Fstoppers Reviews LaCie DJI Copilot: A Good Insurance Against Disaster in the Field

Fstoppers Reviews LaCie DJI Copilot: A Good Insurance Against Disaster in the Field

I do my landscape photography from the air (via a drone) and from the ground. I go to some rough places, dust, moisture, the usual evils we all have to contend with. Backing up on location can therefore be tricky. Enter, LaCie DJI Copilot.

My colleague Alex Coleman did a very useful post recently on taking photos in the field without a laptop using a portable drive called a Gnarbox.

Earlier this year hard drive maker LaCie and drone maker DJI offered a joint product to give photographers some secure backup for our SD and mini SD cards. 

The device is the LaCie DJI Copilot. It's a rugged 2 TB hard drive with a variety of connectors to let you easily backup your images and then later transfer them to another device, like a laptop, or desktop computer. It can also transfer your files to a smartphone, where they can be viewed, edited and sent, or posted to social media. As a bonus, but not a terribly useful one, the CoPilot can charge a device like a smartphone from its built-in battery. I think I'd save the Copilot battery for transfers. The Copilot sells for $349.99. 

2TB is pretty generous storage, so off I went into the field to see how the Copilot worked.

Field Test

My Sony A7III already can backup its SD card as I shoot, but having all your backups on one device can be risky too, so I put the Copilot to work. 

I took a bunch of photos, popped the SD card into the Copilot and its LCD screen asked if I wanted to copy the SD card to the Copilot HD. One click on the large button on the side and the copies began. It takes a few minutes to empty a 64 or 128 GB card, but it was faster than dumping the files to my MacBook Pro from a card reader. 

Of course the Copilot also can function quite nicely as a regular hard disk storage device. It comes with USB and USB-C cables to plug it into a computer, and your files are there for further editing or backup. 

You can also use the Copilot with your Smartphone. You can download the Copilot BOSS app, and that makes this device even more useful, as I'll explain below.

Copilot BOSS App

With the included lightning or Android cable, you plug the Copilot directly into your phone, then run the app and you can view, edit, share, or delete files.

The app will also detect when the Copilot needs a firmware update, and that is easily accomplished with a couple of screens that walk you through the process. 

To charge the Copilot, LaCie/DJI provides a wall wart. That's less than ideal because it requires AC to charge it. USB charging should also be allowed. Battery life is good, I would expect the Copilot to be able to backup several full SD cards before it needs to be recharged.

I don't usually carry a laptop with me when I'm shooting, so I can't really call this a laptop replacement. However, it's a great backup device, that doesn't require a lot of fooling around. As noted, insert your SD card, press a button, and everything works. If you are using a mini SD card, like many drones use, there is an adaptor for that.

The Copilot fits in well with my backup workflow in the field. I wait until a card is full, then back it up. I don't erase that SD card, but put it in my bag, taking out a fresh SD card to replace it. When that's full, I'm usually done. One caveat: the Copilot doesn't know what is already backed up, so incremental backups are a no-no. If you back up say half a card, replace it in your camera to go back to shooting, and then put it back in the Copilot, the Copilot will back up that card again, making duplicates of the files you have already saved. These rules are the same of course, whether you are using an SD card of a drone mini SD card. 

The Copilot looks well built, it's surrounded by a stiff rubber outer body, and there is a port cover made of the same material. It's not waterproof, and like any hard drive it should be treated with respect. 

That brings up another point. The Copilot contains a regular mechanical hard drive, not a solid state drive with no moving parts. That makes it less rugged than it could be. Putting in an SSD would likely have raised the price even more, but I'd feel more secure with an SSD. That said, the Copilot has been rock solid on several photo treks in less than ideal conditions. 

What's in the Box

  • DJI Copilot drive
  • MicroSD adapter
  • USB-C drive-to-laptop cables
  • USB-C (USB 3.1)
  • USB-C to USB-A
  • Phone and tablet connectors
  • Lightning cable for iOS devices
  • Micro USB cable for Android
  • USB-C cable for Android
  • Wall charger

What I Liked

  • Easy to carry and store in a camera bag
  • Operation is simple and intuitive
  • Comes with all needed cables
  • More than adequate storage

What I Didn't Like

  • Requires wall wart for charging. It should allow USB charging
  • Not an SSD
  • Would like better weatherproofing
  • No incremental backups

Conclusion

I liked using the Lacie DJI CoPilot. It was reliable, easy to use, and like a Swiss Army Knife does a lot of things very well, but is not perfect at each talk. I do think it's a good backup solution if it fits in with your workflow.

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12 Comments

"That brings up another point. The Copilot contains a regular mechanical hard drive, not a solid state drive with no moving parts." - that's actually first point :)

Michael Kormos's picture

I think for $350, for what's essentially a rubber-wrapped traditional 5400rpm hard drive is grossly overpriced. You can get a Samsung external SSD (2Tb) on Amazon today for $397 (roughly $50 more than this Lacie). Wrap it with some rubber and you've got a much more reliable (not to mention faster) back-up solution.

Nick Viton's picture

How would I get my images onto that SSD without my laptop?

Han Seoul-Oh's picture

exactly. the DJI Copilot, and WD My Passport Wireless or Gnarbox for that matter, include a system on a chip with operating system. they're essentially a mini, headless computer, not just a hard drive, to allow for backing up of cards without a laptop or tablet as an interface.

along with the battery pack, that's where the extra cost comes from compared to a portable hard drive. when you consider the fact that it's a headless computer, the price for devices like these is quite reasonable.

Indeed. The concept is not new, though. We used to have these "picture wallet" solutions among others from Epson, Jobo, and simpler just a copy-function from Wolverine. Not sure about the Epson, but the Jobo Giga Vue suffered from constant lack of timely updates for new cameras, they even stopped making these at some time. I used to carry the Wolverine with me, and I was happy with it, but the drive was too small, and somehow the hardware was not supporting bigger drives. Thus I opted for a 12"-13" laptop, and never looked back.

However, for a photographer on the road, who wants to secure the work this might still be right solution. I suppose that here too the never ending problem with support for yet another raw-format will be an issue.

Alex Kroke's picture

A few note. at first you pick up the drive and you noticed how heave it is, It must be the big battery.

I have tried few drives from this kind and was so exited if this would be a great solution to travel when i just take this and an iPad pro. I must say the software is quite good, better then WD and many others in this category.

The Connection is still not working to new iPad pro with usb-c, but they say in a future update.

I find the drive slow. It is indeed a 5400 and making a copy of 5GB SD card will take 1:40 , when to the computer will take about 55 sec.

The drive is slow to access and to book when connected to the computer. sometimes it just connects to the computer without mounting and i will take many time to get it to work. no ideal if you have a client standing by.

The drive does slowly charge true USB, I didn't take the charger on my last trip and left it plugin in the laptop and the battery was charges at one point.

I think it is a solution that works, and i would recommend it over others.

Remy Musser's picture

It does charge via USB-C
Here are some of the negative points.
If you try to backup to another USB HDD it will overheat quickly
Thumbnails are squared which makes it difficult to select pictures afterward.
It does not display exif data with the thumbnail
Transfer from the boss to an iPad Pro is slow

I suggest next time you are reviewing something to do it seriously.

Mel Martin's picture

Thanks for your comments. Never saw any overheating with sizeable transfers to the drive on my MacBook Pro which is an SDD. Don't have an iPad Pro, so can't comment on that. I see Exif data on images by tapping info on the iPhone app. If the aspect ratio of the images bother you that's a valid criticism. I think most users want devices like this to back up their data reliably, and won't make artistic or technical decisions about an image based on a thumbnail.

Remy Musser's picture

When I received the device I’ve ran some test, copied 500gb from sad cards and then tried to back all up on a LaCie rugged drive. After 200gb it overheated.
I then tried to transfer 500gb from my desktop to the Boss drive and it overheated after 300gb.
The overheating issue is well know check out the support site.

The squared thumbnails are not showing any info once the preview has been generated. Being able to see if it’s a RAW or JPG and displaying the resolution would be very handy.

Of course if you preview the pics one by one you can always hit the info option. But that’s not practicle for batch editing. I spend extended periods of time on the road and need to be able to sort, edit and backup my work in an efficient and easy way. For sure the shitty iPad files management does not help at all.

There are a lot of things that could be improved in the app.

Don’t get me wrong I love the device, but I just believe that a deeper review pushing it to its limits would have been better.

GNARBOX 2.0 will be an SSD, that one has a better potential than this one or WD's one. Being a slow mechanical drive has some big disadvantages. I would wait for the GNARBOX 2.0.

it can be charged via USB-C via a Phone Charger

The whole thing is a moot point, what photographer doesn't travel without a laptop and some hard drives for backing up memory cards?almost no one I expect...