To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, only three things in life are certain: death, taxes and the accumulation of more and more digital image files. To cope with this digital deluge, there are three basic storage options: external hard drives, cloud services and a hybrid do-it-yourself (DIY) cloud, which combines some of the benefits of the former two choices.
While no one option is manifestly superior, each have their strengths. External hard drives offer photographers several advantages: They’re subscription free and generally secure from any external hacking/unwanted surveillance/theft threat. After a sustained price run-up following devastating floods in Thailand, the average cost-per-byte of hard drives has resumed its downward march, putting more terabytes within reach. Finally, thanks to USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt connections, they offer extremely fast transfer speeds so you can offload work without an interminable wait.
The cloud has a different value proposition. Files uploaded to the cloud (i.e., network-based computer systems accessed via the Internet) have the benefit of being off site. So if disaster befalls your home or office, at least your files are secure. Cloud services are also typically mirrored on multiple drives dispersed in server farms across the country. Additionally, you enjoy the ability to access and upload your files from any Internet-connected device, a feature that proves useful for smartphone photographers as well as tablet users looking to show off a large portfolio that’s not stored locally. Cloud costs, though, vary widely. While Flickr grabbed headlines for offering up a whopping terabyte (TB) worth of disk space to users free of charge, most all-purpose cloud storage sites parcel out a few gigabytes for free before monthly fees kick in. If video is a large part of your mix, the cloud may not be as economically attractive.
Depending on your needs, you can find cloud platforms that are built for pro photography. These services will not only archive images for the long haul but provide a turnkey platform for selling images (and merchandise created from them) and promoting your work in secure public galleries. They typically offer plug-ins for Lightroom and Aperture, so you can seamlessly upload your images as part of your workflow. Other cloud services are more all-purpose, able to store a greater variety of file formats beyond JPEGs and TIFFs without a specific pro-photography bent.
Finally, there are hybrid or DIY clouds. These are essentially hard drive systems that connect to a router so you can access their contents from smartphone apps or Web browsers. These DIY clouds offer the anywhere accessibility of true cloud services without the subscription fees.
Out of this robust mix of archiving options, here are few of our favorite storage solutions for photographers.
EXTERNAL HARD DRIVES
LaCie d2 USB 3.0 external hard driveLaCie d2 USB 3.0
LaCie d2 USB 3.0 external drives connect to PCs or Macs via USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt for data transfers as fast as 170 MB/s (megabytes per second). The drive’s aluminum casing can dissipate heat more effectively, allowing LaCie to go without a fan-cooled system, minimizing the unit’s noise. The d2 drive’s contents can be secured using the included AES 256-bit encryption software and on-board monitoring software can generate e-mail alerts to clue you into the drive’s status.
Prices: $299 for 3 TB; $399 for 4 TB
G-Technology G-Dock ev external hard driveG-Technology G-Dock ev
The G-Dock ev contains a pair of removable 1-TB external drives that can be used independently as portable drives in the field, or left in place to provide backup for PCs and Macs. Boasting 2 TB in total storage out of the box and transfer speeds up to 136 MB/s, the G-Dock ev can be configured in RAID 1, where one drive’s contents are mirrored on the other, or RAID 0, where both drives are used to store unique files for faster speed. Any G-Drive ev USB 3.0 hard drive can be used in the G-Dock ev bay, so the system is adaptable and expandable, as your storage needs change. The G-Dock ev also offers a Thunderbolt connector (cable included) for Macs.
Price: $749 for 2 TB
DIY CLOUD SERVICES
Western Digital My Cloud cloud serviceWestern Digital My Cloud
Western Digital’s My Cloud connects to your home Internet router via Ethernet. From there, you configure the drive using a Web-based setup, download the free My Cloud app to any mobile device you own (iOS and Android), and voila, you’ve built a cloud. Files can be password protected and are automatically backed up from any home PC (mobile devices need to be backed up manually at this point). You can also create password-protected accounts and share information from your drive with other people, just like you can share links to files stored in Dropbox. Western Digital also lets you back up the My Cloud drive using a feature called Safepoint, which allows you to back up the My Cloud onto another external hard drive or computer with automatic syncing to ensure all data is up to date in the event that My Cloud fails and you need to retrieve your important files. If you do fill up your existing My Cloud drive, you can connect another external hard drive to the unit via USB to expand your storage.
Prices: $150 for 2 TB; $179 for 3 TB
Seagate 2-Bay NAS cloud serviceSeagate 2-Bay NAS
The 2-Bay NAS drive from Seagate is a private cloud solution offering SSL/TLS-secured connections, making data harder to intercept on its journey to and from the drive. It offers a pair of hot-swappable hard drive bays, which enable you to remove and replace drives if they reach capacity when the drive is powered on. It can automatically back up the contents of a connected PC and supports Apple’s Time Machine backup technology as well. The 2-Bay drive can also be configured to mirror the contents of one of its drives onto the second for extra security. With free apps for iOS and Android devices, you can upload and download files to and from the drive whenever you have an Internet connection on the road. The drives offer two Ethernet ports, two USB 3.0 ports and one Universal Media port so you can load files directly to the 2-Bay without a computer.
Prices: $349 for 4 TB; $479 for 6 TB; $599 for 8 TB
PHOTO-FRIENDLY CLOUD SERVICES
SmugMug Photo StorageSmugMug
After years of modest enhancements, SmugMug pulled back the curtain on a comprehensive site overhaul in July of last year. Among the biggest changes involves how images are presented. You now have the option of up to 24 different layouts with the ability to fine-tune your photo pages even further. Every SmugMug user package will store an unlimited number of images up to 50 MB in size each as well as 1080p HD video files up to 20 minutes in length or 3 GB in size. Depending on your subscription tier, you can include custom watermarks on your photos, protect photos from right clicks, see detailed site analytics and enable e-commerce functions with several partner photo labs for images you display.
Prices: $60 per year for Power; $150 per year for Portfolio; $300 per year for Business
Zenfolio’s Premium and Premium Business hosting tiers offer everything photographers need to store, display and profit from their work. The service offers unlimited photo storage, custom site branding and URLs, file uploads as large as 64 MB, custom watermarking, and e-commerce through a variety of partners including Mpix, ivoke and PictureItPostage. Depending on your needs, the service offers several add-ons, such as RAW image processing, color correction and an expansive library of music tracks that can be tacked onto your subscription. Zenfolio supports HD video uploads in 1080p at up to 20 minutes in length or 2 GB in size (videos are converted into the H.264 format when uploaded). Photos can be displayed in full-screen, embeddable slide shows with a catalogue of 50 free songs to choose from. Images can be batch uploaded via a browser or through plug-ins for Adobe Lightroom or Aperture. You can also opt for the Unlimited tier, which eliminates the e-commerce options and shrinks the maximum file size to 36 MB for $60 per year.
Prices: $120 per year for Premium; $250 per year for Premium Business
ALL-PURPOSE CLOUD SERVICES
Carbonite cloud serviceCarbonite
If you don’t need a platform for showing off your portfolio and are simply in need of bulk cloud storage to archive sensitive files, Carbonite is a very cost-effective and easy-to-use option. A base plan for $60 a year offers unlimited file storage with automatic backups for your PC or Mac (video files, however, must be backed up manually under the entry-level plan). What Carbonite lacks is an option to upload photo and video files from smartphones, though you can access photos and videos stored on Carbonite from any Web-connected mobile device. As you increase in monthly costs, Carbonite adds automatic video backup, support for multiple computers, imaging of an entire hard drive and the option to have an external backup drive mailed to you.
Prices: $60 per year for Home; $100 per year for Home Plus; $150 per year for Home Premier
Dropbox cloud serviceDropbox
Dropbox offers a secure, all-purpose home for your files using 256-bit AES and SSL encryption plus a two-step verification process that helps bar unwanted visitors from accessing your digital goods. Mobile apps allow you to back up the contents of smartphones and tablets to your account. If you opt for a Pro account, you’ll enjoy 100 GB of storage for a single user with the option to pay an extra $3.99 per month for an unlimited number of file recoveries in the event you accidentally delete something. Another $3.99 a month gives you access to the entire history of a file. Dropbox Business users get both options included, plus unlimited storage capacity for up to five users.
Prices: $99 per year for Pro; $795 per year for Business