In defense of ditching external hard drives.

It’s 2016 folks.  Why are you still using external hard drives for storage?  Dropbox. Google Drive. Amazon Drive.  ???

Okay…I kid I kid.

Fast internet isn’t in all parts of the “sticks” these days.  That’s reason #1 for hanging onto your external/portable hard drives.  It’s also reason 2, 3, and 4.

In all seriousness: using cloud storage vs local storage for your working (as in current) files is one discussion.  But using cloud storage vs local storage for archiving (as in long term storage / backup) is an entirely different discussion.

What do we archive the most?  Pictures.  We don’t realize how important these pics are until we lose them all.  And it happens every day:


Which leads me to say: if you’re using your computer or external/portable drives as your sole means of backing up your photos, I’ve got 3 words for you.

Time to stop!

Now I can hear your reasons for using local drives all the way from where I’m sitting right here.  I’ll hear you if you pinky promise to hear me.  Let’s do it:

“But cloud storage isn’t as secure/safe as my external hard drive(s).”

Crazy talk yo!  This one’s easy: Your external/portable drives are substantially. less. safe. and. secure.  External hard drives crash (it’s not if, but when).  They also get lost.  And stolen.  They also burn up in house fires (I’ve seen this personally).  They also get fried in a high current overload (lighting strikes).  Basically, external hard drives are a terrible solution for long-term backups!

The backup redundancy and security that Amazon Photos or Dropbox provides is infinitely safer than your hard drive.  Same goes for any of the other online photo storage solutions (which…secret…many of them actually use Amazon servers).

“But cloud storage is more expensive than buying external / portable hard drives.”

Let’s run the fact checker on this one.

You can get this 1TB Portable Drive for $58.  It’s a tremendous drive.  Small, sleek, fast.  I have a couple, so I speak from experience.

Speaking of a couple, you’ll need at least 2 hard drives for archival purposes.  Redundancy is critical.  So we’re already up to $116.  Of course, 1TB isn’t that much storage (at all).  But we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

So how much does 1 TB in the “cloud” cost?  Well, Dropbox comes in at $8.25 / month ($99/yr).  Other providers are all in the same ballpark.  For example, Google Drive comes in at $9.99/month for 1TB.

But with these cloud solutions, redundancy is already built in.  We don’t need to buy it twice.

But then there’s Amazon Drive, which costs $59.99 per year for UNLIMITED storage of all your files, pics, videos, and more.  “But that’s a recurring charge, Kyle!”  True, but so is buying new hard drives every 3 years (and you need to in order to be safe and increase storage).

Personally, I think it gets a bit sweeter.  You see, if you’re already a Amazon Prime Member (and you really should be), you don’t even need Amazon Drive to store all your photos.  Because Amazon Prime members get Amazon Photos included!

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Amazon Photos includes UNLIMITED photo storage for you AND 5 others.  They don’t compress your photos, btw (full rez baby).  Safe. Secure. Accessible from all your devices.  And you’ll get simple apps for all your computers and devices that do 100% of the backup work for you, while you sleep.  Or play.  Or work.  Or anything.

You do the math.  And don’t forget to factor in the time is valuable…more than money for sure.

Personally, I already have Amazon Prime.  It’s hands down the best service I pay for every year.  It’d be worth the $99 price of UNLIMITED photo storage alone, but it includes SOO much more.  Just ask any Prime Member.  They’ll start gushing too.

Hold the train.  Just remembered that Amazon Prime has a FREE 30 day trial.  Goodness gracious.  Get started people.

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“External hard drives are more convenient.”

For your everyday work files, okay, I can go with that.  But for long-term, archival quality backup of all your photos?  Not even close: cloud backups are “setup once and let it roll.”  What’s next?

“But, you see, I keep one external hard drive at home, and another at Uncle Freds/the office/some-other-place and I swap them out every week and I have this backup software and it’s just so cool…”

If you like this hobby, more power to you.  I’m going to stick with guitar.

“But I don’t want my pictures out on the ‘grid.’  What if they get stolen?”

Statistically, there’s a far greater chance of your pictures getting stolen from your home, while you’re there guarding your hard drive with nunchucks, than getting your pics stolen in a secured environment like Amazon Photos or Dropbox or Google Drive.

“But I just like to have a LOCAL copy of all my pics. It makes me feel warm and cozy.”

I like to have local copies too.  And I do.  I just really don’t like the risk of only having local copies.  It’s not a safe, nor inexpensive, way to archive your photos.

Final Word.

This was a big one.  If you’re still reading, in all seriousness and humility, I sincerely hope this helps.  It’s all fun and games until you lose images at home in some accident.  And again, it happens every day.

Honestly, the best advice I can give you is to at least try an online solution.  Amazon Prime is FREE for 30 days.  Nothing to lose, so much to gain.

And for the record, it’s what I use for my primary archival solution.  I use other solutions for fun too.  But that’s another post.

Lastly, stay tuned…we’ll be talking a lot more about other photo backup solutions in the coming weeks.

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28 thoughts on “In defense of ditching external hard drives.”

  1. I’m already a Prime member, but I didn’t know about Prime Photos! How do I upload the photos to the Prime Photos account? Do I have to do it one by one? I couldn’t find any instructions. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Kyle,

    Every time I read one of your posts/blogs I am amazed that out of the bizilion online photo school I found yours. Love your style, your sense of humor and your humility. I’ve had Amazon Prime for awhile, but haven’t jumped on the Amazon Photos wagon because wanted to hear what you think. I see hours and hours of uploading in my future… again… A question: where/for how long do you store raw files?

    Thank you!
    SPS member for life 🙂

  3. I was JUST looking at the current free (or included with Prime) options yesterday. What would you recommend for video? I have over 1,300 short 60-120 second iPhone videos from the last three years (mostly of my kids) which adds up to about 120GB. Amazon’s piddly 5GB file storage is worthless, and I wasn’t impressed with the after-compression quality of video on Google Photos when I tried it last year. My current plan is to have multiple Google accounts (“,” etc.) to take advantage of the free 15GB of file storage, but that requires a ton of account juggling, and time to remember to upload because it’s not automatic. Definitely not ideal…

    Thanks for your advice! I really appreciate the discussion here on photo backups. I do NOT have a good system and I would be DEVASTATED to lose them all!

    1. Amazon Drive would include unlimited storage for all your files (not just photos and videos). Google Photos will store all your videos for free at high quality (1080p HD). So I’d be surprised at the difference in quality (unless you were capturing in 4k). I haven’t noticed a drop in video quality personally, but def not saying you haven’t!! 🙂 Then again, keep in mind that during playback, it’s streaming. I’m not 100% sure on this, but it might auto-adjust quality by default based on your connection speed (YouTube, Vimeo, Wistia, etc all do this). Meaning, if it detects a slower connection, it streams it in less than 1080p so that you don’t have to wait forever. BUT regardless of streaming playback: when you go to re-download those files (in the event that you need to), it would be full 1080p. I’ll keep searching 😉

    2. Oh, also wanted to add that in general, I think it’s worthwhile to pay for convenience. Otherwise we’re constantly pulling our hair out trying to juggle duct-taped solutions…and all to save a few bucks per year (in the grand scheme of things). Ultimately, complex systems won’t last. We’ll end up putting it off one week, which turns into a month, which turns into a year, etc. Paying for a simple (and automatic…as it doesn’t get more simple than automated) solution is worth the “convenience fee”…but this is only my personal opinion!

  4. Thanks for the thought provoking information! I use Shutterfly’s photo storage option but would like to know your thoughts on that and if I should still use another source to store my memories.

    1. Shutterfly recently changed how they store your photos. I went with them initially (former This Life user) because they stored and provided ability to download full resolution and I loved the This Life app and website feature. That changed when they ditched This Life and went to all Shutterfly and focused all of their attention on trying to sell me “stuff” with my photos on it. I am now considering Prime Photos with Amazon.

      1. I hear ya Jill but wasn’t aware of the Shutterfly storage change. So you can no longer retrieve/download the full resolution file?? Dang! But yes, Shutterfly Photos has definitely become a solution geared more towards prints (“stuff”) than archiving. That said, I definitely think that for many this (ordering prints, books, cards, etc) will still be a need that Shutterfly can meet with convenience, speed, and cost.

  5. Just a question, besides being included in a Prime price, is there a reason you prefer Amazon over Google? Just wondering because I have Google and want to make sure I’m good!

    1. To me the easiest way is to simply direct Amazon’s app to backup your local folders. If you don’t have any local copies, you’d need to download your files from dropbox to your local disc, then just set up the Amazon app like normal.

  6. What’s the pros and cons between Goggle photos and Amazon photos? I’ve seen blog posts on both so now I’m confused on which one to use?

  7. Kyle, I cull my pics monthly on my computor and delete lots….so are those deletions picked up on Amazon or do they remain?

    1. I used to use Dropbox and still love it. But just to note, Amazon Photos does support most RAW files. It doesn’t preview them in the apps, but if you log in online and go to your actual Drive folder, you’ll be able to see the RAW files and download them if needed.

  8. I have had Amazon Prime for years. I have never taken advantage of the photo storage because I have trust issues. I am afraid someone is going to have access to all of my pictures. I don’t have anything that isn’t safe for public viewing 🙂 but I also don’t want some stranger gauking at my kids. That’s my only issue. It may be my age??

    1. Hey Shanna, no one from Amazon will have access to your pics unless you give it to them. I realize that’s a statement that has to be accepted though (trusted). If it’s “hackers” that’s more of the worry…One thing I can tell you for certain, unfortunately… The same hackers who are “good enough” to get past encryption or steal a username/password on a cloud service can also use see your pics (and all other content) on your computer/phone/iPad/any_device if said device is connected to the internet. That said, places like Amazon have protection measures built in that are a much much much higher wall to scale than what you probably have set up at home.

  9. Does it take a long time to upload to google or amazon? Im not sure I have multiple days to wait to transfer from my external hard drive to one of these platforms. However, I want to have them online more than anything! What is your workflow like to keep it updated? How often do you upload photos? Thanks!

    1. This all depends of course on how many photos you have and more importantly, how fast your internet connection is. I uploaded 20k pics over the first couple nights and it was done. Basically, you install the apps which allow you to set which folders you want it to backup (“My Pictures,” etc). It automatically adds any/all new photos in the background when your computer is on. To idea is to remove yourself as much as possible (at least in my case…haha).

  10. How do you point it to a folder to sync with? Also if you move the folder it deletes the files. or is uploading a better answer? Did I miss the amazon vs google vs all storage options post?

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