If I could dream up a great vacation,
it would go something like this: I fly out to some sunny Mediterranean cosmopolis with my friends, we have a fabulous party by the sea, then we go sailing in the islands together. Amazingly enough, I actually went on that trip a couple of weeks ago. This column is dedicated to my friends Bill and Evie, who took it upon themselves to have a beautiful wedding in Athens and bring a bunch of their friends along for a sailing honeymoon in the Aegean.
As you can imagine, the combination of a wedding and a summer vacation brought out the photographer in everyone. In fact, our two boats formed a virtual digital photo armada. In addition to the gear that I'd brought along, there were no fewer than three digital SLRs onboard and maybe half a dozen digital point-and-shoots. Having traveled with a digital camera numerous times in the past, I gave this trip some thought in advance. The three elements that I knew I'd need in addition to cameras were storage, power, and portability. To give you some food for thought about what to put on your own vacation list, I'll tell you what I packed, starting with the storage:
Ex post photo
As digital camera resolution and file sizes increase, the need for storage space increases too. Unless you plan to either bring along a laptop or invest in a lot of high-capacity flash-memory cards, you'll probably need some kind of storage device to hold the photos you take. Fortunately, you have a lot of options these days. They fall into three main categories: hard drive-based devices, portable CD burners, and USB bridges. I brought along several of these on my trip to try them.
Portable hard drive-based devices
The main advantages I found in the hard drive-based storage devices were their very compact design, their high capacities, and their ability to let me verify that my images had downloaded correctly--either by displaying the photos or by running a verification function that checked the downloaded files against the ones on my memory card, bit by bit. The basic features I want in one of these devices are long battery life; fast, high-quality image display; broad file-type support; and fast downloading. I think there's a lot of room for improvement in the photo storage market since none of the devices I tried offered all of these basic features. A word of advice: always verify or visually check your image files after downloading them to a hard drive-based device. On a few occasions, I've had files get corrupted during a download. Solving that problem was just a matter of repeating the download, but if I hadn't checked the files, I would have lost my photos.
Many hard drive-based devices have other capabilities, including MP3 playback; direct output to CD burners, printers, and TVs; and slide-show displays. It's very possible that dedicated photo storage devices will eventually be superceded by personal video players, which incorporate storage and playback functions for several types of media. I haven't tried any of the new PVPs for photo storage, but I'll be looking at some later this summer.
Portable CD burners
I was initially pretty enthusiastic about portable CD burners. Because they transfer your images directly from a memory card to a disc, your photos are already archived when you get home. And once the images are on disc, there's no risk of losing them on a damaged hard drive. However, after taking a couple of burners on vacation with me, I had some reservations. I prefer to travel light, and I also tend to take more than one memory card full of pictures when I'm out for the day. The burners took up more space in my suitcase than the hard drive-based devices, and I never carried one while shooting because I didn't feel like lugging it around. Most CD burners don't provide the viewing and verification functions that hard drive-based devices do, and some have AC power only. That said, if you're heading for a hotel and have a memory card that will get you through the day, don't rule out a portable CD burner. Most of them will play DVDs and music CDs in addition to burning discs, so you might find them worth their weight. Personally, I'm waiting for the next generation of portable burners that can handle higher-capacity DVDs.
One thing I'd love to see is a Sony Hi-MD-based photo storage device with a little LCD for viewing images. That way, I'd be able to store and archive my photos on a very compact device while traveling and listen to music in between downloads. Sony, what do you say?
Bridges and links
Probably the cheapest and most portable storage option is to use Delkin's new USB Bridge with a USB thumb drive or, if you already own an iPod, to pick up one of Belkin's compatible photo-transfer accessories. The USB Bridge is a very simple device; it has a two USB ports, a transfer button, and a verification button. Two LEDs let you know what the Bridge is doing after you press a button. I tried it out with a few thumb drives, and for some mysterious reason, one of them didn't work. The moral: If you go with this option, do a test run before you get on the plane. Of course, a thumb drive won't give you as much storage as the other devices, but not everyone needs multiple gigabytes of space. Using a device that doesn't let me review photos visually makes me nervous, but at least I can report that when the USB Bridge failed to transfer my images, its LEDs let me know.
I bet a lot of people are considering the iPod option this summer. Belkin makes two accessories that let you load digital photos onto the player: the iPod Media Reader and the Digital Camera Link. Again, these are very affordable and portable options if you already own an iPod. My friend Kit used the Media Reader to load about 3.4GB of photos onto his iPod during our trip, and although most of them made it home to his computer, he wasn't happy enough with the experience to recommend it. Near the end of the trip, the iPod stopped accepting new files for no apparent reason, even though he had lots of room left on the device. He also found the transfer rate pretty slow and the battery drain on the iPod pretty significant. One of the photos he'd succeeded in loading turned out to be corrupted as well. He probably would have been better off with the Digital Camera Link since it provides a rudimentary verification function.
If you already have a digital camera, you've probably developed a new fondness for your battery charger. Power can become a critical issue when you're traveling, so next time, I'll tell you what I packed to keep the juice flowing. I'll also let you know what I used to transport all this gadgetry without giving myself a backache.