A review of the Digital Partner Image Tank. An Image Tank lets you back up your Flash Cards while you are out in the field without access to a computer.
||Windows 98, 2000, XP, MacOS 8.9,9.X, Mac-OSX, Linux 2.4
||110-240 VAC in, 5V out
||13 1GB Flash Cards
|Transfer Time for full 1GB flash Card
|Automatic Off Time
||Best Bang for your Buck
Image backup solutions in the field have become increasingly important to me. I almost only shoot RAW pictures for the obvious reasons. Once I am away from my Computer for more than a day, I desperately needed some backup solutions that allowed me to store my pictures while I am out in the field taking pictures. This is the second Image Tank I bought and i really like it.
You can buy the Digital Partner Image Tank device with or without a Hard drive installed. I chose a 30GB device that I bought on Ebay for about $120. You will be able to save a few dollars if you buy the drive and the enclosure separately and install your own drive. The Box contains a small screwdriver that lets you install it.
The Drive has to be formatted with FAT32. There is an issue in Windows XP / 2000, which prevents you from creating a partition larger than 32GB. The Enclosure will only access the first formatted partition on the drive. So if you need a larger drive installed, you can either buy it pre-installed on Ebay or you will have to use some other tool for partitioning. Unfortunately I cannot review if this is true or not, since I have a 30GB drive installed in mine. Maybe someone would care to comment on this below this review.
The Box contains the Enclosure (with or without a Drive), a screwdriver, screws, a pouch, a charger, a USB cable and a Driver Disc.
The Digital Partner can take just about every Camera Memory Card and copy it. It supports the following formats: CF I, CF II, MD, SD, MMC, MS, MS-Pro, SM, MiniSD, RS MMS, MS Duo, MS-Pro Duo, XD, SM.
I assume if you know which one your camera uses.
The Device comes with a USB 2.0 port for fast data transfer between a host computer and the drive.
The Driver CD includes Drivers for Windows 98, Windows 2000 and Mac-OS 8.9-9.X. Windows XP and 2000 detect the drive automatically and I assume that Mac-OSX will do the same. It behaves just like any external USB HDD and can even be used under Linux, so you can use the device to transfer data or to back up pictures.
The device can hold any 2.5" Laptop HDD of any size. You may have some trouble formatting a very large drive, but there should be tools available online. The weight of the Digital Partner is mainly determined by the HDD and so is the size of 115x77x21mm.
The most pressing questions most may have will probably be battery life.
In order to estimate the battery lifetime, I took a full 1GB Flash Memory card and started copying it until the battery was empty. I cycled the power twice, and once I let the device automatically shut off.
I was able to transfer 13.7GB (or 14.8 Billion Bytes). Each Memory card contained 999 Million Bytes or 970 Megabytes. So I was able to transfer 13 full memory cards while the device ran out of power during transfer of the 14th. Now I should mention, that that was done in the comfort of my home during one evening. This means that you probably won't get the same performance in the field, as the battery will be cold and you will probably need several days to fill this much space. The battery indicator was showing 2 of 3 bars right until after the transfer of the 12th card. At this point it dropped to 0 of 3. I was still able to get a full card transferred, but I wished the battery indicator would be more accurate.
When you are outside in cold weather, you should put the device into your inside pockets, to keep it warm and maximize the battery lifetime.
Some more data I recorded during my test:
Transferred: 13.7GB (14.8 Billion Bytes)
13 Full 1GB Cards + 80% of the 14th
Average Transfer Time per 1GB Card: 6:43 (min:sec)
Automatic Off time: 55s
The card used in this test was a CF Type I PQI Hi-Speed 40.
I am not trying to be scientific. As I said I did the test at home, just to get an estimate about battery life. I think the battery lifetime is quite good and should give you enough charge to store all your pictures. I own two Batteries for my Canon 20D and I am pretty sure I could empty those and store all the pictures on my Digital Partner device.
The images are stored in a folder named CARDS in subfolders named CFxxxx (xxxx being an ascending number, see picture).
The device needs only two buttons to operate it, the on/off button and the copy button.
One simply inserts the memory card and presses copy. The display will show the free space on the device, a battery indicator (very inaccurate), a progress bar, the amount of data on the card and the type of card inserted. Unfortunately, the device behaves like a black hole until you are back at your computer. Once everything has transferred, you have no indication about the data on the drive. You can \not browse the folder and you cannot view the files on the drive, so you better remember what card you backed up and what card needs backup.
Obiviously the device can be used as a multi card reader, even if no Hard Drive is installed.
The Digital Partner in the Field
Since everything worked so nicely right out of the Box, I never gave the Driver CD a second though. Once I was in Peru, I noticed that a lot of Internet Cafes were still running on Windows 98. Unfortunately, I didn't bring the CD with me. Even after searching for quite some time online I was not able to find a suitable driver. After this happened to me for a second time, I remembered my other image tank for which I could find drivers online. So in case this happened to you and you ended up on this site through a search engine looking for Drivers:
The Driver for Windows 98
I used the Drive extensively together with another one (review coming) that I owned for quite some time. I chose to double back up my pictures, and gave one of the image tanks to Dani. This was to protect ourselves, in case one of our tanks was stolen, lost data or got damaged while we were climbing between the ruins. I put each Image Tank into a Ziplog bag, to protect it from the humidity and the rain and put it into my backpack. Keep in mind that your photos may actually be worth more than your camera and deserve special attention. After all a damaged or lost camera can be replaced. Since the device has no delete button, there is no chance that you can accidentally delete a picture, while you have it in your pocket.
Since the device switches off after about one minute of not being used, I put the card into the device, pressed copy and put it back into my pocket while I was paying attention to the photo in front of me. It is a very easy and convenient backup solution. I never ran out of memory, since I backed each card up when it was full and put another one into my camera to continue to shoot or just to be ready for the next shot.
The Digital Partner Image Tank is all it claims to be and nothing more. It offers an incredible value. I have not found anything less expensive that was able to do the same. It is easy to upgrade with a larger drive, should my 30GB drive ever become too small. Your images will be perfectly save on the HDD. You should get a good HDD, which is known to be reliable. I believe mine holds a Hitachi Drive, the same ones that are in IBM Laptops. It should be one of the better ones available.
The battery indicator is basically worthless and the device does not give you any feedback on stored pictures. There are plenty of devices available today that offer a color preview. When I bought this device there was none that did show RAW files, so the decision was easy. Today there are some, like the Epson P2000. To be honest, I wouldn't use the Preview in the Field, since I would be more concerned about power usage.
I think the Digital Partner offers the best bang for your buck. If an Image Tank is all you want, this is one of the best choices. If you also want a digital media player buy something else.
I just realized that for cards larger then 1GB, the Image Tank only
shows 999MB (seems to be some sort of max limit), but it will still
copy the entire card (I tried a 2GB Sandisc Ultra II).
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