Today’s traveling photographer who has embraced the world of digital technology doesn’t need to worry about film going through airport security scanners or expiring. All they have to worry about is storage space.
That’s right, storage space. Once limited to 36-38 photographs on a roll of film, digital photographers can now take hundreds of pictures without “changing the roll” so to speak. The roll is the digital storage medium inside of the camera. While the number of photograph images you can take has increased dramatically, even a digital camera has its limits. It, too, can come to the “end of the roll”.
The current digital camera storage media consists of the Memory Stick, Compact Flash, SD Memory Card, Smart Media Card, XD-Memory and Multimedia Card, though others are coming out all the time. They come in a variety of storage sizes, from 32 megabytes to one or two gigabytes and soon even larger. Depending upon the image resolution and format choices you make, your image size may vary from 1 megabyte to tens of megabytes, or even larger. How many images you can fit on the storage media is part of the new math.
In theory, at 2 MB per image, a 512K storage card should hold 256 images. Ah, but it doesn’t. You don’t get the whole 512K of space. There are other files sitting on the storage media and then there is “space” between the files that adds to the numbers. In general, if you get 200-240 images on a 512K card, you did well. If you are a serious professional photographer selling your images, you will be shooting at higher resolutions, so each image may range from 4 MB to 15 MB or maybe larger. That same 512K card is looking pretty small now.
Even as we speak, the digital storage industry is coming out with smaller and larger storage media. Pretec Electronics Corp. has announced a 4GB Secure Digital card, considered the largest capacity of SD card in the world. Not all digital cameras will take take that size, but yours might. Still, the price is high and so the rest of us are using smaller formats until the prices come down.
So instead of changing rolls of film, you will need to either swap storage media or store your digital images while traveling. Which one will you choose?
Storing or Swamping Digital Media
Hooking your digital camera to your computer to transfer a load of pictures all the time can be a pain, as can the cost of lots of storage cards. Card readers are now available which allow you to remove the Memory Stick, Compact Flash, SD Memory Card, Smart Media Card, XD-Memory or Multimedia Card from the camera and insert it into the reader to transfer the files, dragging and dropping the picture files to your preferred folders. When you are ready, or when the reader is full, you can transfer the files to your computer.
Lexar Media makes card readers for both USB and Firewire ports. The Firewire reader transfers up to a fast 400 megabits of data per second. If you take a lot of digital pictures, the Firewire can save you time. The Lexar Media USB 2.0 8-in-1 Multi-Card Digital Film reader is a small but easy to use USB version. ScanDisk also offers USB readers which handle CompactFlash, SmartMedia cards, Memory Sticks, and MultiMediaCard/SD cards. PQI has developed a 7-in-1 USB 2.0 Card Reader which can read seven different types of flash storage media through a standard USB connection. It can hold up to one gig of data and accepts the new “xd picture card”. If you have a camera with a variety of cards, or you want a card that will work for your camera and PDA, consider getting all your bang in one place with one of the super card readers that will cover most of the cards out there. The 21-in-1 Blue Memory Card Reader With 3 USB2.0 Ports will cover just about all your needs for card readers.
Card readers with storage built in that can work in the field under battery power are becoming more affordable as well as readily available. For the serious photographer and traveler, the one-size fits all TangoPro MultiMedia Drive – Multi Card Reader / Photo Preview / 20GB USB 2.0 Storage/ MPEG Player / MP3 Player / Color LCD might be the ticket for you with a rechargeable battery and the ability to not only store your images on the run, but take a look at your photographs and listen to music, too.
Most of these card readers sell for under USD$100 and the technology is changing and improving even as you read this.
While the card readers are great, allowing you to store the information through them onto your laptop, the laptop itself can be a huge thing to lug around out in the field. Epson’s P-2000 Multimedia Storage Viewer is a portable storage device with an LCD screen that can allow you to hook up your digital camera and transfer, view, and store digital images from your camera onto it’s 40 GB hard drive. With built-in memory card slots, it can also transfer files without having to connect to a computer. There are a variety of portable storage devices that will store information from digital cards allowing you the freedom to store the images and reuse the card.
Another interesting device is made by Delkin Devices called the USB Bridge. Small enough to fit in the palm of your had, it connects digital cameras and Mp3 players, external hard drives, CD burners and memory card readers and flash drives together, creating a bridge between the devices without a computer. It allows you to transfer information from your digital camera to your iPod or Zen, treating it like a hard drive. Or to a USB flash drive, inexpensive and highly portable storage media. The versatility is great for a photographer, allowing multiple storage techniques and devices.
With all these devices you can either store images from the storage media to your laptop or portable storage devices, and then keep on shooting with the digital card back in your camera. But all these devices add up to weight, stuff, and cables to lug around. Depending upon your travels, all this stuff may save money in the long run, but it may break your back and interfere with your schedule. After all, you do have to find an electrical outlet and plug things in and wait while it “reloads”.
If you like to travel light, then consider investing in multiple storage cards instead. Pop them in and out and you are back to photographing again. Your time can be spent concentrating on the photography and what you are seeing rather than on the gizmos.
Back in the trailer, tent, or hotel room for the night, then pull out the gadgets and store the images to be ready with empty digital media for the next day’s photography.
Online Storage on the Go
If your travels keep you in touch via the Internet with wifi or broadband services, consider storing your images while traveling with one of the many online storage services.
Storage fees are based upon the size and length of contract. Some services even allow adding more storage space on the fly, so if you suddenly find yourself exceeding your limit, a few clicks and an additional fee to your credit card and you have more storage space online.
Online storage services allow you to upload your images via the Internet to your own “virtual hard drive”. You can access the files from the road or wait until you get home. Most online storage facilities will accept most types of common digital files, and many specialize in digital photographs.
Online storage takes up no space in your suitcase and allows access from anywhere 24 hours a day. The only issue is that you need to have access to the Internet, via your hand held, laptop, or a public computer. Upload speeds are only limited to the bandwidth of your connection, so transfer times may be variable.
If you are traveling with your computer and digital camera, and wifi or Internet connections are handy, this is a fast solution to image storage, lightweight, and easy to use.
More Digital Resources
To keep up with the new technology, check out some of these resources: