There’s no point in lugging along a laptop on your vacation just so you can archive or organize your digital pictures. A laptop not only adds weight and heft, but is also vulnerable to theft and damage. Luckily, you have other options. Our recommendations will help ensure that all your photos come home safely with you.
Stock up on memory cards
Prices of memory cards have dropped so much recently that it’s feasible to buy as many cards as you need. Since last year, for instance, the price of a 1GB CompactFlash (CF) or Secure Digital (SD) card has fallen from well over $50 to between $10 and $30 with rebates. Dealram frequently points to sales and specials.
So how many cards do you need? If you anticipate shooting 500 photographs with a 6-megapixel camera, you’ll need more than 1GB of storage (each picture is roughly 2MB). For flexibility, that would mean bringing at least two 1GB cards.
You’ll want even more storage space if you plan to shoot video with your digital camera too. Every minute of footage can fill 100MB or more of storage. To save space, you may want to edit video on the camera to remove the less interesting parts. This kind of feature is available on newer Canon, Olympus, and other cameras. It’s no iMovie, but it typically allows you to trim a series of frames from the beginning or end of a clip.
There’s a downside to relying solely on media cards for storage: if a problem develops with your card, you could lose all your photos. Flash-memory cards are susceptible to accidental erasure and even corruption. They’re also small (especially SD cards), and therefore easy to misplace. That’s why it’s a good idea to back up images. Here are some options:
Transfer to an iPod Using the $29 Apple iPod Camera Connector, you can transfer images from a digital camera to a photo-capable iPod (except the iPod nano, alas) via your camera’s USB cable (see “Image Go-Between”). You can even preview images and view slide shows on either the iPod or a TV (using yet another optional adapter, the $99 iPod AV Connection Kit). Before you choose this route, make sure your camera is on Apple’s list of supported devices. (At press time, there was no word as to whether the new iPod nanos would support this feature).
Buy a Photo Storage Drive Another option is a dedicated photo storage device, such as SmartDisk’s 40GB FlashTrax XT ($400), Epson’s 80GB P-4000 ($700), or Digital Foci’s Media Buddy (40GB, $189; 60GB, $219; 80GB, $249). All three devices include memory-card slots for transferring photos and can run on batteries. The FlashTrax and P-4000 also have LCDs for previewing photos.
Use an Online Service Between the large number of Internet cafés and the increasing number of hotels that offer connected computers for guest use, transferring pictures to a photo- and video-hosting service has become a realistic option. These services offer several advantages. First, because you’re storing photos on a server in another location, you can’t lose them. Also, friends and family can view your pictures while you’re still enjoying your adventure.
Choosing a service comes down to whether you want to store and share images at their highest quality. Most services impose data-transfer or -storage limits; some even downsample images after you upload them. We like Yahoo’s Flickr best. For $25 a year, you can upload full-resolution images, up to 10MB each in size, and Flickr won’t downsample them. You can also upload 2GB per month, with no storage limits.
If you’re looking for straight-up file storage and you don’t care whether others can see your photos, try a network storage service such as Box.net (1GB, free; 5GB, $5 a month) or Xdrive.com (5GB, $10 a month).
If you plan on using an online service, we recommend packing a USB 2.0 memory-card reader. Or, if your camera uses SD cards, consider SanDisk’s Ultra II SD Plus cards. These clever devices fold in half so you can plug them straight into a USB slot, no adapter required. Prices range from $55 for 512MB to $135 for 2GB.
A few tips on using Internet cafés: most places charge by time usage—and some, such as those in small towns, might not have a broadband connection. So think about limiting the amount of data you transfer. One option is to set your camera so it’s not shooting at the highest resolution. Or cull any unwanted photos before uploading your images.
Also, when using public computers, take precautions against possible keystroke-logging software or other spyware. Before you leave for your trip, change the passwords for those accounts to something you don’t use on any other accounts. Also, when logging out of an online photo service, empty the browser’s cache and then quit the browser program.
Use Your Cell Phone Depending on your location and hardware, you may be able to upload images to a cell phone. For instance, by inserting your camera’s SD card into the Palm Treo’s card slot, you can e-mail photos to yourself or to a special Flickr address that adds them to your online album. Just beware of international roaming rates for data. They can be crazy—sometimes $20 per megabyte and up—so call your carrier and get the details. Cingular, for instance, offers an affordable global plan that includes 100MB of data transfer.
Burn and Mail If transferring photos over the Internet isn’t practical, consider using optical media to archive images. Even if you’re not sure you’ll use them, it can’t hurt to pack some blank CDs or DVDs.
Of course, this option requires a computer with a built-in disc burner. Many Internet cafés have systems with CD and DVD burners, and practically anyone you visit who has a computer should have at least a CD burner. Another option is to visit a photo store or self-serve photo kiosk. Besides printing out your pictures, many of them can burn images to disc.
If you plan on erasing your memory card, burn two copies. Keep one with you and send the other home or to a photo service such as Shutterfly, which will transfer your images to its servers at no charge.
If disaster strikes
So what happens if the data on your card becomes corrupted or you inadvertently press Erase All on your camera? Don’t panic. Memory-card recovery software such as DataRescue’s $29 PhotoRescue can reconstruct lost bits by reading the card’s data directly rather than relying on its file catalog, which is the part that’s probably corrupted. (See “Master Your Memory Card” for more on the different types of erase functions.) If you plan to use PhotoRescue when you get home, don’t shoot any more pictures on the troubled card until you’ve run the software ( click here for details on using PhotoRescue).
Master your memory card
At some point, you’ll have to erase pictures from your memory card—but what’s the best way? Here are the different delete commands and advice on when to use each.
Erase All This command deletes all images from the file index, much like moving a document into the Trash and emptying it.
Format This erases the directory and storage structure markers, effectively eliminating recovery. It’s a good idea to use Format instead of Erase All periodically to guard against directory corruption.
Low-Level Format Necessary for recalcitrant memory cards, this command writes zeros onto every bit of the card and creates a map of unusable bits. There’s no way to recover images after performing a low-level format—not without involving the NSA.
[ Jeff Carlson is the managing editor of TidBits and the author of iMovie HD 6 and iDVD 6 for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide (Peachpit Press, 2006). Glenn Fleishman writes for the Economist , the New York Times , and Popular Science.]Image Go-Between: Apple’s iPod Camera Connector lets you move pictures from your digital camera to your iPod.Two in One: SanDisk’s Ultra II SD Plus cards fold back to reveal a USB connector.