Photographer

How to Backup Your Camera Photos Without a Laptop

By Dave Dean Accessories11 Comments


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It’s a bit of an irony that the best gadgets for taking photos with are the most frustrating to back up.

With a couple of taps, the traveler with a terrible $100 smartphone can start automatically saving their travel shots to cloud services like iCloud or Google Photos. Throw in a low-cost USB adapter for Lightning or USB-C, and they can copy photos to a memory stick just as easily.

The serious photographer with a fancy DSLR, however? They’ve got more hoops to jump through — especially while out in the field, where conditions are tough, time is short, and carrying a laptop can be impractical at best. Often, those with the most to lose from not backing up their photos are the ones least likely to do it regularly.

With a bit of preparation and the right gear, though, keeping those valuable photos safe can be simple and speedy, even when your laptop is thousands of miles away. Here’s how to do it.

Back Up Straight From the Camera

Sony camera Wi-fi sharing

Most high-end cameras, and many mid-range versions, now come with some kind of Wi-Fi ability built in. Exactly what that lets you do depends on the model, but typically, it at least means you can connect to an app on your phone or tablet.

Generally, you’ll set a wireless network name and password on the camera, then connect to that network from your other device. Sometimes you can connect both gadgets to an existing network instead, or use Bluetooth rather than Wi-Fi.

Regardless, once you’re connected, the app will then let you send some or all of your photos from your camera to your device. Unless you’ve got many hundreds of them to move across, the copying usually finishes in a minute or two.

If your camera supports it, this is a simple way of keeping on top of your photo backups. Since it takes so little effort, it’s easy to do before bed each night, or when you’re about to head out in the morning.

For professional photographers (especially those shooting in RAW mode), or shutter-happy amateurs, the limiting factor is free space on your phone or tablet. While there are ways to add extra storage to those devices, if you’re looking to back up tens or hundreds of gigabytes of photos (or are traveling without a phone or tablet), you may want to keep reading.

Back Up From Your SD Card

Gnarbox 2

If your camera doesn’t have Wi-Fi support or the above method doesn’t suit for some other reason, there’s a flexible alternative: backing up from the SD card.

The basic technology is simple: a portable hard drive with an inbuilt SD card reader. The trick is finding one that doesn’t need to be connected to some other device to work.

While it’s not cheap, the Gnarbox 2 is the most flexible and reliable option we’ve found. Water, shock, and dust-resistant, this SSD-based device comes in capacities up to 1GB, and lets you back up your SD card with the tap of a button.

There’s a pair of USB-C ports for connecting other devices (including card readers for other types of flash storage), and a screen on the front gives you more flexibility when copying or previewing files. You can even plug in a USB stick or second drive and copy to both internal and external storage simultaneously.

As you’d expect, there are companion apps for phones and tablets, and you can connect to a computer over USB when you’re back from the field. Battery life is good, at up to six hours, and you can swap in a freshly-charged one in a few seconds when it goes flat.

If your budget doesn’t stretch to the Gnarbox 2, take a look at the Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro model instead. Coming in a range of capacities, it’s one of the rare portable drives that lets you automatically back up an SD card just by pushing a button on the front of the drive.

There’s a USB port to hook it up to a computer once you get back home if needed, and the inbuilt battery means you don’t need to be plugged into a power source to use it. In a pinch, you can also use the drive’s battery to charge your other USB devices.

Back Up to a Phone or Tablet

If you’re traveling with a phone or tablet, you can also back up your SD cards directly to them. It’s a cheaper approach then the two devices listed above — as mentioned earlier, just make sure you’ve got enough spare capacity on your mobile device to store everything!

  • For those with an iPhone or iPad, Apple makes a Lightning to SD Card reader. Plug one end into your device, the SD card into the other, and use the accompanying app to copy the files across.
  • As long as you’re running at least iOS 13, you’ll get more flexibility with Apple’s Lightning to USB 3 adapter. It lets you plug in any USB accessory like a hard drive, memory stick, or card reader, and copy files backward and forward. Depending on what you’re connecting, you may need a cheap powered USB hub as well.
  • If your Android device has On-The-Go (OTG) support, you can plug a simple USB-C or micro-USB card reader into it and use a file manager app to copy the photos across.
  • There are also combination card readers like this, that come with Lightning, micro-USB, and USB-C connectors to use with both Apple and Android devices.
  • If your phone or tablet doesn’t have OTG support (or, honestly, even if it does), the sleek RAVPower Filehub Plus is a nice alternative. It lets you copy files from your SD card to your phone or tablet over Wi-Fi, and can also act as a (small) emergency charger if needed.

So there you have it. While backing up camera photos requires a bit more effort than those taken on a phone or tablet, it doesn’t have to be a huge pain in the butt.

As long as you’ve got some charge left in your gadgets, all of these approaches will work no matter where you are. There’s no need to find a wall socket, internet connection, or anything else.

Just backup and go, safe in the knowledge that a stolen camera or corrupted SD card isn’t going to completely ruin your trip.


Main image via Robert Cooke, Gnarbox image by vendor.

About the Author
Dave Dean

Dave Dean

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Founder and editor of Too Many Adapters, Dave has been a traveler for 20 years, and a geek for even longer. When he's not playing with the latest tech toy or working out how to keep his phone charged for just a few more minutes, he can probably be found sitting in a broken-down bus in some obscure corner of the planet.

Comments

  1. Avatar

    Having lost a bunch of photos cos I messed this up, I have to say this is a very useful post. Thank you.

  2. Avatar

    Good point! But a serious photographer may not be using SD cards. Many grown-up DSLRs shoot to compact flash cards. Which call for a different solution.

    1. Dave Dean Author

      Not necessarily – it’s possible to buy external CF card readers almost as easily as those for SD cards, and the direct camera-to-phone option will work either way. There are fewer choices for sure, although I’d expect most current ‘grown up’ cameras to have wifi these days.

  3. Avatar

    What’s the difference between the RAV file hub and the ASUS? Do you also need a SSD as well as SD card for the RAV?

    1. Dave Dean Author

      The Asus has an inbuilt SSD. The RAV doesn’t have storage of its own — it’s essentially a bridge between whatever gear you have (your phone, an SD card, a portable drive, a USB stick etc). You don’t have to plug an SSD into it, but you can.

  4. Avatar

    The Samsung T5 looks great. I’m quickly running out of space on Android phone with micro SD, Canon with regular photo SD card, mp3 player with voice recordings, Macbook Air with digital art and photo/video edited files all of which need to get off devices to free space, let alone back up. How to manage? Do I need a separate SSD for each device/ file format? How do others manage such confusion? Thanks

    1. Dave Dean Author

      If it was me, I’d try to use the Macbook as the central place where I back everything else up to (the SD cards from the phone and camera, plus the MP3 player if that’s possible), and then send everything from there to external drive. You’re least likely to run into file format concerns that way.

  5. Avatar

    I’m looking for a way to backup my photos while on safari (Canon 5d mk 3, 1 sd card & 1 cf card) may not have access to WiFi, not built in on this camera. If I use one card as a backup it reduces the number of shots I can take. I’m happy to buy a portable hard drive, it would be handy for other things but I’m not sure how I could do the back up without a laptop which I don’t want to buy. Hope you can help.

    1. Dave Dean Author

      You don’t say whether you’re traveling with a phone or not. If not, I’d suggest looking at the WD MyPassport Wireless mentioned in the article — it lets you back up an SD card without needing a laptop or phone.

      If you have a phone or tablet with you, just pick the iOS or Android camera-to-phone option I mention in the article — as long as you have enough space on your phone to back up your photos, it’ll be a cheaper alternative. If you don’t have enough space, the Gnarbox is an alternative option, which also lets you plug in a USB CF reader, so you can back up both SD and CF cards.

  6. Avatar

    After getting ios 13 on my iphone se, along with the apple usb 3 adapter, I now use an amazon basics powered hub, a 2tb ssd drive and a usb card reader to copy/backup files. It’s ridiculously easy and I don’t even need to power the usb 3 adapter (just power the amazon hub)… good times!

    1. Dave Dean Author

      Thanks James — yep, the addition of proper file management support for USB devices on iOS 13 has made a big difference. I’ve added a mention of this approach to the article. 🙂

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