We recently discussed planning a successful photo walk. Now there's another item of concern: the safety of your shots while out on your photo walk. There's nothing like getting a beautiful shot for a client only to lose it due to some unforeseen data corruption. This is why a portable backup option should be part of your photo walk agenda. The team over at GNARBOX reached out to me with its solution for not only backing up your data in the field, but one other element—the ability to edit and share this data while on the go. I put the GNARBOX through its paces to see if it would be tech that helps me in my flow of things and stays out of my way when I need it to. Sometimes, we can obtain so much gear and tech it can actually get in the way of the important aspects of creating content.
Ever seen those portable hard drives used by top photographers and videographers? The popular brand of late is the rugged LaCie hard drives. Think of the GNARBOX as a portable hard drive, but with a "brain."
A brain? Yes, the GNARBOX is a tiny computer even though it's there for your backup needs. Its internal specs include 128GB of storage, 2GB of RAM, a 1.9GHZ Intel processor, and even a 4 Core Intel GPU. It allows you to connect via USB 2.0 or 3.0 and can read CF cards and SD cards. It's also shockproof, allowing accidental drops up to three feet, and it's water resistant and dustproof. All this in a 5.3 x 3.4-inch form factor that offers four to six hours of battery life. So far, it's just big enough and rugged enough to suit my needs. It's also small enough to not be in my way.
The brains of this device set it apart from a typical rugged portable drive. Running a custom operating system, the GNARBOX allows you to plug in your SD cards just after you shoot and store the data as a backup until you've returned to your main computing device or storage option. Just install the mobile app onto your phone, boot it up, connect to the GNARBOX private Wi-Fi hot spot, and begin the file transfer. The mobile app allows you to interface with the GNARBOX. You can copy or remove files on the go with just a few swipes and taps of the app. No cellular data is required, as the connectivity is via the GNARBOX private Wi-Fi.
I enjoyed using the GNARBOX software to provide some behind-the-scenes looks at a shoot I was working on. I snapped photos of my scene and also a few video clips, transferred the files to the GNARBOX, then published those files to my Instagram stories to allow my friends and followers the chance to see the buildup to my final shots. The app allows you to do some quick editing to touch up exposure, highlights, cropping, and other simple aspects of your photo. This makes it rather easy to do a quick post to your favorite social media channels to share your experience of the shoot. Did I mention these were the RAW files that were being transferred? Indeed, you don't have to edit .JPG photo files with the GNARBOX. You can edit RAW files in all their uncompressed glory.
You can also edit video from your DSLR, GoPro, point-and-shoot, or drone camera's SD card. The GNARBOX mobile app has a video editing interface that lets you trim clips and reorganize them into a final video export. You can even add a soundtrack to the video to enhance the mood, just as you would with the popular Adobe Premiere Clip mobile app. What sets it apart from the Adobe option is the video color grading—not just trendy filters or LUTS to overlay. This is a great perk that allows you to adjust the color of your video and again gives your audience a brief look of what you're working on. At the time of this review, the video color grading is available only on iOS mobile devices, with Android support coming in July 2017 (soon).
You can export the video you've edited in whatever format you choose. You're not limited to 1080p exports, either. You can export your 4K footage if you've shot it as 4K. Don't expect the GNARBOX video editor to be as functional as video editors found on a computer, but you'll still get useful outputs from your edits.
When you're done, just shut down the GNARBOX and drop it into your camera bag until you're back at your main computing or storage option. At that point, you can retrieve your files, freeing up the 128GB of space on the GNARBOX.
What I don't like about the GNARBOX
The idea of using a mobile app to interface with the hardware is a cool idea. Sometimes the app performance (on my Android Pixel XL) was shaky. The app interface is intuitive for the most part, but every now and then I'd hit the "back" button on my android phone to go back one screen, and the app would exit. This would probably work best if there was an actual "back" button inside the app interface. Also, knowing the iOS version is currently sitting on an option to color grade video footage was a letdown. With that said, I understand why. The Android ecosystem is not the easiest to develop for, considering the varying form factors and interfaces of an Android phone. Fortunately, the GNARBOX team let me know that Android's update is coming soon.
The GNARBOX does get a bit warm to the touch after about 30 minutes of use. That Intel CPU definitely churns through cycles trying to offer optimal functionality to the GNARBOX end user. This made me be a little more mindful of the device when stored in my bag. I don't leave the GNARBOX powered up while it's being stored during my photo walks.
What I enjoy about the GNARBOX
First off, I enjoy the rugged reliable and portable backup. I have my moments of being a total klutz, so I drop things. The GNARBOX took a good beating from me because of this. It also survived my stay on the sandy beaches and muddy riverbanks of the Carolinas during my review. Second, I enjoy the idea of getting great content out to the masses quickly. GNARBOX lets me do this with ease.
In my experience, I've had to abruptly reformat an SD card in the middle of the shoot because of performance. I hate having to do that because I know there's some awesome photos or videos on that SD card. Being able to slap that data onto a GNARBOX in the field and then reformat the card provides added peace of mind. Yes, I do have backup SD cards on hand, but I still want to back up the files from the ailing card if possible.
Even though the mobile app exits when I wish it wouldn't because the "back" functionality isn't solid, the user experience is much better than previous Wi-Fi-enabled SD cards I've used. The data copies fast and being able to edit the copied data quickly for social sharing is great for me, as I continue to engage my followers on Instagram and Twitter.
You can buy the GNARBOX for $299. I had some initial sticker shock when I saw the pricing, but after spending a few weeks with the device and the app I see the pricing as valid. It survived the sands of the Atlantic ocean, the water splashing onto the boat deck, and my dropping it a few times—and it still successfully backed up my files. The GNARBOX hits all the marks.
What are your on-the-go backup options?
There's joy in being able to get out and perform a proper photo walk. There's even more joy in taking friends and family along with you via social media sharing. Share your thoughts regarding mobile backups of your photo walk files in the comments below.