>3TB HDD with SATA and/or USB3.0

HDDs are so cheap these days. You can get 4-6TB drives from Western Digital and Seagate for under $150. Affordable and high-volume. Sounds appealing. You could set up a RAID quite affordably, but that's not going to be very portable.

This is my go-to storage solution. They come with a limited 1 year hardware replacement warranty. But you have to foot the bill for data recovery, which isn't guaranteed to work. They're frequently problematic and unreliable. They typically fail completely within a few years. This seems to be intentional - i.e. designed to fail.

They used to be much more reliable ten years ago, but then again they were only about 256-500GB back then. Back then, they used to be regular, internal-style SATA HDDs with a Mini-USB adapter on a separate PCB, all bundled into a fancy enclosure. This made them very easy to troubleshoot, and you could get a generic adapter online for about $10. Now they're all on a single board with a proprietary adapter, and if you manage to separate them, surprise; the whole drive is encrypted at that level now anyway, because that's totally necessary for the average consumer.

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2.5" Solid State Drives

Prices for these are all over the place, but they're not cheap. @ ~6Gb/s: 4TB Samsung for ~$1,000. 2 TB Crucial for ~$500. 1TB WD Blue, SanDisk, Samsung Portable for ~$300. They're quick, they live a long time, I don't know the warranties because they're kind of expensive, so I don't buy a lot of them. But they're pretty great.

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>100GB SD & Micro-SD Cards

I like SanDisk Ultra, Extreme, and Extreme Pro; 128-256GB Micro SD cards with the regular SD adapter that most modern Digital SLR and Mirrorless cameras use. You can usually get them for under $200

They're fast, reliable, have no moving parts, come with a 10 year warranty, and you can probably count on them lasting significantly longer than your lifetime if you look after them and store them well. Personally, I love Pelican cases for hardware storage and transport. And I like their CF & SD card storage cases. Other brands with similar products include Neewer, Honsky, Kupton, etc. Check Amazon.

If it were more cost effective, I would just use these. All day, every day. One card per project. Labels. Colour coded. Pelican cases. Wall safe. Problem solved. But it quickly adds up. So I use these for their speed, transfer images, and re-use them over and over again.

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Cloud Storage

Storage solutions by Google, Dropbox, Adobe, and probably a hundred others; are super convenient and super reliable. They seem inexpensive, but it adds up eventually, and that cost is recurring. And I don't know what happens to your data when you can't afford to keep making those payments. Sounds dicey.

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The Question

So, what's a reliable, cost-effective solution to the modern photographers data storage problem?

  • \$\begingroup\$ What does "cost-effective" mean to you? If you want it, you have to pay for it. \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 22:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Same thing it means to everyone else: Effective in relation to cost. "Good value for money", some might say. \$\endgroup\$
    – voices
    Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 1:38

2 Answers 2


Regarding longevity: Permanent, ideally. As it says in the title. I'd like to keep photos forever, if possible. Like a digital archive.

There will be no such thing as a passive archive system. There are no guarantees that the software to read your RAW files will exist in another decade or two, and the same is true for even the good ol' jpg. That also goes for hardware. So, no matter what system you choose, you'll need to keep an eye on things and possibly move your archive in the future.

A good data system has files in multiple places. Personally, I have my working images:

  • on a RAID HDD
  • copied onto a cloud service
  • copied to an external SSD

Once I no longer need immediate access to the images, I archive them onto a BluRay and remove them from the HDD. They now exist on the external SSD, a disc, and the cloud. If I were more paranoid, I'd probably move the discs off-site. I cycle images on the SSD as well, so eventually, I only have two copies of my images (disk and cloud).

The point here is: multiple copies in multiple places are your only safeguard against loss. You need to decide for yourself what your solution will be, balancing data volume, cost, and time.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "no such thing as a passive archive system". \$\endgroup\$
    – Conor Boyd
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 20:53
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm going to make a grand claim... JPEG decoding libraries will be widely and freely available as long as there continues to be JPEG files that people want to see. And there are lots of them out there now, and I don't see them going away anytime soon. The idea that JPEG might be a forgotten-and-unreadable format at some point in the future should be way down anyone's risk list. \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 22:41
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @osullic that's true. I'm more worried about RAW file support for my 20D files in another 10 years than about jpg support. The point I was trying to make is to pay attention and act accordingly. If I can no longer find a BluRay writer, for instance, or the drivers are no longer there for future versions of windows, then I'll have to either keep an old box or start moving my BR collection to some other medium (possibly one that doesn't even exist yet) \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 22:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Hueco If you use proprietary products, maybe, but open source software will always be available. \$\endgroup\$
    – xenoid
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 13:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @xenoid ...unless it gets deleted, does not feature a prominent system that is still available in 10 years time,... Don't get me wrong: FLOSS is great and I try to implement as much of my (archival) workflow on it. But FLOSS still needs maintainers, and if e.g. JPEG goes completely extinct in 10 years (highly unlikely), then probably few people will care to invest their time to maintain code for it. And getting Debian 6 and a machine that it supports in 10 years will be...hard, I guess. \$\endgroup\$
    – flolilo
    Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 16:41

Working as an IT Professional and a hobbyist photographer, I'm paranoid about data security.

For me, no matter what storage mechanism you use, you should always have the data in (at least) two places. I use an external hard drive as my storage and back that up to a second external hard drive. I also backup that backup to a relative's house for an offsite storage. Not all external hard drives are encrypted, either.

As with any technology, things will wear out or become obsolete over time (remember floppy disks, and even to a degree DVDs?) so will always need to be brought up to current standards. Data archival is not as simple as setting it and forgetting it (who can play a VHS anymore?)

Cloud storage providers are nice, but don't forget, all your stuff is now on someone else's systems. Depending on terms of use, your trust in the company, your contracts with client,s you'll have to be careful the way you handle that.

  • \$\begingroup\$ If you're saving three copies to three disks, it might be worth setting up a RAID. I'm not really concerned about encryption and confidentiality, by the way. Just integrity and accesibility. Also, VCRs and 3½" Floppy Drives aren't hard to come by. Just FYI. Thanks though. \$\endgroup\$
    – voices
    Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 1:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @tjt263, RAID isn't a backup solution- it's fault tolerance. I have one working copy, a copy in a backup solution (that I can restore from should there be corruption or something as simple as an overwrite), and the third copy lives off site in case of catastrophe. For my set up, RAID would only provide me the benefit of maintaining up-time with a failed disk. I'd still have to run a proper backup anyway. And yeah, floppies aren't really hard to come by to find external readers, but just using that as an example. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 13:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't know about all that. It just seemed like you were aiming for redundancy. I thought I'd bring it up in case you were unfamiliar. \$\endgroup\$
    – voices
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 13:57
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @tjt263 are you for real? Allen said in sentence #1: "IT Pro". What IT pro doesn't know about RAID? \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 14:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Hueco a) Yes. b) Most. \$\endgroup\$
    – voices
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 14:45

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