How can I back up my holiday photos without using a laptop? | Tech News

We take thousands of photos on our caravan holidays, and I like to back them up every day or so. At present, I take a laptop and an external hard drive, so I have a copy on the laptop in the caravan plus a copy on the hard drive in my car.

Is there a way to make backups from SD cards to hard drives without carrying a laptop? I should add that many of the caravan sites we visit do not have wifi, so cloud backup is not practicable. Graham

Backing up photos used to be a problem for people taking exotic holidays. I thought it had gone away, thanks to advances in technology.

First, SD storage cards have got bigger and faster. Unless you are a professional sports photographer shooting sequences of RAW images, it takes a long time to fill affordable 64GB or 128GB SD cards, or even larger cards. You can easily carry 1TB without even noticing. (Video photographers may still have problems.)

Second, laptops have become smaller and lighter over the past decade, and they generally have much better battery life. It wasn’t fun backpacking a 2.5kg laptop plus charger, but 1kg alternatives have been around for at least a decade. And since you have a caravan, I wouldn’t have thought the weight mattered.

In my case, the 11.6in laptop is much lighter than the DSLR, extra-wide zoom, prime lens and flashgun. If you’re using a compact camera with a vintage laptop, things might be different. However, you could always buy a mini-laptop with a 7in screen, such as the GamePad GPD Pocket, GPD Pocket or Mini PC.

Third, wireless connections are now widely available. I cede to your superior knowledge of caravan sites, but I expect you pass through small towns that have free wifi. Even if it’s too slow to do complete backups, you could always upload copies of your top three photos of the day.

You could also use a 3G or 4G wireless connection to upload photos. This can be worth it to pro photographers who buy data-only sim cards for the purpose, but it’s an expensive way to back up holiday snaps.

SD solutions

In general, I think the best solution is to buy lots of large SD or microSD cards and carry a small laptop. This is what I do. However, not all old equipment can handle large cards. Check the manuals or search online to find out how big an SD card your camera can handle, and whether your laptop can read it. If it can’t, a little USB adapter will probably solve the problem: I use an Anker adaptor that can work with two cards – one microSD and one SD – at the same time.

When SD cards appeared, they used Microsoft’s FAT12 or FAT16 file system, so they could only store up to 2GB of data. However, SDHC cards, which use FAT32, can store up to 32GB, while SDXC cards can store up to 2TB using exFAT. With storage capacities above 16GB – typically 32GB, 64GB and 128GB – it’s rarely worth the effort of deleting photos. Just stick a new card in when the old one is full, and reformat it later if really necessary.

If camera capacity is the bottleneck, you could back up your camera’s small SD cards to large SDXC cards, or microSD cards.

SD cards are not impervious to damage: I have one that no longer works after getting crushed in my wallet. However, they’re probably safer than external hard drives, especially the ones not designed for travelling. SD cards don’t break when you drop them.

Hello, Gnarbox!

People have been looking for a ways to back up CompactFlash and SD cards for many years, but I didn’t notice any making an impact on the consumer market. That changed with the Gnarbox, which raised over $500,000 on Kickstarter in 2015. The company now has three products, and the Gnarbox 2.0 SSD is on the way. It’s on track to raise more than $1 million on Kickstarter, and will ship to the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, among other places. Pre-launch prices range from $299 (128GB) to $699 (1TB).

The Gnarbox is actually a very small computer with its own processor and memory. The clever bit is that it’s controlled from a smartphone app, so you get some of the benefits of a laptop without the size, weight or screen.

Of course, the need for a processor and memory pushes up the price. A 128GB Gnarbox costs £329.99 at while 256GB jumps to £449.99. By contrast, you can buy a 256GB SD card for £78.46.

The Gnarbox can solve the storage problem for members of the GoPro-using, drone-flying, smartphone-addicted post-laptop generation. But you can buy devices that do more for less.

‘I should add that many of the caravan sites we visit do not have wifi, so cloud backup is not practicable.’ Photograph: Phil Wills / Alamy/Alamy

EHDs with SD slots

Several companies have launched external hard drives (EHDs) with SD card slots. Some of them also have wireless connectivity. Unfortunately, I haven’t tried any, so I can’t comment on their performance or their usability. However, the need for extra software and electronics is bound to push up the cost of storage, compared to bare drives, and you’ll still have to sacrifice other features you’d get by using a laptop instead.

Sanho targets serious amateur and professional photographers with portable backup devices that include a small screen. The HyperDrive Colorspace UDMA3, for example, includes a 160GB hard drive – user-replaceable up to 2TB – and a 3.5in 320 x 480-pixel screen for £379.90. It supports USB3, and a built-in USB-2.0 OTG host enables it to connect directly to some cameras and camcorders. (OTG stands for “on the go”.) Built-in wifi allows connections to smartphones via iOS and Android apps, and to laptops via browsers. Plug it in to your PC’s USB port and it appears as a normal external hard drive.

One cheaper alternative is Western Digital’s My Passport Wireless Pro: an external USB3 hard drive with an SD card slot and built-in wifi. WD claims it does “one-touch SD card copy”. It also has a USB2 port that can connect to cameras and other devices (I assume via OTG), and it can create a local hotspot that can support up to eight devices.

US prices on WD’s website range from $149.99 for 1TB of storage to $219.99 for 4TB. On, the 4TB version is the best value: £203.39 at the time of writing. The 1TB model costs £162.10. (US prices don’t include sales taxes; UK prices include VAT.)

However, the My Passport Wireless Pro has as many one star reviews as five star reviews, and the bad reviews would certainly put me off. As one reviewer says: “Good concept. Implementation less than perfect.”

Feel the RAVPower

Based on reading a mind-numbing volume of Amazon reviews for numerous products, I think your best bet is Sunvalley’s RAVPower FileHub Plus, which is dead cheap at £39.99. It is not a storage device. It is a wireless travel router, a DLNA-compatible media streamer, and a 6000mAh external battery pack that will recharge your smartphone. All these features could be useful to a caravan family.

It also includes an SD card reader, so you could use it to copy an SD card from your camera to your current external hard drive, or other device, without using your laptop. Of course, you will need the smartphone app to run the operation.

A wedding photographer says that, in his opinion, it’s “a better option that the WD Passport Pro”. Another photographer bought one for the same purpose “but couldn’t get a stable connection”. He concluded: “Suffice to say, lesson learnt, laptop will be the primary backup source.”

Still, the RAVPower has 73% 5-star reviews, and looks worth a try if you need any of its other functions.

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