Many of us, casual photographers or otherwise, are guilty of letting photos pile up on a memory card. There's a veritable photo graveyard on my desk, a pile of half-filled memory cards with images from past assignments or trips. They stay there until I'm out of space, and then a short tribunal is held to decide which photos need to go so I can keep shooting.
This, admittedly, is a highly dysfunctional photography flow. Perhaps the people at Wolverine had me in mind when they brought the PicPac to market. PicPac - in this case, the PicPac II - is a portable hard drive/card reader combo. It is capable of reading 11 different types of memory cards, the most commonly used of which would be Compact Flash, SD and SDHC. Here's the full list:
Build and Design
The PicPac is powered by a rechargeable battery and comes bundled with an AC adapter for charging. Also in the box is a USB cable for connection to a computer, a formatting CD with a User's Manual and a brief physical copy of a User's Manual. The unit we reviewed holds 500GB worth of image and video files. Additional batteries are available from Wolverine for $20 each. The whole drive weighs in at 8 oz.
The unit has some rubberized padding around the curved edges and a sturdy metal plate on the rear panel. The look and feel is similar to an original iPod, with just a bit more weight and bulk. Card slots are located along the edges of the device. The CF slot has a rubberized cover in place, but the other two are open and exposed without any kind of latch covering. There's a small color LCD, but it does not provide any ability to view pictures on the device.
To this end, the User's Manual warns against exposing the hard drive to liquid, extreme temperatures or vibration. Any water entering the device can cause electrical shock, and damage to the drive could lead to the loss of data. While the look and feel of the device seems to suggest "I'm ready to roll," don't be fooled. It's a sensitive piece of equipment and should be handled as such.
Uploading files to the PicPac is mostly straightforward. Once you've charged the battery, power on the device, and when you're met with a flashing "insert card" icon, do as instructed. Once it reads the card (which can take up to ten seconds) the LCD will display the type of card being read and the amount of data on the card. Pushing the "copy" button will begin the transfer, and the LCD will display the available space on the drive, then the percentage of files copied until it reaches 100%.
A green and red icon will show that the drive is busy uploading your files, and a battery icon will continue to display remaining battery life. When the transfer is complete, it's safe to remove the card. Your data will remain on the memory media until it is manually erased. The User Manual stresses the importance of formatting a card before any shoot to minimize the chances of a read error.
I tested the device with a SanDisk 16GB CF card loaded with just under 4GB of still image files. The device had no problem reading the card, and the transfer took about 12 minutes. Next, I tested a Class 10 Panasonic SDHC 16GB card with 1.6GB of images. The device didn't recognize the card, no matter how many times I tried it. That's a real disappointment. It's possible that the card wasn't formatted before I used it (shame on me), but the drive gave no indication that there was even a card in the slot.
I had better luck with a Class 4 16GB Sony SDHC card. The drive recognized the card and uploaded around 10GB of files in about half an hour. Connecting the drive to your computer via USB is easy, and no drivers are needed to interact with the device. Your PC or Mac should recognize it as an external drive, and from there files can be copied to the desktop or deleted.
The PicPac II is easy to use and makes the all-important task of backing up files extremely simple. With 500GB of storage space, it's more than enough for most users looking to upload still images and the occasional video file. However, the drive itself isn't bulletproof. Its best use may be as a temporary holding location for a photographer on assignment or a traveler on a shooting trip. Keeping the PicPac at the hotel or home base, uploading files at the end of a day and clearing memory cards for the next day of shooting might be the best use of this drive. There's also the lack of SDXC compatibility, a format that's becoming more widely adopted.
Be sure to invest in an external battery charger and a spare battery if your shooting will take you far from an electrical outlet for an extended period of time. And before you start shooting, be absolutely sure your card is identifiable by the device and format it in-camera. The majority of memory cards I used with the deviced functioned without a problem, but the PicPac did fail to read one SDHC card that I tried. Still, for quick back-up, it's an easy and somewhat affordable option, as long as you keep it out of harm's way and keep in mind a few of its quirks.