Portable hard disks for photo backup

Capacity and convenience have ruled out traditional optical media for me. CDs and DVDs are great, but large photo collections would require several, and I just can’t be bothered creating new disc compilations every time I want to make a backup, nor having to wait around for each one to complete before starting on the next. Besides, I’ve also found poorly recorded media or discs kept in less than optimum conditions can have a worryingly short shelf-life.

What I’m after is a backup medium that’s large enough to swallow my collection in one go and in the shortest possible time. Today there’s only one technology which fits the bill, and that’s another hard disk. Of course this will suffer from the same reliability problems as your main hard disk, but again, no recording medium is perfect. At least with a hard disk I can get my entire collection quickly backed-up in one place, which means I’m more likely to perform the process regularly.

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While the standard 3.5in hard disks employed in almost every PC represent the best combination of capacity, performance and value, I personally prefer to use smaller 2.5in laptop hard disks for backup purposes. They may be more expensive and have lower capacities, but they’re smaller, lighter, and once fitted into compact portable cases, can be powered by a USB port alone. One cable is therefore all you’ll need for power and data transfer. Standard 3.5in hard disks can also be fitted into portable enclosures, but their larger size and requirement of a mains power adapter makes them much less convenient.


The best portable hard disk right now is Western Digital's My Passport Essential SE, which packs a surprisingly big drive into a small, but beautifully formed case, and is powered only by a single, supplied USB cable; the latest models also support USB 3 ports for extra speed, although all are backwards-compatible with older USB ports.

Whichever backup solution you go for, portability is a crucial requirement. After all, while it’s also quick and easy to backup your data onto another PC over a network, if it’s located in the same room or building, it’s equally vulnerable to fire, flood or theft. And since it’s highly unlikely a thief or natural disaster will be considerate enough to leave one of your PCs intact, it’s imperative to keep your backup in a different physical location.

This is why I carry my portable hard disk pretty much everywhere I go, and copy new folders of photos onto it after every trip or shoot. Again, you can never be fully protected, but it’s important to understand the vulnerability of your digital images and get into the habit of protecting them.

Backing-up may not be the sexiest topic, but once you’ve lost some of your favourite photos forever, you’ll soon realise its importance. I certainly hope what I’ve learnt as a regular columnist and former Editor of Personal Computer World magazine will help ensure your photos are well-protected.

Gordon Laing

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