DIY Mobile Backup Device for Photographers

Backup anxiety syndrome is not a real medical condition, but as a photographer, you might be familiar with the main symptom all too well: the constant worry about keeping your photos safe, especially when you are traveling. So what can you do to alleviate this debilitating condition? Besides the obvious, but far from practical, solution of lugging your laptop around as a glorified backup device, you have two options: splurge on something like WD My Passport Wireless Pro or build a backup device yourself. Going with the former option seems like a no-brainer: a simple financial transaction gives you a decent, albeit expensive, backup solution. So why bother wasting time and effort on reinventing the wheel and building a DIY backup device from scratch? Because it’s neither difficult nor time-consuming.

With very little work, the Little Backup Box Bash shell script cobbled together by yours truly can transform a Raspberry Pi (or any other single-board computer running a Debian-based Linux distribution) into a fully-automatic pocketable backup device. You do need to procure a few parts like a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, a case, a power supply, and a high-capacity USB flash drive. And if you want to build a really miniature backup box, you might want to opt for Raspberry Pi Zero and a Zero4U USB hub (in this case, you can power the finished backup box using a power bank).

Raspberry Pi Zero-based photo backup device is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand

Thanks to the accompanying installer script and instructions on the project’s website, you can deploy the Little Backup Box script on the Raspberry Pi in a matter of minutes, and the process requires no advanced technical skills. And in case you need more help, the Linux Photography book offers step-by-step instructions on building a Raspberry Pi-based backup box running Little Backup Box along with info on using the device.

In short, building a DIY photo backup device is not as difficult as it may seem. But what are its advantages compared to similar commercial products on the market? Here are a few key points to consider.

  • Small size. Using the Raspberry Pi Zero and Zero4U USB combination gives you a miniature backup device that literally fits your pocket. Even if you go with a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, it will still be small and light enough to be called pocketable.
  • Inexpensive. A Raspberry Pi and the required parts cost only a fraction of what you’d pay for a commercial backup product.
    Replaceable battery. Most backup devices on the market feature built-in batteries, so when the battery dies, the device becomes essentially a paperweight.
  • Swappable storage. You can use as many USB flash drives with the DIY backup device as you need. Among other things, this makes it possible to take multiple backups of a single card. And if a USB flash drive is malfunctioning, you can simply replace it with another one.
  • Repairable and upgradable. Commercial backup devices are not designed to be serviced. This means that they often can’t be upgraded and repaired. With the DIY backup box, you can upgrade individual components (e.g., upgrade to a faster Raspberry Pi model when it becomes available) as well as replace faulty parts.
  • Support for any card type. Most commercial backup products support SD cards only. The DIY backup box can handle any card type that is supported by the USB card reader you are using.
  • Back up everything. A DIY backup box copies the entire contents of the storage card: JPEG images, RAW files, videos, camera database files, etc.
  • Pre-installed and configured DLNA server. The Little Backup Box installer script installs and enables a DLNA server, so you can access backed up photos from any DLNA-compatible device.
  • It’s a Linux machine Your backup box is a little Linux machine which you can use for other tasks too. For example, you can install the [Mejiro]( web application and use the machine to publish your photos.

This is all fine and dandy, but there are also a few drawbacks you should be aware of.

  • Some assembly required. You need to put all the parts together, configure the Raspberry Pi, and install the Little Backup Box software yourself. It’s not beyond the wit of man, but it does require some technical skills and time.
  • An external USB HDD makes the setup less portable. While you can use an external hard disk instead of a USB flash drive, this would make the setup somewhat unwieldy.
  • USB 2.0 ports mean slower transfer speeds. All Raspberry Pi feature USB 2.0 ports, so backup won’t be on the slower side: not excruciatingly slow, but not blazingly fast either.

Ready to build your own photo backup device? Head to the to the Little Backup Box project’s website and get cracking.

About Me

I write about Linux and Open Source for a living. I’m an amateur photographer, and I use Linux as my photography platform. I’m the author of the Linux Photography book on setting up an automated and streamlined photographic workflow on Linux.