The Best External Hard Drive for Photographers and Videographers

It's time to stop buying those standard USB external hard drives. We've found a much better solution

For the past few years, we have been traveling with a 2-bay Synology NAS (network attached storage) device. This NAS was fairly big, especially when it had to fit in my backpack for three months while we filmed with Elia, but it allowed Patrick and me to edit footage simultaneously, and it gave us peace of mind knowing that the footage was always on two separate drives. Soon after we wrote a post about how clever we thought our solution was, Synology contacted us and informed us that there is a much smaller option, the DS416slim.

The DS416slim is an incredibly small NAS device. It's almost half the size of our previous unit. It holds four laptop-sized hard drives (or SSD drives if your budget permits), and it allows you to use RAID to keep your data redundant and safe. My favorite feature of this little box is that it has two Ethernet ports on the back meaning that we no longer have to travel with a switch if there are only two of us. We simply plug two laptops directly into the DS416slim and we can download footage, or edit footage at the same time. 

If we are going to be working on a project with a larger crew, I'll bring along the MikroTik hAP AC wireless router (I showed the wrong one in the video). This little box allows five computers to be connected to the NAS at once via Ethernet and even more users wirelessly. 

The only downside to this current setup is that laptop hard drives are maxed out at 2 TB meaning that you can only get 4 TB of storage with redundant RAID 1. This may or may not be enough for you. However, if 4 TB is enough, I'm not sure there is a more convenient option currently on the market. 

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Jozef Povazan's picture

I was playing with a NAS idea over Xmas time, but still stayed in DAS set up for now. Can this be used as standard DAS set up in RAID 1 before I decide to switch it to NAS once day..? Might be silly question, honestly have never used a NAS device so just brain picking for now. Thanks and happy shooting.

Lee Morris's picture

I don't think so but I'm not sure why you'd want to. It works almost exactly the same as a standard external hard drive but we have the option now to connect to it with multiple devices.

If you're interested in the protection of RAID, but not the benefits of NAS, (or any RAID arrangement higher than 1) ...then hunt down the CineRaid device that is only $29. It's a tiny device that only does RAID 1 with two 2.5" drives, but it does it with the major benefit of being BUS-powered, which for DAS and travel is a fantastic thing IMO.

If your workflow doesn't involve needing multiple computers to access the drive at once, nor having the drive be connected to the internet or a wifi router, ...the CineRaid device is great.

Just remember RAID is not a backup. Most causes for people to reach for backups are first user error and second corruption caused by software or OS errors. A NAS with RAID won’t protect you against those errors and neither will RAID protect you when the electronics in your NAS die. The failure of a physical hard drive is fairly rare.

A 4 bay NAS used while travelling may be better configured as a single working drive and a RAID5 of three disks used as backup,

Benton Lam's picture

If you don't drop them? hell, a drive crash is super rare.

I couldn't even remember a drive crash on a desktop since last time I shorted the board by accident resting it on the case.

For portable spinning rust hard drives, physical shocks will crash the heads.

Benton Lam's picture

And I thought I'm on Fstoppers, not reddit.

Benton Lam's picture

Could be.

I've replaced enough portable hard drives, and worked in server rooms for HPCs, so I'd never pretend drive crashes don't exist. That is the reason why in another thread, I suggested to Lee to go for the SSD anyways just to avoid a head crash, not because there's a performance difference

The more drives you have, the more likely that eventually one of them will give out anyways.

And a quick comparison between, say Seagate's commercial vs enterprise rotating media datasheet: will give you very different reliability specs.

On top of that, those who setup enterprise NAS, or SAN, often buy drives in batches, and one of the more recent issues that those uses cases would encounter is that a drive dies, they hot swap, and on the RAID 5 rebuild, the extra work load would kill another one. After all, the drives are built in very similar conditions, so that failure distribution is not exactly random. The problem is made worse with large drives.

In any case, for the Fstopper's use case, they're definitely far more likely to have drive crashes. If you run a studio with multiple people working hard on a NAS, you're probably going to see drive crashes.

Your actual use case will influence whether you're going to experience hardware failure more frequently than others, but that is by no means that photographers who depends on their data for the livelihood not to guard against it, or human error.

Those Synology enclosures are going to do RAID, but from the couple of minutes I've spent poking around, they don't seem to do snapshotting.

I’m only quoting part of your message but...
“In any case, for the Fstopper's use case, they're definitely far more likely to have drive crashes. If you run a studio with multiple people working hard on a NAS, you're probably going to see drive crashes.”

FStoppers users are also more likely to see data loss caused by other methods (especially in multi user situations): data losses which RAID won’t protect you from.

Even if you use a NAS with RAID you must ensure you have other backup ... that was the point of my original message!

Bob, I would attempt to answer that question about "since when", but I don't want to jinx my absolutely amazing track record that I've had with 10+ drives over the years.

The bottom line is that, as a %% of total drives put into use, (that weren't DOA) ...hard drive failure is FAR less common than other things like human error, theft, or natural disaster.

And, as the other poster stated, most RAID systems only protects you against the failure of ONE drive, even in a 4 or 5-bay situation sometimes. And those are not good odds, if you're worried about drive failure itself.

The best thing you can do is to have separate devices backing up your data routinely, verify that data routinely, and store it off-site.

RAID is nothing more than an on-the-go solution to capacity and transfer speed limitations, plus protection against single drive failure. You're still SOL if your hotel room, or your car or VRBO gets burglarized, or you accidentally do something stupid and delete files yourself, or drop the whole entire device.

I'm not going based off any statistics, admittedly, but instead the hundreds and hundreds of other amateur photographers I've conversed with or observed who have either reached out to me directly, or posted in an online community, about image loss. The majority of the time, the source of image loss is human error, not "the drive just stopped working!"

Either way, unless someone cares to hunt down an actual %% of drive failure rates, industry-wide, I guess that's the end of this. IMO actual failure is a very low %%, simply because of the amazingly high volume of total drives that go out in the field.

Then again, all drives eventually fail, due to them having a lifespan, period. I wasn't really counting that either.

All this to say, I've clicked well over 2M digital images over the last 15 years, and have never lost one that wasn't my own fault.

There, I jinxed it, just for you. Hope you're happy when my hard drives all fail later today. :-P

Bob, I would disagree with you that drive failure is more common than human error (or errors caused by OS or corruption other than physical failure).

You also say “I wasn't remarking on the merits and demerits of RAID and I'm well aware of an effective backup system. Lets face it, it's common sense.“
Well in my experience most computer users (even photographers and videographers including those professionals who’s income depend on it) tend not to show common sense when it comes to backup. They follow the path of least resistance / what is easiest. Even many multi-million pound companies tend to rely on luck and what’s cheapest.

I didn’t suggest that drive failures never happen. I was stating the FACT that RAID only protects you from one kind of data loss which happens (in my experience) less than many other kinds of data loss.

I didn’t suggest not backing up. In fact I said with RAID you still need to back up.

I’m sorry you don’t like my advise, but relying on RAID will NOT protect you!

Only that is exactly the point ... RAID is NOT and NEVER is a type of backup and NEVER a substitute for backup. It is a method to ensure high availability of data. It provides for redundancy not a backup.

Anyone advocating that RAID provides for some kind of alternative to a backup MUST be taken to task IMO.

I still contend in the context of when you require backups: the physical failure of a HDD is rare!

If you don’t believe me, google “RAID is not backup” for many better explained real world explanations!

No: RAID offers redundancy not *substitute for* backup. The clue is in the acronym... a Redundant Array of Inexpensive Discs.

The main problem with RAID is exactly the reason you claim it IS a backup - it duplicated data. Unfortunately it duplicates bad data and corruption exactly the same as it duplicates the “good” data. Corruption usually happens for reasons other than physical HDD failures - RAID cannot help you with the most common types of corruption.

If you don’t know or can’t accept the difference then I can’t help you.

Oh ffs forget it... some people just don’t want to learn and just want to argue. If you do wish to learn, as I stated above ... please look up the term “RAID is not backup”

If you’re happy relying on RAID as backup I really couldn’t give a d***... I just hope no one listens to your bad advice.

I’m just amazed at the controversy you see in my statement from my first post!

Benton Lam's picture

I don't see why Synology can't possibly snapshotting as a feature. The device is a basically a Linux box with a fancy UI on top, and there are snapshot tools on Linux.

FreeBSD also have snapshot support too, so if the Linux version isn't robust enough, there are alternatives.

Then all they'd have to do is to set up a snapshotting scheme, so that you could, for example, look for files as if the system was 1 hour before, 2 hours before, etc...

Daris Fox's picture

Synology does support it, plus if you're running Windows you can do it through the back up menu under settings.

Benton Lam's picture

I stand corrected. I was scanning their spec sheets, so I didn't do a deep dive into the manual.

filmkennedy's picture

Unfortunately at read speeds of 113 MB/s it's not fast enough for about 50% of what I shoot/transcode to. Sure for photographers and most prosumer video cameras the price and performance is great.

Fritz Asuro's picture

It's good stuff to know.. but I guess the definition of the word "portable" has changed.

Lee Morris's picture

Ya, no doubt it's significantly larger than a standard USB drive, but for us, the features are well worth the extra size.

Fritz Asuro's picture

I was just excited to know what you guys have to share but was frustrated that it's more of a portable server storage than what I was thinking.

But like I said, it's good stuff to know. Might consider it for my desk though.

Matthew Odom's picture

Lee Morris you must have heard me cussing over here about all these External HDs in my drawer. This is perfect because I love working off SSD drives and its small (more desk space!). For those who are looking to stay with a standard setup checkout the Yottamaster HDD Case 5 bay Type-C HDD 3.1 USB.

I'll be picking up this fella Lee is talking about too.

No argument that QNAP, Synology, etc don’t always offer the best value if you only take actual hardware into account... but the support they offer may make up for the slightly expensive hardware.

Paul Parker's picture

Just what I've been looking for, thanks for the tip!

Posted this on YT but figured I would also post it here.

Some video ideas:

1. Do you need “pro” lenses for video (1080/4K)? Does the detail even show up in video?
Pro lenses being 2.8 zooms, 1.4 primes, Fuji red badge, Canon L, Sony GM, etc...

2. Fstoppers original paid tutorial all about video recording and post processing for photographers. This would also heavily touch on vlogging since it’s fairly popular right now. Can also include a segment about hybrid shooting for weddings.

3. Side by side test of the best color accurate monitors on the market with value per dollar ratings. Do you need 10bit monitors? Do you need a monitor with a LUT? What GPU do you need to take advantage of 10bit/LUT monitors?

4. EGPU for video editing on the road, worth it?

5. Digital medium format vs high MP FF (similar to your old D810 vs 5dsr turtle shoot video)

6. Fun videos where Lee and Patrick take a paid tutorial and put its contents to use. Lee does architectural photography or Patrick does Landscape photography.

7. Compare architectural/landscape/cityscape using m4/3 sensors to apsc to FF to medium format, is their a difference once you put the camera on a tripod and shoot as base iso?

Lee Morris's picture

Love the ideas. Some of these we already plan to do

my vote for the 6th !!! :D

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