In an age of low-cost cards, high-resolution sensors, and HD video, too much, it turns out, is never enough.
I like to travel light: No laptop, the fewest number of lenses and camera bodies that make sense depending on where I'm going. I bring more than enough batteries to get me through two days of shooting without the need to recharge.
What about memory?
Mass Memory Storage for Photographers
If you are traveling with a laptop, you may only need a couple of cards (16-32GB if you are only shooting stills, more if you're also capturing video). The same holds true if you bring a portable mass photo storage drive such as the Jobo Giga Vu Sonic 500GB Pro Picture Store (above), which costs $749.95 at Adorama.
The advantage: at the end of each day of shooting, you can simply load your images onto the drive, reformat the card, and use it again the text day.
The disadvantage: You have to pay for the device and carry it around—wires and everything—and you need to take the time to set up and download the images from your camera to the device when you'd probably rather be out on the town sipping margaritas and/or shooting closeups of same.
A Stack of Memory Cards
With the cost of memory cards so low these days, I feel it makes more sense to load up on them. For the cost of a typical photo hard drive, you can enough memory cards to hold the same amount (or more) of memory.
The advantage: Rather than putting all your eggs in one basket (or, all your images into one mass storage device, and pray it doesn't fail), your images will be spread out over multiple cards. If you have a problem with one card (not likely) the images on your other cards should be fine (very likely).
The disadvantage: You can only preview your images in camera. This will drain your battery. The solution, of course, is to invest in an additional battery for image preview sessions.) You will need to develop a system to organize your cards. I store all of my cards in a LensCoat CF10 Memory Card Wallet, available from Adorama for $19.95, and number them with a Sharpie. I keep a sticky note in the holder and write notes to myself about which cards are full and what's in them as I use them up. I also put full cards in their holders upside down. This system has worked for me, even when juggling 6-10 cards on a trip. See all Portable media cases.
How many cards, what quantity per card?
I shoot 16MP images with my Fujifilm X-Pro 1 in RAW + JPEG. My workflow is to preview the JPEGs in Apple's Preview software and decide which shots to edit, then work on them in RAW using Lightroom. I have found a 32GB card holds about 1,000 images, give or take a few dozen. I tend to shoot 500 images a day when on a photo-centric trip, so for a 10 day journey, I would advise bringing 5 cards. For my camera, a Lexar 32GB 400x or a SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB 95MB/s SD card fits the bill. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
No-wait! What if I want to shoot a bit of video, and what if I have an opportunity to shoot something extraordinary? I don't want the worry of possibly running out of memory, do I? What the heck. Memory is relatively cheap. I'll double my estimate and bring ten cards, just in case. That's 320GB of memory and it all fits in a wallet-sized holder and weighs next to nothing, costs $300 (about the same as a pocket drive) with no extra wires or power requirements.
If you don't shoot RAW (read this; you might change your mind), you may be able to get away with 16GB memory cards if you shoot like a maniac like I do, or cut the number of 32GB cards in half. But the rule of thumb is: Figure out how many photos you are likely to shoot and how much space they'll take up, then double the number for the amount of memory you will need. Then, double it again, keeping in mind that memory cards have never been less expensive.
Now, I admit it: I take a lot of pictures, which is necessary when doing a lot of street photography, my specialty. Perhaps you have a more selective approach. That's fine. You'll need fewer cards. Or, perhaps you plan on shooting a lot of action photos using burst mode. In that case, you may need more. But calculate realistically how many photos you expect to take, what size image files, and double that figure to determine how much memory you'll need, and err on the side of bringing more memory than you think you need. Better to be caught with too much memory than not enough.
What kind of cards?
Some camera manufacturers recommend specific brands of memory cards, others don't. You should be fine if you stick with the most popular brands (SanDisk, Lexar, Kingston, etc). If you plan to shoot RAW images and/or video, look for a Class 10 card. While you might not need more than 400x (around 90Mb/sec) transfer rates unless you're shooting sports, go for the fastest transfer speed recommended for your camera, to avoid any lag time or shutter freeze-ups.
How do you manage and store your digital images and videos while you're on the road? Share your stories below!