Recommended Gear – External Storage
Photographers need storage space, a lot more of it than the average computer user. This page offers my current recommendations on external drives for photographers and will be continuously updated over time.
It is a challenge for many photographers to keep up with all of the technical details of computer equipment. So many names and numbers involved, unless computer technology is something you enjoy it is impossible to keep up with it all. External storage is a little easier to stay up with than other computer components, but if it is all greek to you I have your back.
First up are the recommendations. If you need help deciphering the recommendations there are common questions and answers below.
External SSD Drive Recommendations
Last Updated: 30 June 2023
Photographers can save a lot of money with a barely noticeable decrease in performance by using slower external spinning drives (see External Spinning Driver Recommendations below). For those willing to pay a little bit of a premium price to make sure they get the very most performance out of Photoshop and Lightroom, here are the external SSD drives I recommend. All of these are at least 3x faster than what my testing of Lightroom Classic has shown is needed (250MB/s):
- Samsung T7 Shield1 USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C External SSD[1000MB/s]: 2TB ($130) | 4TB ($260)
- Samsung T7 USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C External SSD [1000MB/s]: 2TB ($115)
- Crucial X8 USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C External SSD [1000MB/s]: 2TB ($115) | 4TB ($220)
- Crucial X6 USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C External SSD [800MB/s]: 2TB ($100) | 4TB ($210)
- SABRENT USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C Tool Free Enclosure ($30) + M.2 hard drive of your choice (see M.2 NVME SSD Recommendations below)
1Voted best all around value by Wirecutter in June 2023
NOTE: In the past I have been a huge proponent of SanDisk external SSD drives. Unfortunately they have had a rough 2023 and currently do not recommend them. Not the SanDisk Extreme Portable nor the SanDisk Portable. Many have experienced full data loss and intermittent connection problems.
Video editing workloads are more demanding on the external drive than photo editing. Here are my recommendations on more expensive, but faster external SSD drives more suitable for video editing:
- OWC Envoy Pro FX Thunderbolt 3 (compatible with USB 3.2 Gen 2) Type-C External SSD [12800MB/s]: 1TB ($220) | 2TB ($300) | 4TB ($550)
- OWC Envoy Express Thunderbolt 3 Type-C Enclosure[1500MB/s] ($90) + M2 hard drive of your choice
- SABRENT Thunderbolt 3 Certified M.2 NVMe SSD Tool Free Type-C Enclosure [1500MB/s] ($100) + M2 hard drive of your choice (see M.2 NVME Recommendations)
1Only when connected using Thunderbolt 3 or 4. Speeds drop to the max throughput of slower connections like USB 3.2 Gen 2 or USB 3.0.
M.2 NVME SSD Drive Recommendations
Last Updated: 30 June 2023
If you choose an M.2 NVME SSD enclosure to meet your external storage needs, here are my recommendations on the drives to put inside them. These drives are all faster than the enclosure you will put them in, but less expensive because they aren’t the fastest available.
- Silicon Power 2TB NVMe M.2 PCIe Gen3x4 2280 SSD ($70)
- PNY Technologies CS3030 2TB ($80)
- Kingston NV2 2TB M.2 2280 NVMe: 2TB ($85) | 4TB ($205)
- Samsung 970 EVO Plus 2TB ($100)
- WD_BLACK 2TB SN770 NVMe ($110)
- Crucial P3 Plus 2TB PCIe Gen4 3D NAND NVMe: 2TB ($110) | 4TB ($250)
External Spinning Drive Recommendations
Last Updated: 30 June 2023
I have done extensive testing over the past few years to see how the speed of external storage affects the performance of Lightroom. My testing has shown that Lightroom utilizes a max data rate of about 250MB/s. There are short bursts where it can use that much speed, but on average Lightroom only uses about 100MB/s.
To put it more simply, photographers can save a lot of money on external storage for a very small reduction in performance by using external spinning drives for their images and catalog. Here are my recommendations on external spinning drives for photographers:
- Western Digital MyBook1 [150MB/s]: 4TB ($100) | 8TB ($180) | 12TB ($250) | 14TB ($270) | 16TB ($290) | 18TB ($310) | 22TB ($500)
- Seagate Expansion2 [150MB/s]: 4TB ($100) | 8TB ($150) | 12TB ($240) | 14TB ($270) | 16TB ($300) | 18TB ($330)
- SABRENT USB 3.0 Tool Free Enclosure for 2.5” and 3.5” Internal SATA Hard Drives [up to 600MB/s] ($30) + hard drive of your choice (see Internal Spinning Drive Recommendations)
1WD Elements line is slightly cheaper, but only has a 2 year warranty where MyBook has a 3 year warranty
21 year warranty
Internal Spinning Drive Recommendations
Last Updated: 30 June 2023
If you decide to use a USB 3.0 enclosure for your external storage, these are the drives I recommend you put inside. If you buy the drives through my affiliate links to Adorama you are assured of getting CMR (conventional) drives that are faster than SMR (shingled) drives. Be careful if you order on Amazon, it is much harder to make sure you are getting the same thing.
- Seagate Exos X161 [230MB/s] 16TB ($290)
- WD Ultrastar 4TB SATA III 3.5″ Internal Data Center Hard Drive1, 7200 RPM [230MB/s]: 4TB ($150) | 8TB ($210) | 12TB ($280) | 14TB ($320) | 16TB ($360) | 18TB ($400)
- Toshiba X300 Pro Performance SATA III 3.5″ Internal1 [230MB/s]: 4TB ($145) | 8TB ($240) | 12TB ($350) | 14TB ($410) | 16TB ($465) | 18TB ($500)
- Seagate BarraCuda3 [150MB/s]: 4TB ($80) | 8TB ($130)
15 year warranty
32 year warranty
Frequently Asked Questions
I hear from a lot of photographers who need help buying computer equipment. Below are the questions I get most often
How Much Storage Space Do Photographers Need?
There are a lot of factors involved in determining the amount of storage space a photographer needs. The megapixel size of their camera, shooting raw or jpeg, how often they shoot, and how long they keep their images all play a role in how much storage space is needed.
Over the years, as I have consulted with thousands of photographers, it seems a good average for the storage space needed by most photographers is about 2TB. Unfortunately computers don’t often come with that amount of storage inside the computer, especially when you consider the space that is left after installing the operating system (macOS or Windows) and your applications (Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, and plugins like those from Topaz, NIK, etc).
My advice is that photographers start out with at least 2TB of external storage for their photo editing needs. As you grow out of that space there are good ways to increase that storage as you need it. I recommend adding at least 2TB of storage each time you upgrade.
Should Photographers Use USB External Drives?
YES! So long as they aren’t the ultra-cheap USB thumb/flash drives. Thumb drives have very low durability, they will die extremely fast if you try to use them for your photo editing. You also don’t want to try and use SD cards for photo editing for the same reason. Both are a recipe for very quick disaster.
Even those external drives at Walmart/Sams/Costco will work fine (after all, they often sell the same models I have listed on this page). The days of drives connected via USB being so slow it would make your photo editing crawl are over. Yes, things do run a little bit faster if you connect external storage via a Thunderbolt 3 or 4 instead of USB, but not nearly as much as photographers think.
Video editing is a different story. The speed of the storage is critical to the performance for video editing. I have some recommendations in the External SSD section above, but if you do a lot of video you are likely to need to invest in a RAID system of some kind.
How Often Should Photographers Replace Hard Drives?
Most of the drives listed on this page will have a 3-5 year warranty. Some have only 1 year, so read the footnotes on the drives where I point that out. There is a reason the warranties are only that long, the manufacturers don’t expect the drives to last longer than that.
Doesn’t mean that you can’t get 7 or more years out of a drive, but is it worth taking the risk that your irreplaceable photos go down with a drive? My advice is to proactively replace your drives every 3 years and to make sure you have a good backup system.
What Drive Format Should Photographers Use?
|macOS||External||All||macOS Journaled (HPS+)|
Really? macOS Journaled for an external SSD? Yep. At least as of 2023 that is my recommendation. I do expect that to change to APFS for external SSD drives at some point. I also recommend that photographers turn off Spotlight indexing on external drives where they will store their photos and catalog.
What If A Photographer Uses An External Drive With Both macOS and Windows?
DO NOT USE ExFAT!!!! Never, never never.
Format the external drive in the native format of the computer you will be attaching it to the most according to the table above. Then buy software that enables the computer the drive is attached to less often read/write to the drive. I recommend Microsoft NTFS for Mac to allow a Mac to read/write a drive formatted NTFS and HFS+ for Windows to allow Windows to read/write a drive formatted macOS Journaled.