I’ll be leaving for South Africa this week to help Steve Simon with a shoot that he’s doing there. He and I will work together for about a week-and-a-half and then I’ll be on my own for another ten days, trying to work my way into the bush for some landscape shooting. As Steve describes here, planning for a trip like this can be tricky. We’ll be travelling around in-country a lot, and I don’t want to carry much, but I also don’t want to find myself wanting for a piece of kit that I’ve left at home. Also, because I plan on going backcountry, I need to bring a tent, sleeping bag, stove, and other items that I normally wouldn’t bother with.
So, I’ve decided to go computer-less.
I agree very much with Micah Walter’s post that the immediate feedback of digital shooting, as well as the immediate post-processing made possible by a laptop computer, can really change the way you shoot. Personally, I need to let images sit, unobserved, for a few weeks before I can make a reasonable assessment of what I really think of them. Very often, if I look too soon, I find that I’m disappointed. Only with a little time am I able to judge them fairly. Consequently, to ease the weight burden, and to see what it’s like to remain in a shooting mindset for the duration of the shoot (rather than going back and forth between shooting and post) I’m leaving my Mac, and Aperture, at home.
This, of course, creates several issues that need to be dealt with using other technology, the main one being how to handle the storage issue. I will be shooting with a 5D, exclusively raw, and I tend to bracket a lot so storage will be an issue. With a Mac I could, of course, dump things onto a hard drive and be done with it.
Fortunately, Steve will have his Mac with him, so there’s a chance that I can let him hassle with carrying the computer around, while I simply “borrow” it from him in the evenings. (My hopes are that his internet access is currently so limited that he won’t be able to learn of my plan until it’s too late.) I have prepared a bootable external drive configured the way that I want it, so that all I have to do is reboot his machine off of that drive, and I’ll have my own self-contained environment, that will pose no threat to his own files, settings, or organization. This, combined with some blank DVDs might provide a reasonable backup scheme.
The problem with this idea is that Steve will also> need to be offloading his images. If our only time is late in the day, and we’ve got a lot of images to move, there might not be enough time for me to swipe his computer from him. And, of course, I’ll only have access to his machine for the first half of the trip.
One possible solution would be to simply treat media cards like film: buy enough to cover the shooting that I need to do for the trip and then never erase them. The main problem with this is that, price-per-megabyte-wise, flash memory is still the most expensive way to go. Also, I’m not sure how to calculate how much I might be shooting, and if I figure wrong, then my shooting would be over, or I’d have spent way too much on storage. But also, this just feels wasteful. Flash memory is designed to be re-used a lot, after all.
The other problem with this approach is that I would have no redundancy. Of course, film users don’t either, but they don’t have the option. Given the cost of flying to Africa and all the other usual travel expenses, coming back without every image amounts to a waste of money. So, investing in a redundant technology is a small cost compared to the overall price of the trip.
So, of course, the best option is something like the Epson P-2000 that Bakari Chavanu discussed. The Epson media readers are great, and I’ve used them before. Unfortunately, they’re also expensive, and part of my scheme here was to not review my images, so I don’t actually need a reader with a screen.
There used to be a lot of media reading products in this category, but I gather that most vendors must have learned that the market is fairly small, as there seem to be fewer and fewer made. At one time, there were companies that sold enclosures that you could put your own drive into, but I don’t have any extra 2.5″ drives laying around at the moment, so I decided to opt for the Photo Safe from Digital Foci.
Like the Epson media drives, the Photo Safe has a built-in hard drive, card reader, and interface. Insert your media card, press a button, and the contents get copied to the drive. You can then yank the card and erase it, and you’re ready to continue shooting. The Photo Safe comes in 40, 80, and 120 GB sizes, so the next question was how much storage I actually need. Since the 80 is only $30 more than the 40, that seemed like an easy enough solution.
Finally, to address the redundancy question, I decided to buy two of the 80 gb models. I can copy each card to both drives, and end up with two copies of everything. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a drive go bad beyond the point of recovery, and it seems like the possibility of two drives going bad is pretty small.
Also, many people are uncomfortable with readers that don’t have screens, because there’s no way to ensure that your files are actually copied. I’ve never had a problem with a device like this mis-reporting a transfer, but with two drives that fear is minimized.
These drives transfer a gigabyte in about 5 minutes, which is somewhat slow - the latest Epsons do the same amount in a little over 2 minutes. Since I’ll be making two copies, it will actually be ten minutes of transfer time before I can reuse the card. Obviously, I’m not going to shoot up an entire second card while managing my transfer, so the slow-ish time shouldn’t be an issue.
In my next post, I’ll report on how I plan to power all of this stuff.