Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
One of the first things you realize once you've bought your digital camera is
that you need some way to store the images. The memory card in the camera is
fine, but it can only store so much data. It can be enough for a day's outing,
but what about a 2 week vacation?
Today's 6MP DSLRs create JPEG files which are typically 2-3MB in size, or if
you shoot RAW images which give the the best possible quality, file sizes can
range from 6-8MB depending if you embed a JPEG in with the RAW file. This means
that you may only get 56 images on a 512MB memory card if you are shooting RAW
images with high quality embedded JPEGs. Even just shooting straight high quality
JPEGs, you'll only get about 170 images on a 512MB card.
Since digital shooting is "free" most people tend to shoot more than with
film, so shooting 56 images per day is very easy, and if you're a wildlife or
action photographer it's very easy to burn though even 170 images a day, often
more. So what do you do?
Well, you could buy more memory cards, but that gets expensive. 512MB Compact
Flash cards cost around $120 each. If you fill one a day you'll need $1680 worth
of memory for a 14-day trip. This isn't a practical option for most people. You
could also take a laptop with you on your vacation and transfer the data to the
hard disk. Since you can get a decent laptop for under $1000, this is actually a
cheaper option, but you have to haul the laptop around with you. You could leave
it in your hotel room if you're sure you won't fill your memory cards up during
the day, or you could carry it around with you all day. Again, not very
The other option is a portable storage device. They come in two flavors. The
first is a small portable hard drive which has an operating system that basically
transfers data from a memory card to the hard disk. They come in sizes from 10GB
to 40GB, with the 20GB units retailing in the $200-$250 region. Some play MP3s,
have a video screen, sing and dance. These can cost $400 or $500. There is also
at least one portable unit which will write CDs from a memory card. These units
can be carried with you in the field. They're about the size and weight of a
large portable audio cassette player, so they'll fit in a jacket pocket, if not a
I'm reviewing "The Tripper" portable hard drive here because I bought
one! This doesn't mean it's the only option or it's the best option, but it's the
only one I've personally tested, so that's what I can talk about with some
authority. While it only reads and writes to CF (Compact Flash) cards, there are
a number of SD, MMC, SM and MS to Compactflash Adapters that will
allow other storage format dives to be read. The adapters retail for around
Backup data from CF cards to built-in hard drive
Restore data from hard drive to CF cards
Erase data from CF cards
High speed USB 2.0 interface
CF card reader for type I and type II, including Microdrives
100 x 64 graphic LCD displays function list and working status
Built-in Li-ION rechargeable battery
AC power adapter (AC 100v to 240v, auto switching)
Support Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP [see review]
Dimension: 91mm x 138mm x 33mm. 300g
So as you can see, the Tripper will read CF cards and store the data on the
hard drive. It can also read data from the hard drive and store it on a CF card.
I'm not quite sure why you'd want to do this, but at least you can. I suppose it
could be useful if the USB interface ever failed or if you wanted to transfer
data back to a CF card so you could view it in the camera. Note that you have to
transfer a whole card at once to the Tripper or a whole directory at once from
the Tripper. There's no way to select individual files.
The manual does not inspire confidence. It's confusing in places and nowhere
is there a manufacturer's name (it's made by Aplux) or a contact phone number
(they are in Taiwan) or even an email address. This isn't a good sign. The manual
does tell you which buttons to push and attempts to explain how to install the
software drivers (see below). It also explains how to replace the internal hard
drive (it uses a standard 2.5" drive) if you want to replace it at any time with
a larger capacity option. I believe the Tripper may be available without an
installed hard drive from some vendors, but 20GB and 40GB units are easier to
find. The manual also says a case and USB cable are optional extras, but they
came in the box anyway. The box said the cable was included but the case was
optional. Go figure.
There are three transfer modes from the CF to the disk, all of which are
pretty much identical. They all transfer all the CF data, including the directory
structure of the card, to the hard disk.
"Quick Backup" - The default is to transfer the contents of a
CF card to a directory which is named for the date. Thus if you transfer a card
on September 17th 2003 it will be called 091703.001. If you transfer a second
card on the same day it will be called 091703.002 and do on. I'm not sure what
happens if you transfer more than 999 cards on a single day, but since that's not
something any normal human would probably attempt, it really doesn't matter.
"Backup to HD" - In this mode you can, if you insist, name
the directories anything you want to (up to 8 characters), but to do this you
have click through the entire alphabet to get to each letter you want, then
select it. This really doesn't seem worth it, but you can do it if you want
"Move to HD" - This is identical to "backup to HD", except
it's a move not a copy, so when you are finished your CF card is empty.
When files are being saved, each file name is displayed so you can see how the
transfer is progressing. However as mentioned above, although you can see each
individual file transfer, there's no way to transfer individual files. You have
to transfer the whole CF card each time. You can also restore a directory data to
a CF card from the hard disk, and you can delete all the files from a CF card.
Personally I prefer to delete the files from a card using the camera. I just feel
there may be less chance of error this way. Maybe I'm too cautious, but the extra
time involved is minimal. It's also possible to see how much data is stored on
the disk and how much space is left. The other thing you can do is set the date
The Tripper comes with a protective leather case (at least it looks like
leather, though it probably isn't), but which has cutouts and a clear plastic
window so you can operate the controls and view the LCD screen without having to
remove the case. There is a belt loop on the back.
The tripper has a USB 2.0 interface, theoretically capable of 480 megabits/sec
data transfer, but of course it never hits that rate in practice - and neither do
most USB 2.0 devices. Actual transfer speed seems to be a respectable 15MB/second
(120 megabits/sec) - see below.
It claims to be compatible with Windows 98SE/ME/2000/XP. I say
"claims" because I spent days, if not weeks exchanging messages with the
manufacturer in Taiwan trying to get the CF card reader recognized under Windows
2000. I never did. They sent me all sorts of drivers and updates and
quasi-explanations in broken English as to what to do with them. Nothing seemed
to work and I eventually gave up. The Tripper itself (i.e. the hard drive)
installed just fine as a USB hard drive and I could transfer data back and forth
to the Tripper without problems. However the built in card reader remained hidden
from the OS. The manual was pretty useless for troubleshooting. In fact it was
more confusing than helpful since the things it said should happen on a W2K
install never did. Wrong screens, wrong drivers, general frustration. However W2K
was smart enough to recognize the USB drive on its own without additional
So basically under W2K I got all the functionality I needed and all the
functionality I really bought the device for (I have two CF card readers, I
really didn't need another one), but it still sucks that I couldn't make it
HOWEVER, when I plugged it into an Windows XP system, everything was perfect.
No drivers were needed and both the hard drive and card readers were installed
and accessible and appear to function without any problems. Both the hard drive
and card reader immediately appear in the explorer window when the Tripper is
attached to the PC.
Transfer speed from a CF card to the hard drive depends on several factors,
including the speed and type of the CF card and whether you're transferring 500
small files or 50 large files. However, using a Viking 512MB card (speed not
specified, but probably "average") and transferring typical 2MB JPEGs, a 512MB
card transfers in about 4.5 minutes, a data rate of about 1.9 MB/sec.
Transfer from the hard drive to a PC is much faster, Using a USB 2.0
connection, transferring 256MB of data took about 17 seconds, a data rate of 15
MB/sec using a Athalon 2800+ PC, though I suspect transfer times will be similar
on almost any current machine.
On a test I got around 12 full downloads from a 512MB card on one charge.
That's about 6GB of data or about 800 RAW files with embedded JPEGs
or 2000 high quality JPEGs from a 6.3 MP DSLR like a Canon EOS 10D.
While there is no accessory external battery pack or DC charger, the unit will
run (and recharge the internal battery) from an external 5v source, so it
wouldn't be difficult to make an external battery pack, DC charger or solar
recharge system if you need them and if you have any basic electronic knowledge.
The internal battery is a 3.3v 900mAhr Li-ion cell. A 100-240v AC power supply
and recharger is supplied. Manufacturer's specs give a 2hr time to fully charge a
fully discharged battery pack.
It works. It seems to reliably transfer data from a CF card to the hard disk
and you can then read the data from a PC via the USB 2.0 interface. If that's all
you need to do then this unit does it. If you want it to act as a card reader,
I'd suggest running Windows XP if my experience under W2K is anything to go by.
It's not fancy and it doesn't have any frills. You can't verify files, you can't
read and write individual files, you can't view files. Other units allow you to
do all these things, but at increased cost. So I'd say the Tripper isn't
bad. It could use a better manual and it could use better support, but that can
be said about many devices these days! It does what it's supposed to and so far
hasn't lost or corrupted a file so overall I'm happy with it now I'm running
Bells and Whistles
Which unit you buy depends on how many bells and whistles you want and how
many files you need to store. A 20GB unit will store around 8000 maximum quality
JPEGs (equivalent of 220 36exp rolls for 35mm film) from a 6MP DSLR, 3300 RAW
format images (91 36exp rolls) or 2500 RAW images with embedded high
quality JPEGs (70 36exp rolls). That's quite a lot of film. Of course if you're
shooting with an 11MP D1s or a 14MP Kodak, you'll won't get so many images on
your 20GB drive.
If you just want somewhere to dump your files, a basic 20GB unit will cost you
around $200. If you want to be able to transfer and verify individual files, view
your images on an color LCD screen and display them on a TV, you'll probably end
up paying twice that much, and if you want to do it with a 60GB drive, you'll
probably pay three times that much.
For my needs a basic 20GB hard drive was all I needed and the Tripper seems
There is one device that writes memory card data to CD (see below). This has
advantages and disadvantages. It does mean you don't have all your files on one
disk - which is good. However it also means you have to carry around a bunch of
CDs. It may also be more convenient to transfer and edit your files from what
becomes a second hard drive attached to your PC then to download all the CDs. The
CD writer is a little more expensive than the basic 20GB hard drives (~$300), but
also serves as a USB CD reader and writer, which could be useful in other
There are a bunch of similar devices on the market. In general the 20GB units
with simple file transfer capability run from $200 to $300, while the units with
built in LCD displays run from $450 to $500+. The more features, the more you
pay. Some of the "top of the line" units with 60GB hard drives sell for
$600-$700, which is close to the price of a small laptop PC. The things that
differentiate the various portable storage devices are storage capacity, battery
size, functions (e.g. verify, copy from disk to memory), speed of operation and
the types of memory card that they support. That all do the basic job of
transferring data from a memory card to a hard drive and they all allow that hard
drive data to be downloaded to a PC. If you want other functions, you have to pay
Nixvue Vista NV-020SA Digital Album 20GB Hard Disk. with Color LCD viewing
Screen. View stored images on LCD or external TV ~$450
SmartDisk FTX30 FlashTrax 30GB Portable Hard Drive & MP3 Player With 3.5"
LCD Screen ~$500