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: Portable External Hard Drives for Travel

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 travel portable 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

Portable External Hard Drives for Travel

SanDisk 4TB Extreme Portable SSD - Up to 1050MB/s, USB-C, USB 3.2 Gen 2, IP65 Water and Dust Resistance, Updated Firmware - External Solid State Drive - SDSSDE61-4T00-G25

1. SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD v2

  • Up to 4TB Storage Capacity
  • USB 3.1 Interface Gen-2 (10Gb/s)
  • Data Protection with Hardware Encryption
  • Ruggedized, shock, water and dust resistant
  • Dimensions: 3.9 x 2.1 x 0.4″
  • Weight: 1.8oz / 0.27 kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

As a travel photographer, my external hard drive isn’t just a storage solution; it’s a trusted travel companion. The SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD has earned its spot as my go-to for its perfect blend of compactness, performance, and durability.

With dimensions measuring just 3.9 x 2.1 x 0.4 inches and a feather-light weight of 1.8 ounces, the SanDisk Extreme is a pocket-sized powerhouse. Its compact design ensures it seamlessly integrates into my travel gear without adding any noticeable weight.

Powered by USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 and PCIe NVMe Technology, this solid-state drive is fast. Boasting read speeds of up to 1050 MB/s and write speeds of up to 1000 MB/s, it transforms file transfers into a breeze. Also, when attaching it to my laptop, I can edit my photos in Lightroom and Photoshop off the drive without any performance issues.

The SanDisk Extreme is also built tough. With IP55 dust and water resistance, it is designed for unpredictable weather conditions. Its impressive drop protection of up to 6 feet ensures my data stays safe, even when my travels get a bit adventurous.

One feature I’ve come to appreciate is the handy carabiner loop. I securely attach it to my camera bag, adding an extra layer of protection against accidental drops or losses. It’s a small touch that makes a big difference when I travel.

Being an SSD drive, the SanDisk Extreme lives up to its “travel warrior” title. Compact, low-power consumption, and no moving parts make it an ideal companion for my travels.

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Crucial X9 Pro 2TB Portable SSD - Up to 1050MB/s Read and Write - Water and dust Resistant, PC and Mac, with Mylio Photos+ Offer - USB 3.2 External Solid State Drive - CT2000X9PROSSD902

2. Crucial X9 Pro USB 3.2 Portable SSD

  • Up to 4TB Storage Capacity
  • USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 Interface (10Gb/s)
  • Data Protection with Hardware Encryption
  • Drop, Dust, Water Resistance
  • Dimensions: 2.6 x 2 x 0.4″
  • Weight: 1.3oz / 38g
  • Price: Check the latest price here

If you’re a photographer looking for a photo storage solution that’s efficient, compact, and budget-friendly, the Crucial X9 Pro USB 3.2 Gen 2 Portable SSD might be the perfect fit.

With storage capacities ranging from 1TB to 4TB, it caters to different needs without breaking the bank. This SSD strikes a balance between affordability and maintaining high performance and build quality.

The Crucial X9 Pro truly stands out in terms of portability. It’s one of the smallest high-performance USB drives, making it ideal for photographers who prefer to travel light. It’s impressively compact, measuring just 2.6 x 2 x 0.4 inches and weighing a mere 1.3 oz.

Equipped with USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 and PCIe NVMe technology, the X9 Pro delivers symmetrical read and write speeds of up to 1,050MB/s. For photographers, this translates to quick previews, faster editing, and seamless transfers of large RAW files and HD videos.

In terms of durability, the X9 Pro excels. Its anodized aluminum enclosure and rubber base provide robustness, coupled with IP55 water and dust resistance and the ability to withstand drops up to 7.5 feet. Your precious photo files are securely encased in a digital fortress.

A small ring loop in one corner adds a practical touch to the X9 Pro’s design, offering extra security. Photographers can attach the drive to their bag, minimizing the risk of accidental drops or loss.

In summary, the Crucial X9 Pro combines compactness and reasonable price without compromising on performance. It’s an excellent option for photographers who need their gear to be small in size but big in capability.

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3. Samsung T7 Shield SSD Portable Hard Drive

SAMSUNG T7 Shield 4TB Portable SSD - 1050MB/s, Rugged, Water & Dust Resistant, for Content Creators - Black
  • Up to 4TB Storage Capacity
  • USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 Interface (10Gb/s)
  • Data Protection with Hardware Encryption
  • Drop, Water Resistance
  • Dimensions: 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.5″
  • Weight: 3.5oz / 98g
  • Price: Check the latest price here

The Samsung T7 Shield SSD Portable Hard Drive is a phenomenal piece of kit that stands out in the external drive market for professional photographers. This drive is unparalleled in its compact, rugged design, offering a large digital storage capacity ranging from 1TB to a whopping 4TB.

This drive features a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C Port, which, combined with its PCIe NVMe technology, gives this drive incredible read speeds of up to 1050 MB/s and write speeds of up to 1000 MB/s. These specifications mean you can quickly transfer and back up many photos and videos, a critical function for photographers with extensive and high-quality image collections.

The real selling point of the Samsung T7 Shield is its durability. Built with a protective rubber exterior, this device is designed to withstand the rigors of outdoor use. It holds an IP65 rating, indicating its superior protection against dust intrusion and water, allowing photographers to operate in varied and challenging environments without worrying about data loss.

The Samsung T7 Shield SSD Portable Hard Drive’s compact construction (3.5 x 2.3 x 0.5” and weighing just 3.5 oz), paired with its extreme durability and advanced technical specifications, makes it an ideal drive for photographers on the move. From the harshest outdoor shoots to the safety of your studio, this drive is a reliable companion for preserving your invaluable work.

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4. WD My Passport Ultra Portable Hard Drive

Western Digital 5TB My Passport Ultra for Mac Silver Portable External Hard Drive HDD, USB-C and USB 3.1 Compatible - Western DigitalBPMV0050BSL-WESN
  • Up to 5TB Storage Capacity
  • USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 Interface (480MB/s)
  • Data Protection with Hardware Encryption
  • Resistance: none
  • Dimensions: 4.3 x 3.2 x 0.8″
  • Weight: 0.5lb / 0.23kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

Photographers seeking an affordable yet robust external hard drive will find a valuable option in the WD My Passport Ultra. One of its key highlights is its substantial storage capacities, ranging from 1TB to a generous 5TB. With its USB-C 3.0 / 3.1/3.2 Gen 1 interface, this portable drive delivers quality performance, boasting read and write speeds of up to 480 MB/s.

Despite its large storage capacity, this drive remains surprisingly compact and lightweight, measuring just 4.3 x 3.2 x 0.8 inches and weighing only 0.5 lbs. This makes the WD My Passport Ultra an ideal companion for photographers on the move, offering a balance of portability and functionality.

Adding to its appeal is its modern anodized metal exterior, available in various colors to match your aesthetic preferences.

Formatted for Windows 10, it provides plug-and-play storage right out of the box. Not a Windows user? No problem. Thanks to the WD Discovery software, you can easily download the NTFS driver for macOS.

In summary, the WD My Passport Ultra is a practical choice for photographers on the go. It’s affordable and compact, and most importantly, it securely holds your precious photos and videos with both style and peace of mind.

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Backup External Back-up Hard Drives

5. WD Elements Desktop External Hard Drive USB 3.0

Western Digital 12TB Elements Desktop External Hard Drive, USB 3.0 external hard drive for plug-and-play storage - Western DigitalBWLG0120HBK-NESN
  • Up to 22TB Storage Capacity
  • USB 3.1 Gen 1 Interface
  • Includes AC Adapter
  • 256-Bit AES Hardware Encryption
  • Backup Software & WD My Cloud
  • Dimensions: 6.53 x 5.31 x 1.89″
  • Weight: 1.98lb / 0.9kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

The WD Elements Desktop USB 3.0 is a reliable choice for those searching for affordable and spacious storage for their essential backups.

As a seasoned veteran in the realm of external hard disk drives, it has earned its stripes over time. While it may not be as sleek as an SSD drive and carries the weight of 5400rpm spinning drives and an older USB 3.1 Gen 1 interface, it doesn’t boast the fastest speeds – and that’s perfectly fine.

What sets the WD Elements Desktop apart is its remarkable capacity to provide secure and extensive backup storage. With options for larger capacities from 4TB to a whopping 22TB of external storage, it stands tall as a storage titan, ready to safeguard all your critical data. It is compatible with Time Machine for Mac.

Due to its slower speeds, this backup drive may not be suitable for direct photo or video editing, but that’s not its primary role. It excels as a desktop storage device, silently storing data from your faster primary drives during your off hours, such as overnight.

For photographers seeking affordable options focusing on high-volume storage, the allure of the WD Elements External Desktop Drive isn’t speed but rather reliable and straightforward storage that won’t break the bank.

As for me, this is the drive I trust for my backups, securely resting at home in my office. Speed may not be its forte, but its substantial size, reliability, and affordability perfectly fit my photo storage needs.

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6. Seagate 16TB Expansion Desktop USB 3.0

Seagate Expansion 16TB External Hard Drive HDD - USB 3.0, with Rescue Data Recovery Services (STKP16000400)
  • Up to 18TB Storage Capacity
  • USB 3.1 Gen 1 Interface
  • Includes AC Adapter
  • Hardware Encryption & Password Protection
  • Includes Automatic Backup Software
  • Dimensions: 7 x 4.9 x 1.6″
  • Weight: 2.59lb / 1.17kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

Seagate 16TB Expansion Desktop USB 3.0 is close relative to the WD Elements Desktop Hard Drive but with a Seagate flair.

If you’ve considered the WD Elements Desktop, this Seagate model is like its cousin. It is a one drive model, with similar technologies and storage capacities ranging from 4TB to a substantial 18TB storage space and hovering around the same price range. The key selling point? Affordability for high-volume backups.

It’s rocking the same older USB 3.1 Gen 1 interface underneath that sleek exterior. It’s not about being the flashiest; it’s about getting the job done reliably.

The main twist? Instead of a Western Digital, this one uses a Seagate spinning hard disk. Your choice between the two will boil down to brand loyalty and design preference.

In my case, I’ve been using Western Digital drives for 20 years, so my bias leans that way. But, hey, that doesn’t mean Seagate isn’t a reliable backup solution. It’s all about what you’re comfortable with.

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7. WD My Book Duo

WD 16TB My Book Duo Desktop RAID External Hard Drive HDD, USB 3.1, With Password Protection and Auto Backup Software - WDBFBE0160JBK-NESN
  • Up to 44TB Storage Capacity
  • USB 3.1 Gen 1 Interface
  • Includes AC Adapter
  • 256-Bit AES Hardware Encryption
  • Includes WD Backup Software
  • Dimensions: 7.1 x 6.3 x 3.9″
  • Weight: 5.2lb / 2.4kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

The WD My Book Duo is a popular consumer-grade RAID external hard drive known for as a affordable RAID solution. Housing two drives within its enclosure makes it a reliable choice for photographers seeking affordable, redundant, high-volume storage for critical backups.

Photographers often favor the My Book Duo over the single drive WD Elements Desktop primarily for one crucial reason – redundancy. In Raid 1 mode, this drive goes the extra mile by simultaneously writing and mirroring data to both external drives, providing real-time backup redundancy. It means the drive failure of one of the drives will not cause data loss.

While some might be tempted by RAID 0 for a potential performance boost, the My Book Duo takes a practical stance. Utilizing the same older connectivity (USB 3.1 Gen 1) and budget-friendly 5400rpm instead of faster 7200rpm drives, the performance increase in RAID 0 would be marginal. Therefore, for many photographers prioritizing redundancy, there’s no compelling reason to sacrifice data safety for a slight speed bump.

With capacities ranging from 16TB to an expansive 28TB amount of storage space, the My Book Duo caters to varying needs, accommodating everyone from casual photographers to those with extensive archives.

The WD My Book Duo positions itself as a consumer-level redundant backup solution. It doesn’t aim to dazzle with flashy features but rather excels at providing peace of mind through redundant storage.

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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 20TB
  • Interface: SATA-I/II/III
  • USB 3.0
  • Up to 160 MB/s Data Transfer Speed
  • Compatible HDD: 2.5/3.5 inch
  • Dimensions: 6.25 x 3.93 x 2.71″
  • Weight: 25.0oz / 709g
  • Price: Check the latest price here

This is not exactly an external hard drive, but it has 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 desktop 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 USB connectivity. 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 internal hard drive.

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Best Extension to Internal Hard Drives

Originally, I published this article 5 years ago. In it, my recommendation for the optimal high-performance external hard drive that complements internal storage leaned towards high-end traditional spinning hard drives with fast connectivity, such as Thunderbolt. The rationale behind suggesting traditional mechanical drives was the prohibitive cost associated with high-capacity storage in SSD drives at that time.

Today, I no longer see the justification for using spinning drives. Advances in SSD technologies and developments in USB-C fast data transfer connectivity enable photographers to harness the benefits of SSD external hard drives without straining their budget.

9. SanDisk Professional PRO-G40

SanDisk Professional 2TB PRO-G40 SSD - Up to 3000MB/s, Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps), USB-C (10Gbps), IP68 dust/Water Resistance, External Solid State Drive - SDPS31H-002T-GBCND
  • Up to 4TB Drive Capacity
  • Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C Interface
  • Up to 3000 MB/s Data Transfers
  • IP68 rated for water and dust resistance
  • 9.8′ Drop Protection
  • Dimensions: 4.37 x 2.28 x 0.47″
  • Weight: 4.3oz / 121g
  • Price: Check the latest price here

For photographers seeking a balance of speed and durability, the SanDisk Professional 4TB PRO-G40 emerges as a compelling option.

At the heart of the PRO-G40 is its Thunderbolt connectivity, providing blazing-fast performance with read speeds of up to 3000 MB/s and write speeds reaching 2500 MB/s. It’s designed to turbocharge your data transfers, but it’s important to note that a Thunderbolt port is required to unlock these speeds.

A standout feature is its dual-mode compatibility. The PRO-G40 seamlessly switches between Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2 Gen 2, offering adaptability for various devices. This capability ensures users get optimal speeds based on their connection, providing up to 1050 MB/s read and 1000 MB/s write speeds when connected via USB 3.2 Gen 2—a solid choice for 4k video editing and robust enough for photo editing tasks in applications like Lightroom and Photoshop.

Beyond speed, the PRO-G40 is built tough. It is a reliable guardian for your valuable data because it boasts an IP68 dust/water resistance rating, a robust 9.8′ drop protection, and impressive 4000-pound crush resistance.

Concerned about drive gets overheated during heavy workloads? The PRO-G40 is equipped with a cooling aluminum core, ensuring optimal performance even under strenuous workflows.

Whether you’re a Mac or Windows user, the PRO-G40 caters to both. It comes pre-formatted in APFS for macOS 10.13 or later systems and can be easily reformatted for compatibility with Windows 10 or later.

The SanDisk Professional 4TB PRO-G40 stands out as the fastest external SSD, delivering speed, durability, and platform flexibility—an ideal companion for photographers navigating data-intensive workflows.

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10. LaCie Rugged SSD PRO Thunderbolt 3

LaCie Rugged SSD Pro 4TB Solid State Drive — USB-C Thunderbolt 3, Drop Shock Dust Water Resistant, for Mac and PC Computer Desktop Laptop, 1 Mo Adobe CC All App Plan, Rescue Services (STHZ4000800)
  • Up to 5TB Drive Capacity
  • Thunderbolt 3 Interface
  • 2800 MB/s Data Transfer
  • IP67-rated Water Resistance
  • 9.8′ Drop Resistance
  • Dimensions: 1.44 x 3.52 x 5.71″
  • Weight: 3.53lb / 110g
  • Price: Check the latest price here

In the realm of portable solid-state drives, the LaCie Rugged SSD PRO Thunderbolt stands as a high-end exemplar, earning its place as one of the best portable hard drives for photographers.

LaCie, renowned for its craftsmanship in external hard drives, brings forth a pinnacle of reliability and build quality in the Rugged SSD PRO.

At its core lies the Seagate FireCuda NVMe M.2 SSD, paired with the lightning-fast Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. The synergy of these elements results in a staggering transfer rate of up to 2800 MB/s. This means seamless editing of uncompressed 6K and 8K videos directly off the drive, setting a new standard for performance in portable hard drives for photographers.

The Rugged Pro moniker is not just for show. Its robust exterior provides protection against drops of up to 9.8′ and boasts a crush resistance of up to two tons. Complementing its durability, an IP67 rating ensures resistance to dust and water, making it an ideal companion for extreme condition.

Accidents happen, and LaCie understands that. The Rugged SSD PRO comes fortified with five years of Rescue Data Recovery Services, offering a safety net for your invaluable data.

The LaCie 4TB Rugged SSD PRO Thunderbolt goes beyond being a simple external hard drive; it excels in speed, reliability, and durability. This drive is an excellent choice for photographers searching for premium portable storage.

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11. Samsung T7 Shield SSD Portable Hard Drive

SAMSUNG T7 Shield 4TB Portable SSD - 1050MB/s, Rugged, Water & Dust Resistant, for Content Creators - Black
  • Up to 4TB Storage Capacity
  • USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 Interface (10Gb/s)
  • Data Protection with Hardware Encryption
  • Drop, Water Resistance
  • Dimensions: 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.5″
  • Weight: 3.5oz / 98g
  • Price: Check the latest price here

If you’re seeking a reliable external hard drive for photo and video editing, the Samsung T7 Shield SSD Portable Hard Drive has already earned its spot on my list of the best portable external hard drives for photo storage when traveling. Its ability to serve a dual purpose makes it versatile, catering to various needs depending on your requirements.

In my case, where my video editing needs are limited to HD, I find the Samsung T7 Shield SSD more than capable. It may not be fast enough for 6K video editing, but its 1000 MB/s transfer rate suits my purposes perfectly. This makes it an ideal extension to my Mac’s internal hard drive.

For my photo editing tasks in Lightroom and Photoshop, as well as handling DaVinci HD video editing, the T7 Shield SSD’s speed is more than sufficient. I’ve organized my workflow by keeping my Lightroom catalog on the internal drive while storing my photo library on the 4TB Samsung T7 Shield SSD external drive. It’s a seamless arrangement that ensures both speed and efficiency in managing my photography projects.

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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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