Time to Back Up: External Hard Drives for Photographers

Best External Hard Drives for Photographers

If you ask any prolific image maker of their worst nightmare, the chances are high that they’ll cite the possibility of their photographic archives being wiped out of existence. A computer malfunction can all too easily permanently delete years of data in an instant.

For precisely this reason, external hard drives are a necessity for the modern photographer. Having work backed up in a secondary location acts as insurance, guaranteeing that you won’t be left high and dry should your original files meet an unfortunate fate. What many photographers may not realize is that not all external hard drives are identical.

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Some have added physical safeguards to prevent the internal structure of the drive from getting damaged. Others focus on making the drive function as quickly as possible to make importing and exporting files nearly instantaneous.

What the drive has to offer often directly impacts the looks, structure, and price of a product. However, it can be difficult to recognize the aspects that differentiate each model with just a passing glance.

We’ve snooped around to find which drives have the most to offer.

Divided by some of the most common qualities photographers seek in external hard drives, this article dives head-first into just what makes these products stand out.

✔ The BEST External Hard Drives for Photographers

with up-to-date and verified user reviews and star ratings from Amazon.com 

> Best for Reliability

> Best External Hard Drives for Storage Space

> Best External Hard Drives on a Budget

> Best External Hard Drives for Low Sound

> Best External Hard Drives for Design

Best External Hard Drives for Reliability

It should come as no surprise that reliability is one of the most sought-after qualities for those in the market for external hard drives. After all, a drive isn’t going to provide any sort of assurance if you can’t count on it to work. Reliability in a drive is dependent on two aspects – its ability to data safe and secure within, and its ability to withstand any and all harmful external elements. These two drives offer the protection necessary to keep your files guarded.

Portable: LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt

  • Dimensions: 3.5 x 5.5 x 1 in, 0.75 lbs
  • Storage Space: Up to 2 TB

The Thunderbolt is a force to be reckoned with. Cushioned with a durable protective material, this drive claims to be waterproof – a feature practically unheard of for external hard drives.

Furthermore, the LaCie hard disk has an impressive drop resistance of 6.6 feet. A bottom cap also keeps debris and dust into the drive via the USB ports.

In short, no matter what the drive is put through, it’s likely to keep on trucking.

For any and all photographers working on the go, the Thunderbolt is a game changer. Aside from providing protection, it also provides speedy transfers at rates up to 387 MB/second.  With backward compatibility, you can count on it to connect to any standard computer available.

LaCie Rugged 2TB Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive + 1mo Adobe CC All Apps...
  • Shock, drops up to 5 feet, dust and water resistant for all-terrain use
  • Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 for speeds of up to 240 MB/s
  • Bus powered via Thunderbolt for mobile workflows
  • Hardware RAID 0/1 flexibility for speed or security
  • Includes 1-month complimentary membership to Adobe Creative Cloud All Apps Plan. Must redeem by January 31, 2020.

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Desktop: Toshiba Canvio for Desktop

  • Dimensions: 1.63 x 6.57 x 5.1 in, 2.2 lbs
  • Storage Space: Up to 6 TB

Like the LaCie, the Toshiba Canvio is compatible with both Mac and Windows devices. And while the Canvio may not be as rugged as the Thunderbolt, it offers a similar piece of mind.

Large enough to backup a large amount of data, Toshiba goes the extra mile to ensure that your data is safe. With local and Cloud backup options available, Canvio does all that it can to ensure that files are as recoverable as possible. Users can take an extra step to keep their information protected with password protection for sensitive materials.

Users overwhelmingly report feeling at ease with the Canvio residing in their office or studio. However, for those with an ounce skepticism, Toshiba offers a 2-year warranty to cover anything that may happen to the drive.

Toshiba Canvio for Desktop 3TB External Hard Drive (HDWC330XK3J1)
  • Local and Cloud backup options
  • Full system backup and recovery
  • PC & Mac compatible. Stores and accesses files from PC and Mac without reformatting
  • Password lock feature to prevent unauthorized drive access
  • 2-year limited warranty included

Best External Hard Drives for Storage Space

The amount of content that can fit within a drive is important to take into consideration before making a purchase. For those just starting out, a smaller drive may prove to be more than enough to store each and every file. However, for professionals working with large archives, something a bit more substantial may be necessary. The following should be able to accommodate even the most prolific picture-takers.

Portable: WD My Passport

  • Dimensions: 3.21 x 4.33 x 0.85 in, 0.54 lbs
  • Storage Space: Up to 4 TB

Without a doubt, WD leads the competition in terms of providing storage space.

Though desktop models can offer extensive amounts of space, portable drives still have certain limitations to overcome. At the moment, the 1/2 pound My Passport offers 4TB – an impressive feat for its class. For reference, that means that this particular drive is capable of storing a whopping 800,000 images or 300 hours of HD video.

Naturally compatible with Windows 7 and up, My Passport can be reformatted to support Mac OS X. However, the Passport’s allure does not fall short at utility. Available in a variety of colors in an interesting design, these drives are among the most eye-catching on the market.

WD 4TB Black My Passport Portable External Hard Drive - USB 3.0 - WDBYFT0040BBK-WESN
  • Auto backup with included WD Backup software
  • Password protection with hardware encryption
  • Trusted drive built with WD reliability
  • USB 3.0 port; USB 2.0 compatible. SYSTEM COMPATIBILITY: Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 7. Requires reformatting for Mac OS...
  • 3-year manufacturer's limited warranty

Desktop: WD My Book Duo

  • Dimensions: 6.3 x 3.9 x 7.1 inches, 5.2 lbs
  • Storage Space: Up to 20 TB

As impressive as MyPassport is, WD’s MyBook Duo beats out all of its competition by a long shot. Though it comes at a steep cost, the Duo boasts an incredible 20 TB.

For those with an extensive archive to manage, that means storage for over 3.5 million individual images. Even the most prolific photographers can confidently store their shots with room to spare. For those who feel 20 TB might be a bit excessive (but still long for the massive storage space), the Duo also offers 12 TB and 16 TB models.

WD 20TB My Book Duo Desktop RAID External Hard Drive - USB 3.1 - WDBFBE0200JBK-NESN
  • Massive capacity storage with auto and system backup
  • RAID-0 ready out of the box
  • RAID optimized WD Red drives
  • USB 3.1 Gen 1-ready, USB 3.0 compatibility
  • 3-year manufacturer's limited warranty

Best External Hard Drives on a Budget

Obviously, the price of a product can make or break a deal. With external hard drives, there’s quite a gamut in expense. High-quality models can even flirt with the $1000 mark. However, it’s easy to find models available for under $100. The trick is to balance quality with cost – in our opinion, these two drives do just that.

Portable: Toshiba Canvio Basics

  • Dimensions: 3.1 x 4.7 x 0.59 in, 0.51 lbs
  • Storage Space: Up to 3 TB

Superficial qualities aside, the portable, affordable Canvio offers a deal that’s difficult to beat.

The Toshiba Canvio is very affordable. Powered directly via USB port, the Canvio is clean and simple – it requires no secondary software or downloads to function.

What’s more, the compact design means that this drive is truly portable. For the piece of mind and accessibility this little gadget offers, we feel that it’s well worth its price tag.

Toshiba Canvio Basics 1TB Portable Hard Drive - Black (HDTB310XK3AA)
  • USB 3.0-powered portable add-on storage
  • Easy to use with no software to install
  • Plug and play operation
  • Accommodates large digital files with spacious storage capacity
  • Compact, smudge-resistant design

Desktop: Seagate Backup Plus Hub

  • Dimensions: 4.7 x 1.6 x 7.8 in, 2.3 lbs
  • Storage Space: Up to 8 TB

No matter how you slice it,  8TB for under $200 is a deal that really can’t be beaten!

However, the Seagate’s draw doesn’t come from its price tag alone – it’s also an incredibly efficient piece of equipment.

On the outside, the drive has two accessible USB ports. That means that while the drive is in use, it can also effectively charge other USB compatible devices.

The inner workings of the Seagate Backup Plus are equally versatile. With an HFS+ driver installed, it can seamlessly work between Mac and Windows operating systems without reformatting. The Hub’s software also makes local, mobile, cloud, and social media backup a breeze.

Seagate offers one other neat option to truly sweeten the deal. With the free mobile Backup app, it’s possible for users to back up and transfer data located on iOS and Android devices. For no extra cost, Seagate users can keep ALL of their data secure – not just the files living on their computers.

Seagate Backup Plus Hub 8TB External Hard Drive Desktop HDD – USB 3.0, 2 USB Ports,...
  • Store and access content for years to come with 8TB in a USB drive
  • A great external hard drive for Mac and Windows, this hub can charge mobile devices and transfer files from USB cameras and...
  • Use seamlessly between Windows and Mac by installing the provided NTFS driver for Mac
  • Take advantage of a complimentary 2 month membership to the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan for access to awesome photo...
  • Enjoy long term peace of mind with the included 2 year limited warranty

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Best External Hard Drives for Low Sound

It may seem a bit superficial, but some buyers take the sound emitted by a drive very seriously. While a drive is in use, the moving parts within often vibrate, spin, or click – the volume of these routine noises can range from barely audible to quite loud. For those who can’t afford the distraction of a noisy piece of equipment, the following models are among the quietest options available.

Portable: Seagate Expansion

  • Dimensions: 3.15 x 4.61 x 0.82 in, 0.52 lbs
  • Storage Space: Up to 4 TB

The Seagate Expansion doesn’t have many frills to it. But, having been in the business of building drives since the 1980’s, the company has come close to perfecting their model.

Compared to older models, the newest drives on the market make significantly less noise, cutting down on clicks and spins while said device is in use. In fact, the system’s fan masks out almost all of the drive’s functioning noises, creating a very quiet work experience.

Best of all, Seagate hasn’t sacrificed any qualities in order to make the Expansion quiet. Like similar hard drives on the market, this model boasts fast transfer speeds, a light weight, and plenty of storage space to work with.

Seagate Expansion 4TB Portable External Hard Drive USB 3.0 (STEA4000400) &...
  • Easy and simple to use - plug it in and go
  • Fast file transfers with SuperSpeed USB 3.0
  • Max compatible dimensions: 5.39" x 3.54" x 0.59"
  • Compact case to store or transport medium and larger portable hard drives

Desktop: Fantom Drives G-Force3

  • Dimensions: 1.7 x 7.7 x 4.7 in
  • Storage Space: Up to 8 TB

Because the FantomG-Force3 is a solid state hard drive, it completely lacks the whirring and spinning commonplace with other drives. In fact, according to consistent online reviews, it’s virtually silent.

The Fantom is encased in an attractive aluminum casing that serves purposes beyond aesthetics. The material naturally propels heat downwards, preventing the system from overheating (even after hours of use). Therefore, the makers behind the Fantom have been able to implement a fanless design.

Since fans are the most common culprits of the sounds we hear coming from our external hard drives, a lack of fan makes for a particularly quiet product. Considering the Fantom is able to function at 5 GB/second,  it’s clear that the system doesn’t face detrimental consequences for this innovative change.

Fantom Drives 5TB External Hard Drive - USB 3.0/3.1 Gen 1 Aluminum Case - Mac,...
  • Fantom Drives Gforce3 Features USB 3. 0 connection allowing transfer rates up to 10 times the rate of USB 2. 0
  • The Gforce3 USB 3. 0 Hard Drive is perfect for Audio and video professionals requiring maximum performance and reliability.
  • Rugged Features provide optimal storage for all your photos, videos, and backups
  • The USB 3. 0 is backwards compatible with USB 2. 0. Plug & play simplicity.
  • Aluminum casing doubles as a heat sink and provides maximum durability.

Best External Hard Drives for Design

Looks aren’t everything, but they certainly don’t hurt. Unfortunately, external hard drives aren’t usually the most glamorous accessories out there. Of course, there are always exceptions. These attractive drives aren’t just aesthetically stunning – they utilize innovative designs to function as efficiently as possible.

Portable: Samsung T5 SSD

  • Dimensions: 0.4 x 2.3 x 3 in
  • Storage Space: Up to 2 TB

As Amazon’s #1 best selling solid state drive, the Samsung T5 is worth taking close, hard look at.

Coming in black and blue, this device couldn’t be easier to use. Furthermore, it may be the most portable option included on this list – it’s small enough to fit in the palm of a person’s hand. Perhaps most impressively, aside from connecting to computers, the Samsung can connect directly with smartphones as well as other similar devices.

However, the design behind this drive is practical as well as stylish. Thanks to a rounded frame and a lack of moving parts, the T5 can withstand falls of up to 6.5 ft (compare that with the LaCie Thunderbolt’s 6.6 ft capacity).

Samsung T5 Portable SSD - 500GB - USB 3.1 External SSD (MU-PA500B/AM)
  • Superfast Read-Write speeds of up to 540 MB/s
  • Top to bottom metal design that fits in the palm of your hand
  • Optional password protection and AES 256-bit hardware encryption
  • Includes USB Type C to C and USB Type C to A cables
  • 3-year warranty

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Desktop: LaCie Porsche

  • Dimensions: 4.7 x 7.5 x 1.5 in, 2.2 lbs
  • Storage Space: Up to 8 TB

A collaboration between LaCie and Porsche has resulted in this timeless, attractive, and most importantly, high performing external hard drive: the LaCie Porsche Drive.

The drive’s look can best be described as sleek and simplistic. A solid 5mm aluminum casing provides a professional look while simultaneously dissipating heat. Externally, the only discernible feature to the LaCie Porsche is a long, striking LED light, which indicates whether the drive is in use. For those seeking a way to painlessly store and organize images, this drive implies an easy experience through looks alone.

Aside from aesthetics, this drive boasts an excellent internal design as well. A highlight of the LaCie Porsche includes an Automatic Eco mode, which lowers the device’s power consumption by 77%.

And finally, once you have selected the best external hard drive for sorting and backing up your images, watch this video with tips on an ideal workflow from Pro Photographer Mark Galer:

Our recommended external hard disks for this type of workflow:

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