Best External Hard Drives for Photographers

If you are looking for the best external hard drive for photographers, you’ve come to the right place. Because after finishing this guide, you will know the benefits of each external drive option and how to choose the right one for your photography.

Best External Hard Drives for Photographers 1

With the introduction of digital cameras, the average cost per shot we take has become very low and much more cost-effective than film. Because of this, the number of photographs we take has skyrocketed.

Now, instead of dealing with film and chemicals in a darkroom, we are learning how to manage digital files. “Digital photography workflow” is a new term that was introduced into photography terminology. It describes the sequence of steps and procedures completed from capturing an image to its final output, which can be in the form of a high-quality digital image or a print

External hard drives play an important role in the multi-step process of digital workflow and cover three essential areas of the process. Each area of the workflow has its own external hard drive requirements.

Area #1: Traveling External Hard Drives

Best External Hard Drives for Photographers: Traveling Drives

This is a critical phase specifically for travel photographers who can easily spend weeks away from civilization. It is essential to keep digital images safe on the road.

Requirements: The requirements for traveling external hard drives are compactness, low energy consumption, and durability.

Area #2: External Back-up Drives ​​​​

Best External Hard Drives for Photographers: Back-up Drives

When a photographer returns home, the digital images are then part of the second phase—the backup process. Photos are often backed up to different devices and a remote cloud. External hard drives are perfect for local backup.

Requirements: The requirements for external hard drives used for backup are large volume and affordability. Speed and size are not critical here.

Area #3: Extension to Internal Hard Drives

Best External Hard Drives for Photographers: Extension to Internal Hard Drives

With the introduction of fast interface connection technologies (USB 3.0, Fire Wire, Thunderbolt), it became possible to use an external hard drive as a companion to or an extension of internal drives. Today, it is common to keep an entire RAW image library on an external drive.

Requirements: The requirements for extension-type external hard drives are performance and fast interface connection speed.

In my travel photography workflow, I use three different external hard drive models to address the different areas of my travel photography. Here is a list of the external hard drives I use and some added recommendations.

Best External Hard Drives for Photographers by Category

Traveling External Hard Drives

1. SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD

SanDisk 2TB Extreme Portable External SSD - Up to 550MB/s - USB-C, USB 3.1 - SDSSDE60-2T00-G25
  • Up to 2TB Storage Capacity
  • USB 3.1 Interface Gen-2 (10Gb/s), USB 2.0 Compatible
  • Data Protection with Hardware Encryption
  • Ruggedized, Shock-resistant, water- and dust-resistant
  • Dimensions: 3.79 x 1.95 x 0.35″
  • Weight: 0.64 lbs / 0.27 kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

SanDisk Extreme is a true travel warrior external hard drive. It is an SSD drive, which means it is compact and has no moving parts. It is a low-power consumption, bus-powered model. Plus, it is water-resistant, dust-resistant, and shock-resistant, a true dream for any traveling photographer.

The SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD is the best external hard drive for photographers who travel. With up to 4TB capacity, this portable SSD fits easily into your pocket or bag and features USB 3.1 interface Gen-2 (10Gb/s) and USB 2.0 compatibility. The SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD is ruggedized, water- and dust-resistant, and features a solid-state design to ensure long-term reliability in the most demanding environments.

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2. My Passport Portable External Hard Drive

Western Digital 4TB My Passport Portable External Hard Drive with backup software and password protection, Black - WDBPKJ0040BBK-WESN
  • 5TB Storage Capacity
  • USB 3.0 Interface; USB 2.0 Compatible
  • Data Protection with Hardware Encryption
  • Includes WD Backup Software
  • Dimensions: 4.2 x 2.9 x 0.8″
  • Weight: 7.4oz lbs / 210g
  • Price: Check the latest price here

I have used various WD My Passport Portable Hard Drives models for years and have always been happy with them. They fit all the requirements because of their small form factor, they do not require an extra power source (Bus Powered), and they are durable and inexpensive.

WD My Passport Portable External Hard Drive is the perfect travel companion for every traveling photographer. The Western Digital software lets you efficiently manage data and backup passwords that come with 256-bit AES hardware encryption. These portable hard drives are compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux computers, and they have a superspeed port that is compatible with USB 2 0.

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3. LaCie Rugged Mini USB External Hard Drive

LaCie Rugged Mini 5TB External Hard Drive Portable HDD – USB 3.0/2.0 Compatible, Drop Shock Dust Rain Resistant Shuttle Drive, For Mac And Computer Desktop Workstation PC Laptop (STJJ5000400)
  • 2TB Storage Capacity
  • USB 3.0 Interface; USB 2.0 Compatible
  • 5400 rpm Speed
  • Transfer Rate Up to 5Gb/s
  • 47.2″ Maximum Drop Height
  • LaCie Private-Public Software
  • Dimensions: 5.3 x 3.4 x 0.7″
  • Weight: 0.5 lbs / 0.2 kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

LaCie Rugged external drives are the synonym of durability and great design. It is shock resistant, drops up to four feet, and is dust and water resistant.

LaCie Rugged Mini External Hard Drive is the ultimate storage device designed for those who need to protect their photos and videos, no matter where life takes them. The USB 3.0 provides you with a throughput speed of up to 130 Mb per second, up to 4 times faster than USB 2.0 (USB 2.0 compatible). The rugged design and IP67-rated water and dust resistance make it perfect for all-terrain use.

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4. WD My Passport Wireless External HD with SD Card Reader

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  • 2TB Storage Capacity
  • Wi-Fi, USB 3.0 connectivity
  • SD Media Card Slot
  • Up to 10 Hours of Battery Life
  • Charge Mobile Devices
  • USB 2.0 Port
  • Dimensions: 5.3 x 3.4 x 0.7″
  • Weight: 1.0 lb / 0.5 kg
  • Price: No products found.

I recently started to use an entirely different model from Western Digital. It does not exactly fit the requirements for a travel drive because it is bulky and much heavier, but it has two significant features that have drastically changed how I travel. It has an internal battery and a dedicated SD memory card reader that automatically backs up the contents of the memory cards to the internal drive.

This drive allows me to take long photography trips without bringing my laptop with me. Priceless.

WD My Passport Wireless is an external hard drive equipped with an SD 3.0 card reader. A built-in SD card reader allows fast media offloads, giving you the freedom to transfer large quantities of photos and videos while on the go without the need for a laptop.

With wireless 802.11ac connectivity on the go, this drive ensures fast data transfers and all-day battery life (up to 10 hours). The power bank also allows you to charge smartphones or tablets on the go.

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5. WD My Passport SSD External Portable Drive

WD 1TB My Passport SSD Portable External Solid State Drive, Red, Sturdy and Blazing Fast, Password Protection with Hardware Encryption - WDBAGF0010BRD-WESN
  • 1TB Storage Capacity
  • USB 3.1 Type-C Connector
  • Up to 1000 MB/s Data Transfer Rate
  • Bus Powered
  • Shock Resistant up to 6.5′
  • Dimensions: 3.5 x 1.8 x 0.4″
  • Weight: 1.4 oz / 40 g
  • Price: Check the latest price here

When Western Digital acquired the flash memory manufacturer SanDisk, it was obvious what to expect.

WD released the first versions of its drives with a solid-state drive (SSD) instead of its spinning old models. At this point, solid-state drives are still more expensive than traditional models, but this is the future.

WD My Passport SSD is a portable, rugged, and shock-resistant external hard drive with blazing fast NVMe technology and write/read speeds of up to 1000MB/s.

The WD My Passport SSD is designed to be shock and vibration-resistant. It is also crush-resistant, rugged, and features a durable casing and a built-in 256-bit AES hardware encryption. The WD My Passport SSD is compatible with USB 3.2 Gen-2 and USB-C (USB-A for older systems). It also comes with a 5-year warranty.

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Backup External Back-up Hard Drives

6. WD 12TB My Book Desktop USB 3.0

Western Digital 6TB My Book Desktop External Hard Drive, USB 3.0, External HDD with Password Protection and Auto Backup Software - WDBBGB0060HBK-NESN
  • 12TB Storage Capacity
  • USB 3.0 Interface
  • Includes AC Adapter
  • 256-Bit AES Hardware Encryption
  • Includes WD Backup Software
  • Dimensions: 9.0 x 8.2 x 3.6″
  • Weight: 2.9 lb / 1.3 kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

This is the drive I use for my backups, which I keep at home in my office. I do not care if the external hard drive is not very fast or if the connection is slow (I still use the USB2 version). All that matters is that it is big, reliable, and affordable.

The My Book Desktop External Hard Drive is a reliable and easy-to-use external hard drive that lets you easily back up your photos, videos, and other important files.

Designed with increased storage capacity, the external hard drive comes with backup software that enables you to back up your content automatically and restore your data quickly and easily. The hard drive is also compatible with Time Machine, making it a reliable solution for your Mac computer.

Password protection with hardware encryption is designed to prevent unauthorized access to your data. The USB 3.0 port and USB 2.0 compatible are designed to be compatible with all of your devices.

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7. Seagate 14TB Backup Plus USB 3.0 External Hard Drive

Seagate Backup Plus Hub 14TB External Hard Drive Desktop HDD USB 3.0, 2 USB Ports for Computer Desktop Workstation PC Laptop Mac, 4 Months Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan, Black
  • 14TB Storage Capacity
  • 1 x Micro-USB 3.0 (Micro-B 10-pin) Port
  • 2 x USB 3.0 Type-A Ports
  • Up to 160 MB/s Data Transfer Speed
  • Includes WD Backup Software
  • Dimensions: 9.0 x 8.2 x 3.6″
  • Weight: 2.3 lb / 1.0 kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

You can find external drives similar to the model I use from various manufacturers like Seagate.

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8. Sabrent USB 3.0 to SATA 2-Bay Hard Drive Docking Station

Best External Hard Drives for Photographers 2
  • Up to 2 x 10TB
  • Interface: SATA-I/II/III
  • USB 3.0
  • Up to 160 MB/s Data Transfer Speed
  • Compatible HDD: 2.5/3.5 inch
  • Dimensions: 5.71 x 2.36 x 4.29″
  • Weight: 1.3 lb / 0.6 kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

This is not exactly an external hard drive, but it carries the same function as my WD 12TB My Book Desktop drive. You can treat it as a DIY external hard drive.

This docking station enables the use of internal drives as external drives. I use a combination of two 4TB hard drives, which makes it a pretty solid 8TB backup solution.

The SABRENT USB 3.0 to SATA Docking Station is a great way to connect your internal hard drives to your computer using a USB connection. This docking station supports 2.5″ and 3.5″ SATA hard drives or SSDs and provides transfer speeds up to 5Gbps. It is also a plug-and-play device with no drivers to install and no complex configuration. This docking station also supports offline cloning, which is an excellent feature if you need to make a backup of your hard drive.

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Best Extension to Internal Hard Drives

9. LaCie 8TB d2 Quadra Hard Drive

LaCie d2 Professional 8TB External Hard Drive Desktop HDD – USB-C USB 3.0 7200 RPM Enterprise Class Drives, 5 Year Warranty and Recovery Service (STHA8000800)
  • External Drive 8TB Drive Capacity
  • USB 3.0 / FireWire 800 / eSATA Ports
  • Up to 130MB/s Data Transfers via USB 3.0
  • Supports FireWire Daisy-Chaining
  • Windows and Mac Compatible
  • Dimensions: 7.8 x 7.4 x 4.0″
  • Weight: 2.3 lb / 5.2 lb
  • Price: Check the latest price here

While working as a graphic designer and video editor, the LaCie external drives were the standard for video and design production companies. They are famous for their design, speed, and reliability. This is one of the best performance external hard drives for any photography workflow. It features USB3, FireWire, and eSATA ports, making it a very versatile model for any environment.

When it comes to external hard drives, LaCie is a brand that is synonymous with quality, reliability, and performance. The LaCie d2 8TB External Hard Drive is no exception. This hard drive is designed for photographers and videographers working with laptops with limited storage, offering a whopping 8TB of storage space. It is USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 compatible, which means you can use it on both Windows and Mac computers.

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10. G-Technology 6TB G-DRIVE G1 USB 3.0 Hard Drive

G-Technology 6TB G-DRIVE USB 3.0 Desktop External Hard Drive, Silver - Compact, High-Performance Storage - 0G03674-1
  • External Drive 6TB Drive Capacity
  • USB 3.0
  • Data Transfer Rate up to 165 MB/s
  • 7200 rpm
  • Aluminum Enclosure
  • Dimensions: 9.0 x 8.5 x 3.0″
  • Weight: 3.25 lb / 1.5 kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

The G drives come in two versions: a USB3 connection and Thunderbolt. The Thunderbolt technology is superior to USB 3.0, but it is only available on Mac computers.

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Best External Hard Drive for Photographers: FAQ

What is the difference between a hard drive (HDD) and a solid state drive (SSD)? 

A hard drive (HDD) and a solid state drive (SSD) both store information and serve as the primary storage device. The difference between them is that a hard drive has mechanical rotating platters, and an SSD does not.

A hard drive (HD) is a mechanical device that uses electromechanical components to store data. Solid state drives (SSD) are electronic devices that use semiconductor chips (flash memory) to store data.

What are the benefits of using an SSD?

  • More compact design (smaller, lighter)
  • Faster read and write speed
  • Faster data access
  • More reliable and durable (no moving parts)
  • Longer lifespan

What are the shortcomings of SSD?

  • Limited volume capacity
  • More expensive compared to HDD

What are the benefits of using an HDD?

  • Cost-effective. Low cost per GB of data stored.
  • Better for storing large amounts of data

As you can see, solid state drives (SSD) outperform hard drives (HDD) in every category and, without a doubt, are the best choice for storing data for photographers. 

The only obstacle to completely replacing HDD with SSD is the cost. At the time of writing this article, the cost of SSDs with a volume capacity higher than 2TB is cost-prohibitive for most photographers. But, I am confident that we will complete the transition from old mechanical HDDs to modern SDD technology in a couple of years.

Best External Hard Drive for Photographers: Final Thoughts

As you can see, every external hard drive from each category carries different functions. And if you are a photographer who often travels as I do, you probably need at least one hard drive from each category.

I hope you liked this guide on how to choose the best external hard drive for photographers. I am confident that these tips will help you find the right external drive for your specific needs. If you have any questions or comments, please get in touch with me. I would love to hear from you!

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