Think of your favorite photograph that you’ve ever taken. It might be an epic sunset or it could be your children peacefully playing in the park together. It might be of a majestic lion you encountered on a once in a lifetime safari, it’s mane blowing in the dry winds of the Serengeti. Think about how that image and the other images like it that transport you back to another place and time make you feel when you look at them. Now imagine never seeing that image again.
In today’s digital age, backing up your files is important. Your images, in addition to almost all of your important information, is nothing more than data; one’s and zero’s that make up your life. If you only have information like this on your computer and an issue occurs like a hard drive crashing, you can loose everything! Luckily there are many ways to ensure that your images and other important data are going to be around for you in the future regardless of what happens to your computer.
Different Types of Storage
These days there are external hard drives – both solid state and traditional moving drives- along with cloud services that you can use for your storage medium. Each of these can have their advantages and disadvantages but after taking a look at your needs along with the different storage options available, you’ll find there’s a back up method or a combination of different methods that work for you. Lets start by looking at the oldest and still to date most common way of backing up your images (and files in general) – the external hard drive. These are fairly inexpensive these days and available in a few different formats. There are two main physical sizes of external hard drives, 2.5″ and 3.5″.
Traditional (Moving) Drives
The 2.5″ external hard drives are the same size hard drives used in most laptops and offer better portability because of their smaller physical stature. 2.5″ hard drives are powered by your computers USB port so you don’t need any external power to run them (if you use a USB hub, you may need a powered hub for these drives). Some of these portable hard drives even offer impact resistance and weatherproofing. Most hard drives are a little disk spinning around thousands of times per second and because of this they can be easy to damage. The downside to these smaller drives are they can be more costly than the equivalent 3.5″ drive and are not available in the largest of sizes. Today’s portable drives can be purchased into the multiple terabyte ranges making them large enough for the average persons needs.
If you aren’t taking your drive with you, a 3.5″ external hard drive can be both a less expensive option per gigabyte than its smaller counterpart and also available in faster options. When dealing with large files this speed can really pay off. These larger hard drives do need to be plugged into a power source and also are more delicate than most 2.5″ drives so they are generally used in a static location like a home or office.
Solid State Drives
The memory card that your camera takes doesn’t have any moving parts and because of that it is very durable. When you hear the term solid state, that is what it is referring to, a hard drive like your memory card with no moving parts. These are going to be the size of the more portable 2.5″ drives in most cases and will have faster working speeds than moving hard drives. Solid state drives are still very expensive compared to traditional moving drives and can’t be purchased in very large sizes yet. For example at current pricing (summer 2016), a 1TB 2.5″ portable drive is about $60, a 3.5″ 3TB is also about $60 and a 1TB solid state drive is about $320. That solid state drive can certainly be more durable and also be much faster at transferring data when you are using it, but you really have to need it at that price difference.
Web Storage and Cloud Services
Another great way to back up your files is cloud storage. By uploading them to the cloud you don’t have to worry about a physical hard drive and it’s limitations for space or possible lifespan. Depending on how many images you have this can end up being a costly option. There are plenty of services out there that offer cloud storage from Adobe and Amazon to Apple and Microsoft and many, many, more. Most of them do the same thing; allow you to upload information to an online data storage service. A lot of these services will allow you a certain amount of data for free, but then charge a monthly fee depending on how much you have uploaded after that. If you have an Abobe CC subscription for instance you get 5GB of Adobe Cloud storage along with your subscription. A huge advantage to the Adobe Cloud is its ability to be synced to your Lightroom catalog at home and the ability to edit connected images or show images to people via your mobile device with your Lightroom adjustments. If you have an Amazon Prime membership you can upload an unlimited amount of image files to their cloud at no additional charge. This is limited to still image files though, so if you want to have your videos or important documents backed up too, then you have to move to the fee based service. If cloud storage ends up being your main back up method, do a little research into the different companies out there offering this service and see which suits you best. Look into both what kind of storage you need now and how much you think you will use in the future. Be realistic about the amount of data you need to back up to avoid any surprise charges. I would not use this option as your main image storage, just a back up. Access to your files is limited to the availability and speed of your current internet connection. I have traveled to some places with internet speeds so slow that you would not be able to download an average memory card in a days time.
Things to Look For When Purchasing a Hard Drive
Depending on the drive you purchase you may have multiple ways of connecting it to your computer. The most common will be USB 3.0. This is a fast method of transfer and every computer has a USB port. You also may find Thunderbolt options if you use a mac (a few PCs also have thunderbolt ports). Thunderbolt has a superior bandwidth, so if you are moving a lot of data you could see some advantages. There can also be other advantages to Thunderbolt but they aren’t relevant here. WiFi is a feature popping up in external drives these days too. This can be especially handy if you are backing up multiple computers in one location or are moving all over the house with a laptop while still needing to access your data bank.
Most traditional moving hard drives are going to be available in the 1TB-8TB range these days. Solid state drives are just starting to get above the 1TB size range and are still very expensive. If you are set on solid state and have a budget to worry about, you may look at multiple smaller drives like 256MB and 512MB along with a docking station or server unit.
When it comes to a hard drive, you want it to be reliable. There is no use in putting the time and money into backing up your files only to have an inferior hard drive crash making all of your efforts moot. I personally stick with Western Digital, Samsung, Transcend and Toshiba for less expensive drives. For premium drives both G Technology and Lacie make beautiful units that are fast, stylish and reliable.
Formatting the Hard Drive
When you are buying a new hard drive, they are usually formatted for either a Mac or a PC out of the box. You can reformat either of them to work on your computer, but if you aren’t as adept when it comes to computers it can be worth a little more research to find hard drives already formatted for your type of computer.
My Methods of Back Up
I personally employ a couple different methods. My computer is a laptop with a tiny 256GB solid state hard drive. I shoot RAW files not only for my still photography but also for time lapses that may contain thousands of RAW files each so this certainly isn’t my main drive. I use a 4TB external hard drive from G Technology called a G Drive for my main storage and working drive. I actually have a couple of these I use because my image and video library is so large. I also have two 3TB drives from Western Digital and Toshiba. These are only back up drives that have the exact same information as the G Drives. They live in a fire safe when I am in town and they go to a friend’s house when I am leaving town (my G Drives go in the safe then). A safety deposit box can also be a good home for your back up drives. Every month I back up my main drives to these so if anything ever happens to them, I still have the information. I also have my RAW files uploaded to the Amazon Cloud. Since I am already a Prime member, I might as well take advantage of the free service. Lastly I have a 1TB portable drive from Transcend that is impact resistant and splash proof. I spend a lot of time on the road and this is where my images are downloaded to while I am traveling. When I get home I transfer them to my G Drive and wipe my little portable drive clean, ready and waiting for the next adventure.
Your Personal Needs
Regardless you shoot 30 or 300,000 images in a year, backing them up is a necessity. With the cost and easy of use of today’s external hard drives and online storage options, there is no reason not to. Before you head out to look for a new drive consider these options”
- How big of a drive do I need?
- I personally avoid the absolute largest of drives out there. When the biggest are new to the market they are usually more than double the price of the next size down. Sometimes it is considerably more cost efficient to get two drives totaling your desired amount of space.
- If it is a drive you plan on using for a long time, make sure you are accounting for larger file sizes in the future. Digital camera file sizes, along with just about every other type of file, are growing every year. Also take into account that video files are large and video is becoming a much larger part of our lives.
- That big drive will be cheaper next year! Technology gets cheaper with time. This is no different when you are talking about hard drives.
- How fast of a drive do I need? This is a tricky question, you will find the RPM of a drive and also the transfer speed..
- Most drives spin at 5400RPM. You can find drives that are 7200RPM. They are usually the more expensive drives, but the faster speed at which they spin allows faster access to the information on the disk.
- You will also find transfer speeds listed. Whether you use USB or thunderbolt can affect this but regardless of the transfer medium and stated speed I find more expensive drives are much truer to the estimates printed on the boxes.
Now that you have an understanding of the different was to back up your data, what are you waiting for? Back up those files before it’s too late!