Hard Drive Capacity

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Today’s Question: I take seriously your point about having only one drive will al my photos on it. I am currently at about 75,000 images and increasing by about 20,000 per year. At the moment I have them all stored on a 2TB external drive and backed up on another 2TB external drive. I have about half a terabyte on each left but as we approach a New Year I thought it would be time to invest in two new drives. Would it make sense to get a 3TB or maybe even 4TB capacity drive, so that I minimize the number of times I have to keep replacing drives? I’d be interested to know what size drives you have.

Tim’s Quick Answer: In general I don’t feel there is a need to “rush” to replace a hard drive until you’re getting close to the point that it is full. When you to replace a drive, I try to balance my future storage needs with the potential for even better storage devices becoming available over time.

More Detail: If you have some sense of approximately how many photos you tend to capture in a year, it is relatively easy to estimate when you will reach full capacity on a hard drive you are using to store your photos. Let’s assume, for example, that each raw capture on your camera is about 25MB in size. If you are capturing about 20,000 photos per year, that adds up to 500,000 megabytes, or about half a terabyte each year. In this example that means it will likely be about a year before you reach full capacity on the drive, so I would probably want to replace the drive in about six months or so.

When it comes time to replace the drive, I would probably opt for a drive that will provide about another two years worth of capacity. In this example that would mean buying the 3TB drive rather than the 4TB drive. Of course, you may prefer to opt for the higher capacity drive to allow for an upgrade to a higher-resolution camera, if you think you’ll be capturing more video as part of your photography, or if you simply anticipate doing more photography in the next couple of years.

With this approach, in two years you would be due for another upgrade, but that also means you will be able to take advantage of new developments in storage. For example, solid state drives (SSD) provide a number of advantages, but are still quite expensive compared to traditional hard drives. In a couple years that may have changed somewhat significantly.

There are other factors to consider, of course. In my case I am using 4TB hard drives even though my total photo storage requirements are currently at about 6TB. But in my case, because I travel so extensively, I want to have my photos (or at least most of them) readily available while I’m traveling. I therefore prefer to use a ruggedized USB-powered hard drive, and there isn’t a 6TB (or larger) option available.

So, I’ve made a compromise based on my specific priorities, but I continue to hope that an appropriate 8TB drive will be available in the near future.