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Excellent field SD backup solution
Posted By: jots, 04-13-2009, 06:37 PM

I recently bought the Panasonic VW-PT2 used from Ebay for very little money, and I think its a great no-nonsense solution that traveling photogs could use to safe guard digital files while on extended shoots. It was made as a companion to Panasonic SD camcorders but it works for any file type.

I always have the need to have a place to copy my photos on my SD cards when I am on extended photo taking trips. This can be for the reason of needing to create space on the SD cards or just to create a backup of the contents on SD cards.

I had owned a Creative Zen Vision W before. It was a very expensive device with a beautiful LCD and did a lot more things than I ready need it to do. I only want to be able to dump the contents of the SD card to a Hard Drive while on the road and later copy it to my computer storage when I get home. So I sold the Creative.

Lately, I decided to shop for another device like it but one that is a lot less expensive and did only what I needed. I looked at many similar devices some with small a LCD and player function.

I decided on the Panasonic VW-PT2; and I made the right decision, for the purpose that I need this device for.

The VW-PT2 is a very simple Hard Drive based device that will copy any content on the SD or SDHC card that you insert. It creates FAT32 folders with a date stamp. The date is derived from the date of the photo files on the SD card. So there is no need to set any clock on the unit itself. Very simple design. Later when you attach the device to your computer (PC or Mac), it shows up as a USB storage device. You can then copy the folders onto your computer storage and organize them as you wish.

The VW-PT2 does not have any complicated user menus to learn. It communicates with you via a few LEDs and push buttons. It uses a rechargeable Lithium battery that should last for 90 minutes of copying. Each 4GB SD card is claimed to take about 10 minutes to copy to the Hard Drive. So you can copy quite a lot on one charge of the battery. Battery charging takes about 1.5 hour. The charger is 100-240V world voltage.


Insert an SD or SDHC card into the SD card slot.
Turn the Power switch to ON.
Wait for the COPY light to be lit.
Press the COPY button.
The COPY light will start to flash indicating that stuff from the SD is being copied. The SD card slot access light also blinks indicating SD card is being read.
When the copy process is done, the COPY light stops flashing and stays on solid.
You can now turn the POWER switch OFF and take out the SD card.
That's it.

Other lights and buttons:

Hard Drive remaining capacity indication: there are 3 lights (FULL, 75%, 50%) to indicate the Hard Drive fullness.

CANCEL button: if you want to cancel a copy process that has been started. Pressing this will remove what was just copied to the Hard Drive.

ERROR light: if there was a problem reading an SD card. You are instructed to power off and re-insert the SD card and try again.

Low battery: it is indicated by the POWER light flashing slowing while using the unit.

Auto Power Off: when the unit is not used for 3 minutes, it shuts down itself to conserve battery.

There is also an Hard Drive Safety feature where the copy process is stopped if the unit was moved. It can be defeated by a switch.

My Conclusion of the unit:

This is a very simple and inexpensive device for a photographer to have as a backup device in the field when carrying your laptop is not practical.


Battery Life Test on the VW-PT2

I did a test of the Li-on battery on the Panasonic.
I started with a full charge that took about 1.5 hours.
I copied approximately 2-GB worth of PEF files from my computer to a 2-GB SD card.
Inserted the SD card and repeatedly backed up until the POWER light started to blink (indicating Battery Low) and then continued until the unit quit.

The POWER light started to blink on the 12th backup.
The unit quit on the 15th backup.

The test was done over a 3 day period, to simulate backing SD cards in the field.
Some backups were done back-to-back, some were done with delays in between.

Each 2 GB backup took about 5 minutes according to my measurement.
The unit quit after 15 backups. (15 * 5 = 75) minutes.
I had about 10 minutes of usage on the battery outside of the test.
The battery life came close to Panasonic's claim of 90 minutes.

The thing to note is that you have about 15 minutes of safety from the time Battery Low happen to the time the unit quit.

The unit can backup 12# of 2-GB SD cards, before the Battery Low indication comes on. Counting frames in RAW 6MP *istDS term: each 2-GB holds approximately 180 pictures according to the camera. So you can safely backup (180 * 12 = 2160) pictures before the Battery Low warning. Depending on how much one shoots in a day in the field, the Panasonic can backup quite a few days of shooting on one battery charge. I think that is a usable model for a field backup device.


Concerns of copy verification and copy speed on the unit

Some folks may be concerned about needing the verification of the copied contents on the unit itself. I concluded that for me the real final verification is when I actually view it on my computer screen and see that the image I shot is there. The drive industry have nailed this concern pretty well, so I can "almost" trust the drive. So the other area is the SW and the electronics in the unit itself. I am a little less confident about after-market companies' capabilities, but in general, there should not be a lot of problems there too. The question is do I believe when the unit "tells" me it has verified the copy. In my case, the answer is: maybe. Nowadays, most of these units are made by after-market companies. I went with a unit that Panasonic is willing to put their name on. It takes a lot for these big companies to put their name on products.

For the question of backup speed, my rationale was backup speed of the Panasonic was "good enough". If a unit takes hours to backup a card then definitely it is not good enough for me. But if it takes a few minutes then it is "good enough". Whether it is 10 minutes or 1 minute to back up a 4GB SD, then it depends on how much I have to pay.

In the final analysis, it all boiled down to how much I am willing to spend for this SD backup device that I can toss in my camera bag and not feel like I have a few hundreds of dollars just collecting dust. I sold my Creative Zen Vision W because of that. In my case, I don't use it to play games or watch video, or get on the internet, etc. I have my iPhone and my PC for that.
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04-14-2009, 02:18 PM   #2
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