Top 3 Best External Hard Drives for Photographers in 2018

We like to complain about how much space photos take up on a phone, but as a photographer, they're going to take up even more space on your computer.

From RAW files to edits and uncompressed high definition shots, images are almost certainly taking a chunk out of your machine's capacity. This is undesirable for more than a few reasons.

All the photos will force your computer to run slower, make it harder to install the programs you need and be stuck in one place.

Alternatively, you can move your photos to an external drive. This drive is just like the one in your computer, except that it's portable and expands your available storage.

From traditional HDDs to modern SSDs, a little storage to a lot, there's definitely something to meet your needs.

In this article, we'll list the top 3 best external drives for photographers to save you time exploring. Keep reading for more!

Quick Summary

Drive: Western Digital 2TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive

  • Ideal for: If you need a considerable amount of space without high costs, and don't mind using the classic HDD.
  • Not for: If you intend to use your drive on multiple system types or expose it to potential damage (i.e. in the field).

Drive: Samsung T5 Portable SSD

  • Ideal for: Cross-platform work (including Android tablets/phones, extremely fast speeds, and a sturdy metal exterior to protect from drops.
  • Not for: If you need a lot of storage space.

Drive: VectoTech Rapid External SSD

  • Ideal for: If you need a lot of storage space and you need to be able to access all stored files quickly, potentially across multiple systems.
  • Not for: Those who would be uncomfortable formatting a drive themselves.

Who Should Get This?

If you are a photographer who takes a lot of pictures (or videos), you're eventually going to run out of options for storing them. You could burn them to CDs, and keep the discs in a massive binder. You could buy an entirely new computer to store them on. You could attempt to upload them to a cloud site and end up with compressed files.

Or, you could start with an external drive that will keep them safe in one place, make them easily portable, and easy to organize. An external drive is an absolute necessity for a serious photographer.

If you don't take many pictures or aren't too concerned with your computer's storage, you could always try a cloud backup system or a flash drive, but be aware your space will be limited with either option.

External Drive for Photographers: What to Consider?

HDD vs SSD

When you think of a hard drive, you probably picture the physical spinning disk that has traditionally been used and is common in many computers. This is called an HDD, but there is another type of drive, the SSD, that is available. SSDs use flash storage (like on small jump drives) and have no moving parts, making them more reliable. However, they tend to be more expensive.

Formatting

If you purchase an HDD, it will be formatted for either macOS or PC use (a few drives are formatted to work on both, but this is uncommon). You can always reformat the drive, but this will erase all of its content, so if you go this route make sure you plan on using the drive on only one type of operating system. An SSD is usually cross-compatible, so this is the better choice if you plan to access your photos from a variety of places.

See also: How to format a flash drive for Mac and PC compatibility

Storage Capacity

Your number one concern should be how much space your drive of choice offers. Too little space and you'll be forced to go through lengthy upgrades/files transfers or to buy new drives. Too much space (for example, if you intend to use separate drives each year) and you're paying unnecessarily for storage you won't use. 1GB of space is roughly 500 images at a standard resolution taken with a phone camera — but this number goes down when you use multiple file versions per image, higher resolutions, and better cameras. You'll want at least 500 GB of space, if not more.

Best External Hard Drive for Photographers: Top Picks

1. Western Digital 2TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive

Available from 1TB to 4TB in size, this drive comes preformatted for Windows and has plug-n-play functionality (you won't have to install any software to use it). It uses USB 3.0 to connect to your computer and spins at 5400 RPM.

Pros:

  • Fast read/write speeds reduce file loading and access time.
  • Very portable 3" x 4" design, great for taking from home to work or into the field.
  • Available in large sizes so you'll have plenty of storage space.

Cons:

  • Must be reformatted to work on macOS.

2. Samsung T5 Portable SSD

The T5 is an SSD drive that knows how to score all the points. It features the rising USB-C port as well as a USB-C to USB-A (classic) cable in case your computer doesn't feature this new port. Reads and writes at about 540 MB/s.

Pros:

  • USB-C is compatible not only with laptops such as the new MacBook Pro or HP Envy but also many Android phones and tablets, so you can see your files anywhere.
  • The casing is a tough metal that will limit damage from drops and bumps.
  • Formatted as exFAT.

Cons:

  • Not available in sizes greater than 2TB.

3. VectoTech Rapid External SSD

If you want fast speeds and plenty of space, VectoTech's drive is the best choice. It offers up to 4TB of SSD storage (or as little as 128GB, if you're on the opposite end of the spectrum). The read/write speeds are more than satisfactory at 450 MB/s.

Pros:

  • Plug and play if you're on PC, and an extremely light drive at only 4 ounces.
  • Compatible with Time Machine if you reformat to Mac only.
  • Runs in absolute silence and has very fast read/write speeds.

Cons:

  • No built-in password protection, and if you want cross-system compatibility you'll need to reformat it yourself to exFAT (or to Mac, as it comes formatted for PC).

Additional Tips & Tricks

If you're having a hard time deciding between HDD & SSD drives, here are a few pointers:

HDD:

  • Lower cost per GB
  • Very common and have been used for many years
  • Formatted for a single system
  • More susceptible to damage

SSD:

  • Higher cost per GBIncreasing popularity
  • Formatted for all systems
  • More reliable due to lack of moving parts
  • Higher max read/write speeds

You can also check out PCWorld's guide on the matter if you're still unsure.

Conclusion

An external drive is absolutely necessary for a photographer. Your images take up space — perhaps not physically as a roll of film would, but certainly digitally in the form of originally shoots, edits, and more.

No one wants to delete old photos unnecessarily, and the solution is simple. Whether you choose HDD or SSD, 500GB or 3TB, you'll be set up for a compact and effective storage system that will keep your images safe for years to come.

Of course, keeping them all organized is a different matter, but if you have a method for doing so or a drive recommendation, drop us a comment below!

Chris is a computer geek for a decade. He loved talking to computers via codes, and now he finds it more interesting communicating with the real people. He now writes everything related to computer issues and loves helping people solve problems.

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