Portable Storage Devices

Last Updated: 19 Oct 07
Copyright 2007 by Stephen Vermeulen

In spring of 2007 I have seen flash cards priced as low as $30 for a 2GB SD card, with prices like this the need for a hard drive based digital storage device is greatly reduced.  Most people should be able to go on vacation for a few weeks and use less than $100 worth of flash cards, unless they are taking video or have a camera that stores in a RAW format.  Of course with the coming age of HD video cameras which can write to flash cards this whole issue will open up again, as even if the video camera supports the MPEG4 compression system you are still going to need at about 2GB per hour of video, which means you might need quite a few flash cards.

These are typically based on hard drives or CD burners and include a flash memory reader, you insert your full flash card, press a button or two, and the device copies the contents of the card onto its hard drive or burns it on a CDR/RW. There are now (Sept'04) even ones based on DVD-R/RW drives. The idea is that it will be a few years before flash memory cards are inexpensive enough that the amature photographer can just buy enough flash memory to store all the photos he will take on a one or two week trip, but one of these devices would certainly do the job for a lot less. Consider that 1GB of storage holds about 600 photos at 3MegaPixel resolution but only about 250 photos at 8MegaPixels. Consider that when one goes from film to digital one is quite likely to shoot 5-10 times as many photos. If you used to budget one roll of 24 exposures of film per day, this means you are going to need to store about 100-200 digital photos per day. So for a 2 week trip you'll need storage for 1400-3000 photos. At 3MegaPixels this is about 2.3 - 5 GB, and at 8MegaPixels this is 5.6 - 12GB. Of course, if you go somewhere special (say Rome) you may find yourself shooting 500 photos a day! And of course if you used to shoot more than a roll of film a day you've really got a problem... Or if you want to shoot in RAW mode at 8-12MB per photo you'll have a real problem.

Of course if you're a professional (or a paranoid computer user who's lost data in the past) you'll want to make multiple copies of your photos in the field, perhaps taking two hard drive based storage devices or using a CD burner unit and burning two copies of each CD.

At Sept 2004 prices for CompactFlash format (the least expensive format still) the current sale prices for 1GB of flash memory (actually two 512MB cards) is CDN$200, so for a 3MPixel vacation you'd need to spend CDN$500-$1000 on compact flash cards. If you were to extract a 4GB or 5GB microdrive from some MP3 player you would have enough storage for about CDN$400 (or less).

The obvious alternatives to taking this approach are:
  1. shoot less, or review and delete a lot of photos in the field (in my opinion you will need a laptop to do the reviewing on, in check case you'll use if for the storage)
  2. shoot at a lower resolution and quality (but then why did you buy an 8MegaPixel camera?)
  3. buy a microdrive or two (this will depend on if your camera can take a CompactFlash type II card), but at the 8M Pixel requirements this is still not as cost effective (even if you extract the microdrive from some less expensive MP3 player). And then there's always the reliability issue - what you you drop the microdrive onto the street one day? Note: I own one IBM 1GB microdrive which I have used as my in camera memory for 3 years and not had any problems with it, but some days I still get nervous.
  4. off load the photos to a laptop you're bringing along
  5. only go on really short vacations to really dull places?
Here are some potential devices and reviews:
  • The Digital Album from Nixvue (Reviewed here) improves on the photowallet  style devices. A new version of this (Sep-2002) has been announced.
  • I am using an Image Tank which I purchased from a local computer dealer in late 2001, I've only used it for one big trip (since I also have a 1GB microdrive in the camera) where I transferred about 2GB of photos onto it without any trouble. Its a simple unit and the hard drive is user changable (in a pinch you could even do this in the field to increase your storage, just pre-format the spare drive at home first) and can take up to a 40GB drive these days (I'm using a 10GB unit). It works well under Windows 98 with drivers and Windows 2000 without any special drivers. The one thing I would like to see added is a "verify transfer" mode, so that after copying all the files across it would then verify them against the originals on the CF card. I don't think any of the other systems like this have a function like this either though. It does not have the ability to output video either (but the ones that do a much more expensive). Recommended!
  • DigiMagic is introducing (Sept 2004) the DM 220 M02 which will allow you to transfer photos from a flash card to CDR or DVD-R/RW in the field. They also make some other CDR type drives.
  • The Archos Gmini 400 might be a versatile device (smaller form factor but plays video too)
  • A review of portable digitial image storage devices
  • Creativepro.com reports on taking three digital storage devices on the road
  • If you have an iPOD, then Belkin makes an adapter that turns it into an image storage device.
  • Tom's Hardware mentions the Fujitsu DynaMO 640U2 Photo, a magneto-optical drive with a built in card reader to allow on to transfer photos to MO disks in the field. This would be a more robust solution that a hard-drive based image storage device.
  • The Digital Photo Copy Cruiser combines a CD writer with a card reader to allow you to transfer the contents of your memory cards onto CDs in the field.
  • Digital-Eye reviews the Smartdisk FlashTrax auxillary storage device, which contains both a hard drive and a 3.5in LCD display and it can be connected to a TV. In Aug 2004 a new version was announced that added a histogram function.
  • Stephen Voss reports on his use of the Archos Gmini 220 and Apacer Disc Steno CP-200 storage devices. Steve's Digicams has a positive review of the CP-200 as well. The CP-200 allows you to off-load flash memory cards in the field to CDR media, and it will span large flash cards across multiple CDRs.
  • The V-MP3H is a digital player and maybe wallet device that's being sold the the Computer Geeks, I'm quite amazed that I cannot find a web site for the actual manufacturer of this (although I suspect it might be Supertek who's web site seems to be down 30-Jun-02) although I did find another distributer (Vosonic) for it. What I would like to know is if this has a built in drive or not, and if so, will it allow one to copy data from a compact flash card onto that drive. Vosonic also makes the X'S Drive, which is reviewed here. Another possible unit has been announced (Sept-02) from Mambo.
  • The new Digital Photo Copy Cruiser (from Alera) can now span data a cross disks
  • The PhotoBank from Transcend looks like a nice storage unit, this is based on a 1.8 inch hard drive.
  • Sima's Image Bank, a portable storage device (reviewed here) for offloading your photos in the field.  How to install a new hard drive in this unit (you can buy the unit without a hard drive). SimpleTech has a press release claiming to be doing a 4GB box for US$199. Terapin (which does not seem to be working - 23-Jun-01 but this is probably the same outfit) has announced (previewed here and here) a similar unit called the "Mine", this has some interesting features, it can be a USB master or slave, it includes a network interface and a PCMICA slot and it has the ability to send email. At 12-Jun-02 the Terapin got covered on Slashdot. Not to be outdone, Imation is planning to release DiskGO in the 4th qtr of 2001. The new Nixvue Vista (July 02) has a built in LCD display, can provide video output to a TV and has a lithium battery and remote control for about US$500. The new jukebox unit from Archos also has a module for interfacing to compact flash and other media. The RoadStor from MicroSolutions, combines a photo viewer, CD burner, DVD and MP3 playes into one unit.
  • Steve's Digicams reviews the RoadStor from Microsolutions which is available from FutureShop in Canada for about CDN$350 (Mar'04), and LondonDrugs too. Insight.ca carries the Roadstor PRO DVD+/-RW writer MSL401020 for CDN$475.99 and the older DVD/CDRW Flash photo viewer MSL401010 for CDN$363.
  • Aug'04, Vosonic announces a new image storage device, the VP3610, based on a 1.8" hard drive, this allows for a more compact format (and probably reduces power consumption)
  • Sony's portable hard disk based photo storage solution, the HDPS-M1
  • Delkin is making a USB to USB transfer device, this will allow you to copy files from a memory card reader to some other storage device like a USB hard drive. They call this a USB Bridge. LondonDrugs is carrying the SyncBox from SimplePerfection, only problem is it does not seem to have a verify mode. This might be the same as this unit from Infinite Data Storage, who also make a portable 8cm CDR drive/player, which is available from ComputerGeeks. Belkin makes a USB bridge, but its only USB1.1.  In Nov'05 Engadget mentioned this bridge type device from Aleratec, called the USB Copy Cruiser Plus, which actually has an LCD display. It is reviewed here by Cameras and Photography. In Dec'05 FutureShop started advertising the On The Go Storage Bridge that appears under the ValGear label, here a Samtack press release that mentions it. Here is another that is available from usbgear.com. In May'06 these were still rather hard to find, Memorex announced their TravelLink and TravelSync bridge (USB OTG) devices, these both have LCD displays to show you what's happening and one of them even has a built in card reader. Sima's Hitch looks like another USB bridge device, it will connect at USB2.0 speeds and features a large display. It is reviewed here by iLounge. Apparently this unit is running a Linux kernel, so the door's open to hacking.
  • The MFR (multifunction recorder) from Addonics, announced here,  allows you to burn flash media to CDRW and even DVD+RW media. It also acts as a media player with S-Video output. Is now available here.
  • Vosonic X's Drive Pro VP 300, a hard drive based photo storage device
  • sometime in the future, USB to Go will allow us to hook up a digicam directly to a hard drive or CD burner. This is the official web site.
  • The Kanguru FC-RW is a CD-R/RW burner type solution, it will play audio CDs too, but will not allow display of photos.
  • Delkin announces a CD-R/RW burner type device
  • The MediaGear portable storage device
  • The Apacer Share Steno CD211 based on a 2.5inch hard drive
  • Oct'04, Vosonic's VP6210 and VP6300 have built in colour LCD displays for image viewing
  • Here's a web page that tracks a lot of these
  • The SnaZio Pocket Cinema can be used as a photo storage device as well as media player.
  • Sony's HDPS-M10 gives you a 40GB drive plus an LCD display
  • Panasonic makes an SD card copier
  • The Wolverine 120GB MVP 9120 PMP portable media player includes a 7-in-1 card reader and also can display photos in 33 different RAW formats.
  • Mar'06 brings a new unit from Epson, the Photo fine P-4500
  • Adorama in Mar'06 had this MediaGear 20GB unit (MGHG120) for US$119.95 (sale price) from $139.95 regular.
  • Viliv announced their P2, a personal media player with an 800x480 display. This is also supposed to be able to act as a USB2.0 host, so it might be able to read the contents of flash cards or even cameras that act as external USB attached drives.
  • The Vosonic VP8360 was announced in May'06
  • The FireLite XPress portable hard disk from SmartDIsk includes and "always-on" LCD display that shows a summary of the drive contents.
  • The Jobo GIGA Vu Pro Evolution includes a colour display screen for viewing on the go, and also is currently unique in also including DVI output, so one could use this to drive a large monitor or a projector (perhaps eliminating the need for a laptop).
  • The Delkin BurnAway gets updated to write to DVD media
  • In Sept'06 Canon entered the portable storage and display market with their Media Storage M80 and M30 devices, these are hard drive based with 3.7in colour LCD displays.
  • I/OMagic's Gigabank Ultra 120 is a very small device without the extra weight and power requirements of an LCD display.
  • Epson's P5000 Multimedia Storage Viewer
  • The XS Drive Centre VP6250
  • NEXTODI, makes the NEXTO CF Ultra ND-2525, based on a 2.5in hard drive (available without drive so you can customize your own) with a CF slot and adapter for other formats and with backup speeds up to 1GB/min and a verify function. It has USB2.0 and IEEE1394 connections for your computer. Appeared in Dec'06 on Engadget.
  • In March 2007 Digital Foci announced a new Photo Safe that is priced from US$139 (here on Engadget).
  • Nexto's CF OTG Xpress unit also has USB hosting, so it should be able to read data right off USB "drive" type devices
  • The Xs-Drive 2 Smart 2300 (announced Apr'07) has high speed transfer and a OLED display, more info here.
  • The Sony HDMS-S1D Digital Photo Album (here on ) is a larger photo tank, this is designed to replace a home PC in storing and showing photos, it has an 80GB hard drive, a multi-card reader, CD/DVD drive and built in video output to composite, S-Video, component video and HDMI for display at up to 1080i.  It also has an ethernet LAN interface, so presumably this can act as a NAS device on your network.
  • The Xs-Drive Vision 2500 (main site) is a portable photo storage device that includes video output

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