Traveling Photographer Solutions

Traveling Storage

Acropolis, Athens, Greece, Gnarbox
In the digital Stone Age I used to carry a laptop with me on trips to edit and store images I’d taken during the days shooting, loading compact flash cards onto the computers hard drive, with a copy on a separate hard drive “just in case”. The downside of this was that I was carrying a laptop, with the attendant accessories. Lots of weight to be carrying around. On occasions when I just couldn’t take a laptop, I had a Vosonic VP5700 which came as a bare chassis that I added a 60 Gb hard drive to. Along the road I upgraded the HDD to a 240Gb SSD, and this solution has worked well for years. The SSD reduced power consumption and while the unit had it’s quirks, it fulfilled it’s mission. Card reader and backup storage all in one, plus I could view the files. 

I recently got a DJI Mavic Pro. Micro SD cards and 4K video. I was planning a trip to Greece with the drone, plus my X100f (more on the X100f later). The Mavic formates the cards using exFAT format and the old Vosonic won’t read that format. Time to retire the Vosonic and find a new solution. Since I started using the Vosonic (circa 2007), my workflow for ultralight travel has changed and I really don’t want to carry a laptop if I don’t have to. I have an IPad mini that I can do almost everything on, but it doesn’t have enough space. Also, I want to edit, post and backup the intermediate files, and editing 4K video on an IPad mini is really beyond it’s capabilities. I don’t do much video, still learning and playing, so I don’t anticipate video being important, but I do want to store the files and view / edit clips. The IPad is dog slow for this and runs out of memory fast.

2017 and reviewing options, I find there is very few available. I need the device to read and store images and video for later retrieval. It will be a back up to my phone / ipad / SD cards for most stuff, but for the video footage it will be the primary storage. 

Gnarbox, WD My Passport Wireless

WD My Passport Wireless

First solution I bought was the WD MyPassport Wireless drive. This is a wifi router, 2Tb conventional HDD, battery and a built in SD Card reader. It will read microSD cards via an adapter. You don’t need a computer at all, as it will read and store cards automatically. To access the files, plug into a standard computer and it shows up as an external HDD. You can also access the content via wifi, although the interface is a little clunky, with wifi file transfer pretty slow. The real downfall as far as I’m concerned is that it’s a conventional HDD. If they made it with a solid state drive, it would be a winner, but spinning drives are a store point for me and I just don’t trust them. If this is turned on and drops to the ground, my bet it that it’s scrap, along with everything on it.


Just as I was about to leave for my trip, I heard about the Gnarbox. This is a hybrid unit, part computer and part storage. I was intrigued enough to take a risk and order one and it arrived just in time for me to get on the plane with it. This little beast is different. It has a quad core processor, 4Gb RAM, a dedicated GPU, 128Gb of SSD storage. The IO options are impressive, with an SD reader, MicroSD reader, USB3 port and USB2 port. It also has a USB3 socket for a computer to device cable. It is accessible via wifi from my IPad, although it doesn’t seem to be capable of working as a router (yet). This is all packaged, with enough battery to last 5+ hours, in a waterproof, ruggedized housing that will withstand serious abuse.

The concept of the Gnarbox is a bit different. It’s really designed as a mobile video editing platform, so that instead of transferring big files to your editing device, the box does all the heavy lifting with video editing capabilities built in and accessed via the app. They’ve included some raw file support, and according to their support team, they’ll add more soon as a firmware update. It will read and open my X100f raw files, but not if I’ve used lossless compression. That’s annoying as the idea is to keep the files small so I can fit more, and some people won’t be happy that the compressed raw won’t edit.

There is one button on the unit. Push it and wait while it boots. Not instant on, but not too bad. Pry open the door (it’s stiff as it’s got a watertight seal) and insert a card. Log your devices wifi onto the gnarbox and you can navigate to the device, select files and start importing. The import speed is fast! Impressively fast! One thing to note is that the box can get quite hot. This is ok and a function of the physics of modern electronics in sealed housings. I’ve seen one reviewer take exception to this, but it doesn’t bother me.

My workflow with this unit is still evolving. I can browse the days take using the app, but this is where the first irritant crops up. The thumbnails show a square cropped portion of the image, so I can’t compare versions, or even differentiate between vertical and horizontal images without opening the image. I really want them to improve the browser so I can see all the image and quickly rate it 1-5. The allow me to filter the images according to the rating. The unit comes with a basic raw editor, and you make adjustments via the app to the file on the box, using the gnarbox processor. Edits are fast. Shame I don’t use the editor. I use Lightroom Mobile as it gives me a ton of tools, many more than the Gnarbox app. This means working through my selects, picking one or two for further work, downloading the raw file to my IPad and opening it in LR. I process the image from there. I really wish that LR would act as a front end for the Gnarbox, but that’s not likely to happen. Still, as it is, I get the image out, processed and loaded to social media pretty quickly. If I don’t have an internet connection, I can process offline and queue up images. Cool.

This little box has some serious capabilities for video processing, I just don’t know how to use that stuff yet. Lots of tutorials online though. One feature I have used a lot is the ability to plug in an external drive and copy stuff from the gnarbox to the external drive. As I’ve got the My Passport drive, that is the secondary backup device and as it’s plugged in via USB 3, the transfer is fast! I also have a Sandisk 128Gb USB 3.0 thumb drive that effectively doubles my storage capacity for a tiny footprint.

Gnarbox, WD My Passport Wireless
iOS backup

The Gnarbox had a firmware upgrade just as I left home. It allows for wifi firmware updating (rather than through your phone) and the ability to connect your iOS device to the USB port for direct file transfer from iOS to the Gnarbox – or attached drive! This is pretty sweet as I fill my phone and iPad with lots of video and pics and it’s a pain to get that stuff off safely. Now I can move it to the G’box and just keep what I need on the i device.

What do I want next….

The Gnarbox is still being developed. Additional functionality will be added on a regular basis. The feature I want most is a better browser to view and rate images. Next would be an “auto ingest” mode like the WD drive has, which would automatically copy a cards content to the drive without having to connect via a device to initiate transfer. Automated file backup to external drives would be nice too, and they have a lot of work to do on the app side. Much lower priority would be wifi router capabilities to share a network connection. It would be awesome to have the unit integrated with Lightroom mobile, but that’s probably asking too much. The key for me is that LR has all most of the tools I needs for rating and editing images, so I don’t need Gnarbox to reinvent the wheel. I’m very pleased that I can transfer a raw file from gnarbox to iPad without having to go through a jpeg stage first. That is very important for me and it shows that the designers knew what they were doing (or had good advice).

Apart from the few minor points mentioned, I’m really pleased with the Gnarbox. I was very skeptical at first, to the point of almost shipping it back when I found out the lack of compressed raw image support, but the more I use it, the more I appreciate it. The power and speed of the unit is built for video, so for a stills shooter it’s overkill, but that’s really nice for a change. If, like me, you don’t do much video, it’s an expensive SSD until you get to grips with some of the features. Moving files fast from card to storage to external drive (HDD, SSD or Thumbdrive) is sweet and this unit is saving me time and effort. I’ll be trying some of the video processing in the near future, and I’m excited to see what this box can do.

So my needs are met. IPad Mini, Gnarbox and Thumbdrive or SSD make an impressive photographers storage and editing solution in the field. Yes, it could be even better and I’m looking forward to what the manufacturer can do to support different workflows. After this trip I’m selling the WD My Passport as it’s just not as usable and flexible as the Gnarbox. If you are a travelling photographer, take a serious look at the Gnarbox. Don’t get hung up on the editor capabilities (or lack of capabilities) and look at it outside the box.

More to come……   

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