My last column, on the possible merits and drawbacks of the MacBook Air, raised an interesting question in my mind. How much storage space do folks really need for photographs on their trips? I mean actual demands for storage, as opposed to hypothetical exercises based on multiplying file sizes by some imagined number of photographs one might take.
Here's what I found looking at four recent trips whose photos are stored on my hard drive. (By way of background, I'm using a Fuji FinePix S6000. This is a 6-megapixel camera that generates 13 MB RAW files that yield 35 MB 16-bit PSD files.) A photography-oriented vacation on the Oregon coast lasted about nine days. The folder for that trip weighs in at a little under 8 GB. There are some days where I generated 2+ gigabytes worth of photographs, but there were many more days where I produced less than a gigabyte.
Was this trip atypical? Looking at three other fall trips, it seems not. A five-day trip to Alaska produced 4.5 GB of files (including one huge synthesized panorama running some 750 MB). Three days in upstate New York got me a little over 3 GB of files. Six days split between New York and Minneapolis came in at just about 3 GB.
Days when I made a lot of photographs produced larger folders, but not by as much as I would've thought. On such days, most of my free time in the evening was spent sorting and winnowing the images I'd made. On days when I made only a few photographs, I had more time to work on them in Photoshop, so there were fewer files but more larger ones from those days.
It looks like I typically need 1 GB of storage for each day of a trip. If I want to err on the very safe side, I'd double that to 2 GB per day. If I went out and bought a nice high-end DSLR with twice the number of pixels, 4 GB per day would give me ample safety margin.
I'd like to hear what kind of numbers readers come up with for themselves. Let me emphasize that what I'm looking for here is actual, historical experience, not theorizing. Look at your last several trips, photography-dedicated or otherwise, and let us know what you find out.
Featured Comment by John Camp: "I was embedded with a helicopter company in Iraq in January and shot 5.3 gigs of Nikon D3 raw (12.1 megs each) in nine days. I am primarily a writer and the photographer who was with me shot about 4X as much.
"I took 32 gigs of CF cards with me and kept the images on the cards, as well as backed up in my laptop. Flash memory is now so cheap that I plan to buy a few hundred dollars more of 4-gig cards, and use the cards themselves as my primary storage and backup, like rolls of film. With the D3 I can shoot simultaneously to both cards, and use the camera to confirm that they're there.
"I'm reluctant to use cards bigger than 4 gigs because too much is at risk if something goes wrong. This may be a fantasy, but I worry about things like a possible electronic or static fault in the camera that damages both cards simultaneously. I never actually filled a card—the 5.3 gigs I used was spread of three 4-gig cards."