With the advent of digital cameras, consumers have gained an itchy trigger finger. In the past, they were limited to around 24 pictures before they had to change rolls of film and send it in to get processed. This cost time and money.
With digital photography, hobbyists can easily snap hundreds of photos in a day. On vacation or at a party, this number can get WAY outta hand. Herein lies the problem.
Media for digital cameras is still expensive in dollars per megabyte terms. If you are on vacation and you fill up your memory cards, you are dead in the water. It’s time to either find a place to burn them, or buy new cards.
For guys like me, this problem is compounded as I am professional shooter. I do weddings. I can easily shoot 1500 shots at a wedding, which would eat up somewhere in the teens of memory cards.
Enter the portable hard drive. This is a brilliantly simple invention. Take a notebook hard drive, a battery, and a memory card interface, and you have a place to store your images. When you fill up a card, just stick it in the unit, press copy, and all your images are safely transferred to the hard drive. Now, you are free to use your card all over again.
At a wedding, I travel with two cards. This allows me to shoot one card while another is copying.
Like all great inventions, not all hard drive systems are created equally, and there are some serious caveats. In this arena, don’t try to save a buck here and there. Spend extra to get extra.
When I started shopping for one of these systems, I checked out all the biggies. In the end, I settled on the Nixvue DAII. I have used it for several weddings, events, and shoots and it has worked like a champ. I spent a week or so comparing models, and these are the things I ended up looking at:
Once you start using one of these, you will end up with massive amounts of files on your hard drive. at this point, they are pretty useless. It’s like money in the bank, it’s no fun until you withdraw it. Most of the systems out on the market use the USB 1.1 standard. I had one of these systems and found that there were times I could spend four hours waiting for my files to come over. That was hitting it too close if I had multiple shoots in a day.
If time is of the essence, make sure you get USB 2.0, which can cut this transfer time down to around ten minutes.
Since I am using this in a pro setting and not a consumer setting, my feature set need was different than most.
I ended up forgoing the video out features, which let you browse the pictures on your hard drive on a television. I also chose to do without a screen on the unit. Some units include a screen so you can browse your pictures right on the system. I merely needed to be able to copy my files and bring them home.
One of the biggest selling points for Nixvue for me was the “Verify” function. It allows you to verify that all the shots on your memory card were correctly copied.
Each unit offers different levels of filesystem manipulation. Since I just use mine to copy files, I didn’t need to worry too much about such things.
Finally, consider power sources. In most cases, you will be far away from AC power. If your batteries run low, you will end up just sitting there, pissed. Make sure you can power your system with an external battery pack if necessary. Most come with Li-ion batteries. I have had plusses and minuses with these batteries. Carry a backup set.
Here are the units I narrowed down my search to, and the reviews I read before buying:
Nixvue DAII – the unit I ended up purchasing
Image Tank III – I owned one of the first Image Tanks, and it ran like a champ, so I was THIS close to ordering this. A few websearches showed me that this unit is not even built by the same company and fraught with problems. I put my credit card away.
Image Tank I – I had one of these for a few years. It worked great, but I found that the readout was severely lacking, and the interface was USB 1.1. If you are looking for a cheap and easy solution where the shots are not absolutely mission critical, these can be had all over the net for $100. They come stock with 10G. That is plenty.
Image Tank G2 – This was my second choice, but I couldn’t very easily figure out if the system had a “Verify” function. I didn’t want to spend all day looking when Nixvue already sported that functionality. There are reports that the manual for this system can be downloaded, which would have answered all my questions, but all the links to the manuals were dead.
SmartDisk FlashTrax – this is a HOT little item. I didn’t go with it because it was overkill for what I needed, and priced a little rich for my blood. If you like extended feature sets, and have a couple of deep pockets, check this out.
Delkin Picture Pad – This unit seems to be one of the best of class, but it supports only USB 1.1. I would have probably picked this one up for its price/features set if it had supported USB 2.0.
In real use:
All these specs are great to look at, but how does all this work in real life?
Here’s a typical day of usage of mine.
With my camera/card setup, I can usually get 120 photos on a 512mb card. When I am getting to the full point on a card, I turn the unit on, and click “verify.” This makes sure that the last card I shot is verified and all the shots have been transferred okay. The verify takes about 30 seconds. Next, I swap the two cards and hit “copy.” To transfer 120 files/512mb to the drive takes about 8:20, so you have a little time between copy functions.
When I get home, I plug a USB cable into the system and upload my shots (about 1500) to my computer in about ten minutes.
I have found one fault with the Nixvue though. Although the manual states a battery usage life in amount of files transferred, I have found I get about half of what they say I should get. This means I MUST carry the AC adapter everywhere. I think I may have a bum battery, but I can’t afford the time to send it in and have them repair it.
All that being said, this system has allowed me to shoot stupid amounts of photographs in the field using only two easy to manage compact flash cards. Check out that models, and pick the price/features you like best, and your life will suddenly become less hectic.
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