Can a thumb drive replace an external hard drive for travel photography?
Most laptops just don’t have enough internal storage for lots of images, especially if you want to use a fast solid state drive (SSD). I keep my Lightroom catalog on my internal drive, but all my images are stored externally. That arrangement makes it much easier to transfer my files when I get back from a photo workshop or safari.
Until recently, I’ve always used 1 or 2TB external drives. My current one is the LaCie 2TB Rugged Drive, which I like a lot. They are reliable, and come in a variety of interfaces (USB/Thunderbolt). However, even with a fast interface, most traditional hard drives are still fairly slow. That can limit the transfer rate when you’re downloading your photos or accessing them with Lightroom or Photoshop.
San Disk Extreme Pro Thumb Drive
The idea of using a thumb drive (memory stick) for travel didn’t really appeal to me, other than the concept of having a small and light storage solution without the need for cables. Most memory sticks are actually quite slow, even ones that are marketed with USB 3 interfaces. However, SanDisk recently released a USB 3.1 spec solid state thumb drive that claims to have speeds that match that of regular SSDs. Considering that most of the time, I rarely capture more than 100GB of images on any given trip, I figured that a 256GB drive might just work. So I purchased one from B&H and gave it a whirl, and compared it to my other drives using the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test utility.
See the speed test results after the jump:
Speed Test Results
I was absolutely impressed by the read/write speed of the SanDisk Extreme Pro thumb drive. It’s 3x faster than my portable thunderbolt drive, and far easier to transport. I bought a second 256GB stick so that I’ll have plenty of storage for longer trips. Keep in mind that you’ll only get these speeds if your computer supports the USB 3.0 interface. You can use these drives in a USB 2 port, but then your port will limit the read/write speeds. The only real downside is that these sticks aren’t quite big enough for mass storage or backups. But that’s really not the point. For temporary photo storage when traveling, I think they make a great option!