Sunday, May 17, 2009

Portable Backup - Part 1

Being in the computer industry I have the privilege of seeing, trying and testing many new products. As a technology geek I also work hard at getting my hands on as many new technologies and electronic toys that I can get my hands on. In the area of portable backup, making a good first time decision that you will be happy with for many years can be a very difficult task, especially if you are not tech savvy.

Over the years I have tried a lot of products and in general they all work. Some work better than others and some are just not very suited to the photography industry. Here I will outline what are the requirements for good effective backups in a portable device for photographers, a few of the many makes and models I have tried out including some pros and cons and will let you know what products I use.

Why backup on the road? Well several reasons. First off you want to make sure that ALL your images get backed up as soon as possible. This is to prevent that disaster strike. At any time your SD or Compact Flash memory card could die. Yes, this has personally happened to me with a high end Lexar CF Card. I have also had two other photographers mention to me that they have had cards die on them. This may not seem so bad when you are walking around town shooting just to get a few images for the fun of it, but what about if you were at a wedding or some other for pay shoot and you lost some data? Or, perhaps, you were away on holidays, let's say Australia, and when you came home you realized that that one of your CF Flash Cards had died and that you had lost over 200 precious photos including some of your grandchildren? How would you feel then?

Secondly, what if your luggage gets lost or your camera bag gets stolen? Then perhaps you would lose everything. Now that would be a disaster.

In the computer world we live by the statement that you need "Three copies at all times". This would be your original and two backups, one of which should be an off-site backup. So no, not just one backup but rather two. This is obviously not very feasible for most photographers specially when traveling on holidays but it is doable. I am not advocating this for most of you but rather just want to re-iterate that you do want at least one backup and preferably one that is not kept with your originals. So, back to Backup Products.


Laptops are an obvious solution to look at. If you are just road traveling or going to a location by car, it is easy to bring a laptop along. As a photographer, when purchasing a laptop, you need to decide or compromise between speed (power), size and cost. Ideally you want at least something with a large hard drive which often is not available. Buy the laptop that suits your needs and have the hard drive replaced with a larger 320 or 500 Gig laptop hard drive.

Some laptop manufacturers have a hard drive caddy available that can slide in and out of the CD/DVD drive bay. My Lenovo ThinkPad W500 laptop has a 500 Gig main drive and a second 500 Gig drive that I insert for when I want to do a backup. The 500 Gig size allows me to have my operating system, all my applications and still leaves ample room for all my trips RAW and JPG files.

If your manufacture does not have the built in drive bay you can always purchase a portable external hard drive like Western Digitals Passports. These external USB powered drives will work on your laptop and workstation, but they are a little slower than the internal drives.

Having a laptop with sufficient power also lets you run Adobe Lightroom directly on your laptop. So, when traveling you get to properly see your images and can see the final results. Adobe Lightroom 2 has the ability to easily move Catalogues and Images around and once back home, all your images can be moved to your desktops version of Adobe Lightroom 2.

This setup gives you the one backup and if you have the removable hard drive option, you get your second backup that you can keep in a different location. Done. I love my Lenovo ThinkPad W500.



- 1st Backup- Very big
- 2nd External Backup- Heavy
- Large Capacity Drive- Expensive
- A Computer
- Graphics Software
- Internet/E-mail


So what if laptops are just too big or too expensive. I tried the HP 2133 Notebook fully loaded with the biggest drive available at that time at 160 Gigs and 2 Gigs of Memory. This is what I brought along on my trip to Hawaii last November.

The Netbook was great with its small size for portability and was great for Blogging and retrieving E-mail at the airports and at our hotel. Lightroom v1 was very sluggish on it but worked. With the OS, all my applications like MS-Office and Lightroom and the usual antivirus and such, the 160 Gig hard drive filled up rather quickly and left me with a few CF Cards that did not get backed up at the end of the trip. Overall I was NOT happy with the Netbook.



- 1st Backup- Bigger than a small drive
- 2nd External Backup- Slow
- A computer- Small drives
- Internet/E-mail
- Relatively light

People always wonder about hard drive space requirements so I will discuss this in a future post. In my next post Portable Backup - Part 2, I will discuss Portable Photography Backup Hard Drives including solutions from Epson, Canon and two HyperDrives from SanHo.

Portable Backup - Part 2

© 2009 Francois Cleroux

(Version 1.02 - August 2009)

Please feel free to leave comments, corrections, ideas, thoughts or suggestions.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you about the Netbooks. The lack of resources limits their use.


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- Francois Cleroux