Best External Hard Drive for Photo Backup In 2022 – Including RAID, NAS and SSD

This guide will look at the best photo storage devices on the market this year. I will break this down into a few distinct sections: Firstly, I will discuss my recommendations for the best portable drives for photographers. These are great backup drives for travel and editing outside your home or office. Following this, I will discuss my recommendations for the best external hard drive and, finally, the best full-blown RAID storage systems for photographers, including NAS systems.

Although this might not be the sexiest gear I have ever covered in our photography gear guides, this might be the most important. Far too many photographers do not bother to create a sound backup system for their photos. They gamble with their hard-earned photos and only realize it was a bad idea when it’s too late. This guide covers the best external drives for photo storage, and when you combine it with an understanding of the industry-standard 3-2-1 backup system, your precious photos will be protected.

Best Portable Drives for Photographers

A portable drive is defined as a bus-powered drive. This means that it can be powered by the USB or Thunderbolt connection to your computer and does not need a separate power supply or power cable, making it ideal for mobility. Portable drives can be solid-state drives (SSDs) or hard drives (HDDs). Hard drives are available in larger capacities, such as the 5TB LaCie Rugged or the 5TB WD My Passport Ultra. On the other hand, External SSDs lack moving parts, making them more reliable, are faster and thus better suited to video editing and in-field backups of large photo quantities.

Though portable hard drives used to be the top sellers in this segment, massive cost reductions in solid-state drives have recently seen these smaller, faster and more robust drives edge ahead in popularity. Still, I have included my favourite HDDs and SSDs in this section, as I still find plenty of uses for both types of external drive.

LaCie Rugged USB-C

The LaCie Rugged USB-C portable hard drive is an easy choice if you need rugged protection combined with a large capacity. Available in 1TB, 2TB, 4TB and 5TB capacities, with pricing that starts well under $100, this USB-C portable drive can easily connect to Macs or PCs with a USB port or a Thunderbolt 3 or 4 port. Yes – you can plug USB-C drives into a Thunderbolt 3 or 4 port! Many people don’t know this.

I have been using LaCie’s famed Rugged drive lineup for my whole career and currently use one of these 5TB USB-C models whenever I’m on the road. While I opt for faster SSD drives to back up new photos in the field, this drive’s large 5TB capacity is perfect for carrying an archive of my most recent year’s work.

LaCie Rugged USB-C Price Check:


Sandisk Extreme Portable SSD V2

The Sandisk Extreme Portable SSD V2 is available in 500GB, 1TB, 2TB and 4TB capacities. With its USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gb/s) connection, it can deliver 1050MB/s read and 1000MB/s write speeds in a package that is small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. IP55 dust and water resistance allow for brief submersion in water, helping to protect your photos during unforeseen circumstances. This external SSD is of exceptional value.

With Western Digital owning both Sandisk and G-Technology (now rebranded Sandisk Professional), it should be noted that the NVMe SSD from this Sandisk Extreme SSD is identical to the drive found in the Sandisk Professional G-Drive SSD. If you like these speeds and are willing to pay a little more money, the G-Drive SSD version comes in a more robust IP67 rated enclosure.

Sandisk Extreme Portable SSD Price Check:


Sandisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD V2

A little larger than the non-PRO version, the Sandisk Extreme PRO Portable SSD V2 is available in 1TB, 2TB and 4TB capacities. The PRO in the name means that this portable drive uses a USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C connector capable of twice the speed of its smaller sibling – up to 2000 MB/s read and write speeds – with compatible computers.

Important: The USB 3.2 2×2 connection protocol is not common. When writing this guide, no Apple computer supports this connection type, and very few PCs support it. If you computer does not support it, the drive will only run at 1000MB/s. Effectively, that would mean that you paid for the more expensive PRO version, but get performance no better than the non-PRO version. A waste of money! Make sure your computer supports USB 2×2 before buying this drive.

Just like the smaller Sandisk SSD, the Extreme PRO is IP55 rated for dust and water resistance, but the PRO model also adds 6ft drop resistance to its list of specifications. This is an incredible portable drive if you can take advantage of the 2000MB/s read and write speeds.

Sandisk Extreme PRO Portable SSD Price Check:


OWC Envoy Pro Elektron

Suppose you’re looking for the ultimate way to protect your files while on the road; look no further than the OWC Envoy Pro Elektron. This portable SSD is milled from a solid aluminium block, making it crushproof, dustproof and waterproof to IP67 standards.

IP67: Protected from dust and submersible in 1m of water for up to 30 minutes.

The Envoy Pro Elektron features a USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gb/s) connection to deliver theoretical read and write speeds up to 1011Mb/s. In my OWC Elektron review, I was able to get impressively close to these speeds. Speed, durability and size considered, I count the Elektron as the ultimate rugged SSD for travelling photographers. The only downside is the understandably higher price than drives such as the Sandisk SSDs and the maximum available size of 2TB. I’d love to see a 4TB version hit the market.

OWC Elektron Price Check:


Samsung T5 SSD

The Samsung T5 SSD is incredibly popular and widely available. If you need a no-frills SSD and find it on sale, the T5 is a reliable option. The downside is that its NAND flash SSD technology is outdated compared to the newer NVMe SSD technology used in SSDs such as the OWC Elektron and Sandisk Extreme. The result is a maximum read and write speed of around 540Mb/S, roughly half the speed of its competition.

I often see the Sandisk Extreme SSDs on sale. Their prices are similar to the Samsung T5 while offering much faster speeds and a more robust design when they are on sale. So, do your homework with this one. Check the latest price of the Sandisk SSDs first, and buy those if they are on sale. If not, and you are on a tight budget, the T5 will get the job done.

Samsung T5 SSD Price Check:

Samsung T7 Shield SSD

The T7 Shield is Samsung’s latest solid-state drive. It uses PCIe NVMe technology to achieve speeds that are twice as fast as the T5, clocking in at 1050 MB/s, and also adds a protective rubber case with 3m drop resistance and IP65 dust and moisture protection. These specifications make it slightly more durable than its main competitor, the Sandisk Extreme SSD. It comes in a little cheaper than the Sandisk Extreme, although the latter is often on sale, so prices should be compared.

Measuring 0.5 by 2.3 by 3.5 inches and weighing just 3.5 ounces, this is a miniature SSD option available in 1TB and 2TB capacities. While Samsung also offers the T7 in a regular “non-rugged” version, I see little point in buying that one. For just a few dollars more, you can get this ruggedized Shield version and vastly increase the protection of your photos.

Samsung T7 Shield SSD Price Check:


LaCie Rugged SSD PRO

best ssd for photographers

The LaCie Rugged SSD Pro uses a Thunderbolt 3 connection to deliver read and write speeds up to a staggering 2800Mb/s. Available in 1TB, 2TB and 4TB sizes, this is one of the fastest external drives on the market and perfect for photographers that also want to edit multiple streams of 4K, 6K or 8K video footage on the road. For photographers that do not need to edit uncompressed high-resolution video directly from the drive, a much cheaper USB-C version of the LaCie Rugged SSD is also available.

LaCie Rugged SSD PRO Price Check:

LaCie Rugged SSD Price Check:


WD My Passport Ultra

The Western Digital (WD) My Passport Ultra t is available in 1TB, 2TB, 4TB and 5TB capacities. If you don’t need the protection offered by some of the more rugged portable drives on this list, the WD My Passport Ultra is a cheaper option that is often on sale. The My Passport Ultra features a USB-C port and comes with a USB-C to USB-C cable, plus a USB-C to USB-A adapter for universal compatibility with Mac or PC. Those wanting a bump in speed and reliability might also consider the WD My Passport SSD version.

WD My Passport Ultra Price Check:


OWC Envoy Pro FX

The OWC Envoy Pro FX is a very interesting SSD. Like the LaCie Rugged SSD Pro, it can reach speeds of up to 2800MB/s. Unlike the LaCie and many other Thunderbolt drives, it features a universal Type-C port that can connect over Thunderbolt or USB. This solves a massive problem for people who want to swap drives back and forth between different machines, especially between Macs and PCs, where commonly, the PCs only have USB ports.

If you want an ultra-fast SSD that you can be sure will easily plug into any Mac, PC or even a Linux machine, the Envoy Pro FX is the answer. It even comes with a Thunderbolt 4 cable featuring a built-in USB-A adapter! This means that you can plug it into Thunderbolt 3 or 4, USB4, or any USC-C or USB-A port out of the box. It’s also drop-proof to MIL-STD810G standards and IP67 rated for dust and moisture protection.

Available in 240GB, 480GB, 1TB and 2TB capacities, this is the ultimate SSD for speed and universal connectivity. Check out my OWC Envoy Pro FX review for more details and speed tests. Spoiler alert: This drive produced the fastest drive speeds I have ever seen in a drive test on this site! It eclipsed the manufacturer’s specifications, which is unheard of!

OWC Envoy Pro FX Price Check:


Best External Hard Drives for Photographers

Portable bus-powered drives are helpful for people who move around a lot with their files, but sometimes you want a hard drive with a larger capacity. While current portable drives top out at around 5TB in capacity, larger 3.5″ external drives are available in capacities up to 20TB. In this section of the guide, we’ll take a look at the best external hard drives for photographers who need a single drive on their desks. These drives are physically larger than the portable hard drives and SSDs from the previous section, and they all require the use of a power brick.

WD Elements Desktop USB 3.0

The WD Elements Desktop hard drives are available in 4TB, 6TB, 8TB, 10TB, 12TB, 14TB, 16TB and 18TB capacities. These are relatively inexpensive 5400rpm drives with a Micro-USB 3.0 connection, capable of delivering read and write performance in the region of 185Mb/s.

Though these drives are suitable for photographers on a budget, note that they are not as fast as external enclosures that contain 7200rpm drives, nor will they (theoretically) last as long as the enterprise-class drives that Western Digital puts in its Sandisk Professional products. The case itself is also constructed of thin plastic and feels fragile. This is not a drive that you should often move from your desk.

WD Elements Price Check:


Seagate Expansion Desktop

The Seagate Expansion Desktop series is available in 4TB, 6TB, 8TB, 10TB, 12TB and 16TB capacities. Just like the WD Elements Desktop drive above in the guide, this is Seagate’s “cheap and cheerful” 5400rpm desktop hard drive solution with a Micro-USB 3.0 connection.

If you are on a low budget, there is little to choose between the WD Elements series and the Seagate Expansion series. They both offer similar transfer speeds, similar build quality and a Micro-USB to USB-A cable. Your best bet is to compare the prices and buy the cheapest on the day. Both of these models are regularly on sale.

Price Check:


SanDisk Professional G-DRIVE Enterprise-Class

The Sandisk Professional G-Drive Enterprise Class (previously G-Technology G-DRIVE) is available in 4TB, 6TB, 12TB, 18TB and 22TB capacities. Each drive is fitted with a Western Digital Ultrastar 7200rpm enterprise-class drive capable of read and write speeds of close to 250Mb/s. The drive connects to your computer using a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C connector. New for this updated model is a button on the rear of the drive to change the LED brightness from OFF to default or bright mode. The case is stackable, features a Kensington lock port for on-set DIT carts or shared office users, and is created from anodized aluminium.

Sandisk’s professional lineup of products will never be your cheapest option with their enterprise-class drives. That said, it does give you a simple way to connect a single high-capacity external hard drive in what must be said is a great looking package. That solid aluminium enclosure also makes this a more suitable drive for people who require high-capacity portability.

Sandisk Professional G-Drive Enterprise-Class Price Check:


RAID Photo Storage Systems – Knowledge Primer

best raid for photographers

When discussing photo storage devices and backup, RAID is a buzzword. Unfortunately, many people misunderstand how these devices work and their true purpose. Before I get to the list of recommended RAID drives for photographers, I want to make sure you know the basics. Misunderstanding how a RAID works is one of the leading causes of photographers losing all of their photos.

RAID Is Not a Backup

One of the most common misconceptions is that a RAID storage system counts as a backup. When asking photographers how they back up their photos, I can’t begin to tell you the number that tells me, “Oh yes, I have a backup. All my photos are on a RAID drive.” This assumption is not true. A RAID is not a backup.

A backup is a copy of your data that can be used to recover lost or damaged data. While some RAID storage systems create duplicates of your data, this duplication is done in real-time. If you accidentally delete a file, the copy of that file is deleted simultaneously. If the file system on one drive becomes corrupted, the file system on the other drive becomes corrupted simultaneously. In other words, the duplicated data can never be used to restore deleted or damaged data. Therefore: Not a backup!

So you might be asking what the point of a RAID storage system is if it is not a backup of your data? A RAID drive serves two primary purposes: The first is business continuity, and the second is data transfer speed. Let’s talk about these in a bit more detail:

RAID for Business Continuity

RAID systems can be configured in several modes detailed in the following sub-section. Aside from RAID 0, which I will talk about separately, all other RAID modes include some amount of protection against drive failure. Importantly, if a hard drive fails, you do not immediately lose your data. Essentially the RAID system falls back on the copy of your data spread amongst the remaining drives.

Also noteworthy is that when a drive fails, you can still access all of your data on the RAID without immediately needing to insert a replacement drive. Aside from a red light on your RAID hardware to warn you of a drive failure, your computer, connected to the RAID drive, will continue to see the RAID drive in your file browser as usual. This fault tolerance means that you can continue business as usual in the event of a drive failure.

Of course, the failed drive should be replaced, but a RAID system gives you business continuity while you organize that. If you work to a deadline and have clients that depend on you, business continuity should be a concern. Hard drive failure is inevitable, so a RAID system will prove its worth at some point.

RAID for Data Transfer Speed

Increased drive speed is the second reason that many photographers and other businesses turn to RAID systems for their digital storage needs. Every drive, whether it be a spinning disk hard drive or a solid-state drive, has maximum read and write speeds. Most RAID modes, with the notable exception of RAID 1, offer increased read and write speeds compared to using a single drive.

A simplified explanation of the process goes like this: When a file is copied to a RAID system, instead of copying that file to one of the drives within the RAID unit, the file is broken up into pieces, and those smaller pieces are copied to multiple drives within the RAID unit. Those smaller pieces are written to multiple drives much faster than writing the single file to one drive. This way, every drive can run at its maximum write speed, instead of being limited to the write speed of a single.

The same goes for reading the data back again. A RAID system pulls these pieces of your data off multiple drives simultaneously, thus increasing the potential read speed. If you want to delve deeper into the technicalities, Wikipedia has some good diagrams.

RAID Modes Briefly Explained

  • RAID 0 – Data is split evenly between the disks. Read and write performance is significantly increased, but there is no redundancy. If one disk in the array fails, all data is lost. Useable RAID capacity is the sum of the total capacity of all disks.
  • RAID 1 – Data is mirrored between pairs of disks. Read and write performance is limited to the speed of the slowest disk. An even number of drives is required and the array can survive a single disk failure. Useable RAID capacity is the half the sum of the total capacity of all disks.
  • RAID 5 – Data is distributed evenly between three or more disks. The more disks you use, the faster the read and write speeds become. This RAID mode can survive a single drive failure. Useable RAID capacity is (number of disks x smallest capacity of one disk) – smallest capacity of one disk. Use a RAID calculator if this sounds confusing.
  • RAID 6 – Sometimes called, double-parity RAID, RAID 6 is Similar to RAID 5 but it can survive two simultaneous drive failures without losing any data. Write performance is slower than RAID 5. Useable RAID capacity is (number of disks x smallest capacity of one disk) – (2 x smallest capacity of one disk).
  • RAID 10 – Sometimes called RAID 1+0, RAID 10 is a combination of RAID 1 and RAID 0. It offers the read and write speed advantages of RAID 0, with the redundancy of RAID 1. Useable RAID capacity is the half the sum of the total of all disks.
  • JBOD – ‘Just a bunch of disks’ mode provides no performance increase and no redundancy. All individual drives appear on your desktop or in your Finder as individual drives.

DAS Vs NAS RAID – Differences and Benefits

DAS = Directly Attached Storage

DAS refers to a hard drive or RAID storage device directly connected to your computer by a USB cable or a Thunderbolt cable. When most people think about drives to back up their data, they are usually thinking about a DAS. It is so often a DAS, that the term is rarely used. It is assumed.

NAS = Network Attached Storage

A NAS refers to a drive or RAID storage array accessed over a network. The NAS is either directly connected to a computer using an ethernet cable to create a simple peer to peer network or connected to a network switch or wireless router to allow anyone on the wired or wireless network to access it.

A DAS can only be connected to a single computer. Even if the DAS has multiple USB or Thunderbolt ports, only one computer can access its data at a time. This is not a problem for most photographers, but it does become a consideration in large creative studios with staff working simultaneously on a single project.

A DAS is also straightforward to set up. You don’t need to be a technical wizard. Most DAS devices come with simple software that helps you configure the drive in just a couple of minutes. Once set up, the drive will appear in your file viewer or finder and on your desktop. With a DAS, there is no maintenance to be performed or firmware updates to be completed. For those without any knowledge of computer networks and networking settings, a DAS is almost always going to be the right solution unless you are also willing to hire an IT specialist to set up your NAS.

The primary benefit of a NAS is that multiple people can connect to the RAID storage system simultaneously over a network. You can have some people connect over a wired ethernet connection, while others can connect wirelessly from a different room in the office. If you connect the NAS to the internet, you can even access the data remotely, from anywhere in the world.

The downside of a NAS is the steep learning curve for getting everything set up. I consider myself somewhat technically minded, yet my first foray into NAS usage was fraught with difficulties, support calls and many long hours digging through the internet to understand things like subnet masks and IP protocols.

Don’t expect the same “plug and play” simplicity from a NAS as you get with a DAS. But if you can make it through the technical hurdles of setting up and using a NAS, they are far more powerful than a DAS and much more suitable to larger businesses. Also, keep in mind that since a NAS is essentially a tiny PC that runs an operating system, you need to dedicate some time each month to keep the firmware updated and install updates to the various software packages that run on it.

Best RAID Systems for Photographers


LaCie 2big RAID

The LaCie 2big RAID is available in 8TB, 16TB, 28TB and 36TB capacities. As a Seagate brand, LaCie RAID arrays come equipped with Seagate IronWolf Pro 7200rpm hard drives. A hardware RAID controller offers RAID 0, 1 and JBOD modes, with a maximum speed of 550MB/s in RAID 0 mode.

The 2big RAID features a single USB 3.1 Gen 2 (up to 10Gb/s) USB-C connection on the rear panel. This connection is compatible with USB-C ports and Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 ports. Any of these connection types will deliver the full speed of the drive, making this a great universal solution.

For those that enjoy the LaCie design but want a few extra peripheral ports and dual Thunderbolt ports for daisy-chaining, the 2big is also available as a “2big Dock” variation. On the front of the 2big Dock, you’ll find an SD card reader, CF card reader and a USB-A port. You’ll find dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, USB 3.1 Gen 2 and a DisplayPort connection for a 4K monitor on the rear panel.

Moving up to the Dock model from the standard 2big RAID adds roughly $100 to the price. It adds somewhat useful peripheral connections for those using Thunderbolt connections to their computer, but the drive speed is the same as the standard 2big RAID.

LaCie 2big RAID Price Check:

LaCie 2big Dock RAID Price Check:


Sandisk Professional G-RAID 2

Available in 8TB, 12TB, 24TB and 36TB capacities, the Sandisk Professional G-RAID 2 is a 2-bay RAID array set up as RAID 0, 1 or JBOD. Sandisk is owned by Western Digital, which purchased the G-Technology brand. It is no surprise to find the G-RAID equipped with a pair of WD Ultrastar Enterprise-class 7200rpm hard drives. The drives are easily removable and replaceable with any 3.5″ drive for future expansion.

The rear panel of the Sandisk G-RAID features a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports with daisy-chain support and a USB-C port running the USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gb/s) standard. With a maximum speed of 440 MB/s, both the Thunderbolt port and the USB-C port can deliver this drive’s full potential. The G-RAID also features an HDMI port capable of powering a 4K monitor.

G-RAID products are designed for professional workflows, and they have prices to match. There are cheaper 2-bay RAID drives, but if robust enterprise-class performance is essential to you and a beautiful Apple-like design, the Sandisk G-RAID is a solid choice.

Sandisk G-RAID 2 Price Check:


WD My Book Duo

The WD My Book Duo is a popular consumer-grade RAID drive with RAID 0, 1 and JBOD modes included through the built-in hardware RAID controller. The drive is available in 16TB, 20TB, 24TB and 28TB configurations equipped with a pair of WD Red 5400rpm drives.

The WD My Book series has been around for a very long time. The first version of the drive was tested on this site nearly ten years ago, and aside from the addition of a USB-C port on the latest version, very little has changed. These are generally reliable and affordable RAID drives, but it should be noted that their affordability comes from the use of cheaper 5400rpm hard drives.

If you plan on buying a RAID drive for its speed, you will not get the same speed from the WD My Book Duo as you would from other prosumer or enterprise RAID solutions in this guide that uses 7200rpm drives. If you plan to use this drive as a backup of your primary, potentially faster drive, using the setups outlined in my 3-2-1 backup guide, this is a cost-effective solution that will serve the purpose well.

WD My Book Duo Price Check:


QNAP TVS-472XT & TVS-672XT Thunderbolt NAS

The QNAP TVS XT series is my pick for the best NAS for photographers. Most photographers will choose either the 6-bay TVS-672XT or the 4-bay TVS-472XT. Equipped with a super-fast 10Gb/s ethernet connection, this NAS can easily handle large Photoshop files and 4k video editing tasks. I use the TVS-472XT as the primary photo backup device in my office.

Uniquely, QNAP is the only NAS brand that has embraced the Thunderbolt NAS connection. The TVS XT models feature a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports, allowing multiple computers to access files from the NAS simultaneously over directly connected Thunderbolt, a 10Gb/s ethernet network or wirelessly on your local Wi-Fi network. This is an incredible feature for photographers working in a studio with multiple computers.

Although available pre-configured with hard drives from some retailers, at this level, I expect most people to buy the basic enclosure version and populate it with drives of their choice. The QNAP NAS will accept a combination of 3.5″ hard drives and faster 2.5″ SSDs for improved read/write access or caching. As I mentioned in the earlier NAS Vs DAS debate, stepping up to a device like this brings added complexity and many potential benefits for those willing to learn.

QNAP TVS-672XT Price Check:

QNAP TVS-472XT Price Check:


OWC Gemini

The OWC Gemini, previously called the OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dock, is a 2-bay Thunderbolt 3 RAID enclosure with built-in docking features and a UHS-II speed SD card reader. The back of the OWC Gemini has a DisplayPort 1.4 connection for a 4k monitor, a 1Gb ethernet connection and two USB-A ports with 3.1 Gen2 speeds (5Gb/s).

Inside the unit, a hardware RAID controller allows you to select RAID 0, 1, Single Disk or JBOD mode. The OWC Gemini can be purchased pre-configured with a pair of hard drives, or you can buy the empty enclosure and fit it out with a couple of your favourites. I bought an OWC Gemini (and reviewed it) some years ago, and it has been a reliable piece of my backup system ever since.

I particularly like the dock features that allow me to use a single Thunderbolt 3 cable to connect so many peripherals to my computer. Photographers will also appreciate the SD card reader conveniently built into the front of the enclosure. Despite its small size, the Gemini can still provide you with up to 36TB of capacity.

OWC Gemini Price Check:


OWC ThunderBay 4 and ThunderBay 8

The ThunderBay 4 and ThunderBay 8 from OWC are 4-bay and 8-bay RAID enclosures that feature a pair of Thunderbolt 3 connections and a DisplayPort connection for your monitor. They can be purchased pre-configured with up to 72TB of storage, or you can buy the empty enclosure and populate them with your preferred brand and model of drive. As far as Thunderbolt-enabled RAID enclosures go, these are the most cost-effective on the market. A great choice for those that need huge storage capacity on a lower budget.

To keep the cost of these units to a minimum, they do not use hardware RAID controllers. Instead, they use software RAID controllers from a brand called SoftRaid. The SoftRaid license can be included with your unit, depending on the bundle that you are purchasing.

I have an OWC ThunderBay 8 as part of my photo backup system.

Some RAID devices with hardware controllers have a physical switch to switch the RAID mode. The OWC ThunderBay units are different; the SoftRaid software entirely controls them. You must install the software to configure your device. When you do, you’ll have the option to configure RAID 0/1/4/5/1+0 (10) or JBOD.

When you compare the pricing of the ThunderBay 4 and ThunderBay 8, you might be surprised at how close they are. They are both excellent value, but the ThunderBay 8 model is remarkably well-priced. Even if you do not need to use all eight bays right now, for many people, the prudent decision would be to buy the larger 8-bay unit now and add drives as needed. Eventually, you will use them.

SoftRaid runs on your computer to configure the RAID system in ThunderBay.

I purchased a ThunderBay 8 myself, so I’m very familiar with the system. One of my favourite things is the SoftRaid software and its flexibility with RAID configuration. For example, you can very quickly set it up to use six of the drives in a RAID 5 configuration for data redundancy while setting up the remaining two drives as a RAID 0 stripe for added read and write speed. Or you could have four drives as RAID 5, a pair of drives as RAID 0 and two remaining drives as single JBOD drives that show up on your desktop individually. Amazing stuff!

As I mentioned in the portable hard drive section, the other thing that I appreciate about buying products from OWC is their US-based support chat system. If you ever have any setup issues, the OWC team is waiting to help you, and you won’t have the communication issues that seem prevalent in so many other support scenarios.

ThunderBay 4 Price Check:

ThunderBay 8 Price Check:


Sandisk Professional G-RAID Shuttle

The Sandisk G-RAID Shuttle lineup (ex G-Technology) consists of a 4-bay and 8-bay model, available with various SSD and HDD configurations. Currently, capacity maxes out at 144TB in the 8-bay HDD model. The G-RAID Shuttle feature a hardware RAID controller and give you the option to choose between RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10, 50, 60, and JBOD.

It is not possible to buy an empty G-RAID Shuttle unit. Instead, all Shuttle RAID devices come equipped with Western Digital Ultrastar enterprise-class hard drives. That said, if you want to upgrade the capacity of your G-RAID Shuttle at a later date, you can replace the included WD Ultrastar drives with drives from any other brand.

It is commonly understood – I believe correctly – that the G-RAID Shuttles are using RAID hardware controllers from the Promise Pegasus series of products. When you examine the software interface of the Pegasus and the Shuttle, they are nearly identical. Entirely how deep the internal similarities go is unknown. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Promise Pegasus range is well regarded, and sold by Apple. If Sandisk wants to take their technology and package it up into a different, more robust product, that’s fine with me, and hardly the first time such a thing has happened in the consumer technology market.

You can buy a Pelican case designed for the G-RAID Shuttle series.

The Sandisk G-RAID products are the most expensive items on this list, but they are known for their rugged reliability. This would be my first choice if you plan to constantly move your RAID drive from one studio to another or use it on a DIT cart. Even if you don’t plan to move it around and have a sufficient budget, these are a great choice. They have definitely become a staple in creative studios the world over.

G-RAID Shuttle Price Check


TerraMaster TD2 and D2-310 RAID

The TerraMaster TD2 and D2-310 are similar products, so I include them under the same heading. Essentially, these 2-bay RAID enclosures are identical, aside from the fact that the TD2 features a Thunderbolt 3 connection, and the D2-310 features a USB-C 3.1 Gen2 connection. They offer hardware RAID controllers with the option of RAID 0, 1, JBOD and Single Disk mode.

I have previously reviewed these drives and found them an excellent value. The metal drive enclosure is well-built, and the fact that they come as bare, no-drive units means you can pick and choose the best-value hard drives available at the time. If you need a Thunderbolt connection, perhaps to daisy-chain into an existing set of Thunderbolt drives, the TD2 is the best value unit of its type.

If you don’t need a Thunderbolt 3 connection, the cheaper D2-310 will deliver identical speeds as the TD2 through its USB-C connection. A 2-bay RAID system will never saturate the throughput of either USB-C or Thunderbolt, so in this case, the connection type has no bearing on the available read and write speeds.

TerraMaster drives are only available through Amazon: TerraMaster TD2 / TerraMaster D2-310 (links will localize to the Amazon store in your country to check local pricing)


What About Synology NAS?

When it comes to choosing a NAS, for many years, the choice has been between Synology and QNAP. Like Canon vs Nikon or Ford vs Chevy, strong opinions were always offered by those who sided with one brand. In reality, both brands had significant product portfolios and offered a wide range of excellent devices. As long as you picked a NAS with the specification that suited your needs, you couldn’t go wrong.

In this guide, though, I’m currently choosing to leave Synology off my list of recommended RAID systems for photographers. In 2021, Synology began selling branded Synology hard drives and SSDs. These drives are nothing special; they are simply rebranded Hitachi drives. But they slapped the Synology name on them and started charging a price premium.

At the end of 2021, Synology launched new models in their popular DS range of NAS units, a range that is popular with small business owners, including photographers. These new NAS models included a “recommendation” to use these Synology-branded Hitachi drives. Although a recommendation to use a brand’s drives is not uncommon, people quickly discovered that in Synology’s case, it went much deeper. If you use any drive other than the Synology drives, the NAS will label the disks as “not verified”, and critical NAS features will be unavailable.

At first, it had been speculated that Synology might try to force enterprise users to install their somewhat overpriced Synology-branded drives. The fact that this “recommendation” has now shown up in the latest small business-oriented DS models is a huge disappointment and a clear indication that Synology plans to take this ill-advised approach a lot further than people hoped.

Until this saga unfolds further, I’m not willing to place any Synology NAS devices on this list. Some current models are excellent options for photographers (DS420, DS1621), but when I recommend a NAS, I want to feel good about the future possibilities for using that device, and other devices from the same brand. When you make the commitment to learn how to use a NAS, it’s much easier to stick to one brand.

There has already been a lot of push-back from customers on this issue, and it might force Synology to change tack at some point. For now, I’d recommend choosing one of the QNAP NAS units mentioned above instead.


What About Drobo?

Update: Drobo filed for bankruptcy, so I was right to wave the red flag when I wrote this article.

Drobo has had a somewhat troubled history, yet those who have followed the annual updates to my photography backup routine will know that I have used at least one of them in my 3-2-1 backup system for nearly a decade. The original Gen 1 Drobos were buggy, and at the time, the company had a poor customer service system. This led to a bad reputation that the company has struggled to get away from.

I have always found this to be a shame. Drobo pitched themselves as the RAID system for everyone and created what are essentially RAID 5/6 systems without ever mentioning these terms. The idea was that many people didn’t know about RAID modes and didn’t want or need to understand what was happening under the hood. On the face of it, they were RAID systems simplified.

In 2013 Drobo merged with Connected Data, and the company went on to acquire the entire Drobo brand in 2015. At this point, as a Drobo user since the beginning, I began to see considerable improvements in hardware and customer service. The Thunderbolt-equipped Drobo 5Dt was launched, and the Thunderbolt 3 Drobo 5D3 followed not long after. I still run a Drobo 5Dt and a 5D3, both of which have been going strong for nearly five years.

But try as they might, Drobo has failed to shake the bad reputation that was, to a large extent, created during its early years under management by the original owners, Data Robotics. As I write the first iteration of this gear guide at the beginning of 2022, Drobo has not launched a new product in over three years. It has also been impossible to buy a Drobo of any kind for at least a year.

Though many manufacturers in the tech industry have faced supply issues during the COVID pandemic, I have not seen another that has failed to ship a single product to stores in a year. This worries me immensely. If anything, this should have been Drobo’s time to shine. With more and more people retreating to home offices, there is a need for simple backup solutions that can be managed without an IT department.

Despite having a Drobo right next to me on my desk while I write this, at this time, I am no longer recommending them. I struggle to see how a company can survive without shipping any products, and I would not want people to purchase a product that shows the potential of becoming a paperweight in the coming years.

Why might it become a paperweight? As with many RAID systems in this guide, Drobos rely on software to function. The Drobo Dashboard software is installed on your Mac or PC to give you control over the hardware settings. If Drobo as a company stops existing, and thus the software is not updated to meet the needs of evolving operating systems, at some point, Drobo hardware will become useless.

While I was pleased to see that Drobo has continued to update their Drobo Dashboard software during the pandemic, notably rolling out Apple M1 chip support faster than many other RAID companies, I don’t know how long this will last. Until we see more activity from the company and continued ability to ship products that fund their existence, I’m placing Drobo on my “no-fly” list.

Which Brand of Hard Drive? Western Digital Vs Seagate

western digital vs seagate

If you buy a drive enclosure or RAID array that doesn’t come with pre-installed drives, you’ll need to choose between Seagate and Western Digital. Western Digital owns HGST and Hitachi, so even if you select one of those brands, ultimately, you are still making the same choice.

What complicates this choice is that most people read reviews on sites like Amazon. People rarely leave glowing reviews of drives that work fine for many years, so the review sections for any hard drive are just full of bad reviews from disgruntled people that experienced a drive failure. Reading public reviews of hard drives will not help you make this choice, but we can get some other great insights from the storage industry.

Backblaze is a cloud backup service. The last time I checked, they were using 190,000+ hard drives in their servers, which puts them in a unique position to comment on hard drive brand and model reliability. Thankfully for us, they publish an annual report detailing the failure rate of all the drive models from Seagate and Western Digital.

If you dig into the AFR (annualized failure rate) statistics that they provide, you will find that most drives from both Seagate and Western Digital have an AFR of between 2.5% and 0.5%. At the high end, imagine you had one hundred hard drives. This means you can expect to see roughly 2.5 drive failures per year.

Importantly, this deep data set from Backblaze shows us that there is no such thing as a “terrible” hard drive from either brand. People who write Amazon reviews that say something like, “Western Digital drives are garbage. I’ll never trust them again” are just plain wrong. They are forgetting the #1 rule: hard drives will all fail at some point. The problem is not the reliability of drives from any particular brand. The problem is that photographers spend all their money on cameras and fail to maintain a 3-2-1 backup system that keeps their photos safe.

I use Seagate IronWolf drives because I once had an excellent interaction with the Seagate support team that made me feel like they had my back if there was ever a problem. But the reality is that you can safely pick and choose and mix and match your drive brands based on the current best prices available.

Photo of author

Dan Carr

Professional photographer based in Yukon, Canada, and founder of Shutter Muse. His editorial work has been featured in publications all over the world, and his commercial clients include brands such as Nike, Apple, Adobe and Red Bull.

Featured Posts

You may like

11 thoughts on “Best External Hard Drive for Photo Backup In 2022 – Including RAID, NAS and SSD”

  1. I’d say Synology vs QNAP is more Mac vs Windows than Canon vs Nikon, as with QNAP you get better hardware at a given price point, whereas with Synology you tend to get better software and an easier experience.

    If you are (rightly in my view) giving Synology a black mark for locking features to their drives you should also mention that QNAP drives seem to be more susceptible to malware when accessible from the internet. Nor do QNAP seem to have handled this particularly well over the last few years.

    Reply
    • QNAP had some issues. I think this was mainly caused by the confusing operating system that led people to set them up in a way that left them vulnerable. They made very poor choices about the features they turn on automatically, and promote people to use. Remote logins, port-forwarding etc.

      That said, they now have a new security application that walks you through the process of getting your NAS safe. They shouldn’t have needed this in the first place, but for new users, I’m now more confident that people will get started with a safer setup.

      Reply
  2. I’m kind of confused between the LaCie 2big RAID vs. the 2big Dock versions. I know one connects USB-C and one uses Thunderbolt 3, which is supposed to be faster. However, the max speeds are the same at 550MB/s. What am I paying the extra money for exactly in the Thunderbolt 3 version? I’m looking for the fastest drive possible with at least a 16TB capacity. Thanks for the help!

    Reply
    • Yes, this confuses MANY people. I tried to explain this in the article, but I think I need to add an actual sub-section that goes into more detail.

      Thunderbolt has the potential to be a faster connection type, but the speed of any connection – USB or Thunderbolt – is limited by the speed of the drives. If the drives are not faster than 550MB/s, then it doesn’t matter that Thunderbolt 3 is capable of delivering 2800MB/ or that USB-C 3.2 is capable of around 1200MB/s.

      Does that make more sense? The bottleneck in this case is the speed of the drives. They don’t max out the throughput of either USB-C or Thunderbolt, hence the speed can only ever be 550MB/s.

      What are you paying for? Well, that’s a great question. In many cases, you are simply paying for the ability to use a Thunderbolt cable, which can also send the signal from multiple other connected devices, as well has having that possibility of putting the drive into a daisy-chain of other devices. Thereby giving you just one single cable to plug into your computer.

      Reply
      • Yes, that does make more sense! If I cared about daisy-chaining, I guess I might care about that… and after reading some of the reviews on it, most people say the power output isn’t enough to keep a MacBook Pro charged, so definitely doesn’t seem like the extra money is worth it. Thank you for the clarification, makes my decision a little easier!

        Reply
  3. As a FT shooter since 1987 with regards to Synology “forcing” users to install their branded storage medium… Since when? I purchased a bare DS920+ in July of 2021, installed 4x4TB WD Enterprise drives in a 3+1 config, installed 2×256 AData SSD’s for cache running the latest DSM 6.x and the unit has been operating without issue since that time. My M1 Mac mini uploads all images from my working external NVME photo storage when I ingest to the NAS. The Synology is linked to Backblaze for offsite storage of my photo archive and uploads during the night as scheduled. Not sure why you would NOT recommend Synology as I have heard nothing but horror stories about Qnap reliability and why I would NEVER consider them as an option. In fact, I’d rather build a home brew NAS than use Qnap if I couldn’t go Synology. YMMV

    Reply
    • “Since when?” Since some of the models they launched at the end of 2021.

      There is a lot of talk about this problem on many other online platforms. Most people, myself included, assume that this tactic will be continued as they release more model upgrades. If that proves not to be the case, as they change their model, I’ll put them back in the guide. Simple as that.

      Reply
  4. Dan hello,

    Your recent articles were invalubale in helping to decide how to best upgrade my home external HD back up system.
    I was literally about to buy a new RAID system, believing “RAID 1’’ was going to be my ideal backup plan. I read numerous online articles before deciding which one to purchase and not one mentioned, “ raid is not a backup plan.” Once I read your explanation it was enlightening.
    I want to build a smart 3,2,1 backup system following your system hoped you might provide some further guidance. I have completely filled up on my two aging 4 TB WD My Passport Ultra portable HDs, one is a main and the other backup, using “Superduper” to plug in the backup drive and connect them when I can remember to do it. Nothing in the cloud.

    These two drives never left my home but are about 6 years old, I also use two Samsung 2 Tb T5 SSD portable drives for travel [main & backup] and then upload those images to the 2 other drives when I return.

    It has taken me about 4 -5 years to fill up 4 TB of images. More recently shooting with a NIKON d850 and Leica Q2 with high megapixels the files are definitely eating more storage.

    I am hooked up to a 2017 13 inch Macbook Pro ( two thunderbolt 3 ports) and to a BEN Q monitor to process images in PS/ LR, Nik, etc. I never shoot video.

    I want a new external back up system that will allow me transfer the 4 TBs of images with room to grow in a reliable , intutive system, think of it as ‘ 3,2,1 for Dummies. ‘

    Based on your recos “Best External HD …2022 ‘’ I am considering two 12 TB Sandisk Professional G drives, one as the main and the other as a back up. I will sign up for ” Carbon Copy Cloner” to connect them , and Backblaze as my new third back up option. That satisfies the 3,2,1, model.

    While 12 Tb is way more storage needed Sandisk Pro G drives do not make 8TB or 10 Tb versions.

    While this is not inexpensive based on my needs is this the ideal system, is there something else to consider? Can you mix and match brands for main and backup, or should one just go all in with one company whether Sandisk, OWO, Or LaCie?
    As a hobbyist nature/wildlife photographer is there any benefit to me having a LaCie 2big RAID or 2big Dock 8TB system as the main drive using a RAID 1 option , and having the Sandisk 12 TB Pro G drive as the backup? What do you gain if anything?
    Would love your point of view before I press the trigger on the plan.
    Lance in Toronto

    Reply
    • I’m glad the information has helped you.

      To answer some more questions:

      Can you mix and match brands for main and backup? Absolutely. If you are on a budget, you can use a cheaper drive as your secondary backup. Should it ever die on you, the 3,2,1 system will mean you have two other copies, so it’s not a big deal. Generally speaking, I use something newer as my primary and an older drive for my secondary backup. I rotate through them, so once my primary gets replaced with newer or faster technology, the primary moves to my secondary position and my old secondary drive gets sold or junked.

      Is there a benefit to having RAID1 as your primary? Not really in your case, no. RAID1 is a continuity mode which probably isn’t relevant to a hobbyist.

      RAID0 on the other hand is a nice option. It will make your primary drive twice as fast as a regular drive, which will improve file access through applications like Lightroom.

      So, yes, if you have the budget to get a 2-bay RAID like a 2BIG for your primary drive, and then a cheaper drive as your secondary drive, this is an excellent way to go.

      Reply
      • Dan hello,
        Thanks so much for this quick reply I really appreciate it. No one explains it like you do, your better than the Apple Genius bar. ;-]
        I am going to consider a two dock RAID and use the Raid 0 as the primary for speed , and then a separate single HD as the back up drive .
        Seriously this point of view was by far the best online .
        If you are ever in Toronto ,coffee or beers are on me.
        lance
        Instagram lancesaundersphotos

        Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published or shared. Please note that if you include a link in your comment, it will have to be moderated first before it appears on the site. Required fields are marked*

By submitting a comment this form also collects your name, email and IP address so that we can prevent spam. For more info check our privacy policy.