A friend from high school recently contacted me because she was unable to work with photos she had received long ago on a CD. My guess was they were saved in PhotoCD format and that guess was correct. In short, the files are still readable. But they don’t work as well as once promised.
Let’s roll the clock back to the dark ages of the early 90s. If you took a picture, you used film and a camera. Who was the biggest player in the film world? Kodak! Kodak knew the future was to have digital copies of photos and they came up with the PhotoCD format.
When you got film developed, you also got a copy of each picture on a CD-ROM in the PCD (PhotoCD) format in five or six different resolutions. A number of companies even provided stock photos in PCD format, one very notable option was the Corel Professional Photos line. Of course Kodak was promoting that these photos were permanent digital records. In those days most popular graphics software included the ability to import PhotoCD files.
Now let’s look at reality. PhotoCD was first launched in 1992. As of this writing, that was 23 years ago. In the world of technology, 23 years is an eternity. Kodak has been on life support since filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January, 2012. Digital cameras started to emerge in the early 2000s and smartphones followed a few years later as a common source of digital photos. In short, film is mostly dead for the majority of photographers.
Since PhotoCD discs and files are no longer being created, most popular graphics software has dropped support for it. It is still possible to work with PCD files, but the best option is to convert them to another format sooner rather than later.
I’ve long said that one of my favorite utilities is Irfanview because of all that it can do with a huge range of bitmap formats. If you install Irfanview and the Plugins/AddOns, it can read PCD files. Unfortunately it will only pull the 768×512 pixel version of the data from the PCD file. This is better than nothing, but it is disappointing that you can’t get to the 2048×3072 or the 4096×6144 pixel version. The good news is that you could use Irfanview to batch convert a folder of files to JPG or PNG format at the lower resolution. Hey, it’s better than nothing!
I’m also able to see thumbnails of PCD files thanks to the amazing MysticThumbs. This is an add-on that I think all graphics users of Windows should have installed.
If you have older versions of software such as Corel PHOTO-PAINT, Corel Paint Shop Pro or Adobe Photoshop, then you might be able to do more. How old? Well I tested Corel PHOTO-PAINT 9 (from 1999) and it still supported PCD. I also tested Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3 (from 2009) and could open the files. I don’t have an old enough version of Adobe Photoshop installed to have any idea when it last supported PCD files.
For those who have a bunch of PCD files that you’d like to convert to another format, you might want to consider pcdMagic. It costs $79 and has the option to batch convert PCD files to either JPEG or TIFF format.
All I can suggest is that if the files you have in PhotoCD are important to you that you should consider converting them to a different format soon. The format is dead and I won’t be surprised if even fewer programs support it going forward.