As the size of still image files continues to grow – especially if you regularly shoot RAW+JPEG – and more video is taken at increasingly greater bit rates, data storage remains a critical concern for photographers (up to 400 Mbps with 4K).

There are a plethora of possibilities for both desktop and portable programs, each with a daunting list of specifications, but in many cases, all you actually want is a simple, no-frills device that is fast enough, durable enough, allows for basic file management, and is reasonably priced.

The Toshiba-branded Canvio Flex portable hard drive range is designed to meet the needs of photographers and videographers. They are still based on a disc drive with moving parts, rather than a solid-state drive (SSD), which many professionals prefer due to its inherent durability and faster speeds. However, SSDs are still significantly more expensive than HDDs (usually by a factor of four to five), and the 4TB capacity of Canvio Flex is still less than US$100. There are also 1TB (about $55) and 2TB (around $70) variants available, all with a three-year warranty.

Other advantages include the small physical size and low weight, adequate data transfer rates, and the inclusion of both USB-C and USB-A cables to cover all possible transmission choices. If you want to transfer files between a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, USB-C is plainly useful. The Flex drives are compatible with Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Chrome devices. There is no need for drivers because these are SATA 3 devices with USB data transfer.

Specifications

  • Interface: USB 3.2 Gen 1 (USB 2.0 compatible) Max. transfer rate~ 5.0 Gbit/s
  • File system: exFAT
  • Power: USB bus power (max. 900mA)
  • System requirements: Formatted exFAT for: Windows 10, Windows 8.1 / macOS v11.2, v10.15, macOS v10.14 / iOS/AndroidTM devices
    One free port of USB Type-C or one free port of USB Type-A
  • Dimensions: 1TB, 2TB: 80 x 111 x 13.5mm;  4TB: 80 x 111 x 19.5mm
  • Weight (approx.): 1TB, 2TB: 149g; 4TB: 210g

Pros

  • Compatible with Mac/Windows PC/Tablet
  • No USB adapter needed (includes USB-C and USB-A cables)
  • Three-year warranty

Cons

  • Not as fast as an SSD drive

Build and Handling

The Canvio Flex drives have a brushed aluminum faceplate on a white polycarbonate housing that is only 13.5mm thick. The activity status LED is nicely tucked away in a corner, and there is a single micro-B type USB connector with a USB-C 3.2 Gen.1 interface. Inside is a 2.5-inch Toshiba MQ04 series hard disc drive with a 134MB DRAM buffer and a media cache (thus the smaller outward size).

The 1TB and 2TB variants have a single platter and are single or dual-sided, but the 4TB model has a twin platter and is dual-sided. All are 5400 rpm drives with Toshiba’s SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) management, which is a more effective manner of structuring data on the disc in order to optimize read/write performance.

Performance

Toshiba’s Canvio Flex portable hard drives are extremely small and light. There is a storage capacity of 1TB (seen above), 2TB, and 4TB to choose from. (Image courtesy of Future)
We evaluated the 1TB disc, which proved to be more than adequate for the needs of many photographers. A 1.04GB movie clip transferred at 136 MBps, and depending on the program and file size, we saw up to 150 MBps. These are good speeds for an external HDD, but they will slow down once the cache is full, so large video files will take longer to transmit. However, if you only capture short video clips, the Canvio Flex drives will be fast enough for tasks such as backup creation.

Conclusion

The Toshiba brand has a solid reputation in the manufacture of hard disc drives (incidentally, it is now part of a firm named Dynabook, which is owned by Sharp), therefore the Canvio Flex portable drives are high-quality items at an extremely low price. Sure, HDDs are now considered “old tech” by many, but they are still the most cost-effective way of purchasing large amounts of storage capacity, which these drives back up with decent transfer speeds… not as fast as an SSD, of course, but certainly fast enough for the majority of photographic needs.

If you’re juggling image files across multiple devices, the cross-platform versatility comes in useful as well. Because of their small size, these drives may easily fit into a spare pocket in your camera bag or pack, and the extended guarantee is a plus.