Backing up photographs for travel photography

Home networks and backup solutions for photographers can be somewhat complicated. Having built my own home network, server, multiple desktop computers, and set up nearly every Linux distribution available, I’m fairly computer literate. However, some of this is subjective and you may find that you prefer to use another method.

A simple backup solution

There are multiple ways to backup data when travelling. The easiest, I believe, is to have a camera with dual card slots. It is always a good idea to backup data as many times as possible, but the chances of two cards failing at the same time are fairly slim, especially if you have an SD and a CF card slot (they won’t be the same batch, and if there’s a problem with that production line, it shouldn’t effect you). Another advantage to this method is that if one memory card slot fails to function, the other should continue to work.

The disadvantage with this method is that cameras with dual card slots are typically bigger, and more importantly, heavier. While the accumulative weight on a mirrorless camera with a single card slot, and a backup solution, might be equal to a heavier DSLR with a dual card slot, the weight is modular by design–you can distribute it around your body or bag in a more manageable fashion. The extra card slot itself doesn’t really add any substantial weight to the camera, it’s simply that at the time of writing, Sony do not make a full frame mirrorless camera with dual card slots. I’m quite sure this will change in the near future.

A more convoluted backup solution for travel photography

An external storage device can be useful for duplicating data; these are somewhat heavy and unfortunately, a lot do not currently have SSDs. A lot of them use an older mechanical drives and these are unnecessarily heavy.

The RAVPower FileHub Plus is a versatile wireless travel router, an SD Card USB reader and a portable hard drive companion which includes a 6000 mAh external battery pack. It weighs 5.4oz or 154g, but the majority of that weight lies within the battery.

An ideal backup solution for travel photography

The perfect backup solution for travel photography if your camera has only one card slot is to use a mobile phone with USB-OTG (on the go) support. This allows you to plug in external devices.

From there, you can plug in an SD card and a microSD card, and then copy the files from one card to the other. It’s extremely simply.

You can do something similar with a Samsung T1 and you add very little carrying weight (about 30 grams or roughly 1 oz); most people carry a phone with them so the weight of the phone isn’t an extra when we compare this solution to having a larger camera with dual card slots. The caveat with this method is that write times can be slowish due to the phone; furthermore, some phones only allow you to connect one extra device (the SD card counts as a device) at a time and some SD card readers also only allow you to plug in one memory card at a time (please read my memory card reader review page for more information on that), this means that on some phones, you have to transfer the SD card data to the phone, and then transfer the data from the phone to the Samsung T1 (or whatever drive you choose to use with it). Please note, this isn’t as complicated as it sounds. If you buy a Google Pixel, a Kingston Mobilelite G4 memory card reader and a microSD card to go with your SD card, you will be able to plug them all in and transfer files from one card to the other at high speeds. The Google Pixel has a USB-C port with USB 3.1 speeds.

Many Android phones allow you to connect a Samsung T1 and an SD card at the same time (or connect two SD cards instead of the Samsung T1), and transfer data from one to the other. USB-C USB 3.1 devices (such as the Google Pixel) have changed portable backup tremendously; they allow extremely fast write times and this means that you’ll be able to copy an SD card to an external drive like the Samsung T1 or to a second SD card in a matter of seconds or minutes. With most microUSB phones, you can expect write times of about 20MB/sec at best. USB-C is just a connector standard and it is worth making sure the product you are interested in has USB 3.0 or USB 3.1 and not USB 2.0. USB 3.1 technically allows write speeds of 10gb/sec but a phone and SD card often max out at about 90MB/sec. That’s about two compressed raw files a second or about one uncompressed raw file in under a second, with the Sony a7rII. In simple terms, you can expect to backup an entire day’s worth of raw photographs to a 30gram external SSD drive in only a couple of minutes. I’m really looking forward to seeing what phones implement USB-C in the future. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was the first phone to truly offer what I wanted in a backup device but sadly it was not meant to be.

An absurd backup method for travel photography

For some people, bringing a tablet with a full sized USB port can be another way to store data; there’s the option to either store data on the tablet directly or use an external drive. For me, this method is absurd as it’s extremely heavy. If you frequently stay in hotels or whatnot and you only go for day hikes, this method is absolutely fine.

File rotation is slightly better than nothing

The final option, and it goes against my recommendation, is to take a few photographs, take out the SD card (when it is not full) and rotate it with another card. Thereby not losing all the photographs taken in one day.

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