Taking photos while traveling can be a lot of fun and a great way to bring home very special and personal souvenirs. As digital cameras shoot larger and larger files — especially for those of us who like to shoot RAW — finding a way to store all of our photography can be challenging.
There are a few options to choose from and none of them are quite perfect for every situation. Over time, I’m sure the solutions will get smaller and faster. Until then, here are what I think are the best portable photo storage devices to use while on the road.
The fastest and simplest way to store photos is to bring a laptop computer with you. Newer laptops usually have large enough hard drives to store all of your photos and some even have card readers built in. Another advantage to a laptop is being able to edit photos right away and potentially upload them to a storage site or social media. The downsides to using a laptop while traveling are the size, weight and the potential of a thief targeting your computer.
If you have a device that can connect to a reliable and fast internet connection, like a laptop, netbook or tablet, you can upload your image files to the cloud. Services like iCloud or Dropbox let you store lots of data pretty affordably. Also, photo proofing sites like Smugmug allow you to upload JPEG files for storage. If you don’t use the cloud for file storage, you can also use it as a backup in the event your physical storage gets lost or stolen while traveling.
If you know that you will be in a place where you have access to a computer, you can slim down your luggage by bringing only a card reader and a portable hard drive or USB drive. For a few days of photo storage, a USB flash drive should be enough. For a week or more, a 500 GB G-Drive should be more than enough and still affordable.
Backup storage device
Several companies make card-reading backup storage devices. These machines allow you to take your CF or SD cards and dump them onto the device. Some of them allow you to preview the files—even RAW files. Unfortunately, most of these devices have mixed reviews. Some people have great luck with them and others have terrible luck. I hope that a reliable and affordable device comes to market soon.
Lots of memory cards
Memory cards, in particular SD cards, continue to get cheaper. Because of this, they are quickly becoming a viable option for photo storage. It may be less expensive to buy a handful of 32 GB cards for your month-long vacation than to get a laptop, an external hard drive, or another storage device. Even if you shoot on CF cards, it may be more affordable to transfer photos to SD cards than to an external hard drive, depending on the space you need. Another option is the Eye-Fi card that wirelessly transfers photos, if you have a device that can store them all.
iPad or tablet
Using an iPad can be a good, lightweight option for photo storage, but it does have limitations. You can buy a card reader specifically for the iPad to dump photos, which can then be uploaded to the cloud or edited via the Adobe Lightroom app. The big limitation is the relatively small hard drive space of the iPad. Typically, the 5 – 8 GB I have free on my iPad is not enough to download more than a day’s worth of photos from a trip. Ideally, there will be a solution that allows you to quickly transfer photos to an external hard drive, through your iPad. Or tablets will increased their storage space while remaining small.
For now, I’ll keep hauling a laptop around while traveling until a smaller, faster and more convenient solution pops up.