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
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
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 1TB, 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 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. We reviewed it here.
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.