Photographers consider many tools for their work — picking the right external hard drive is crucial for quick, easy access to their photos.
Even though photographers do not need as much space for still images as videographers do, having a fast, reliable, and durable hard drive that displays uncompressed raw files instantly comes in handy.
No photographer should spend most of their creative time waiting on a sluggish hard drive.
Our picks for the best external hard drives for photographers in 2022:
- Seagate Portable External HDD (Our Top Pick)
- Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch HDD (Best Budget)
- WD My Passport Wireless Pro (Best High End)
- WD My Passport Ultra Portable External HDD
- Seagate Backup Plus Hub
What Are External Hard Drives for Photographers?
An external hard drive is a storage device that either connects to a computer via a USB cable or wirelessly. It stores media, provides backups, and is essential when the computer’s internal storage is full. A camera such as the Sony a7R III can capture a raw file that surpasses 82 MB per single shot.
With a 32 GB SD card, you can only hope to take around 400 images with such quality. An external hard drive however can hold hundreds of thousands of high-quality images. Photographers that easily fill up their camera storage or camera micro SDs find external hard drives to be the perfect solution to their storage woes.
What Are The Different Types of External Hard Drives for Photographers?
There are two different types of external hard drives used by photographers: those that need a separate power source to transfer data between a computer and the hard drive, and those that use power directly from the computer’s USB interface. In other words, external hard drives are either stationary or portable.
Since the portable and stationary drives are external, the major differences are in size and speed. For example, a stationary drive comes in a 3.5-inch drive that rotates at 7200rpm, while a portable drive comes in a 2.5-inch drive that rotates at 5400rpm. Theoretically, the rpm (rotations per minute) in the former translates to lower read and write times, resulting in faster file transfers than the latter type of external hard drive.
How Do External Hard Drives for Photographers Work?
External hard drives are, in most cases, connected to computers via a USB cable, wireless connection, or FireWire connection.
Once connected to a PC (personal computer), a photographer can move files to and from the camera’s storage to the computer for easy editing and backup purposes. Most external hard drives are plug-and-play.
This means they are configured for Windows and Mac computers and can be used once plugged in.
What Do You Look For in External Hard Drives for Photographers?
The best external hard drives for photographers in 2022 should feature the right storage capacity, fast transfer speeds, and security for the stored data. In terms of speeds, an SSD drive supersedes an HDD drive thanks to its flash memory, which is much faster in reading/writing speeds than its counterpart, which utilizes magnetic heads for reading/writing.
Furthermore, it’s important to note the operating system powering your computer before purchasing a hard drive. A Windows-formatted hard drive is incompatible with a Mac. Cross-platform storage has always been a little too complicated and tends to fail. For example, a Mac computer can read/write Windows file system formats, but conversion is required for a Windows system to read a Mac formatted file system.
Windows uses FAT, FAT32, MS-DOS, NTFS, and exFAT formats, while Mac uses MacOS Extended across four types while allowing you to format drives for FAT and exFAT. You’ll be required to set up the drives if you have a Windows OS. However, another option is formatting the hard drive to be compatible with both operating systems.
Finally, it’s important to note how your storage device connects to the computer. It’s challenging to tell the best HDD when picking between many interfaces. For example, some portable drives use Firewire, while others use Micro USB for connectivity with the computer. The biggest concern is that all these work at varying speeds. For example, a USB 2.0 will average 60MBps, whereas a USB 3.0 will do ten times over that figure. USB 3.1 and 3.2 are even much faster, with transfer speeds of up to 2.5GBps.
External Hard Drives For Photographers Reviewed
1. Seagate Portable External HDD (Our Top Pick)
The Seagate portable external HDD is a plug-and-play hard drive that needs no extra software to get it working.
With read/write speeds of up to 120MBps, the 2.5-inch portable hard disk is the perfect choice for many photographers looking for something that offers speed and reliability.
The external drive comes bundled with Seagate’s Rescue Data Recovery Services software, which offers more protection to your data.
Besides that, the photographers who’ve used this external HDD are quite impressed with the free four months of Adobe Creative Cloud subscription and free one year of Mylio Create ($50), which is crucial for creating backups and easier workflow.
In addition, the drive comes with a two-year warranty.
- Great read/write speeds of up to 120 MBps
- 1-year free Mylio Create subscription worth $50
- Four months of free Adobe Creative Cloud subscription
- No built-in encryption software
- No inclusion of a USB connector
2. Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch HDD (Best Budget)
Offering more value at its price range than the competition, the Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Touch is a uniquely devised fiber-fabric-cover external hard drive that comes in a slim design.
With reading/write speeds of up to 120MBps, the HDD also comes with one year of free Mylio Create ($50) for easier editing, organizing, and storing photos.
In addition, the drive comes with a 2-year warranty.
- Unique fiber-fabric-cover design
- It comes bundled with a free USB-C connector
- Maximum storage of only 2 TB
3. WD My Passport Wireless Pro (Best High End)
The WD My Passport Wireless External Hard Drive Pro is among the best external wireless hard drives available.
The HDD allows you to back up/transfer photos and videos without connecting to a computer using cables.
Built with the photographer’s needs in mind, this hard drive has a built-in SD card reader.
As a result, it’s a great fit for individuals that need to offload pictures to make room on their camera’s SD cards while on the go.
The external hard drive has decent read/write speeds of up to 110MBps. In addition, the drive comes with a three-year warranty.
- Decent read/write speeds of up to 110MBps
- Built-in SD card reader
- Built-in 6,400 mAh battery that acts as a power bank
- It can’t charge via USB hence the need to pre-charge via AC
- Expensive compared to other hard drives with similar storage
4. WD My Passport Ultra Portable External HDD
The WD My Passport Ultra Portable External HDD boasts read/write speeds up to 130 MBps.
In addition, the HDD utilizes a USB-C connection and comes in a sleek modern design.
The drive also comes with a 3-year warranty compared to the 2-year warranty on most Seagate external drives.
- Great read/write speeds of up to 130MBps
- USB-C connector included
- Flexible storage options (2 TB to 5 TB)
- Expensive compared to other hard drives with similar storage
5. Seagate Backup Plus Hub
The Seagate Backup Plus Hub boasts a large storage capacity at a reasonable price.
The external HDD comes with two USB 3.0 ports, ideal for photographers looking to do more while on the go.
Once plugged in, you can transfer data from multiple locations to and from the hard drive with impressive transfer speeds of up to 160 MBps.
The hard drive also comes with a free four months Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan and a 2-year warranty.
- Great read/write speeds of up to 160MBps
- It comes with two USB 3.0 ports
- A free four-month Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan
- It’s not portable and only powered via AC
- No built-in encryption option
Final Thoughts on External Hard Drives For Photographers
The best external hard drives give you peace of mind that your data is safe and easily accessible. Depending on your budget and photography needs, it’s now easier to pick the hard drive that best suits you.