A lightweight solution to backup travel photographs

Backup solutions for photographers can be somewhat complicated but travel backup solutions are slightly different; they’re very simple albeit fiddly.

Having built my own home network, server, multiple desktop computers, and set up nearly every Linux distribution available, I’m fairly computer literate. However, I’m all to aware this article might get obsoleted soon; moreover, some of this is subjective and you may prefer to use another method.

An obvious 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 buy the SD cards at different times i.e. they (hopefully) won’t be from the same batch and if there’s a problem with one production line, it shouldn’t effect you too badly. 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. This isn’t because they have to be, for example the Sony a9 is basically as small as the Sony a7rII, but in general, companies have chosen to implement single card slots. I’m not sure why this is so–perhaps it’s out of pure greed. I hope the successor to the Sony a7rII won’t be gimped just so it doesn’t step on the Sony a9’s pinky. I digress… This solution is fairly self explanatory but if someone steals your camera or your camera fries, you might lose both cards. It’s also worth considering that on some models, the second slots are slower (Sony a9, 5d Mk III, etc.) and may screw with your zen.

A crap 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. Many use an older mechanical drive 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. If you’re going to go this route, I’d suggest the RAVPower FileHub Plus, but I’d wait until you’ve read the next method…

An ideal backup solution for travel photography

The perfect backup solution to backing up your travel photographs, in my opinion, if your camera only has one card slot, is to use a smartphone with USB-OTG (on the go) support. This allows you to plug in external devices and use the phone like a regular computer. 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(s) in a more manageable fashion. Moreover, if you’re using a phone as a backup device, the chances are, you’re going to be bringing your phone anyway–it’s not really an additional weight.

As you can see in the photograph above, it’s a small, lightweight solution to the problem. I do not recommend using the Transcend memory card reader as it’s a piece of crap. If you get a Kingston Mobilelite G4 memory card reader, 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 simple. The Transcend memory card reader in the photograph above does not allow simultaneous writing.

You can do something similar with a Samsung T3 and you add very little carrying weight (about 30 grams or roughly 1 oz). You will need to find a USB hub which supports an SD card reader plus an additional USB port being used (for the Samsung T3.)

The caveat with using your smartphone is that write times can be slowish due to the smartphone itself; this depends entirely on the model of smartphone e.g. the Samsung Galaxy S8 has extremely fast USB-OTG speeds; furthermore, some phones only allow you to connect one extra device (the SD card counts as a device) at a time (to my knowledge, this obstacle only exists with older phones and you will not face any obstacles with the phones that support USB-C and USB 3.1) 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 T3 (or whatever drive you choose to use with it).

Please note, this isn’t as complicated as it sounds. I’m simply covering all bases because I don’t want you to be disappointed if you buy an old phone. If you buy a Google Pixel, Samsung Galaxy S8 or wait for the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, and also buy 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. MicroSD cards are also getting incredibly fast these days which helps to speed up the process. The Google Pixel, Samsung Galaxy S8 and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 have a USB-C port with USB 3.1 speeds.

Many Android phones allow you to connect a Samsung T3 and an SD card at the same time (or connect two SD cards instead of the Samsung T3), 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 the files on an SD card to an external drive like the Samsung T3 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 (I haven’t tried the Samsung T3, it might give better results.) 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 or microSD card in only a few minutes. I’m really looking forward to seeing what phones implement USB-C in the future. The Samsung Galaxy S8 and Samsung Galaxy Note Fan Edition (FE) are the first phones to truly offer what I want in a backup device but I’m going to wait for the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.

Lastly, in regards to this method, be very careful when buying USB-C products. There are a lot of bad USB-C products available; they’re bad in the sense they not USB certified, the wrong resistor has been put inside and whatnot.

 

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 and it’s not too similar from the above method.

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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