Downloading On The Run; Portable Digital Storage Units And CD Burners For The On-The-Go Photographer
Traveling today with a digital camera is certainly an enjoyable experience.
If we are not careful in the field, however, at the end of the day we wind up
with too many images and nowhere to place them. You can carry extra CompactFlash
cards, but that can be expensive and you have to back them up anyway as you
go. In addition, today's high-resolution digital SLRs, like my Nikon D2X,
produce file sizes that fill up even the largest card capacities quickly. When
shooting raw+JPEG on my D2X I get 68 images on a 2GB card. If you shoot 300
images per outing that's four or five cards, and that's only one
day of the trip!
True, laptop computers or notebooks are a good choice for keeping both a log and transferring images, and now some will hold 100GB or more of information. Realistically, however, I don't want to be burdened with such a bulky piece of equipment (especially in harsh conditions or climates) unless my work absolutely demands it on location.
Field Storage And Back-Up Safe Storage
Minus the laptop you have two practical alternatives. One is what you might call portable "field storage" units that consist of a very compact handheld unit complete with a high capacity, internal hard drive that allows downloading to your computer once you have arrived back home. The second type is what I term "safe storage," which includes a variety of CD/DVD burners. They allow you to transfer all of your images right there in your vehicle or later when you return to your motel or campsite on a compact disc.
In order to test a sampling of the available units I took one of each on a
recent trip to the canyons of Arizona and Utah. I packed the Nikon Coolwalker
(portable hard drive, $299.95) and the Delkin BurnAway (portable CD burner,
$270) to get a
first-hand experience on just how each would perform 2500 miles away from home. In addition to the Coolwalker on the hard drive side of the ledger, when I returned home I included the Transcend Digital Album ($375) and the Epson P-2000 ($499, but recently upgraded to the P-4000). The CD burners included the Apacer Disc Steno CP300 ($369.95), EzPnP EZDigiMagic ($259), and Kanguru Slim FC ($249.95). New products introduced in late spring 2006 included units from SmartDisc ($499), Digital Foci ($599), GIGA Vu PRO ($895 for 120GB), Wolverine ($330 for 100GB), and the updated Epson P-4000 ($699) with an added capacity of images up to 80GB.
Size Vs. Features
Size can be a major issue. The difference between a compact hard drive like the Wolverine FlashPac 7000 and a safe storage CD burner can be significant if you are cramped for space. The FlashPac measures 3x4.5x1" and, like the Transcend and Epson units, will fit into any pocket on your favorite photo vest.
Given the nature of the beast and the size of current discs, the CD burners
are much larger. Products like the BurnAway, Disc Steno CP300, or EZDigiMagic
run an average of 6" wide, 8" long, and between 1-11/2" deep,
not to mention an assortment of CDs, a charger, and a protective case that you
have to bring along. Of course, if you consider backing up to a CD on the road
important, then a portable CD burner makes sense.
Depending upon how comfortable you are with your equipment it is a good idea to confirm that your download has been successful before you format your memory card. Three of the portable hard drive units I tested, the Coolwalker, P-2000/P-4000, and Digital Album, plus the new GIGA Vu PRO, have a screen allowing you to view your images after downloading is complete. When it comes to the CD burners, the Disc Steno CP300 is the only one to have a small screen to confirm your actual photographic images, while the BurnAway, EZDigiMagic, and Slim FC show the progression of the recording process. If you were in a location type of shooting situation where you need immediate confirmation of hours of hard work (aside from the monitor on the camera) then the Coolwalker, GIGA Vu PRO, Digital Album, P-2000/P-4000, and the Disc Steno CP300 CD burner complete with playback feature would be at the top of your list.
Some units like the Coolwalker or the GIGA Vu PRO will take only CompactFlash cards and the P-2000/P-4000 only downloads from a CompactFlash or Secure Digital card. Digital Album, along with all of the CD burners, has the added convenience of taking Memory Stick, MultiMedia, Secure Digital, or SmartMedia cards along with Type I or II CompactFlash or modern Microdrives in one combination or another. This could work to your advantage especially if you are working with two or more cameras or traveling with other photographers, each with a different storage card.
Downloading in the field and away from an AC source, battery life can be a significant factor. Like it or not, it does take time for these units to download images. It took an average of 7 minutes to download 25 raw+JPEG images on the Coolwalker; with a battery "burn time" of 11/2 hours I can download almost five 2GB cards with some juice remaining. The Transcend unit had the longest life between charges of 4-5 hours; the Epson units would go 21/2 hours; and the CD units run an average of 11/2 hours before you have to reach for the charger, AC adapter, or spare battery.
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