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June 22, 2011 at 9:21 pm #6526Geoffw
What is the best way to back up photos on an ongoing basis? I have several years' worth of digital photos ? around 60GB ? stored on my PC and laptop. Should I look at an online backup service? Or is copying to an external hard drive or some kind of storage media a better option?
If you want to make absolutely sure that you never lose any of your photographs, then use as many different systems as you can handle. This can include both internal and external hard drives, optical discs (CD-Rom, DVD, Blu-ray), Flash memory sticks or thumbdrives, and online storage. Ideally, at least one of these backups should be stored in a separate location, and online storage does that. Having “off-site storage” protects your photos from fire, flood and theft.
Each type of storage has its own advantages, so you will need to work out a strategy that suits the size of your picture library and the rate at which it's growing.
To simplify things, you should start by organising your photos into directories, if you have not already done so. I covered this in a recent answer, Sorting out your photo collection. I try not to keep more than 250 photos in a single folder, and I subdivide large sets into separate folders. This makes it easier to back them up to CD-Roms or memory sticks.
Optical discs are well established as a back-up medium, because they are cheap and don't take up much room. However, a single CD-Rom will only hold about 700MB of photos, so you'd need 90 or 100 CDs to back up your 60GB collection. Even if you use DVDs, which can hold up to 4.7GB, you'd need 15 or more discs. Optical discs are therefore more suitable for making quick back-ups or for sharing recent photos. Either way, if you use them, burn the whole disc at once. Do not use rewritable (RW) discs, which are not suitable for back-ups, and do not use “packet writing” software that allows you to treat an optical disc like a hard disk. It's too risky.
USB memory sticks or thumbdrives are also an option for some people, now that prices have fallen below ?1 per gigabyte. The 16GB versions are popular now, but 32GB USB Flash drives are widely available, and several companies have launched 64GB models. Examples include the Kingston 64GB Data Traveler, Super Talent 64GB Express, Transcent 64GB JetFlash 600, MACH Xtreme FX and the very tough LaCie XtremKey, for which there's an amusing promotional video. I don't think this is your best option, but a 16GB stick would enable temporary backups (instead of using CD-Roms), and you could use it for transferring photos between your laptop and desktop PCs. That's what I do.
Today, an external hard drive (EHD) is the quickest and most convenient way to back up your photos, especially if both your PC and EHD have fast USB 3, eSATA or FireWire ports. A small, portable 500GB drive would easily store your 60GB of photos and probably all the files on your hard drive. However, larger sizes are now quite affordable. You can get terabyte (1TB) drives for a little over ?40, 2TB drives for ?60-?80, and 3TB drives from about ?130. You should find a 1TB drive gives your photo collection room to grow, but if you expect to fill it up quickly, go for a 1.5TB or 2TB drive instead.
As mentioned in my previous answer, you can set up some synchronisation software so that new photos are automatically copied from your PC to the EHD. Examples include Microsoft's free SyncToy 2.1, Jumping Bytes' PureSync and the open source FreeFileSync.
Online storage is now free or reasonably priced, and it can be convenient as long as you have reasonably fast upload and download speeds. However, online photo storage comes in three different varieties: file backup, photo back up, and photo sharing systems.
Online file backup services will store any kind of file, and will usually back up your whole hard drive in the background, but most are not designed for sharing photos online. The leading examples include Mozy, DropBox and Carbonite. The MozyHome service provides 2GB of free storage space, which is enough to try it to see if you like it. If you do, then unlimited storage costs ?4.99 per month or ?54.89 per year. This is a proper backup service and your data is securely encrypted.
An alternative is to upload your photos to a site that enables you to display and share them, though check that you can choose to keep them private. Examples include Yahoo's Flickr, Google's Picasa and Microsoft's Windows Live Photo Gallery. The Microsoft option is the best one, especially if you have Windows 7 or Vista, because the desktop software is good and because you get 25GB of free storage in a SkyDrive.
Picasa only offers 1GB of free storage for photos bigger than 800 x 800 pixels. Flickr's free service displays your latest 200 photos, but you can upgrade to a Pro account with unlimited storage for $25 per year. (If any of these companies have UK prices, they are very well hidden.) A Flickr Pro account could therefore be your best bet, as long as you keep an eye on the privacy settings.
Some sites are designed to enable people to share photos, and they don't provide a back up. If you upload photos to Facebook, for example, it reduces them to a width of 720 pixels for display purposes, which is OK for viewing on a computer screen. However, the originals, which might have been 4,288 pixels wide, have been dumped. The best you can hope for from Faebook is a version 2048 pixels wide, offered for download.
Online storage is attractive because most hard drives will eventually fail, while CDs and DVDs can be scratched through mishandling and ruined if they are not stored correctly in a cool dark place. However, you can also lose access to photos stored online. Online storage companies have been known to lose data, and many will either be taken over or go bust. The sad story of Streamload/MediaMax/The LinkUp illustrates the dangers.
You might think that using a big company would be a safe option, but some customers lost data in Amazon's recent EC2 cloud services crash, and it's easy to get locked out of an online photo service if the associated email account is hacked. People have been locked out of Picasa, for example. Earlier this year, a Flickr user called Mirco Wilhelm had his Pro account deleted, apparently by accident, though his 3,400 photos were eventually restored.
It's a good idea to have at least three copies of everything, and for one of those copies to be “off site”, either online or at a relative's house. You could store your photos on your desktop PC's hard drive and an external hard drive, then use optical discs, thumb drives or online storage to provide a backup of your backup. Having a single copy of each photo on an external hide drive (prone to failure), optical disc (easily scratched), USB stick (easily lost) or online service is not really enough.
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