An honest and complete gear guide breaking down the best SSD for photography. Includes the best portable SSD options and up-to-date recommendations for speed, durability, portability, and capacity.
Whether you’re a professional photographer looking for faster and more reliable external storage, or a hobbyist in the search for a more compact storage solution for your holiday snaps, you’re going to want a solid-state drive (SSD).
Not only are SSDs faster, more durable, and much more compact than bulky, slow, and prone-to-fail traditional hard drives, but, thanks to recent innovations like USB Type C, Thunderbolt, and NVMe technology, SSD capacity now rivals hard drives with mechanical parts.
But, with so many portable drives on the market, what is the best SSD for photography?
As a professional travel photographer whose Lightroom library just overtook his Mac’s internal SSD, this is a question I desperately needed answering.
So, after a lot of research and personally testing some of the best external SSDs on the market, I’ve compiled this useful gear guide summarizing the top picks for every need and budget.
Quick Answer: Here are the Best External SSDs for Photography
Chasing delivery deadlines? After personally testing over 10 of the most recommended solid-state drives on the market, here are the 4 best SSDs for photographers.
Fastest portable SSD: Sandisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD V2
Highest capacity SSD: OWC Envoy Pro EX (up to 8.0TB)
Most Durable SSD: LaCie Rugged SSD
Most portable SSD: Kingston XS2000
Read on for a complete breakdown, including each drive's specifications and thorough reasonings for why I have selected these 4 portable hard drives for photographers.
Speed: Fastest SSD For Blazing Photo Imports, Editing, & Exports
When portable SSDs first entered the market, one of the most noticeable advantages was considerably faster transfer speeds than what was capable on traditional hard drives
But how does this speed increase translate to real-life benefits for photographers?
When choosing the fastest drive for photography purposes, there are two specifications that you will need to consider (both measured in megabytes per second (MB/s).
- Read speeds - how long it takes to open, edit, or move an image or video from your SSD.
- Write speeds - how long it takes to move images or videos onto your SSD.
Most of the portable SSDs on the market today have a read/write speed of at least 500MB/s, which is more than fast enough for storing a Lightroom library or for the temporary storage of a client's photos.
However, if you're importing a lot of files, doing some video editing, or previewing high-resolution RAW images on your mobile devices, the faster the SSD drive, the smoother the process will be.
When comparing disk speeds, photographers should know the difference between sequential read & random read (s read & r read, or s write & r write). When comparing data transfer speeds in this SSD roundup, I have prioritized sequential read and write as this is how the device reads and writes large files from the drive– for example importing RAW files from your SD Card. On the other hand, random write and read speeds refer to small files scattered throughout the storage device and is more applicable to boot drives storing things like your System OS.
Benchmarking: SSD Drive Speeds
Below are the average write and read speeds after benchmarking all four SSDs using Blackmagic's Disk Speed tool on the highest stress settings. All drives were newly formatted using APFS (Apple File System) on the same USB C port using the supplied cable.
|Avg. Write Speed
|Avg. Read Speed
|Sandisk Extreme Pro V2
|OWC Envoy Pro EX
|LaCie Rugged SSD
Sandisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD (V2)
- - Fastest external SSD
- Rugged construction
- Impressive 5-year warranty
- Larger form factor than other portable SSDs on the market
Is speed your number one priority when searching for an external SSD for photography? I benchmarked over 10 different portable SSDs using BlackMagic's Disk Speed tool on macOS. And, in terms of objective speed results, the Sandisk Extreme Portable SSD (PRO V2) is the fastest SSD of the lot at constant 980+ MB/s write and 870+MB/s read speeds on my Macbook Pro M1 Pro 2021.
This is Sandisks' flagship portable SSD drive. This premium SSD drive features an IP55-rated durable body housing a blazing fast NVMe drive capable of 2000MB/s read and write speeds (if your computer has USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 support). While a little larger than some of the other drives on the market, including the cheaper SanDisk Extreme line, its thin form factor still makes it very portable.
In real-world tests over the past few weeks, I have found that significant imports move extremely quickly. Furthermore, when connected to my 2021 Macbook Pro M1 Pro's USB Type-c, editing large 4K video projects directly off of this drive is as smooth as any internal SSD in a desktop computer.
Alternative: New SanDisk Pro-Blade System
I've recently reviewed the new SanDisk Pro-Blade external SSD system which changes the way photographers and video content creators work with external drives.
Related: A Guide to Camera Gear for Travel
Capacity: Best High-Capacity SSD For Large Photography Libraries
Just a few years ago, portable SSDs lagged significantly behind HDDs when it came to maximum storage capacity. However, solid-state technology has improved dramatically in the past few years, with portable SSD drives now offering up to 8.0TB and even 16.0TB of pocketable storage space.
This revolutionizes the workflow for photographers and videographers on the go. We can now store our entire Lightroom library and even work on large projects with up to 12k RAW video files– directly from a portable drive hooked up to our laptops with a USB Type-C cable.
Although a high-capacity external solid state drive is usually quite expensive, these options can be much cheaper than paying for large capacity internal drives on a Macbook or other laptops.
SSD Capacity Options
Below are the available storage sizes for each drive reviewed.
|Sandisk Extreme PRO V2
|1TB, 2TB, 4TB
|OWC Envoy Pro EX
|240GB, 480GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, 8TB
|LaCie Rugged SSD
|500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB
|500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB
OWC Envoy Pro Ex External NVMe M.2 SSD
- Huge capacities
- Great speeds
- Rugged (IP67 rating) yet sleek design
- Large drives are still more expensive than HDDs
If it's high capacity storage you're after, you cannot beat the OWC Envoy Pro EX. OWC is a very reputable American electronics manufacturer that's been around since the late 1980s. While OWC specializes in products for mac systems, their Envoy Pro EX external thunderbolt drive is compatible with any device sporting USB 3.1 Gen 1, Thunderbolt 3, or USB 3.1 Gen 2 technology.
This portable SSD is an intuitive solution for photographers, since the Envoy Pro EX is simply a high-quality, durable USB-C enclosure, with an NVMe M.2 SSD inside. The cases allow for complete customization, and users can even install their own M.2 drives as long as it is a 2280 form factor.
However, OWC also sells high-capacity M.2 drives already installed, with storage sizes of up to 8.0TB and speeds of up to 980MB/s. These speeds held up in my speed benchmarking tests.
I now personally use the OWC Envoy Pro EX as a high-capacity and high-speed storage solution for my Lightroom library, allowing me to save tonnes of space on my Macbook Pro.
The #1 Photography Accessory
I've used the Peak Design Capture Clip for years to quickly clip my camera to my backpack's shoulder strap. This is the most comfortable way to carry a camera and will save your neck a ton of strain.
Durability: Best Rugged SSD for Landscape & Outdoor Photography
We've all been there before. A corrupted hard drive is one of the most stressful experiences a photographer or videographer can endure.
Thankfully, the lack of moving parts in SSDs makes for a much more durable storage solution than a traditional hard disk drive. While still not completely impervious to failure, SSDs can withstand much more abuse than their spinning disk counterparts.
However, not all SSDs are created equal. Some photographers, including myself, take ruggedness and durability seriously when trying to narrow down the best SSD drives.
Some durability factors you'll want to consider in an SSD are:
- IP Rating (Ingress Protection) - defines how well your drive seals out solids (dust) and liquids (water resistance).
- Build quality - is the drive built with high-quality materials that won't break under pressure?
- Ruggedness - is the drive built with a protective rubber case?
So, when making a decision, consider where you will be using the drive, whether it will be stowed in your camera backpack on long shoots in the outdoors, or whether you will be carrying it day-to-day.
LaCie Rugged SSD
- Most rugged SSD for photographers and videographers on the move
- A trusted brand dedicated to building rugged storage solutions
- IP67 waterproof rating & 3-meter drop/two-tonne car crush resistance
- Rubber casing makes it slightly bulkier than other SSDs
If you work in the photography space, then you'll likely be aware of LaCie drives. I've been using LaCie's rugged line of external HDDs for years. So, when they released a smaller, more durable solid state drive, I was eager to test it out.
The LaCie Rugged SSD is by far the most durable SSD for photography. Although I'm reluctant to test their claim, LaCie states that these drives will withstand 3-meter drops and two-tonne car crush resistance! On top of that, LaCie also offers a 5-year Rescue Data Recovery service, which I'm yet to try out but has received a good wrap online.
Inside this impressive casing is a Seagate FireCuda NVMe SSD utilizing USB 3.1 Gen 2 throughput at claimed 1,050 MB/s maximum speeds.
I use LaCie's drives to store and deliver projects to clients since I know that the data will be safe.
Portability: Lightest & Most Portable External SSD
SSDs by their very nature are compact storage solutions that are hardly noticed in a laptop bag or camera backpack.
However, photographers know that gear quickly adds up in both weight and size. So, from CF Express card readers to tripods, shaving a few grams off our gear where we can goes a long way, especially for travel photographers and those always on the go.
Comparison: Size & Weight
Below is a table comparing the size and weights of each SSD in their 1TB option.
|Sandisk Extreme Pro V2
|4.3 x 2.3 x 0.4 in. (110.3 x 57.3 x 10.2mm)
|3 oz (85g)
|OWC Envoy Pro EX
|4.5 x 2.6 x 0.4 in. (115.0 x 65.0 x 9.0mm)
|5.2 oz (148g)
|LaCie Rugged SSD
|3.9 x 2.6 x 0.7 in (97.8 x 64.8 x 17.0 mm)
|3.5 oz (99g)
|2.7 x 2.3 x 0.5 in (69.5 x 32.5 x 13.5 mm)
|1 oz (28.9g)
- Very compact and lightweight form factor
- Great speeds
- Comes with a rubber protective casing
- No hardware-based encryption option
So far in this roundup of the best SSDs for photography, we've seen excellent portable drives for a range of applications. However, none of these drives are as small, lightweight, or compact as the Kingston XS2000.
At not much larger than a traditional thumb drive, Kingston is able to deliver storage of up to 2.0TB! These portable SSDs weigh less than 29 grams (around 1 ounce) and are practically unnoticeable, even when in your pocket. The included silicone casing also adds a layer of drop protection that feels and looks great.
The speeds on this drive are also very impressive, with a maximum write speed of 2,000MB/s (again, only with USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 support). During my speed tests, the sequential write and reads constantly held up above 800-900 MB/s, even with the highest stress settings.
This is now my go-to drive when out on expeditions or when I need to offload or backup files without adding to my pack weight.
So, What Makes a Great External SSD for Photographers?
I hope that this shortlist has helped you narrow down the search for the best external hard drive for photography and videography purposes. These four drives are the very best external SSD options on the market today and honestly, it's hard to go wrong with any of them.
However, for the nit-picky types, here are some other features besides speed, capacity, durability, and portability that I covered in this article:
- Hardware encryption: Many drives including the Sandisk Extreme Pro and LaCie Rugged support 256-bit AES hardware encryption with their optional software
- Password protection: An additional layer of encryption security is offered with LaCie's Rugged SECURE and Sandisk Extreme Pro (V2)
- USB-C Gen Support: Ensure to check your device's USB support when deciding on an SSD based on speed. Most of the external SSD drives on the market offer USB-C ports on USB 3.1 Gen 2, which maxes out at 10Gbps bandwidth (1000MB/s). Drives claiming 2000MB/s usually operate on USB 3.2 Gen 2x2, which is rarely supported by laptops and PCs. This is the case even for Mac users running the latest MacBooks, which skip this generation altogether in favor of Thunderbolt 3 and 4.
- Warranty: Top-notch external SSDs are not cheap. Many photographers will want to protect their investments with a reliable and long-lasting warranty. The LaCie, Kingston, and Sandisk drives are covered by 5-year limited warranties, while OWC offers 3 years of peace of mind on their SSD.
What About Secure Cloud Storage?
Portable external drives are great for moving large files quickly. But, another solution you'll want to consider is fast and secure cloud storage.
I've taken advantage of pCloud's lifetime deal to secure 5 terabytes of cloud storage for life and have been using their remote storage solution for the past three years!
Conclusion: Which SSD Is the Best?
And, that's a wrap for this useful gear guide summing up the best external SSDs for photography and videography.
Unfortunately, if you've skipped to the conclusion for a quick answer, you won't find one. That's because all of the four external hard drives in this roundup have a particular standout feature or use case.
As a professional photographer, I personally use and can vouch for all of these portable SSDs, and choosing the right one for your needs will depend on your preference for speed, capacity, durability, or portability.