Ex post facto reference: Saving digital photos to floppy disks? (Don’t)

Yesterday on my Search Terms (under my blog stats), I noticed the following question: “can i save my digital pictures to old floppy disks”?

Oh my…where to even begin?

Floppy disk by Giovy.it, on Flickr

Floppy disk by Giovy.it, on Flickr

I’ll tell you the short answer right up front, but not without a little bit of English-language semantic snark:

Can you save your digital photos to old floppy disks? Maybe. It depends on the file size and which old floppy disks (3.5″? 5.25″?) we’re talking about.

But I think the question you really want to ask is: Should you save your  digital photos to old floppy disks? And the answer to that is a resounding NO. No, no, no. No, thanks. No way. Do not want. Even hell to the no. And I’ll tell you why in a minute.

CAN YOU?

But first, let’s assume that for some unfathomable reason you MUST save your digital photos to old floppy disks. (Maybe it’s a scenario like that poster my math teacher used to have where the kid’s “why do I need to know this?” question is being answered by means of some ruffian putting a gun to his head and demanding that he “solve for x” in some equation. But I digress…)

First, let’s talk about what you mean by “old floppy disks”. How “old” are we talking, here? Do you mean “old” style — like, oldschool floppy disks you just bought new at the store (yes, some stores still sell them)? Or are they actually OLD — like, you found vintage ’80s and ’90s floppy disks in a box in your basement? (This plays into my “should you” argument more than “can you”, but it’s still something to clarify.) For the sake of this example (exempli gratia), let’s assume that whatever floppy disks you have, they’re currently in good shape. Somehow.

And are you referring to the 3.5″ floppy disks — the ones we all used in the late ’90s with the hard shell?

floppy disks for breakfast by Blude, on Flickr

floppy disks for breakfast by Blude, on Flickr

Or are we going back even older to the 5.25″ floppy disks — the more-common-in-the-’80s ones that are actually flimsy.

5.25 inch floppy disks by avlxyz, on Flickr

5.25 inch floppy disks by avlxyz, on Flickr

Here’s where “can you” comes into play. The capacity of those “old” floppy disks in most cases is going to be less than 3 MB per disk. Most 3.5″ floppy disks you will run across are going to be 1.44 MB. Most 5.25″ floppy disks are going to be less than that. The capacity can vary even among disks of the same size — I did not even realize how much it can vary until I looked at this chart on Wikipedia’s Floppy Disk article — but if we are talking “old floppy disks,” we are going to be talking small storage capacity compared to what’s available in newer technologies, no matter how you slice it. (For the sake of my sanity, I’m going to assume that the “old floppy disks” we’re talking about are probably the 3.5 inch, 1.44 MB ones, from here on out, because as a child of the ’90s, those are the ones I used most, and those are the ones I tend to find lying around more often than the older 5.25″ ones — although my Dad still has a bunch of them.)

And now let’s think about the file sizes of digital photos today. Obviously, it depends on the number of megapixels your camera is capable of capturing, as well as the quality it is actually set on. All of the cameras I use on a regular basis are 5-6 megapixels, which, according to this chart I found, should yield digital photos that are about 2.5 megabytes each. (And yes, that is about right, judging from the photos saved on my computer. But I’ve linked to the chart in case your camera has a different number of megapixels — which it probably does.)

Okay, so let’s compare: If 1 photo is 2.5 megabytes and 1 floppy disk is 1.44 megabytes, how many photos can you fit on that floppy? The answer is zero. (Well, unless you want to use some kind of file-splitting utility — remember WinRar? — but if you knew how to do that, I’m going to assume you wouldn’t still be trying to save digital photos on floppy disks. No offense.)

Now, sure, if your camera is only 2 megapixels, that’s only going to be about 900 KB (about 0.9 megabytes), so yes, you could fit one onto a floppy disk. Or, if you have scanned some photos at a really low quality — like back in the Day before I knew better and scanned a bunch of photos at 150 dpi, making each 4×6 photo file about 20-80 KB — then, you could probably fit several on a floppy disk (but even then it would only be like 15 files).

Something else to consider in the whole “can you” side of things is the hardware involved.

I’m going to assume that if you’re asking whether you can save digital photos to floppy disks, that you already have a plethora of floppy disks (and trust me, you will need a LOT of them), either from some dusty box in your closet or some (probably also dusty) ones that you bought at the store.

But do you still have a floppy disk drive? Does your current computer still look something like these?

Old Computers: Give Away or Recycle? by kalebdf, on Flickr

Old Computers: Give Away or Recycle? by kalebdf, on Flickr

See how prominently the floppy disk drive was featured in these older computers? That Dell on the right even has it molded right into the case. (We used to have one like that, perhaps that very model. We bought it in 1999.)

But these days, many computers don’t come with floppy disk drives in them anymore. They went out of laptops first (kind of like how a lot of laptops don’t even have CD drives anymore these days). Now you’d be hard-pressed to find a desktop computer that comes with a floppy disk drive.

If you don’t have a working floppy disk drive, you can still buy an external one that connects by USB.

External floppy disk drive by Nicholas Chan, inicholas.net

Photo by Nicholas Chan / NCDN, inicholas.net, via Flickr

I actually have one of these (similar to the one above) for whenever I find a random floppy disk at the house and need to find out what’s on it and whether I want to continue saving the data (in which case I transfer it to another media).

Okay, I think those are all the aspects I wanted to cover in the “can you” analysis.

And so, the answer to “Can you save digital photos to old floppy disks?” is: If you have a perfect storm of actually having digital photos small enough to fit onto whatever size floppy disk you have; if that floppy disk is functional and you have access to the equipment (i.e. floppy drive) necessary to read/write to that floppy disk….then, yes, technically, you can save digital photos (though probably not more than 1 unless they are really low quality) to a floppy disk.

But, more importantly:

SHOULD YOU?

As I said before, the quick and dirty, just-give-me-the-bottom-line-and-spare-me-the-sermon answer is NO. Don’t do it.

If you want the sermon portion, read on. (Haha – who am I kidding? Obviously you are interested in the explanation of things, or you would have quit reading long before now.)

I’ve already mentioned obsolescence. Even the original questioner used the word “old” in his/her query. Floppy disks are old. Even if you bought them new, they are old. They are an old format of media. There is no good reason to cling to them as a solution for storing today’s files. You will have trouble finding them; you will have trouble finding the necessary hardware to access them. Even if you still have the hardware to access them, what about when it stops working? You will have trouble replacing it.

So move on. Move on now. And please jump ahead to today’s storage solutions; don’t meander your way through all the media that came in between floppy disks and today. If you want some advice about today’s storage options, check out my earlier blog post about Saving your digital photos, Part 2: How to do it (6/12/2012).

Another reason why you shouldn’t use floppy disks is, as I have touched on already, the ratio of digital photo file size to the disk’s storage capacity. That is, the size of a single digital photo file is way too close to the maximum storage capacity of a floppy disk. You won’t be able to store very many digital photos on a floppy disk, unless they are (for whatever reason) really low quality. As an example: I went to a wedding the other day. I took over 120 digital photos, all of which are more than 1.44 MB each. Even if I had set the camera down to 2 megapixels – which would be a bad idea in itself but let’s just pretend I went crazy and did it – then I would have files of 0.9 MB each (according to the chart linked above), I would still need one floppy disk for each photo. That’s 120+ floppy disks.

Think about that from a financial and physical storage space standpoint. It doesn’t make sense. It’s going to cost you a fortune to store your all your digital photo files on floppy disks (unless, okay, you already own a bunch, which is probably the real reason you’re asking). AND, they are going to take up a ton of space.

floppies by functoruser, on Flickr

floppies by functoruser, on Flickr

Alternatively, you could store the same 120 photo files — which, at 0.9 MB each, that comes to about 108 MB — on a single CD (with tons of space to spare) for a cost of about $1 or even on something like Dropbox cloud storage for free (you get 2 gigabytes for free).

One more really important thing to consider as to why you shouldn’t still be using floppy disks (for digital photos or anything else) is their tendency to fail – completely and unexpectedly – for no apparent reason. It’s like one day, the disk is perfectly fine, and then the next day, it simply will not read. It’s like it committed suicide without ever seeming depressed or even leaving a note; it gave no warning signs and you had no idea anything was even wrong until it was too late.

(And then, in our anger and frustration, many of us — myself included — had a tendency to do this — am I right?

Death of the floppy disk (42/365) by Rob Hayes., on Flickr

Death of the floppy disk (42/365) by Rob Hayes., on Flickr

I’m not suggesting that other types of media don’t fail. They do. Oh, boy do they ever, sometimes. So you should always have backups (second copies) of things you actually want to protected from loss (again, see my Saving your digital photos entries from June 2012). But floppy disks just seem to be worse about randomly kicking the bucket, compared to most other media I’ve used. CDs, you can see the scratches; hard drives usually start making the “click of death”. Floppy disks tend to…just keel over one day.

Anyway, bottom line is : You really shouldn’t still be trying to use “old floppy disks” for your storage needs, for digital photos or anything else. The reasons for that being (to reiterate):

  • The media is already obsolete;
  • The storage capacity is too small to be useful for most file types these days (or for holding more than a handful of said files); and
  • Floppy disks have  tendency to fail epically without warning (worse than other media I’ve used).

So in answer to the original question: “can i save my digital pictures to old floppy disks”? You might be able to, if all the stars align. But should you? Absolutely not.

And if you have old floppy disks lying around and you are still reluctant to just chuck them in the bin? The only uses I can, in good conscience, recommend for those old floppies involve arts and crafts, such as these lovely examples:

Project 365 #30: 300109 Never Say Die by comedy_nose, on Flickr

Project 365 #30: 300109 Never Say Die by comedy_nose, on Flickr

.

Sunday DIY - Floppy Disk Pen Holder - 5/5 by rintakumpu, on Flickr

Sunday DIY – Floppy Disk Pen Holder – 5/5 by rintakumpu, on Flickr

Have fun!

2 responses to “Ex post facto reference: Saving digital photos to floppy disks? (Don’t)

  1. The only thing you should really be using floppy disks for these days are legacy hardware systems that have no other interface or flashing a bios.
    Even the cameras that used floppy disks as a storage media only took about 10 pictures per disk, and that was at 0.3 megapixels. That may have been great when everyone still had dial-up, but you get better resolution from even the cheapest cell phone camera.

    3.5″, 5.25″, 8″, and ZipDisks all failed without warning at the least opportune time, such as when you have a paper due, or when you absolutely needed that picture ten minutes ago. I do keep a USB floppy drive and a box full of brand new floppies around for the perhaps once every three years I need them, but even that it’s for a serious hardware project.

    The age of floppies is well and truly over. It’s okay to let old technologies fade away, so long as we remember enough to grouse at the next generation about their large files sizes and sloppy coding techniques.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s