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best external hard drive for photographers mac

With the introduction of digital cameras, the average cost per shot we take has become very low and much more cost-effective than film. Because of this, the number of photographs we take has skyrocketed.

Now, instead of dealing with film and chemicals in a darkroom, we are learning how to manage digital files. “Digital photography workflow” is a new term that was introduced into photography terminology. It describes the sequence of steps and procedures completed from capturing an image to its final output, which can be in the form of a high-quality digital image or a print.

External hard drives play an important role in the multi-step process of digital workflow and cover three essential areas of the process. Each area of the workflow has its own external hard drive requirements.

Area #1: Traveling Drives

This is a critical phase specifically for travel photographers who can easily spend weeks away from civilization. It is essential to keep digital images safe on the road.

Requirements: The requirements for traveling external hard drives are compactness, low energy consumption, and durability.

Area #2: Back-up Drives ​​​​

When a photographer returns home, the digital images are then part of the second phase—the backup process. Photos are often backed up to different devices and a remote cloud. External hard drives are perfect for local backup.

Requirements: The requirements for external hard drives used for backup are large volume and affordability. Speed and size are not critical here.

Area #3: Extension to Internal Hard Drives

With the introduction of fast interface connection technologies (USB 3.0, Fire Wire, Thunderbolt), it became possible to use an external hard drive as a companion to or an extension of internal drives. Today, it is common to keep an entire RAW image library on an external drive.

Requirements: The requirements for extension-type external hard drives are performance and fast interface connection speed.

In my travel photography workflow, I use three different external hard drive models to address the different areas of my travel photography. Here is a list of the external hard drives that I use as well as some added recommendations.

Best External Hard Drives for Photographers by Category

Traveling External Hard Drives

1. SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD

SanDisk 2TB Extreme Portable External SSD - Up to 550MB/s - USB-C, USB 3.1 - SDSSDE60-2T00-G25

  • Up to 2TB Storage Capacity
  • USB 3.1 Interface Gen-2 (10Gb/s), USB 2.0 Compatible
  • Data Protection with Hardware Encryption
  • Ruggedized, Shock-resistant, water- and dust-resistant
  • Dimensions: 3.79 x 1.95 x 0.35″
  • Weight: 0.64 lbs / 0.27 kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

SanDisk Extreme is a true travel warrior external hard drive. It is the SSD drive, which means it is compact and does not have any moving parts. It is a low power consumption bus-powered model. Plus, it is water-resistant, dust-resistant and shock-resistant, a true dream for any traveling photographer.

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2. My Passport Portable External Hard Drive

WD 4TB My Passport Portable External Hard Drive HDD, USB 3.0, USB 2.0 Compatible, Black - WDBPKJ0040BBK-WESN

  • 5TB Storage Capacity
  • USB 3.0 Interface; USB 2.0 Compatible
  • Data Protection with Hardware Encryption
  • Includes WD Backup Software
  • Dimensions: 4.2 x 2.9 x 0.8″
  • Weight: 7.4oz lbs / 210g
  • Price: Check the latest price here

For years, I have used various models of the WD My Passport Portable Hard Drives and have always been happy with them. They fit all the requirements because of their small form factor, they do not require an extra power source (Bus Powered), and they are durable.

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3. LaCie Rugged Mini USB External Hard Drive

LaCie Rugged Mini 5TB External Hard Drive Portable HDD - USB 3.0 USB 2.0 Compatible, Drop Shock Dust Rain Resistant Shuttle Drive, for Mac and PC Computer Desktop Workstation PC Laptop (STJJ5000400)

  • 2TB Storage Capacity
  • USB 3.0 Interface; USB 2.0 Compatible
  • 5400 rpm Speed
  • Transfer Rate Up to 5Gb/s
  • 47.2″ Maximum Drop Height
  • LaCie Private-Public Software
  • Dimensions: 5.3 x 3.4 x 0.7″
  • Weight: 0.5 lbs / 0.2 kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

LaCie Rugged external drives are the synonym of durability and great design. It is shock resistant, drops up to four feet, and is dust and water resistant.

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4. WD My Passport Wireless External HD with SD Card Reader

WD 2TB My Passport Wireless Pro Portable External Hard Drive, Wifi USB 3.0 - WDBP2P0020BBK-NESN

  • 2TB Storage Capacity
  • Wi-Fi, USB 3.0 Connectivity
  • SD Media Card Slot
  • Up to 10 Hours of Battery Life
  • Charge Mobile Devices
  • USB 2.0 Port
  • Dimensions: 5.3 x 3.4 x 0.7″
  • Weight: 1.0 lb / 0.5 kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

I recently started to use an entirely different model from Western Digital. It does not exactly fit the requirements for a travel drive because it is bulky and much heavier, but it has two significant features that have drastically changed the way I travel. It has an internal battery and a dedicated SD memory card reader that automatically backs up the contents of the memory cards to the internal drive.

This drive allows me to take long photography trips without bringing my laptop with me. Priceless.

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5. WD My Passport SSD Portable Storage

WD 1TB My Passport SSD External Portable Drive, USB 3.1, Up to 540 MB/s - WDBKVX0010PSL-WESN

  • 1TB Storage Capacity
  • USB 3.1 Type-C Connector
  • Up to 515 MB/s Data Transfer Rate
  • Bus Powered
  • Shock Resistant up to 6.5′
  • Dimensions: 3.5 x 1.8 x 0.4″
  • Weight: 1.4 oz / 40 g
  • Price: Check the latest price here

When Western Digital acquired the flash memory manufacturer SanDisk, it was obvious what to expect.

WD released the first versions of its drives with a solid-state drive (SSD) instead of its spinning old models. At this point, the solid-state drives are still more expensive compared to traditional models, but this is definitely the future.

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Backup External Hard Drives

6. WD 6TB My Book Desktop USB 3.0

WD 6TB My Book Desktop External Hard Drive, USB 3.0 - WDBBGB0060HBK-NESN

  • 6TB Storage Capacity
  • USB 3.0 Interface
  • Includes AC Adapter
  • 256-Bit AES Hardware Encryption
  • Includes WD Backup Software
  • Dimensions: 9.0 x 8.2 x 3.6″
  • Weight: 2.9 lb / 1.3 kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

This is the drive I use for my backups, those that I keep at home in my office. I do not care if the external hard drive is not very fast or if the connection is slow (I still use the USB2 version). All that matters is that it is big, reliable and affordable.

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7. Seagate 8TB Backup Plus USB 3.0 External Hard Drive

Seagate STEL8000100 Backup Plus Hub 8TB External Desktop Hard Drive Storage

  • 8TB Storage Capacity
  • 1 x Micro-USB 3.0 (Micro-B 10-pin) Port
  • 2 x USB 3.0 Type-A Ports
  • Up to 160 MB/s Data Transfer Speed
  • Includes WD Backup Software
  • Dimensions: 9.0 x 8.2 x 3.6″
  • Weight: 2.3 lb / 1.0 kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

You can find external drives similar to the model I use from various manufacturers like Seagate.

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8. Inateck USB 3.0 to SATA 2-Bay Hard Drive Docking Station

  • Up to 2 x 10TB
  • Interface: SATA-I/II/III
  • USB 3.0
  • Up to 160 MB/s Data Transfer Speed
  • Compatible HDD: 2.5/3.5 inch
  • Dimensions: 5.71 x 2.36 x 4.29″
  • Weight: 1.3 lb / 0.6 kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

This is not exactly an external hard drive but it carries the same function as my WD 4TB My Book Desktop drive. You can treat it as a DIY external hard drive.

This is a docking station that enables the use of internal drives as external drives. I use a combination of two 4TB hard drives, which makes it a pretty solid 8TB backup solution.

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Best Extension to Internal Hard Drives

9. LaCie 6TB d2 Quadra Hard Drive

LaCie d2 Professional 6TB External Hard Drive Desktop HDD - USB-C USB 3.0 7200 RPM Enterprise Class Drives, 5 Year Warranty and Recovery Service (STHA6000800)

  • External Drive 6TB Drive Capacity
  • USB 3.0 / FireWire 800 / eSATA Ports
  • Up to 130MB/s Data Transfers via USB 3.0
  • Supports FireWire Daisy-Chaining
  • Windows and Mac Compatible
  • Dimensions: 7.8 x 7.4 x 4.0″
  • Weight: 2.3 lb / 5.2 lb
  • Price: Check the latest price here

While working as graphic designer and video editor, the LaCie external drives were the standard for video and design production companies. They are famous for their design, speed, and reliability. This is one of the best performance external hard drives for any photography workflow. It features USB3, FireWire and eSATA ports that make it a very versatile model for any environment.

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10. G-Technology 6TB G-DRIVE G1 USB 3.0 Hard Drive

G-Technology 6TB G-DRIVE USB 3.0 Desktop External Hard Drive, Silver - Compact, High-Performance Storage - 0G03674-1

  • External Drive 6TB Drive Capacity
  • USB 3.0
  • Data Transfer Rate up to 165 MB/s
  • 7200 rpm
  • Aluminum Enclosure
  • Dimensions: 9.0 x 8.5 x 3.0″
  • Weight: 3.25 lb / 1.5 kg
  • Price: Check the latest price here

The G drives come in two versions—with a USB3 connection and Thunderbolt. The Thunderbolt technology is superior to the USB 3.0, but it is only available on Mac computers.

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Final Thoughts

As you can see, every external hard drive from each category, caries different function. And if you are a photographer who travels often as I do, you probably need at least one hard drive from each category.

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