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Best external hard drives for photographers: desktop storage for backing up images

Best external hard drives for photographers
(Image credit: Richard Sharrocks/Getty Images)

We’ve selected the best external hard drive desktop storage options for photographers – and every device in this list will help you keep your photos safe and backed up. When compiling this list we look at affordability, speed, capacity and ease of use, to ensure there’s a desktop storage solution for you no matter your budget and needs.

Get more storage space for your photos and videos

Even the best laptops for photo editing and best desktop computers come with a fixed amount of internal storage capacity, and this soon runs out if you shoot and edit lots of photos (especially raw files) and videos. Most computers have limited internal expansion options, so the simplest solution is to get a plug-in external disk drive, whether it’s a regular hard drive or more advanced RAID or NAS system (more on these shortly!).

Back up your photos

No matter if you’re a professional photographer, a budding camera enthusiast, or just someone who likes to take the odd photo of friends and family, making sure you have a storage solution to back up and store your photos to is essential.

Backing up your photos to an external hard drive, means you no longer risk losing all your data if your computer's internal drive fails – and you certainly don't want to leave all your photos on memory cards! While memory cards are benefitting from ever larger capacities, it’s much more cost-effective to transfer them to a large capacity hard drive.

Want to back up on the move?: Best portable hard drives for photographers 

What to look out for…

There’s a few things you need to consider when looking for the best external hard drive for photographers. First of all is capacity. If you shoot a lot of photos and store them in large RAW file sizes, then you’ll want desktop storage that offers plenty of capacity to hold them.

500GB is a minimum that you should look at – though the more the better. Drives that offer 1TB are coming down in price, so if you have the budget, we’d recommend at least going for one of those to save you running out of space in the future.

The next consideration is speed. If you’re transferring a lot of photos, then you’ll want a drive that has fast read and write speeds. Solid State Drives (SSDs) offer much faster speeds than traditional hard drives, due to the fact that there aren’t any moving parts. They are more expensive, however.

Another thing that determines the speed of the desktop storage is its connection. For example, external hard drives that use the older USB 2.0 connection will perform slower than storage devices that use the newer USB-C interface. Of course, you need to make sure that your other devices – such as a laptop or PC – have the corresponding ports.

NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices use your home or office network, which offers even faster speeds than standard USB connections. Some devices come with multiple hard drives set up in RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) configurations that can help improve speeds as well – such as RAID 0.

Finally, you want to consider what security these desktop storage offer to protect your photos. Some will offer encryption so they can’t be accessed by other people without knowing a password, while some protect against physical damage with rugged bodies that can withstand drops and extreme weather.

Meanwhile, multi-drive storage solutions in RAID 1 setups mirror the data between the drives. This means that if one drive fails, your photos will be safely stored on another drive.

This might all seem like a lot to take in, but we’ve made things easy by listing the very best desktop storage for photographers on this page with all of these considerations taken into account. All you need to do is pick the one that’s best suited for your needs.

WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra NAS drive

1. WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra NAS drive

The best overall desktop storage for photographers

Capacity: 4TB, 8TB, 12TB, 16TB | Interface: Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0 | Features: Remote file access, RAID features, My Cloud OS 3 software

Dual core CPU
Dual bay for RAID setups
 Operating system is simplistic
Lack of app support

The first of a few WD My Cloud devices on this list, the WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra NAS drive is in our view the best overall desktop storage solution for photographers. This is because it combines power, speed and features with an easy-to-use design that means you don’t have to fiddle around with settings to get it working when all you want to do is take photos and have somewhere safe to store them. So, you get a huge amount of storage (we list the 4TB price above but it they go up to 16TB), and RAID capabilities that are usually found on more complex and expensive desktop storage solutions. It also allows you to use it as an FTP server for storing and accessing files remotely, and with the included software you can set up automatic backups as well. This is a device that strikes the perfect balance in our view between features and ease of use.

WD My Book Duo 4TB

2. WD My Book Duo 4TB external hard drive

The best desktop hard drive for photographers for capacity and backup

Capacity: 4TB | Interface: USB 3.0 x 2

Huge amounts of space
RAID support

The WD My Book Duo 4TB external hard drive is our pick for the best desktop storage device for photographers who have large amounts of photographs they want to store – while also ensuring that those photographs are completely safe. It comes with a  huge 4TB of storage space – but you can also get versions with up to 20TB, and it can handle two drives which can be set up in RAID 1, so your photos are automatically backed up on a second hard drive. It also comes with 256-bit AES hardware encryption, and automatic backup software (WD SmartWare Pro) and dual USB 3.0 ports.

G-Technology G-Drive USB 3.0 4TB

3. G-Technology G-Drive USB 3.0 4TB

A great RAID device for Macs (and PCs)

Capacity: 4TB | Interface: USB 2.0, USB 3.0, eSATA, FireWire

Slim design
Can be noisy

If you use a Mac, then this is the best desktop storage drive in our opinion, as it offers speedy storage (and a lot of it with 4TB of space) thanks to USB 3.0, eSATA or FireWire connections. Of course, you can also use it with a PC, but the FireWire support – and stylish design – complements Mac machines perfectly. The all-aluminium enclosure gives it a robust and sturdy feel, and it’s slim enough that you can carry it around with you if needs be – though this is still a drive that’s best off used on a desk. It only has a single drive, so there’s no RAID features, but if speed and build quality are your biggest concerns, this is a brilliant desktop storage solution.

Seagate Personal Cloud 2-Bay NAS drive 4TB

4. Seagate Personal Cloud 2-Bay NAS drive

The best NAS drive for photographers

Capacities available: 4TB, 6TB or 8TB | Interface: Gigabit Ethernet | Features: Remote file access, media server software, RAID support

High cost

This NAS drive is a great example of how to make network attached storage easy to use and simple to set up. It comes with bays for two hard drives and supports RAID configurations to ensure your photos are safe and secure. It’s easily installed anywhere in the home or office thanks to its discrete size and design – though you do need to have a network cable nearby. Because it connects to the network, it’s accessible to any PC or device that’s connected to the same network for easy and convenient backups, and it’s also accessible remotely via the internet as well. This means you can browse and access your photos from any internet connected device while you travel. It also integrates with cloud services like Dropbox and Google Drive.

iStorage diskAshur 2TB external hard drive

5. iStorage diskAshur 2TB external hard drive

The best desktop storage for photographers for security

Capacity: 2TB | Interface: USB 3.0

Physical security
Rugged design

No one wants their photos stolen, and with the iStorage diskAshur 2TB external hard drive, even if you misplace it, people won’t be able to access it. That’s thanks to the physical keypad which requires a PIN to be entered before you can sue the drive. It is encrypted with 256-bit AES, and you can even set it to wipe itself if it gets lost or stolen. Its rugged design means your photos are also protected from accidents, and the 2TB storage offers plenty of space for even the most prolific photographers. You do pay for this added security, though.

WD My Cloud Personal NAS drive

6. WD My Cloud Personal NAS drive

NAS (network attached storage) made simple

Capacity: 2TB, 3TB or 4TB | Interface: USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet | Features: Remote file access, DLNA, iTunes Server

Easy to set up
Good price
Setup can be fiddly
Apps not great

Using a NAS device to store your photos on doesn’t need to be a complicated job as the WD My Cloud Personal NAS drive proves. It’s remarkably easy to set up and use, with mobile apps for Android and iPhones that allow you to quickly view your photos from anywhere in the world (as long as you have an internet connection). It comes in 2TB, 3TB or 4TB capacities, so you make your choice when you buy – and a USB port is included that lets you quickly back up USB drives and external hard drives with ease. There’s no option for RAID, as it only includes one drive, but if you want the features of a NAS drive without the hassle, this is a brilliant buy.

QNAP TS-251A NAS drive

7. QNAP TS-251A NAS drive

A serious NAS device for professionals

Capacity: N/A | Interface: 2 x Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0 | Features: Remote file access, HDMI out, 4K media transcoding, DLNA

Powerful hardware
Loads of features
Does not come with hard drives installed
Cost of hard drives adds to cost

If you’re after a feature-rich desktop storage solution that will do a brilliant job of safely storing your photographs, while also allowing you to access and share them online, then the QNAP TS-251A NAS drive is a brilliant investment. It comes with two drive bays to allow you to use dual hard drives in a RAID array of your choice, and there’s loads of apps available to make use of its features. So, you can access your photos from the QNAP TS-251A NAS drive on your smartphone using the QPhotos app, and you can easily set it up so that your PC or Mac sees the QNAP TS-251A NAS drive as if it was a hard drive installed in the PC itself – which makes saving and editing your photos direct from this NAS device incredibly easy. It doesn’t come with hard drives installed, however. It’s easy enough to add your own – and means you can pick drives that suit your needs and budget – but you’ll need to factor in the additional cost.

Synology DiskStation DS1517 NAS drive

8. Synology DiskStation DS1517 NAS external drive

For professional photographers with huge amounts of photos

Capacity: : Up to 60TB, 180TB with expansion unit | Interface: 4 x 1GbE LAN, 4 x USB 3.0, 2 x eSATA | Features: Quad-Core CPU, Up to 15 drives with expansion units

PCIe slot upgrades
High-end performance
Add-on cards are expensive
Default 2GB RAM a bit under specced

If you’re a professional photographer that runs a studio or business and you hold a lot – and we mean a lot – of photographs for clients, then the Synology DiskStation DS1517 NAS drive is an ideal investment. It’s a powerful – and fast – NAS device that will allow you to store and edit photographs remotely. It has loads of expandability options and can hold up to 180TB of data with an expansion unit, so you can grow the Synology DiskStation DS1517 alongside your business. While its impressive specs are good for businesses, if you’re a casual photographer, this is likely overkill.

Read more:
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