I am one of those photographers that has been slow to cross over to a larger, more accommodating external storage system. I did figure out long ago the value of not keeping the bulk of my work on my desktop or laptop. I started out with a simple rugged 250GB external drive that I would swap between my two stations. That quickly filled up and led to the purchase of some 500GB drives and eventually a 1TB drive. I bought as I could afford or at least I hadn’t yet decided to really invest in a better system.

I started to read about drive failure, soon learned about the powers of Super Duper, and began to back up my drives. I’d never had a drive fail on me, but I did have an old Mac laptop crash and burn.  So I started to buy two drives each time I needed one. Flash forward many years of shooting and I had acquired a large number of assorted external drives. I plucked along with nary an issue, accept that every time I needed to jump back a few years and find a buried file it required me to first find the right drive, dock it, find the file, transfer the file, and un-dock the drive when done.  Time better spent elsewhere.

I read up on multi-bay RAID type systems, or beyond RAID as some are referred to. Not knowing in which direction to turn, I reached out to Rich Harrington for advice and he suggested I have a look at the Drobo 5D.

While I was aware of Drobo and some of its history, I had no preconceived opinions about it. I just wanted something easy, dependable, and affordable.

quagmire of drives

I kept my goals simple: Acquire a larger, easy to install, external storage system that would allow me to consolidate the quagmire of smaller external drives piled under my desk, which would then prompt me to clean out (delete) my unused files before transfer, and once transferred, start to organize by year my stockpile of work for easy retrieval from one unit.

My Drobo 5D arrived with 2 2TB hard drives. While I knew 4TB would not be enough I held off on additional purchases until I could gauge how well the transfer would go. I also needed to wrap my head around just how the system writes to all installed drives. Turns out Drobo has an excellent Resource Center that explains it in detail. What I found most interesting was the Drobo Drive Capacity Calculator which gave me a great visual into how to determine what size hard drive, and how many I needed to purchase next. Play around with it and see for yourself.

Per some good advice, I built a shelf and put my Drobo up high in my studio, out of danger of getting knocked over or spilled upon. It looks sleek and is already a conversation piece with customers.

Set up could not have been easier. Once connected to my desktop and powered up the unit and the software came to life. I first updated the firmware. I slid my two drives in and it quickly prompted me to format those drives, which I did.

Now I am looking at a nice clean menu on the left, clearly showing in Status that my drives are up and ready to perform. Note my “Health is Good.”

Moving down the menu to Capacity I see that I now have 1.78 TB of space. The Drobo needs the other space in which to “Protect” the data your getting ready to load. As you add more drives, that Free Space goes up considerably. Again, give it a try on the Drobo Capacity Calculator and see for yourself.


I use Adobe Lightroom for all my organizational needs. Transferring my images was done internally in Lightroom from the outgoing hard drive to the Drobo. The transfer chugged along seamlessly, sometimes taking many hours as there were several thousand images on each. When I began to max out on space I was pleasantly warned with an amber caution.  Note the warning came through the software as well as on the front face of the unit (like in the little Drobo picture you see on the bottom left of the screenshot above). It pretty much says “I’m hungry for some more space so please add another drive.”


Based on my future needs, I purchased and installed two additional 3TB drives. Again I was prompted to format the drives, which I did. The result is shown above.


With my transfer complete and my two additional drives, I am now sitting pretty with 6.3 TBs more of Free Space. Considering it took me almost 3 years to fill a 1TB external hard drive, I feel I am good to go for many years to come, AND I have one more bay in which to add another drive. Then there is always the option of swapping out my 2 and 3 TB drives for large units.


My favorite part of this effort is that now my 110,000 images are conveniently located on one drive for easy access. No more wasting time hunting down drives and files. They are now neatly arranged in Lightroom by year.

All is good.  The Drobo 5D is quietly humming away protecting my work.  The actual transfer of data took far longer than the Drobo learning curve.  It was pretty much plug and play, and refer to the well thought out Drobo website for additional information.  Time will tell of its dependability.  And I am not done quite yet either. I am still striving towards the 3-2-1 Back Up Plan for Photographers.  I was able to clean out half of my old single external hard drives that I can now use elsewhere.  The other half still contains my files for safe keeping. My next goals will be to add an additional Drobo 5D to mirror the other, then work towards the offsite (or cloud) type storage system. I already do that for my most important clients, but not yet for all my images.

I’m feeling better about starting the process and am headed in the right direction.  And wouldn’t you know after I successfully transferred everything over to the Drobo, my Time Machine external hard drive went belly up.  My first hard drive crash ever.  I figure I’ve been lucky this far.  Can’t be too careful.