[ Back ] [ Up ] [ Next ]
[ Search the Site ] [
Digital Jury Services ]
|Large Capacity Storage Devices
for the Digital Photographer on the Go
By Chris Maher and Larry Berman
|Traveling with a digital camera is great, until your
memory card fills up. Of course, you can lug along a laptop,
transferring images to it as you go. But that adds considerable weight
and bulk to your travel gear. What the serious traveling photographer
needs is maximum amounts of storage that will take up a minimal amount
|Bigger and Better Compact Flash Cards
New high capacity Compact Flash (CF) cards from Sandisk and Lexar
are promising to provide ample room to shoot. Both companies are
scheduled to ship 512MB cards by the time you read this. We are
currently using a 320MB card from Lexar, and it's a dream to work with.
Our Nikon Coolpix 990 can store almost 300 images on it, and it is the
fastest card we've used to date. The new 512MB cards will offer even
greater room to store images to those who can afford it. Cost, of
course, is the primary drawback to storing images on solid state based
media. At about $1.50 per-megabyte (street price) it's certainly not a
media for long term storage.
|Tiny Hard Drives With Big Capacities
IBM's Microdrive is a one-inch wonder. Originally available as at
160MB and 340MB, it now has a full 1-Gigabyte capacity. It's per
megabyte costs are lower than solid state media, running closer to fifty
cents per megabyte. Unfortunately, it's form factor and power
requirements prevent its use in many cameras. Only equipment that can
support the Type II CF+ specifications can fit it in. Most cameras that
use Compact Flash media are designed for Type I cards, which are no more
than 3.3mm thick. Type II cards are a bulkier 5mm.
|Truly Portable External Storage Devices
The Digital Wallet and Image Bank are both portable hard
drive units that are designed to directly download data from your
Compact Flash, Smart Media, or IBM Microdrive - without the need for a
computer. (The Digital Wallet also can transfer data from Sony's Memory
Stick media). Simply plug in your card, and the built in operating
system copies your images to the external unit. Their huge capacity,
small size, and light weight make them a formidable tool for storing
vast numbers of pictures. Devices of this nature are even more useful if
your camera is limited to taking the inherently lower capacity Memory
Stick or Smart Media.
The Digital Wallet shown with Type II Adapter
containing CompactFlash card
Minds@Work introduced the $499 Digital Wallet in
July of 2000. It consists of a 6-gigabyte hard drive controlled by a
Motorola ColdFire microprocessor and powered by an internal NiMH battery
pack. Its 13oz (350g) weight and small 5.25 x 3.75 x 1.25" size
(135 x 95 x 32 mm) makes it truly portable.
The unit has a type II PCMCIA slot on the side, a 6 line LCD screen
on the front, and a connector for the power and USB adapter on the
bottom of the unit. Its plastic parts have been described as flimsy, but
we found them to be quite functional, if lightweight.
Operation of the Digital Wallet is simple, just plug your media into
an adapter, insert it into the PCMCIA slot and push a single button.
Your data is then transferred automatically to the unit's 2.5" hard
drive. The internal battery can power the unit for up to 2 ½ hours.
This is really quite a bit of time, as the unit only needs to be powered
up for data transfer, and shuts it self off after 30 seconds of
Getting the data onto your computer is also easy. Just connect the
USB cable, load drivers (Mac users don't even have to deal with drivers)
and the unit shows up as a removable disk. Drag, drop or use any files
as would from any other hard drive on you system.
This unit has the space needed to hold weeks worth of serious
shooting, and adds very little to your travel weight. Despite it's
initial expense, the cost per megabyte, at about eight cents, is
The Image Bank is a new portable storage device set to
directly compete with the Digital Wallet. (review
with pictures) Somewhat smaller and sturdier feeling than the Digital
Wallet, it has no internal battery, relying instead on a separate
battery pack. Currently shipping with a 3.2-gigabyte hard drive, it can
easily be upgraded with any size 2.5-inch drive. At just 5.2 x 3.3 x 1.1
inches with a weight of only 11 ounces, (not including the separate
battery pack) this device is quite portable.
The Image Bank shown with CompactFlash
The Image Bank has separate input slots for SmartMedia cards and
Compact Flash (type 1) or MicroDrives (type II), eliminating the need
for adapters. Included are AC or 12 volt plugs and, by the time you read
this, there will also be a double A battery pack that can take standard
AA batteries or NiMH rechargeables. By not including an internal
rechargeable battery pack, and utilizing a 3.2-gigabyte hard drive, Sima
has been able to retail the device at $399, and expects the street price
to be around $299. This yields a favorable price per megabyte of between
10 to 12 cents, at a lower initial cost than the Digital Wallet.
Both units were speedy in transferring data. Moving the contents of a
128MB SanDisk CF card to the Digital Wallet took 1 minute and 45
seconds. The Image Bank easily copied the entire contents of a
320-megabyte Lexar CF card in approximately three minutes.
We should note that these devices only copy your data, they don't
remove your pictures from your cards. It's still necessary to reformat
your card in your camera to continue shooting.
Direct Transfers to Zip Drives
Iomega has created a somewhat different storage device called the FotoShow.
This unit is a 250MB USB zip drive with the ability to directly import
your image files through a built in Compact Flash/MicroDrive and
SmartMedia card reader. It is not battery powered, but does come with a
12-volt car adapter for field use.
Iomega's FotoShow shown with CompactFlash Card
Now, a 250MB zip disk may not sound like a lot of storage compared to
the other devices that we have discussed here (especially in the 100MB
size, which it works with also), but zip disks are inexpensive and
readily available, giving it a virtually unlimited capacity. And the
cost of the media is less than five cents per megabyte. With a street
price of around $250, this unit offers some interesting options.
In addition to copying images to a zip disk, it's built in software
can also output to the video input of a TV and create a customized
presentation of images. You can then use a VCR to record it and send
your images to relatives who might not have access to a computer. The
built in software gives you all the image editing tools you might need
to make the presentation look good.
We did note one limitation. The FotoShow wouldn't copy files from a
compact flash card with a larger capacity than the zip disk itself. And
the transfer rate was half that of the other drives we tested.
So, which form of 'on the go storage' is right for you?
There are lots of options, and as camera resolution (and thus file size)
continues to increase you'll look back and wonder how you ever managed
|This copyrighted article was
magazine and may not reproduced