Which external HD hard drive backup should I use to back up digital copies of photo albums and home movies?
External HD (Hard Drive) backup devices have gotten much more reliable, less expensive, and larger in memory capacity over the past few years, and the trend will naturally continue as technology improves.
We recommend visiting newegg.com or your favorite computer/technology store and review site, and looking at the highest-rated external HD backup devices that fit your budget. Remember, don’t cheap out when it comes to your irreplaceable family memories. It’s also a good idea to try one highly rated external HD from one company, and at least one other highly rated external HD from another company, in case you discover one is unreliable or has features you don’t like.
Since high-resolution photographs and particularly video files take up a lot of memory space, we recommend purchasing external HD backup devices with more memory than you think you’ll need… at least 1TB is a good place to start, and if you can afford 2-5TB options, even better. Read reviews and get the most reliable, highest-capacity external HD you can afford. There’s nothing worse than running out of external backup capacity halfway through scanning your photo albums.
However, HD backup devices can and do fail, even the latest and greatest. So in this case as in lots of aspects in life, remember the adage, “two is one and one is none.” Keep at least 2 backup HDs in your safe, and check their function regularly.
Magnetic drive (HDD) vs solid state drive (SSD) external HD backups
For many decades the magnetic hard drive was the standard way for computers and similar memory devices to store information. These systems became quite reliable and inexpensive, and are still the cheapest way to get a lot of memory capacity for a computer, laptop, or external HD backup. However, there are some limitations unique to the magnetic hard drive system.
First, they use moving parts, plates, and/or discs and are susceptible to damage from shock, impact, and strong magnetic fields, and even mechanical wear. Even passing a magnetic drive close to a powerful magnetic field can cause damage. Magnetic HDDs also use more power, create more heat, and are noisier and slower to “boot up” and use than solid state drives. However, magnetic drives can be overwritten exponentially more times than SSDs, so if you’re running a RAID array or continually backing up new files over and over, a magnetic HDD may still be your best choice. They are also cheaper generally, as noted above.
SSDs are generally more expensive than magnetic HDDs, but use less power, generate less heat, are quite a bit faster in read-write speed, and, having no moving parts, are less susceptible to damage by shock or use. They are, however, more vulnerable to abrupt power loss and electromagnetic fields. SSDs are also generally much more compact than magnetic drives, which can be an important consideration when you’re storing one (or several) inside your safe with limited capacity. (Dare we suggest a larger Liberty safe, or even several safes?)
Which external HD backup type you choose, it’s a good idea to store at least one (or more) of them inside your humidity- and temperature-controlled safe.
Use acid-free paper and UV-protecting plastic covers for photo albums, and keep temperature and humidity stable
Now that we’ve covered digital backups of your family photo albums and home movies/videos, let’s talk about some key points for properly storing the physical copies of these precious memories.
High humidity and high heat are murder on photographs (and pretty much anything else you want to last a long time). It’s important to keep your precious albums and photographs stored in a dry, temperature controlled environment. For many people, particularly those living in areas with high humidity, their safe (equipped properly with a dehumidifier) is the one place that provides these ideal storage conditions.
What temperature and humidity is ideal for storing photo albums and photographs?
True archivists recommend paper documents and photographs be stored at lower temperatures than most people keep their homes, around 50 degrees. Many library caretakers recommend a stable temperature of no more than 70 degrees fahrenheit. Since keeping your safe at a stable 50 degrees inside your home is likely not possible, just remember that temperature fluctuations and high humidity tend to do the most damage to photo albums and photographs.
The paper on which older photographs were printed is hygroscopic, meaning that it readily absorbs moisture from the air. This can lead to cracking, curling, flaking, bleeding of toner/ink, and if humidity is high enough, to mildew and mold damage.
Therefore, it’s crucial that your safe be humidity controlled at between 30-50% humidity, and ideally kept in a climate-controlled room between at no more than 75 degrees fahrenheit. Again, the lower the temp the better, and the lower on the range of humidity, the better.
A good dry rod safe dehumidifier from Liberty can work wonders in humid environments. Not only does it help stabilize the humidity levels for your sensitive photo albums and documents, but if you store metal jewelry, firearms, or other other valuables in your safe they also will benefit from a stable, humidity-controlled environment that helps prevent mold, rust, and corrosion.
Light exposure and insect concerns regarding storage of paper photo albums and photographs
Silverfish and other bugs/insects love to eat old paper and books (they thrive on carbohydrates, and most photo albums and photographs are made primarily of paper/cellulose), but typically these creepy-crawlies aren’t an issue inside a clean, humidity controlled safe, in a clean, temperature-controlled home with clean air circulation. Keeping the humidity levels low, the area clean, and the temperature constant will go a long way toward preventing potential infestation.
You probably realize that exposing photographs and paper to light, particularly sunlight, will damage them eventually (we’ve all seen “faded” photographs). This goes for everything made of paper and most other materials as well. So for truly valuable, irreplaceable photographs you’ll want to minimize exposure to any source of UV light/radiation.
Choose acid-free paper for photo albums and scrapbook pages, and store photos behind PVC-free plastic/mylar sheets that ideally offer some UV protection as well as preventing damage from physical touch, dust, and other contaminants.
Wear soft cotton or nitrile gloves when handling your most valuable/sensitive photographs directly
For your truly irreplaceable or valuable photographs, it’s a good idea to wear clean, soft, cotton gloves or nitrile gloves when handling them. This prevents the natural oils and acids present in your skin from being absorbed by the photographic paper, causing damage and color staining over time.
A Liberty safe is a great choice for storing your albums, photos, and digital backup devices
However you choose to store and back up your photos, albums, and home movies, remember that a digital backup system is vital for peace of mind. Keeping your albums as well as at least one copy of digital backup files inside your fire-resistant Liberty safe will go a long way toward preventing the loss of irreplaceable items.
This may seem like a lot to absorb on this subject, but don’t feel overwhelmed. Keeping photo albums and home movies where they can be accessed and seen is the whole reason they exist. There’s something satisfying about having the original, tangible photographs and albums available to touch, look at, and share with family members. Just remember to put these treasures back in your Liberty safe after each use!