How to Choose the Right Hard Drive for your Videos

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With so many options out there, choosing the right hard drive can be a daunting task if you’re new to video production. Yet, since the shift away from tape towards digital video, hard drives have become necessary to store all your precious footage. Here’s what to look out for when it comes to making your purchase.

  1. What will you be using it for?

    This is an important question to determine the speed, the type of connection, and the amount of space on the hard drive you’ll want to get.

    The most common speeds available are 5400rpm and 7200rpm, where rpm indicates how many “rounds per minute” the drive spins.

    If all you need the hard drive for is storage, then speed isn’t as important. Go with the 5400rpm drives with USB3.0 connections for the most economical solution.

    If you intend to edit video directly off your external hard drive, then you may want to go with the 7200rpm drive for a smoother, and less frustrating editing experience.

  2. How much space do you need?

    These days, you’ll see that most hard drives have a capacity of between 1TB-6TB*. The higher the capacity of the hard drive, the less it costs per Terrabyte (usually). For the format that I shoot in on my Panasonic GH3 (.mov in H.264 at a bit rate of 50Mbps), an hour of footage takes up about 20GB of space.

    To keep hard drives functioning smoothly, it’s recommended not to fill it to maximum capacity. If you’re using your external hard drive to edit video directly, I would recommend going no higher than 80% capacity.

    I edit my videos directly off external hard drives, so my space allocation often looks like this:
    – 20% free space for hard drive function
    – 45% unedited footage
    – 30% edit, exports, pictures, music, effects
    – 5% transcripts, scripts, other documents

    For single client projects involving about 2-3 days of shoot for a 5-10min video, I usually recommend they purchase a 2TB hard drive to get the most bang for their buck.
    *1TB = 1000GB = 1,000,000MB.

  3. Do you value portability?

    How often will you need to carry your hard drive around? Let’s do a comparison between desktop and portable hard drives.

    Desktop Hard Drive Portable Hard Drive
    Example Seagate Backup Plus 5TB Desktop Hard Drive Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB Portable Hard Drive
    Capacity Available 2TB-8TB 1TB-4TB
    Size 7.10 x 1.60 x 4.60 inches, 1.9 pounds 4.47 x 2.99 x 0.48 inches, 4.8 ounces
    Price (USD) approx. $119 approx. $68
    Power Requirements Requires AC Power Powered by USB port

The Hard Drives I Use

Recommended Drive Specs Based On Your Needs
Use Hard Drive Speed Capacity Portable or Desktop Price (USD) Example
Data Storage 5400rpm 5TB Desktop $120-130 Seagate Backup Plus 5TB Desktop Hard DriveSeagate Backup Plus 5TB Desktop Hard Drive
Data Transfer or Sharing 5400rpm 2TB Portable $70-80 Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB Portable Hard DriveSeagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB Portable Hard Drive
Video Editing 7200rpm 2TB Desktop $160-170 Lacie d2 quadra 2TB desktop hard driveLaCie d2 Quadra v3 2TB Desktop Hard Drive

Bonus Tip

If you’re in a store and you see a hard drive labeled as being “for mac”, that’s just marketing sell. Those usually carry a higher price tag. All hard drives can be reformatted for Windows/Mac/Linux, no matter how they arrived out of box.

I hope this helps! Have you tried the above or other hard drives? Share your experience below.

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