate, therefore accessing your photos on them is a lot faster than on the old DVDs.

From the storage point of view, you are still saving just plain bits of data to either of them (DVD or blu-ray), therefore from the technological point of view, blu-ray doesn't offer any higher standard in any way, apart of the aforementioned read speed rate.

If I could recommend, store your photos on magnetic drives, as you called them, but let me call them HDDs. Just buy a new 500 GB or 1 TB sata2 HDD, plug it in to your PC, copy your photos to it and then disconnect it and store it in a safe place. This is the safest way of storing your data. If you want to be extremely cautious, buy 2 HDDs and store the same data on 2 HDDs, both disconnected and stored in a safe place. Plug it/them in to your PC only when you need to read your data back for some reason. This is a lot cheapier way than buying a lot of blu-ray discs, burning data to them and messing with them. HDDs are very cheap today, especially because of the new SSD technology, which you do not really need for storing photos on a disconnected drive as a backup.

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    Photo storage off topic... I'm not asking about burning movies here. Photo archival and storage should be on every photographers mind, if we don't consider the options, our years of dedication will be lost in a few short years.
    – dpollitt
    Jun 17, 2011 at 19:52
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    I wanted to emphasize magnetic drives over SSD drives, because obviously if we could afford it a giant array full of SSD drives would be better long term. Magnetic drives(standard HDDs) are actually a very poor option for long term archival and storage. They are very susceptible to atmospheric changes, magnetic fields, misalignment of parts, and general aging problems. I already store my data on an internal RAID array as well as an offsite backup solution. I am looking at blu-ray as a long term archival option that is above and beyond magnetic options.
    – dpollitt
    Jun 17, 2011 at 19:56
  • Don't get so offended, I wasn't meaning it bad. My point is that this question could be asked in regards for ANY type of data and could be answered best on a site specialised for data storage.
    – Frantisek
    Jun 17, 2011 at 19:58
  • I'm not offended, just arguing my point that archival and its associated options should be on topic for a photography forum. If I goto a data storage site, they aren't going to give me the perspective of other users in the industry such as yourself - that I am looking for.
    – dpollitt
    Jun 17, 2011 at 20:05
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    @dpollitt: Fortunately at photo-SE it takes more than 1 person randomly claiming that something is off topic for it to actually be off topic. Not that you needed the validation, but I'll say it anyway- the question is completely valid and on topic, in my opinion... Jun 17, 2011 at 22:47

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