Monday, May 21, 2018

The Myth that Digital Photography is free

Even if you consider the cost of your camera, lenses and SD cards are a sunk cost, in accounting terms, there will be hidden costs of photo storage. This is like a sustaining capital it gets spent in biggish chunks and is often over looked as an ongoing cost of being a prolific photographer. (Of course if you are proposing to use a cloud service to be your backup this could be a very real monthly cost, see bottom table, once you pass the free enticer levels). Based on my single shopping trip cost estimates (table below) if I elect to go with a 2TB modular backup system, which will give me a few years of photos at my current rates, I will need 3 by 2TB drives for a 3-2-1 backup strategy. Thus each time I upload one of my 16GB SD cards (which only cost in the vicinity of $20-$30 and are reusable) I will used up 16 times 5 cents or $2.40 worth of my backup capacity. I’m intending to carry an additional two archives, one off line here (my air gap, which is re-purposed equipment and thus free for one copy) and a second 2TB to be off site (making my approach cost $3.20 per 16GB full card. These are pretty reasonable cost but they should be considered as you investigate both Backup and Archiving any largish photo collection.

What is the Cost per Gigabyte? This table shows the cost of various Hardware style storage media. I got these cost walking around office works yesterday looking at decent brands (not the cheapest in each category) that I would be happy to buy. Clearly the Portable USB style external Hard Drives (port HD in the table) are best value and currently the 2TB (terabyte) models from Toshiba,Seagate & Western Digital were similarly priced and good value so I bought 2 yesterday, one as a spare the other for my third copy offsite archive.

  number Capacity
Unit CostCost
per GB
CD-R 50 0.74 $30$0.811
port HD 1 1000 $70$0.070
1 2000 $90$0.045
1 3000 $149$0.047
SD Card 1 16 $20$1.250
1 64 $56$0.875
USB Key 1 16 $12$0.750
1 64 $50$0.781
SSD 1 240 249$1.038
1 480 369$0.769

10-15c per GB
5-10c per GB
<5c per GB

The other interesting observation is that the old DVD format still isn’t to far away in terms of cost. I didn’t consider Blu-ray as I don’t have a blu-ray drive. If you don’t want to fork out $100 plus now on a portable Hard Drive and still have that old DVD drive in your computer, DVDs could still be a reasonable option. Oh and don’t forget your time required to make them!


per GB
per Month

Drop Box USD$13.99 $0.019
Google USD$9.99 $0.014
OneDrive USD$5.74 $0.008
Smug Mug USD$3.99 $0.005
Creative Cloud USD$9.99 $0.014
Amazon S3 USD$4.99 $0.007

Ok What about the cost on the cloud? This was very difficult to find a comparative set of number because there are free start-up offers to encourage you, they have very different packages and storage size offer and monthly rates once you pass the free limits. So I have used the 1TB storage capacities, which seems to be the current sweat spot in what most services offer (Smug Mug and Creative Cloud don’t give specific capacities, or I could not find them). The monthly “subscription/rental” are in US Dollars (USD$) because that’s how they are given but I have converted the simple cost per GB per month to Australian Dollars (AUD$) to be comparable with the table above. For these outlays Adobe also give you access to Lightroom & Photoshop, and for $10 per month Microsoft will give you access to the Office 365 suite.

The twist that you need to realise is that the monthly cost is ongoing, whether you fully use the capacity or not (and you seldom will). So even while the prorated cost per GB looks very cheap I haven’t taken time and/or percentage used into account (because it isn’t easy to do properly). For instance I could have saved myself a $90 cost for a second 2TB drive and would have been able to afford about 8 months of the Cheaper Creative Cloud package. After that time the cost of the cloud alternative would be ongoing. A truer comparisons might be to compare the cost over the life of the 2TB drive, which I might assume is 3 years (time taken to fill it) in which case the creative cloud option would be  by 1.4cents by 36 (months) which is closer to 50c per GB. or a total cost of over $360 (36 time $9.99). $90 versus $360plus is really a non contest on a cost basis. So cloud storage cost are “rubbery” to say the least; its the real monthly expenditure you need to consider, that is the real cash flow.

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