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How Long do Slides Last?

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By Christian Roemer

With digitization, longevity is the name of the game. Obsolescence is the enemy. With every year that passes, your memories become more and more fragile. VHS tapes lose their magnetism, photos grow mold, mildew, or fade, and your slide projector stopped working years ago.

Ok, the last part is a joke, but it also shows the problem with our memories. Most of us think that because we can hold a tape or a disk, it’ll last forever.
Sadly that’s not true, and if you read our blog often, you already know that the lifespan for most of those formats is way shorter than we want to believe. Heck, VHS tapes can go bad after about 35 years. If we do the math, that means that tapes from the mid 1980s might be close to the end of their lives!

 

That’s important to keep in mind. Even though we can touch those memories, they’re still not going to be around when the earth eventually gets swallowed by the sun in a few million years.


Slides are no exception. Even though they seem pretty hardy, slides can actually have a surprisingly short lifespan. Depending on the manufacturer of the slides--some are better than others--slides can last anywhere between 25 to 200 years. 


That’s a big time frame, I know. The problem is there are so many variables that can affect a slide’s longevity that’s it’s practically impossible to predict accurately. Like I mentioned earlier, the slides’ manufacturer matters. Another thing to consider is that, every time you look at a slide through a projector, the slide gets damaged a little bit. Additionally, how and in what you store the slides can also impact how long they live.


Which all leads to this very non-answer: slides can last a long time, or they could be on their last legs. It’s hard to tell exactly where your slides are in their life journey, and there aren’t always easy tell-tale signs for you to determine their state yourself.


That’s why, to be safe, the best thing that you can do for your slides is to get them digitized as soon as possible A slide is only really worth something if you can look at the picture on it, and if looking at it damages it, you’re not really setting yourself up for long-term success.


Instead, if you get your slides digitized, you can think of the slides themselves as physical backups of your digital pictures. Additionally, you’ll have many more ways to look at those pictures. You can broadcast them on your TV if you have a smart device, you can get a digital picture frame, or you can get those digital versions printed at most pharmacies.


With slides, all you can do is put them in a projector, and like I quipped earlier, there’s a good chance that your projector doesn’t work anymore. Even if it does, shining that hot light through the slide hurts it. The more you look at your slides, the faster they’ll disappear.


To conclude, slides can last a while, or they can fade away really quickly. It’s hard to know exactly where your slides fall on the scale. That’s why we recommend getting your slides digitized for two big reasons. First, you want to actually be able to look at the images on the slides, which you can’t do because your projector broke 37 years ago. Second, there’s basically no telling when your slides will kick the bucket.

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