I’ve got photos. Where do I put em?

With my new toys, I’ve been producing a lot more photos. This isn’t a problem at home – I’ve got plenty of storage & backup space, desktop hard drives are huge and cheap. But they don’t help me much two weeks into a trip. I’ve got a few options:

Laptop route
I’ve been thinking about getting one for a while. At 2 lbs & the tablet features, the tiny Fujitsu Lifebook P1510D seems like a steal at roughly $1400. Certainly more money than the rest of these options, but I’d be getting a lot of flexibility with it. The main draw is that you get all the comfort of a laptop in a small package. It has a CF slot, so downloads at the end of the day would be pretty easy. The battery life is good, so it can always serve double duty as a media player. No optical drive limits my playing of DVDs though, but I can always rip a bunch and slap them on a hard drive or USB stick.

I am loathe to do much more than a little surfing on the internet cafes, so bringing my own laptop would reduce some of the key logger concerns. I guess the real question is how many net cafes let you hook your computer up to their connection. The other option is wifi, which seems to be popping up all over the place, but I doubt I’d want to depend on it in most countries.

The disadvantages of the laptop are pretty obvious. It can be a target. It is bigger and heavier than other options. But probably my biggest hesitation is that it is potentially a huge distraction. Will I be pouring over the days photos, rather than heading out to explore more?

Storage with a screen
The Epson p-2000 still seems like the best bet in this market. At roughly 1 lb and $400, it gets a decent bit of work done – photo download (though slower than other devices), viewing (not as big as a laptop screen, but better than the camera), plays movies (battery life isn’t super though), etc. Since it is relatively first generation, there are going to be better models out soon.

Portable hard drive/image tanks
These devices are basically a card reader attached to a laptop hard drive. Push a button and they dump the CF card contents to the hard drive. There seems to be two main contenders, the Nexto-CF and the PD70X/HyperDrive. There are small differences between them, but they essentially have the same benifits, and both cost around $200. I’m leaning more towards the Nexto-CF based on this guys impressions & use. Relatively light, easy, and simple, but you don’t necessarily know if your photos are crap until you get them back home.

The no hardware option
Burn to dvds in net cafes. CF readers and CD burners can be common at net cafes – I was pretty successful with this in Peru. I suspect it depends a lot on the country. Will have to do some more research to see how easy it is in Cambodia & Vietnam. Main problem is that it can eat up time getting these copied and burned to cd/dvd.

At this point I’m leaning towards the image tanks for cost & convenience, but am still on the fence.

Thoughts?

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12 Comments

  1. Forget about the screen. If you are serious about photography, you need to shoot RAW. If you want I can get more into the why and how, but I am sure you can find some decent articles online.
    Once you have enough storage, there is absolutely no reason not to shoot RAW.
    At least it offers you much more dynamic range to pull details out of shadows and highlights, but it has a lot more advantages.
    Lugging around a Laptop is a poor choice too.
    So I own two portable Image Tanks.
    The first one is actually an MP3 player with CF port. At the time when I bought it, the only one available was the Archos Gmini 220 (20GB version).
    After the first shooting I lost some photos due to firmware problems. It is a known problem, but Archos didn’t tell me upfront. I upgraded the Firmware and since then it runs smoothly. Operation is a bit of a hassle, the buttons are small and sometimes don’t work correctly. On the bright side, it has some sort of file explorer, that lets you see what pictures you backed up already. Very nifty little tool. I still use it. It has a li-ion battery. I think I can copy about 5-10GB before I have to recharge (if I don’t listen to mp3).
    The second one is a cheaper and better solution that I purchased on ebay. It is a Digital Partner that came with a pre-installed 32GB HDD.
    You can get all kinds of sizes, since this thing is available even without a HDD. The guys at ebay simply put in a HDD and sell it at a slightly higher price (formatted).
    It too has a USB 2.0 port.
    It only has two buttons. Copy and Power. It has a nice display that tells you the free storage and battery life. It does not have a file explorer though, so if you forgot if you copied a card or not, you will have to copy it a second time.
    It too has a li-ion battery. Battery lifetime seems very good.
    About 6 month ago this was the best deal on the web. You can get one without a HDD for about $30-40 (I guess) and add a 2.5″ HDD yourself.
    If it is larger than 32GB you have to format it outside the case, because it only allows you to format up to 32GB with FAT32 over USB (or something like that, I forgot the specifics, but it can be done, simply google around).

    Another important factor: The digital partner came with a CD with Win98 drivers. I never gave this a second thought, since XP recognizes USB devices without drivers.
    When I was in Peru,
    http://www.aguntherphotography.com/galleries/south_america/peru.html
    a lot of the machines in Internet Caffes were running 98. I have not been able to find a driver online. Good thing I also had my Archos. For that one I could find drivers and was able to feed my blog:
    http://www.aguntherphotography.com/
    directly from Peru.
    For that one I shot some JPG, since I was not carrying around a raw converter. Fortunately I can shoot both for one photo. Most of the time I was shooting only raw though.

    I backed up my photos on both image tanks, simply because I knew that I wouldn’t get back to Peru soon. I have not lost a single file on either of the Image Tanks.
    I had both in ziplog bags. One in my backpack and one in my wifes (in case of theft or someone drops their backpack or falls).
    I think it is a good idea to have two.
    I bought relatively simple ones and did not bother myself with preview screens, since it adds little value, costs battery life (in the field this is the most precious) and can’t play raw anyways.

    So my advice:
    – No Laptop (too fragile, too expensive, too little battery life, risk of theft)
    – No screen (too expensive, battery life, no raw)

    Don’t rely on CD’s or DVD’s. For once they can scratch or you can have trouble reading them later.
    Secondly, when I shoot large mosaics such as this:
    http://www.aguntherphotography.com/machupicchu_222mp.html
    I have to shoot raw (for reasons explained in my tutorials section). This one consists of 35×8.5MB files = 297.5MB. Do 3 of those and your 1GB card is full. Sometimes I shoot blended exposures (3 shots per scene or more) and sometimes the light just keeps getting better and better while I keep shooting. This means on some special days I need to back up several GB in the Field. No time to find a DVD burner, not enough room on CD’s ….
    And I need to do it quickly, so I can keep shooting. Imagine if you filled up 3GB and you don’t find a burner that day.
    I have two large cards. I take one out, put the other one in and continue shooting. In the meantime I do the backup in my pocket.

  2. Two more things.
    I am going to have a new hardware review section on my site soon. One of the first things I wanted to write is a review of image tanks and image backup solutions. If you have one or two weeks time to wait, check my site for a new reviews section:
    http://www.aguntherphotography.com

    The second thing:
    Don’t trust your LCD screen. I am using a Laptop myself, but I have the screen calibrated with a Sypder2 (I am going to review that one too).
    The color temperature on most Laptop screens is way off, so they can make it look brighter than it is. When you edit / enhance your photos, you will be surprised how the print looks like.
    For critical stuff I use a CRT. You can also buy a really good expensive LCD if you need to have LCD.
    Either way, you need to calibrate your screen and then use only applications that use the monitor profile to view your pictures (photoshop, adobe bridge). Most viewers (Windows Viewer, Irfanview) do not use the profiles !!!!!!

  3. Andre, thanks again for the information. Good points on the other backup methods, the portable hard drives seem like the best bet. Good info on the color profiles. I’ll look forward to your Sypder2 review, I’ve been thinking about picking up something similar for a while now. I’ve done the manual calibration with a color card, but I have a feeling that just doesn’t cut it.

    The Digital Partner still seems to be the best bargain on the net ($40-55 for the case, $50-60 for a new drive). I don’t see it being an issue in SE Asia, but battery life might be an issue if I was away from power for a while. However, it is probably possible to rig up a AAA charger like some of the other drives.

    Nathan, I’ve been wondering about a dual use drive as well. Thanks for the link, I hadn’t seen them before. Another option is that CompactDrive is supposed to be bringing out an ipod type photo backup device in April as well.

  4. Chris. Good point. That gives me an idea for my review. I will simply charge the thing fully and then copy a 1GB flash card over and over again until the battery is empty, recording how much data I was able to copy over.
    I have not had problems in Peru. My guess would be that you will run out of Battery Charge for your new Camera before you run out of charge on the Digital Partner Device.

  5. I’ve been hunting for a P-2000. The cheapest on eBay (one left!) is from Norman, but if you read the rebate carefully, NO AUCTIONS! so the cheapest is a refurb on price grabber for 360. Not bad! I don’t know if the $50 rebate applies (don’t know if it ships with a UPC code), I may get one and see.

  6. Some more updates:
    Scratch the M80, it won’t be out until the 3rd week of May now.

    Nexto CF is supposed to be bringing out the Ultra (speeds up to 20 meg/sec) and the new USB OTG version. The OTG version will let you directly connect to another USB device, without a computer. This might be pretty cool for synchronizing PSDs, but I only plan on buying one PSD for now anyway. Again, I doubt these will be released in time.

    My main contenders right now are the Digital Partner Image Tank and the Nexto CF. Both tanks seem to be roughly the same size and weight, and handle the same drives (with a bit of extra work on the Digital Partner). The differences seem to be mostly be:

    1) Cost – $50 from eBay for the Digital Partner vs. aprox $120 for the Nexto CF, car charger, and external battery.

    2) Speed – the Nexto CF seems to be the current speed champ of all PSDs.

    3) Battery life – The Digital Partner copies roughly 14 GB per charge (check out Andre’s review). The Nexto CF copies roughly 21 GB per charge. The external battery on the Nexto CF triples that capacity, so its safe to say I would need a ziploc bag full of camera batteries to hope to test that.

    4) Cards – the Nexto CF only takes CF cards, you can use an adaptor, but speeds are slower. This isn’t a big deal for me, but it might be handy to support other kinds of cards.

    Perhaps my best bet is to go cheap for now, and worry about the ‘best’ PSD later.

  7. Update to the update:

    Doing a bit more research, it seems that the Digimate II is a re-branded version of the Digital Partner (or vise versa). They have a newer version out that is a bit smaller, and can swap batteries (user review here). The copy speed seems to be the same – roughly 2.5m/sec, I’d guess 14 mins to copy a 2GB card? The downside to the new version is that they removed the xD card slot – which my old Fuji uses. xD to CF adaptor I guess, though there are probably questions about using the bigger cards in the device.

  8. Progress never stops. Bought mine half a year ago and already there is a newer one ;-) My oldest Image Tank is an Archos Gmini 220 MP3 player with CF slot. That one still performs nicely but it is outdated.
    The Digimate two does seem to have xD support though:
    http://www.meritline.com/usb2-0-digi-mate3.html

    Another nice feature the Digital Partner doesn’t have is direct USB streaming from the Camera. Don’t know if the Digimate has it either. Its some sort of enhanced USB spec. Forgot the name.
    My 20D supports it, so I could hook up the tank directly (assuming a long battery life) and keep shooting like I had a 30GB CF card ;-)

    BTW: About your comment on my page, I am not sure you have to do that.

  9. Andre – I think the vIII lists xD but they probably mean you have to use an adaptor. Bit of a sketchy description in my opinion. The user review says they removed the SM/xD slot on the right side of the device.

  10. Hm. Fortunately I don’t use xD.
    I just recently bought my first Point and Shoot (Sony), so now I have a cam that uses something else but CF ;-).
    I must say I am impressed to see how far PS cameras have come. Not that it could rival a SLR but good enough for shots on the go.

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