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, Little Backup Box 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, 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.

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.

Going the DYI route means procuring the required parts and putting them together. While this might not be as straightforward as ordering on Amazon, building your very own Little Backup Box offers several important advantages.

  • Open source Little Backup Box is based on tried-and-tested open source tools. Depending on your skills you can customize, extend, and improve Little Backup Box to meet your specific needs. With some tweaking and coding you can add streaming and cloud backup features.
  • Commodity hardware Little Backup Box is designed to run on Raspberry Pi, the most popular single-board computer out there. You can buy it, along with the rest of the required parts, from practically any reputable store. Using the available parts, you can build a tiny Little Backup Box device based on Raspberry Pi Zero that fits even the tightest pocket and can be powered by a small power bank. Or you can opt for a more powerful and versatile device based on Raspberry Pi 3.
  • Automated installation Little Backup Box features an installer script that automates the entire setup procedure. The installation can be performed in a matter of minutes, and it requires almost no user input.
  • Modular design Most existing backup products are tightly integrated devices with no upgrade path. So if the built-in battery dies, the backup device becomes unusable. The same goes for the rest of the components. And since there is no easy way to upgrade the storage, you are stuck with whatever disk space the device comes with. None of these limitations apply to a Little Backup Box-based device. You can easily replace the battery, upgrade storage, and swap any faulty component.
  • Direct camera and storage card backup support Little Backup Box makes it possible to transfer files directly from the camera or use a dedicated card reader. During installation, you can choose the default mode. Alternatively, you can enable the Remote control mode that makes it possible to trigger backup actions via a simple web interface.
  • Versatility Since Little Backup Box runs on a Raspberry Pi, you can put the device to other practical uses, too.

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.