Good bye, Kodak PhotoCD

It shimmers golden. The words “digital science”, “master disk”, and “Photographic Quality Images” are printed in pitch black on the golden disk and all suggest just: durability, quality, and value. The name Kodak implies experience from one of the pioneers in photography. I am talking about Kodak PhotoCD.

Mark Zanzig

Back in the 1990s, when digital cameras were just a weird fantasy of some photo geeks, the Kodak PhotoCD system promised to be one of the best mediums to archive your images. You tossed over two magazines filled with  slides and paid a small fortune, and you received a nice CD-ROM with all your slides in high-resolution. I own two dozen or so PhotoCDs, some of them filled with very good images. Even when CDs and DVDs became affordable I thought the PhotoCDs were still good for long-term storage of some of my older photos.

Well, I was wrong. Very wrong.

A couple of weeks ago I received the new Photoshop CS5. Like CS3, the software was unable to open Kodak PhotoCD files after installation, but while CS3 came with a nifty little import plug-in (to be found on the content disk in the “Goodies” folder), the new CS5 does not have that little tool, or in fact any of the “Goodies”. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but one of the most expensive (and complete) image post-processing softwares CAN NOT OPEN Kodak PhotoCDs any more. I don’t get it. Couldn’t Adobe just have purchased the import algo from Kodak for a couple of bucks? While I agree that there are probably just very few users of PhotoCD around, it is deeply depressing to see that all your PhotoCDs have turned into a pile of junk overnight.

If you do a search for this problem, you’ll come across very few solutions. What works for me, sort of, is Sandy McGuffog’s free pcdtojpeg tool for Windows. Unfortunately, it is a command line tool which means it is not for the faint hearted. One has to fiddle around with commands entered into a DOS box. No fancy previews, and no batch processing either. But who am I to complain? After all, it does work, even under Windows Vista 64. I should be happy. Now all I have to do is to write a script or something to batch-convert all my image files from the past.

PhotoCD, however, should be a lesson for all of us! The one million Dollar question is: Which format will be universally accessible in the future? Say, in 50 years from now? 100 years? (Not that anyone would be interested, but hey, who knows?). Here’s a list of candidates:

  • RAW – definitely not! We will be lucky if this proprietary format can be opened ten, fifteen years from now.
  • DNG – could be, but it makes me suspicious that the format seems to have undergone a couple of changes in its short life span already.
  • TIFF – probably, because it is an uncompressed image format that has survived since the early days of digital imaging (but it requires lots of storage).
  • JPEG – very likely as it is so popular and can be opened/used by almost any application on any computer.
  • PCD – yeah, Kodak, thank you very much for this one. Definitely not. ;-)

Well, only time will tell.

If after reading this, you still want to know more about Kodak PhotoCD, I’ll point you to Ted Felix’ PhotoCD Page where you can not just find technical information but also some background information on this outdated and obsolete format.

UPDATE 9/7/2010 – I realized I had AcdSee 6.0 installed on my old laptop, and this software not only provides a preview to the images, but it also can do a batch conversion to whatever format you want (and it’s quick, too). Nice.

One Response to “Good bye, Kodak PhotoCD”

  1. Swen Vermeul says:

    Try iPhoto 09. It imports all images on a Kodak PhotoCD at once, using the highest resolution available. Interestingly, Aperture 3 which is the «professional» brother of iPhoto has no such feature!