Drobo volume/partition size recommendations

A drobo is like a regular external hard drive in that it can be split up into smaller volumes or partitions. Just because you have 20TB of storage doesn’t mean you actually want a 20TB volume.

I recommend your volume size be based on the size external drive you are using for backup, so that each volume can be easily backed up to a single external drive.

For example, if you are using 8TB drives for backup, you might want to make 6TB volumes on your drobo. You want the backup to be bigger than the “master” volume on the drobo because backup software can allow you to keep snapshots of old data that allows you to go back in time if you accidentally delete , erase, or overwrite a file, or if it becomes corrupted. The more extra storage on your backup drive, the further “back in time” you can go (no DeLorean or flux capacitor needed.)

This means you’ll likely have multiple volumes/partitions on your drobo, and you should consider how you use them.

I recommend separating “hot” or frequently changed data from “cold” or seldom accessed data. Hot data is things you are regularly using, like your lightroom catalog, your latest photo shoots, etc. Cold might be where you sort older shoots that you are not accessing, as well as files that don’t need frequent modification. For example “2019 Raw Captures” might get it’s own volume.

Really cold data could be moved to an external drive to free up space on the drobo.

There are lots of ways to play this, but I’ll leave those details up to you.

Dealing with a Dead drobo

If you are using a drobo, I highly recommend keeping your backup on regular non-RAID external drives that can be accessed on any computer.

A friend recently had his 6 year old drobo die, and it’s been a little harder than I though to get the drive pack working again. It turns out you can’t just take the drives from one drobo and put them in another drobo and have them work. They need to be compatible units, and use the same firmware. Sometimes that just isn’t possible, so if your actual drobo dies, you could loose access to your data forever.

Fortunately for my friend, the drobo was used for backup, which eased the pain, but it still left his safety margin a lot thinner.

The drobo is a great unit, but you do have to plan ahead for how you you will fix things when they fail. Figuring it out after things fail can be a lot more painful in time, money, and frustration.

As I said above, I recommend using regular external drives for backup. A mac or PC formatted drive is a well understood and supported method of storage, and should work on almost any compatible computer. That comparability makes disaster recovery a lot easier, and removes the need for an exact model/exact firmware drobo to access the data in the even of a major failure.

This is meant to be a KISS recommendation. 99% of photographers are not IT experts and need simple, safe, easy to use, and reliable storage. If you are an IT expert, then don’t nit pick this and feel free to use any solution you want.

And one last thought, 6 years life for my friends drobo is pretty good. electronics don’t last forever and I think he got his money’s worth.

How long do hard drives last?

Hard drives don’t last forever. Eventually the precision parts that let them rotate at thousands of RPM per minute with read heads that float just microns off the disk surface wear out and fail. SSD drives fail too, just in different ways. Modern technology has made them so reliable that we can be lulled into thinking they won’t give us problems, but that is a false security.

The truth is, an HHD or SSD drive can fail at any time. The best data we have, from online backup provider BackBlaze, proves it. Having a new drive is no insurance. It can fail just as easily at 100 hours as it can at 20,000 hours.

Here’s the part where I remind you that luck is not a strategy to keep your data safe, multiple backup copies is, before I return to the main subject.

So really you shouldn’t ever feel safe about a drive, and should have a disaster plan in place to fix things when, not if, they fail. Because given enough time, it is a when.

Drives record how long they have been powered up in internal logging called SMART data. Some drive cases allow us to read this data and see how many hours drives have been turned on. And while drives can die at any time, they become more likely to die as they log more hours.

Knowing a drives age in hours can be useful. I feel pretty comfortable using a HDD for 20,000-25,000 thousand hours based on my experience maintaining the servers for my printing companies, and my use of hundreds of drives.

25,000 hours/24=1041 days or 2.85 years of continuous use.

But chances are you only need access to your data for a few hours each day, so you can make your dives last a lot longer by powering them down or having them spin down when not in use. Some drive cases like drobo and synology let you specify when drives should “sleep.” Others need to the USB or power to be unplugged or switched off.

At 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, you’ll log about 2,000 hours a year on your drives, and it will take you over ten years to get to 25,000 hours, by which time we should have some Star Trek like crystal storage technology, or at the least, much much cheaper cost per TB, and you’ll have probably replaced your current drives with much larger version for convenience. Less hours spinning means less chance they will fail.

But assuming you are really using your drives a lot, once drives approach 30,000 hours, I like to rotate them out of my master level storage and downgrade them to backup, where they will see fewer hours of use per year. While I’ve had drives work for over 50,000 hours, I wouldn’t want a drive that old to be used for anything but backup for a host of reasons.

All this applies to HDD drives, traditional hard drives with spinning disks. SSD, or flash drives have their own issues, not the least of which is loosing data if not powered on regularly. As of yet, there are few ways to safely put your data on a shelf for a long time and just forget about it. Your data needs to be kept alive on fresh drives and properly backed up, and only you can do that.

So how long do hard drives last? Until they don’t! Which will be the worst possible time they could fail based on Murphy’s law.

Hard Drive Costs November 2019

Current hard drive costs at a glance with links to purchase from Amazon. I recommend Seagate hard drives because they continue to test as some of the longest lasting drives.

Highlight for November is that 10TB external drives are a big savings over 10TB Internal drives. Also, on a cost per TB basis, 10TB drives are getting close enough to the sweet spot of pricing to make them attractive. But I generally don’t recommend buying more than a year’s capacity at a time, because 10TB drives could be $100 by next November, and will erase any “savings” from buying more than you need now. Also remember that a properly backed up “storage set” requires three drives, so buying more than you reasonably need (over provisioning) can suck up a lot of money.

Sometimes external drives are less expensive than internal drives. Advanced users may want to explore “shucking” external drives to save money as the external drives are often, but not always, SATA drives that can be used as an internal drive.

EXTERNAL

2TB $59.99 ($30 per TB)
4TB $89.99 ($22.50 per TB)
6TB $99.99 ($16.60 per TB)
8TB $139.99 ($17.50 per TB)
10TB $179.99 ($18 per TB)

INTERNAL

2TB $49.99 ($25 per TB)
4TB $89.99 ($22.50 per TB)
6TB $131.99 ($22 per TB)
8TB $149.99 ($18.75 per TB)
10TB $249.99 ($25 per TB)
12TB $312.99 ($26 per TB)
14TB $439.99 ($31.40 per TB)
16TB $476.99 ($29.80 per TB)

I’m an Amazon affiliate so I receive a small commission from each sale.

Long Term Photo Storage on Glass

Digital photograph has a big problem with long lasting storage. Hard drives and SSDs fail and degrade with time, with a 3-5 year service life in most cases before the drive fails or the data degrades, a fact I think most photographers are oblivious to, because for the most part, digital photography works well…until it doesn’t.

If you think you take storage seriously, you might want to compare your efforts to those of Warner Bros. They’ve partnered with Microsoft on Project Silica to create a truly archival form of digital storage. Engadget just did a great writeup on it:

https://www.engadget.com/2019/11/04/microsoft-archived-superman-project-silica/

Project Silicon encodes digital data onto stable quartz glass that is resistant to many forms of damage and degradation. The article provides a fascinating look into the challenges with preserving both film and digital data. I hope we still photographers can someday reap the rewards of this technology.

Interestingly glass has a long history in photography as it provides a dimensionally stable base for film emulsion. Ansel Adam’s famous Monolith, the Face of Half Dome was made on a glass plate. Glass plates were widely used by astronomers for most of the 20th century because they allowed precise measurements of star positions. There is a certain poetic beauty that photography is about to come full circle when we again store our photos on glass.

Drobo Cost Calculations

UPDATED 2019-10/31 with link to Google Sheet

At what point is buying a Drobo worth it compared to using single external drives? And what size drives should you buy for the best value? To help a friend with this question and satisfy my curiosity, I created this spreadsheet that you can access on Google Sheet.

Using 8TB drives gives the best value per TB. If you need more than ~21TB (dual drive redundancy), it’s cheaper to buy a second Drobo than it is to use 10TB, 12TB, or 14TB drives. And “upgrading” the drives in an existing DROBO usually isn’t worth it, unless all your drives are so old that they just need replacing anyway.

PRO TIP: Drobo is NOT a backup. It merely makes your master data more resilient to drive failures. A backup is a separate copy on a separate device, and you need two backups. Keep one backup off site to protect agains fire, flood, theft, tornados, hurricanes.

If you are going to buy a Drobo, use my Amazon Affiliate links and I’ll get a small commission:

Drobo 5C

8TB Internal Hard Drive

New Lightweight Tamron Lenses Perfect for Landscape?

Tamron has announced three new lightweight primes in 20mm, 24mm, and 35mm with a weight of about 220g per lens and an unbelievable price of about $350 per lens. As a landscape photographer, I’ve been hoping someone would offer a truly lightweight lens with excellent MTF scores, and it looks like Tamron was first to the punch.

Why and I making a big deal about weight? When you are on long hikes, particularly in rugged terrain or at high altitude, carrying less weight makes the experience far more enjoyable, and leaves you in a better mindset to photograph. I’ve packed for days in the Sierra with 70-80 pound packs and my 4×5 film view camera, and at the end of most days, I was totally thrashed, even in my mid 20s. When hiking, weight sucks, and is an impediment to making great work.

Weight was a big reason I decided to go Sony, because they offered the best range of lightweight high resolution bodies with a good range of lightweight Zeiss lenses.

The last few years have given us a number of superb f/1.4 primes, but at a cost of weight. My Sigma 35mm f/1.4 is a brick. It feels as heavy as my old Nikon 180mm f/2.8, but is even less well balanced. And while I love being able to play with shallow depth of field, for my primary landscape work I’m almost always stopped down to f/11. I don’t need f/1.4 performance on a hike, and I don’t want to pay the weight penalty.

By making these lenses at f/2.8, Tamron is able to make a much lighter design, as well as offering a lower price. And from the MTF charts, they appear to be top performers…as good or even better than other primes in these focal lengths.

These lenses just made it to the top of my wish list. I can’t wait to try one out! Kudos Tamron for seeing an unfilled niche and filling it.

More info on the Tamron website and in their press release:

http://www.tamron-usa.com/news/2019/3_lenses_prime_oct.html

Settings That Work

Printed a lovely 24×36 for a client today. I’ve printed the photo before, but not to this large size, so I looked up the settings to build my mental reference library of what settings produce what result. I though it would be valuable to share a real world example of what I think worked to make a gallery quality wildlife photography print.

Camera was a Nikon D850 with a 80-200 lens used at 150mm. Exposure was at f/5 at ISO 640. The results are what I’d expect from a medium format camera using 100 ISO film. Print was made from a ~223 ppi file at the output size. It’s a perfect example of how large prints still look fantastic below 300 dpi. I was also surprised with how much the lens resolved with the high resolution sensor of the D850. It’s exciting to see how the D850 is helping photographers raise the bar on wildlife photography.

I can’t say enough how striking it was, and the effect it had on me. Most important to the photo was the subject, the light, and the moment captured, but when you throw in a high res capture, the effect is a stunning piece.

Sony A7RII Miscellaneous Information

I made the switch to mirrorless in late 2018 with the Sony A7RII. Sony had given me a loner camera a year earlier that let me know that the quality was at least equal to my previous Nikon D810. I had also spent over a year with an a5000 as a every day carry camera that has gone everywhere with me, and made me very comfortable with the Sony image quality. The ability to put together a very light 42mp camera kit with high quality lenses for hiking and backpacking is what tipped me over to Sony.

I am really happy with my choice, which came down to image quality first, high quality light-weight lenses, and overall compact form.

This page is not meant to be a complete review, but a place to hold important reference information and some miscellaneous info for A7RII users or perspective users.

Manuals
In true quirky Sony fashion, the most detailed “manual” is not the manual but a separate document called the “Help Guide” which is available as a website or a downloadable PDF.

E-Mount Lenses
Spreadsheet of select E-mount lenses assembled to find lightest weight options. Really good lenses tend to be heavy, but for backpacking some quality sacrifices are acceptable. The question is, do I carry three average lenses that are light, or just one decent zoom? Sigma has teased Art quality lenses in a lighter form factor which would be my preference. My landscape work is mostly at f/11 anyway, and a f/4 or f/5.6 might be a good fit for street photography too.

Wikipedia article on E-Mount lenses – list of lenses, adapters, other interesting stuff.

Annoyances
-No intervalometer
-Batteries not keyed to prevent wrong way insertion
-Lens release on opposite side of Nikon/Canon
-Lens index mark location on flat instead of outside of lens mount
-Direction of lens rotation opposite of Nikon
(This lens stuff really annoys me as a 30+ year Nikon user. It’s hard to overcome that muscle memory, but even then, the Sony way just seems awkward. Fair or not, it’s my gripe)
-Large RAW file size – Nikon uncompressed NEF are much smaller. Takes up more memory card space, longer transfers, etc
-9 frame RAW buffer – older body with a lower costs comes with trade offs – works for landscape photography, but is still noticeable when doing brackets
– small grip size, feature and bug, works great for my normal landscape/fine art stuff, but shooting a multi hour event with heavy glass really begs for the extended size battery grip.

Updated 4/5/2019