I am the first to admit I’m paranoid about my data, especially digital captures I shoot on location. I strive to keep at least two copies of all my raw files at any one time. When shooting on location for extended periods, that means having a hefty supply of flash cards and a means of copying them to an external hard drive, and only reformatting the cards when I have two backups. Usually that means taking a laptop, card reader and an external hard drive with me on location. There is another solution that I recently investigated—the HyperDrive Colorspace UDMA photo backup device.
The HyperDrive Colorspace is essentially a self-contained, battery powered storage device that quickly copies contents of my flash cards directly to a huge hard drive, and has a large 3.2-inch external LCD display to view and edit (if I choose) the images. Measuring 5.25 x 2.95 x 1 inches and weighing only 10.5 ounces, this is a lightweight, portable solution that at the very least, allows me to quickly download contents of my flash cards in the field without the need of a laptop. With its fast USB 2.0 connectivity, I can copy the contents of the Colorspace to my laptop’s external drive each evening if I decide it’s worth taking all that extra equipment with me on a shoot. Now I have two copies of my images and can safely reformat the flash cards and continue to shoot. There are a number of advantages to taking such a device on location such as:
Data verification: As data from a flash card is copied to the internal drive inside the Colorspace, it uses what is called CRC copy verification. I’d be very hard pressed to format a flash card on location, at least until I know the one backup I’ve made has been verified. The product provides three differing verification schemes. Real Time Verify is the default and does not affect copy speed. If an error in the camera file is detected when it copies to the hard drive, I’m alerted immediately. Verify HDD and Verify Card use a slower checksum verification scheme that compares each file copied to the data on the card or drive. Knowing that the image data on the Colorspace is readable and has been copied from the flash card with data integrity provides a lot of peace of mind.
Speed: The time it takes to copy the contents of your flash card to any other drive depends on many factors. The speed of the compact flash card, the speed of the drive the data is being copied to, the interfacing cable and so forth. Sahno, the company that makes the Colorspace claims this product is the fastest UDMA backup drive in the world at 40mb per second with CRC data verification.
I can’t possibly prove this is the fastest device on the planet, but I can tell you that when I coped 3.97GB, 149 raw files shot on a Canon 5D Mark II from a Kingston 133X flash card to my MacPro using a Lexar Professional compact flash, FireWire reader, it took 7 minutes and 40 seconds. Downloading the same card on a much older Epson P-5000 portable drive unit took just under 10 minutes to copy. It took a mere 2 minutes and 26 seconds when downloading to the Colorspace unit with Real Time Verify on (the default) and 4 minutes and 31 seconds with the optional Verify Card verification, which compares the copied data to that on the flash card. That’s impressively fast considering the various data verification schemes. The LCD reports the progress, speed, throughput (in Real Time Verify I was getting 23.2mb per second), which file is currently backing up to the drive, total files copied and files yet to be copied (Figure 1). The time to copy the same data from the Colorspace to the MacPro hard drive was 2 minutes and 35 seconds. Once you set the unit to act as an external drive, it mounts on the desktop and behaves like any other hard drive.
Figure 1: The progress screen shown when downloading
images from a flash card.
Capacity: Colorspace comes in drive capacities from 120GB up to a whopping 500GB. You can even purchase the unit with no drive and insert a 2.5” SATA drive you currently own, or upgrade from a smaller to larger drive without voiding the warranty. The manual shows the process involved, and it looks very simple to do. Having an upgrade path in terms of storage capacity is a great feature.
Battery powered operation: Once charged, Sanho claims the battery can power the unit long enough to download 250GB of images. I downloaded and then formatted the internal drive four times with this one card of nearly 4GB of images, and the battery indicator didn’t change from a full-power status. Being a rechargeable battery, it’s nice to know it’s easy to locate and replace if necessary and at a very low cost ($19.95). The unit ships with an AC and car adaptor to charge the battery, and the unit can also charge when attached via its USB cable to a computer that can supply power though that bus. There’s an inexpensive ($9.99) external battery pack that uses AA batteries for extended field use.
Incremental backup: This is one of the best features of the unit. I can shoot 4GB of images on a 16GB card, then decide I want to download the images but not format the card and keep shooting. I then capture another 4GB of images, insert the card into the Colorspace unit and only the newer images are copied to its drive. Of course, once I get back to home base, getting the data off the Colorspace is as easy as inserting a USB 2.0 cord from it to your computer, and it mounts like any other external hard drive.
LCD display: If you like to “chimp” (view) your images, the Colorspace comes with a pretty nice 3.2-inch 320 x 240 pixel LCD. You can zoom in on the images to inspect them, delete them and display EXIF information about the images. Raw captures are actually decoded internally for these previews, and as newer raw formats come to market, downloading a firmware update into the unit will provide support for decoding*. A rendered histogram (red, green blue or luminance) of the processed raw file can be shown as an overlay in the enlarged previews on the LCD display. You can search the images on the hard drive using the date-captured EXIF data whereby after specifying year and month, a calendar user interface shows tiny thumbnails on each day an image matching the data is found (Figure 2). The only annoying issue here is the date always seemed to default to March 2007 for some reason.
Figure 2. The calendar screen that shows up after searching by date
shows small thumbnails of images shot for selection.
In thumbnail view, the zoom buttons on the unit will enlarge or reduce the size from 40x40 pixels up to 80x80 pixels. Select a thumbnail and click the center OK button for a full size preview. Repeatedly clicking the OK button alters the orientation of the image on screen. Zooming into each image, at least with raw files as large as those from my 5D Mark II took about 8 seconds. However, once you do zoom in, it appears that the Colorspace builds and stores some kind of cache file as a subsequent zoom takes place nearly instantaneously. There is a menu option that will build thumbnails of a selected folder of images to speed up this process. The manual states you can only create thumbnails of JPEG photos, but I was able to do this with the 3.97GB folder of raw CR2 files. After that, raw zooms previewed much faster. Tech support confirmed that this option creates a cache file for raw files as well as JPEGs to speed viewing.
The Colorspace is far more than a big hard drive with an LCD and two card slots slapped on. It has its own operating system that provides a lot of functionality and information about the unit to the end user. Along the top of the LCD screen are six main icons with drop-down menus to control virtually all aspects of the product. You can control the color and wallpaper selection for the background of the LCD, backlight timing, button sounds, get detailed information about the hard drive, even conduct a benchmark test on the drive itself. Other options include the ability to play a slide show of images stored on the drive, update the firmware, and of course, set the parameters for backing up the data from an external card to the unit. You can also partition the drive into as many as three segments. There’s even a Recover option that can attempt to recover images accidentally deleted from a memory card if that area on the card hasn’t been over-written with other images.
Folders containing images can be sorted by name, ascending/descending, by time or size and even renamed. Contents of one folder can be copied and pasted to other folders. Any menu item you wish to access quickly can be assigned a shortcut, so it appears in the first Shortcut menu (Figure 3). For the geeks out there, they can even create scripts using the SDL scripting language to control various aspects of the unit.
Figure 3: Any menu item can be added to the shortcut list.
If I had to level any criticism towards the Colorspace, it would be aimed at the overall industrial design of the hardware and the look of the menu system. Having dark black icons for the function buttons, which are also black, makes it nearly impossible to see them. The menus and overall interface is a bit too DOS-like for this Mac user. But these are very minor points. My old Epson P-5000 has a much cleaner look and feel both in terms of the hardware and onboard software, but it can’t touch the Colorspace in terms of performance and features.
The Colorspace’s functionality, speed and ease of use are all major pluses for this product. I didn’t need to spend more than a few minutes glancing over the manual. The internal drive is quiet, runs cool, and is very, very fast. The HyperDrive Colorspace UDMA is an ideal accessory for the digital photographer on the go. It ships with a nice carrying case and all the necessary cables. The 500GB unit I tested retails for $499.
*Current list of raw files supported by the HyperDrive Colorspace:
Canon CR2 / CRW
Konica Minolta MRW
Leica DNG / RAW / RW2 / RWL
Nikon NEF / NRW
Panasonic RAW / RW2 / RWL
Pentax PEF / DNG
Sony ARW / SR2
Medium-format raw files:
Phase One TIF