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What options are there for good, cheap online backup of data?

Prior to 2012 I'd been shooting jpg files and uploading them to Phanfare.com (which allows unlimited storage of various file formats (jpg, tiff, . . .)) for online storage and sharing. In 2012 I began shooting in RAW only. Phanfare charges extra for RAW files and requires that both jpg+RAW files be uploaded together. Since I didn't shoot jpg+RAW in 2012 and to keep from losing image data, I decided to export tiff files from Lightroom 3 and then upload these to Phanfare. However, this didn't work. I soon realized that each tiff files was much bigger than its corresponding RAW files. I also found out that Phanfare limits image file sizes to 20MB, which explains why tiff uploading wasn't working. What then are my options for online storage w/o data loss as occurs with jpg files?

I know nothing about file compression, but I'm anticipating that as a possible solution. Is compression of tiff files an option to stay below the 20MB limit if I using a 15 or 20 megapixel dSLR camera followed by development adjustments in LR3? Will we be able to view the compressed images on Phanfare? What's involved if I lose my local files (internal and external hard drive failures) and have to restore them from an online storage site like Phanfare--i.e., what's involved in restoring w/ compressed tiff files--assuming that's an option?


I would take a look at SmugMug and their SmugVault option. Details can be found at this link. With SmugVault you can upload RAW, TIFF, PDF, PSD, or even video files, at any size(up to 3GB each file). It is pretty reasonably priced, but it all depends on how much data you have, and how often you access it.

Another option would be looking at something that isn't necessarily photography geared. Any "cloud" storage option will really do this if they are halfway decent. I tried to find you some recommendations on cloud storage, but doing so isn't particularly in the spirit of the Stack Exchange format, see: https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/144245/where-should-i-ask-about-cloud-storage-solutions

  • +1 for "any cloud storage option". One can always upload JPEGs elsewhere for overview, and keep some reference to the exact original image. – a CVn Nov 27 '12 at 15:18

If you aren't wanting to loose the RAW format, unfortunately there really isn't much you can do other then convert it and send it. This needs to be done in a way that the format will fit and that they won't be huge. When this is done however, this causes "loss" of data as that is what compressing a file does. The reason that most places won't let you use the RAW format as a way of putting files on their server is both the fact that they are based on your camera so there is nothing anyone can do with it if they don't have your model or make of camera. Not only that but they are big, and storage would be used up quickly with very few pictures. Where jpg is much smaller and can give you a lot more pictures in the same amount of storage. If you are really worried about loosing your pictures, my best suggestion to you is purchase an external hard drive and keep copies of your pictures on it. Also I would suggest backing it up on DVD's or CD's as well because if you keep it on a Hard Drive or other means, it isn't a matter of if, but when, it is going to fail. Keeping backups is your best way to insure that you aren't going to loose your files. Having multiple copies can insure that under every circumstance you'll be okay and you'll always be able to get those files back.

Online storage isn't the best practice for backup because if for some reason you loose your files, and the site that you use to access your files goes down or is no longer accessable, you'll never get those files back. I wouldn't suggest using them for any more then sharing photos with people you want to share them with. However, as stated above, dropbox is very nice and you could use that, but on top of that, I would still suggest backing them up locally as trying to get them all back if you should loose your data is going to take very very long and be a very tedious process.


Dropbox does a pretty decent job.It also has a client, which takes away the trouble of uploading.


You need to consider carefully your use case: Do you need online access to your files? Online access means that your files are available essentially to any and all systems you use. Use cases where this is valuable include collaboration (editing a Word document), replication (duplicates automatically downloaded on all systems), and high availability (real or near-real time access to files from the cloud). OR, do you simply need online backup. Lets consider the differences:

  • If you need to collaborate, online storage provides you the ability for multiple people to edit a file, saving the results for all to use. The file is downloaded manually, and edits uploaded manually.

  • Replication simply ensures that the files you use are available on all the systems you use. If you make an edit on a file on one system, the online storage facility will copy those edits to another system, such as when you edit on a desktop system and then take a laptop out traveling, your files will be on both systems.

  • Finally, high availability provides a 'cloud' drive available to all systems, keeping files on the cloud, but allowing work to progress regardless of system or location. Note this similar to collaboration, but there is no downloading. Typically, software must be configured for this, or a tool must be installed to allow a 'cloud drive' to be seen as a system drive.

If any of these are the kind of use case you are looking for, tools such as Dropbox, Box, and CMS systems like Drupal can be of use.

However, it may be that instead of online storage, you simply require online backup, where files are stored safely, offsite. In case of loss, those files can be downloaded, recovering from the failure.

But if backing up, how long to download a file? Figure this by getting a few sample file sizes and dividing by your download speed. If you have a 15MB RAW file, and your download speed is 10Mbit/sec:

15Megabytes = 15*8 Megabits= 120Megabits. Each file will require 120/10= 12 seconds to download. If you have, say, 20 Gigabytes of data, then they will require approx 4.5 hours to download. ((20GB*1024*8)/(10)/(60/60)).

By the way, this math (physics actually) applies regardless of use case, so that you can understand that some of the use cases above may have sigificant lag times, such as replication, which can take some time to copy to all your machines.

One final note: JPEG is a highly compressed format, that all web browsers know how to render, and therefore it is the standard for viewing of photos on the internet. One reason is that they are relatively small file size, perfect for downloading by a browser for render. RAW files, are uncompressed, and contain no image info. Browsers can't render them, though some tools can display the embedded JPEG image within a RAW file. Asside from the use cases above, storing a RAW file online for ready availability doesn't make any sense.

  • RAW files aren't necessarily uncompressed (otherwise, every single RAW file from the camera would be exactly or near exactly the same size, which can quickly be debunked); however, when they are compressed, they are usually losslessly compressed. – a CVn Nov 27 '12 at 15:17

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