Best External Hard Drive For Photographers

Top 5 External Hard Drive For Photographers

Have you filled your computer’s hard drive up to the maximum? Are your photos hogging all the space on your computer? Are you looking for a secure and portable storage device that you can use without an internet connection?

If you answered these questions with a yes, then you probably need to get an external hard drive.

Here’s my short list of your 5 best external hard drive for photographers:

What is an external hard drive/Why do you need an external hard drive?

It doesn’t take long for photographers to realize that an internal hard drive only has so much storage space.

It’s so easy to suck up your computer’s internal storage space in hardly any time, especially if you shoot in RAW. My computer came with more than 200 GB of storage space, and it only took me one week in Peru to use it all up.

It’s absolutely essential for photographers to own at least one external hard drive. Otherwise, your computer will slow down and you will be forced to manage your space by deleting your images, important applications, documents, music and emails.

Furthermore, if something happens to your computer, you will lose all of your files. This can all be prevented by purchasing an external hard drive.

What are the advantages of using external hard drives?

The technology behind external hard drives has been progressing for more than half a decade, and their benefits are ever-expanding to make the user experience faster and more convenient.

More storage space:

Today, external hard drives have more space than ever before — they are available with more than four terabytes of space. That’s 4,000 gigabytes, enough space for approximately 140,000 RAW images.

High speed:

Transferring your files from your computer’s hard drive to your external one has never been a faster process than it is now. Most hard drives work at a speed between 5400 and 7200 RPM (revolutions per minute). While it normally takes upwards of five minutes to upload a RAW file onto a cloud service, the transfer of the same image to an external hard drive is a matter of milliseconds.

Portability:

 If you’re worried about lugging around an external hard drive with you as you travel, don’t be. Since the rise of the consumer-friendly external hard drive, developers have been working hard to keep them compact while increasing their functional performance. You have several compact options to choose from. All you need is a computer to connect it to!

Easy to use:

 Just connect it to your computer using a USB or firewire, and your computer will recognize it as extra storage space. Just drag your files over to it, and you’re good as gold. It’s literally that simple.

Price:

 With just a single payment, you can have terabytes of space at your finger tips. The cost of a fast hard drive with a few terabytes of space is often cheaper than a year’s membership to a cloud storage service.

How to choose the right one

For your computer:

Before you buy a hard drive, make sure it will be compatible with your computer. Some types of hard drives are only compatible with a Mac, others only work with PC computers. Luckily, many types of hard drives are compatible with both systems.

Portability:

 How much will you need to carry your hard drive around? If you’re planning to keep it in one place, it may be worth buying a desktop hard drive. On the other hand, if you’ll be traveling with it, the smaller the better. Either way, I recommend having at least one portable external hard drive.

Connectivity:

Make sure to pay attention to the type of connectivity your external hard drive uses, and make sure that it’s compatible with your computer. The connectivity of your storage device will have an impact on its speed.

USB

The two most popular and universally compatible connectivity type is the USB and they still work extremely fast. USB 3.1 drives can transfer data at speeds of up to 10 Gbit/s (gigabits per second)

Thunderbolt

The fastest type of connectivity on the market today is Thunderbolt, which works at either 10GBit/s, or 20GBit/s. However, Thunderbolt is relatively new and was developed for Mac computers, so the majority of old computers and computers with a PC operating system are unlikely to be compatible with Thunderbolt.

Wireless

You may also opt for a wireless connection, which is sort of like a hybrid external and cloud hard drive. However, these devices have a built in wireless unit, so you can turn it into a wifi hotspot. This type of connection allows you to stream the data you store on your hard drive via any of your devices, including tablets and smart phones. They are battery powered, and some of them even include an SD slot.

Durability:

A damaged hard drive is a useless hard drive. Most external hard drives are designed with some degree of shock and water resistance, but if you are concerned about potential damage you should definitely check the specs and play on the safe side to prevent future heartbreak.

RAW capacity:

If you shoot in RAW, make sure you pick a hard drive that will accept this type of file. Luckily, most external hard drives are compatible with RAW files.

What about cloud storage?

Indeed, we live in the 21st century and sending files up to the clouds is a popular and reliable way to store your data. I won’t try to talk you down from the cloud, but there are several reasons for you to consider using external hard drives in addition to cloud storage. We have covered Cloud Storage Service in depth here.

External hard drives do not require an internet connection, so you can use them anywhere so long as you have a device to connect them to.

Furthermore, most cloud storage services are paid for on a monthly basis, while you just have to pay once for an external hard drive. External hard drives end up being way cheaper, and it’s impossible for hackers to access them.

What are the downsides to using an external hard drive?

I strongly recommend buying more than one hard drive. Otherwise, your data will not be safer than it is when stored on your internal hard drive.

Extra weight:

External hard drive will add weight to your load and take up extra space in your bag. I find the latter more difficult to deal with than the weight factor because my hard drives are not very heavy, but they do take up space.

Potential damage/loss:

Of course, you do run the risk of getting them wet, lost, stolen or smashed when you carry them on your person. You have to be careful and treat your hard drives with respect!

Technology always improves:

This shouldn’t present too much of an issue, but remember that the hard drives that are available on the market today may be considered rudimentary tomorrow. If you like staying up to date with new technological frills, keep this in mind.

External Hard DrivesReviewed

Western Digital 1TB USB 3.0 My Passport Portable External Hard Drive

PROS

  • Affordable
  • Practical
  • Portable / Compact
  • Password Protection for Windows
  • Several Colour Options

CONS

  • Mac users at a disadvantage

Western Digital has been producing reliable technological devices since 1970, and this version of their My Passport product was developed in 2016, so it’s relatively new on the scene. It is available with a minimum storage capacity of 1TB and maximum 4TB.

This external hard drive is highly portable. At 8.6 ounces, the physical size of the My Passport is smaller and lighter than most other external hard drives on the market, making it ideal for photographers who like to travel, want to shed a few ounces of their load and don’t want to pay for any superfluous frills.

The My Passport includes some highly useful software, including file recovery software, password protection, hardware encryption and automatic backup settings.

It is compatible with both Mac and Windows, but because runs on the NT file system, Windows users definitely get more privileges with this device.

Mac users must reformat the card in order to use it with their computer, but that’s easy. The main disadvantage Mac users face is that they don’t get access to the included password protection software, hardware encryption or file recovery softwares. However, Mac users can use their computer’s Time Machine service to set up automatic backups.

This external hard drive comes with all the necessary accessories to connect it to your computer using USB 3.0, or USB 2.0 and is available in almost every color of the rainbow (no purple), so you can get more than one without getting them muddled up.

LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 2TB Portable Hard Drive

PROS

  • Water resistant
  • Shock proof
  • Bus powered

CONS

  • A bit bulky
  • Pricy

This may not be the cheapest hard drive, but, thanks to its Thunderbolt compatibility, it’s one of the fastest options out there with a performance speed of up to 122 MB/s, and you can take advantage of this speed regardless of whether you’re a Mac user or PC user.

If your computer doesn’t have a slot for Thunderbolt cables, you need not worry because this product includes a USB cable, which also serves as the hard drive’s power source once it’s plugged into a computer.

As its name suggests, the LaCie Rugged Hard Drive can endure quite a bit of rough and tumble and be totally fine. This LaCie product comes with a bright orange removable silicone sleeve that adds to its already high-end durability by providing a bumper that protects the device from falls of up to two meters.

This rugged device is rain and dust resistant, thanks to its unattractively neon bumper sleeve. I must say, the sleeve does add quite a bit of bulk, and it would be nice if this product was available in colors other than neon orange, but safety comes first, if you ask me!

Although it’s a bit bulky, the LaCie Rugged Portable Hard Drive’s solid consistency makes it feel compact. It’s so solid that a car weighing a ton can drive over it without damaging it. Phew! Personally, I’m not bothered by the weight of a hard drive as long as I’m confident it won’t get damaged, and I’m pretty confident.

It’s available with as little as 250GB of storage, and as much as 5TB if you’re willing to pay a bit extra. As a testament to its durability, LaCie will include a 3-year limited warranty with your purchase.

WD 3TB My Passport Wireless Pro Portable External Hard Drive - WiFi USB 3.0

PROS

  • Built-in wifi allows you to wirelessly access files
  • SD Slot
  • Super easy accessibility
  • Serves as powerbank

CONS

  • Relatively heavy
  • Battery operated
  • A bit pricy
  • User must tweak security settings to ensure privacy

Weighing in at one pound, the WD 3TB My Passport wireless external hard drive’s built in WiFi is what really makes this device so portable.

It is compatible with both Mac and PC and offers 3TB of storage that you can access from any device without worrying about cables.

However, this product doesn’t solely depend on its internal WiFi function to get the job done.

The My Passport Wireless Pro has an SD card reading slot so you can swiftly transfer your RAW, JPEG and HD video files without using a computer as a middleman. In a way, this removes the need for high capacity SD cards.

If you prefer to use a cable to transfer your files, this hard drive comes with a USB 3.0 cable, which you can also use to transfer data directly from your DSLR.

If you do decide to access your files wirelessly, you have the option of setting up a WiFi hotspot from the My Passport, or you can connect it to an existing router connection. This hard drive has built in Plex software that facilitates wireless file transfers.

When you connect your computer to the hard drive, you get access to its web-based control panel that lets you know how much battery power and storage space you have left.

Keep in mind that you need to change your settings on the web-based control panel so that other people in your wireless network can’t access your files.

You can use the wireless function even when you’re editing your images in Lightroom or Photoshop. This is a great option for those who use several USB slots at the same time.

Since this is a wireless hard drive, it is battery operated. Its battery lasts for up to ten hours of continuous use, and the device also serves as a power bank so you can use it to charge any of your USB powered devices.

Toshiba Canvio Basics 2TB Portable External Hard Drive USB 3.0

PROS

  • Budget friendly
  • User friendly
  • Lightweight

CONS

  • Slightly flimsey
  • Not shock proof
  • Mac users must reformat

If you’re looking for a spacious yet practical hard drive, consider this basic 2TB option by Toshiba, which is also available in 1TB and 500GB models for lower prices.

This budget-friendly option by Toshiba fulfills all of its primary functions as an external hard drive with simple, frill-free and user-friendly design. Just plug it into your computer and you’ll have instant access to all your files.

There’s nothing complicated about this product; you don’t need to download any extra software, and it’s compatible with both Mac and PC. However, Mac users will have to reformat it before getting any use out of it. Reformatting won’t take much time, and you only have to do it once.

You can load your RAW files onto this hard drive quickly and easily using the speedy USB 3.0 cable that is included with the package. The read and write speeds are fairly average in relation to other basic external hard drives, at approximately 108MB/s each.

It weighs only 8.2 ounces, but is relatively bulky compared to other compact hard drives. This makes it feel a bit more flimsy than other types.

Luckily, includes an internal shock sensor as well as ramp loading technology that help protect your data and the device itself from damage. You also have the option of purchasing the device with a protective case to carry it around in, and you get a one-year standard warranty when you make the purchase.

Silicon Power 1TB Rugged Armor A30 Shockproof Standard Military Grade Portable External Hard Drive

PROS

  • Military-grade shock-proof
  • Mac and PC compatibility, no reformatting necessary
  • Reasonably priced
  • Solid

CONS

  • No water resistance
  • Relatively heavy

I was so happy when I learned about this option because I am on a budget and don’t have a history of being gentle with my hard drives. This is essentially the budget version of the LaCie Rugged Hard Drive.

If you’re looking for 1TB of reasonably priced, highly durable storage space then you should definitely consider this option.

It’s compatible with PC and Macs, but it doesn’t stop there — you can even share the hard drive’s contents between those two platforms. You also have the option of accessing SP Widget software to help you organize your files. This does not come with the hard drive, so you have to access it from the SP website.

This device has a very clever design, with clasp grooves around the perimeters that allow you to safely and securely clasp the USB 3.0 cable. I really appreciate this feature because it adds to the hard drive’s portability appeal and also protects the cable against damage. The hard drive’s USB 3.0 slot is safely guarded and unlikely to bend.

The perimeters of the Rugged Armor storage device are protected by a silicone casing and a suspension system that give this device ‘military-grade shockproof’ status, which means that it can survive drops of up to four feet. The hard drive’s facing is made up of non-slip hexagonal material.

I can tell you that I have subjected mine to quite a few bumps and bangs and haven’t experienced any issues in the two and a half years I’ve owned it. If something happens to it in the next six months, I’m still covered by the warranty.

Despite all the Rugged Armor A30’s rugged durability, it is not water resistant, so don’t get it wet!

This isn’t the lightest portable hard drive out there; it weighs 9.8 ounces and does have quite a bit of bulk to it. Personally, that’s a compromise I’m willing to take to protect my data.

Conclusion

The best external hard drive for photographers is one that is spacious, durable and easily accessible. Of course, a low price helps, but it’s always worth paying a few extra bucks for a device that will last you as near a lifetime as possible.

The Western Digital 3TB My Passport Wireless Pro Portable External Hard Drive is officially the external hard drive we recommend.

Its functions go above and beyond those of a basic external hard drive. I love that it can be used as a power bank, and I love that you can edit your photos in Lightroom and Photoshop from the hard drive without connecting it to a computer. The SD card slot is also a plus. This option is great for people who need to declutter their working space and USB slots.

With that said, I think it is also wise to consider the Rugged Armor A30, especially if you can’t afford a pricier option at the moment. Its durability and solid design provide great value for your money. 


Best External Hard Drive For Photographers

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About the Author Luca

Hi, I am Luca, founder and editor in chief at photographyambition.com. I am crazy about photography and I always have a camera with me. When I am not busy with my day job, enjoying my family or taking photos, I am on Photography Ambition to share what I have learnt so far.

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