As photographers, we are heavy data consumers with special needs from an external hard drive, where our work requires both a combination of size and speed. And with the introduction of better and more advanced cameras, with higher resolutions than ever, the file demands are ever-increasing. But, with so many options on the market, how exactly do you find an option that’s best for your needs? Buying the right drive isn’t as simple as purchasing the most expensive one you can afford. In this post, we’ve put together a quick guide on what to look out for, and a list of the best options today.
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What to look for in a hard drive?
Before we dive in, let’s cover a few essential aspects to considering when looking at a hard drive. In total, there are seven things to look for when shopping around.
Traditional Drive or SSD?
The biggest consideration here is that traditional hard drives use mechanical parts, making them more susceptible to damage when dropped. While SSDs (Solid-state Drives) have fewer moving parts making them more durable without needing bulky shock absorbers. And their simple construction also gives them faster speeds, giving you immediate access to your data. A bonus, since they lack any moving parts, accidentally bumping the drive during transfer won’t corrupt files.
Most manufacturers pre-configure their drives to support either Mac, Windows, or both. While this is easy to change after that, it’s an important consideration if you want a drive optimized for cross-platform compatibility or just your specific system. The standard formats are Mac OS Journaled, NTFS, and ExFat.
How fast of a drive do you need? Drives offer different transfer speeds that vary based on single or large batches transfers of files. Typical hard drives offer 100-200 MB/s read and write speeds while SSDs double that and provide 300 MB/s or more. This increased rate typically cuts transfer times in half from, say 5 minutes, down to 1-2 (sometimes even seconds). And in the real world, it’s a significant difference.
How much space do you need? A traditional drive will always give you more capacity for your dollar. And a comparable SSD can easily be double the price. So if you’re looking for a large SSD, expect to pay a premium. The best practice here is to buy the largest capacity you can currently afford.
Not all hard drives provide bus power directly from the connected device. With that, some of the larger drives will have a separate power supply and will need wall power. If you want maximum portability, this will add extra cables and reduce the portability.
How often do you plan on taking the drive out into the field? Are you a traveling photographer who’s always on the road, looking to backup and store as you go? It would also be wise to pay attention to how rugged the drive in question is—some drives offer weather sealing (IP55, 67, or 68 ratings) and bumpers that absorb shock from falls. However, if pocketability is of no concern, then it’d make sense to get a bigger external drive for use at home.
Some drives offer extra features such as bundled software, complimentary cloud storage, and data encryption. Others even include additional ports, such as SD card slots, or added functionality such as Wi-Fi or a USB-C port for cleaner and faster connections. If these extra features are a must, then this will also help rule out options.
5 – SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD
SanDisk’s Extreme Portable SSD is another entry into the ultra-compact SSD market. Released in the spring of 2018, it’s a slim and thin profile that follows the design from their more expensive Extreme Pro SSD. And it’s a drive aimed at users wanting a rugged yet portable design. With that, it’s both water and dust resistant with an IP55 rating and can withstand a 2m drop without damage. And as an exFAT device, it also works with both Windows and Mac right out of the box. SanDisk offers four storage sizes of this drive, ranging from 250GB-2TB and a three-year warranty.
It uses a USB Type-C connector, which matches the fastest SSD drives around in speed. And it delivers over 500 MBps in read and write speeds. SanDisk has also provided their SecureAccess software so that you can create a password-protected folder with 128-bit AES encryption.
Overall, SanDisk’s Extreme Portable is easily one of the best SSDs on the market. And yet thin enough to slip into a back pocket and easily smaller than today’s smartphones. And with its high-end performance, rugged build, pocket-sized design, and low price, it’s quite the bargain.
4 – WD My Passport SSD
WD’s My Passport SSD is a drive that brings some fashion and appeal to hard drives with its part metal casing. Released in the summer of 2018, it’s WD’s first SSD, and one that’s sleek enough to fit into most pockets. They aim this drive at users looking for portability, with speed. And while it’s not IP68-rated for weather resistance, it can take a few drops and is shock-absorbant up to 2m. And the drive is also formatted as an exFat partition for cross-compatibility on Windows and Mac. WD offers four storage sizes for this drive, ranging from 256GB-2TB, with a three-year limited warranty.
It offers USB Type-C, and it’s 3.1 Gen 2 ready, which delivers blazing-fast read and write speeds of 540 MBps. And it’s also bus-powered, which removes the need for an external power supply. This drive also comes bundled with WD’s full suite of pre-loaded software apps. Namely, WD Backup to automatically backup files to the drive. And WD Security to encrypt your dating with 256-bit AES encryption.
Overall, WD’s My Passport SSD is a sleek and compact drive that melds style with functionality. And it provides excellent performance at a competitive price point.
3 – WD My Passport Wireless Pro
WD’s My Passport Wireless Pro aims to be the ideal all-in-one device. Released in the summer of 2016, it’s a drive aimed at users looking for functionality and streamlining their workflow, rather than portability. While it’s not weather resistant or shock-absorbant, it’s formatted for ExFat for easy cross-compatibility between Mac and Windows. And WD offers four storage sizes for this drive, which range from 1TB-4TB, with a two-year limited warranty.
The drive uses USB 3.0, which delivers a read and write speed of 120 Mbps, respectable for the class. But, it has several unique key selling features. Firstly, it offers an integrated SD card reader, which lets you immediately transfer photos or videos from your camera to the drive, a rare feature for this class. Secondly, the drive also doubles as a 6,400mAh power bank to charge your devices and use neat wire-free connections. And lastly, it has built-in Wi-Fi, so you can use it as a portable media server to wirelessly stream photos and videos to other devices with HD quality. And WD’s equipped the drive with WI-Fi password protection to secure your files and Drive Lock to prevent unauthorized USB access.
Overall, while not the fastest drive in this class, WD’s Wireless Pro offers unique functionality unmatched by rivals. And it creates a versatile all-in-one package for the photographer looking for more than a standard hard drive. It’s designed for a seamless workflow and fills an interesting gap between a variety of separate devices.
2 – WD My Passport Ultra 4TB
WD’s My Passport Ultra continues their popular long-standing Passport lineup. Released in the fall of 2018, it’s the latest generation in the series and their lightest mechanical drive to date. It now comes with a refreshed design, updated connections, and better software. This drive also comes pre-formatted for NTFS for use with Windows. Mac users will require a quick reformat before use. And WD offers this drive in four sizes, ranging from 1TB-5TB, with a three-year limited warranty.
The drive uses USB-C, which reaches read and write speeds of 120 MBps, respectable considering its a mechanical drive, not an SSD. WD also includes their WD Backup software, which allows you to automate your backup routine on an hourly, daily, or monthly schedule. And their WD Security, which keeps your file private with 256-bit AES Hardware Encryption.
Overall, WD’s My Passport Ultra offers roomy portable storage at an attractive price. And compared to rivals, its key selling point is the price you pay per gigabyte. It’s an excellent all-around performer for a traditional drive and improves an already reliable product.
1 – Samsung Portable SSD T5
Samsung’s T5 SSD is a slick and compact drive, that’s arguably the most stylish drive around. Plus, at 51g and smaller than the average business card, it’s also one of the lightest. Released in the fall of 2017, it’s a drive aimed at users looking for maximum speed and portability. It comes formatted to exFat by default. But that allows it to support Windows, Mac, and now Android devices, a rare addition in this class. Samsung also offers the drive in four sizes, ranging from 250GB-2TB and bundles a 3-year limited warranty.
The drive uses USB-C (USB 3.1 Gen 2), which reaches speeds of 540 MBps, 4.9x faster than conventional HDDs. And it includes 256-bit AES encryption, so you can protect your files if needed. These speeds and security come bundled into a shock protected casing that allows it to survive drops from 2m without damage.
Overall, Samsung’s T5 is an excellent all-rounder for those who want to stay portable and carry large amounts of data. Samsung has a reputation for strong external drives, and this release inevitably follows suit. It builds on its predecessor’s popularity with even more impressive transfer speeds and a compact yet, rugged design. And it shows that big things can come in small packages. If you’re looking for the best all-round drive, this is certainly the drive for you.