As I noted in my last article reviewing the RAM Mount Universal X-Grip system, mobile is advancing at a very rapid pace in the photography world. Not just taking pictures with a mobile device but the use of mobile devices in workflows.
As I continue to research and experiment with different mobile options for my new book project, I’m pretty much at a point where I think a laptop on the road is unnecessary, probably, 90% of the time or more. Really, the only time I think I might need a laptop is if I were doing a live software demonstration. And even then, quite possibly not.
One of the potential hiccups of an ‘all mobile’ strategy is storage space. Tablets simply don’t have much at all relative to laptops. This becomes less of an issue if, like most professional photographers who travel, you don’t consider the hard drive on your laptop as a primary storage option. Most photographers who travel for work carry one or more external hard drives with them and those are the primary storage options for images until they get back to their offices.
Up till now those external hard drive options have been of the wired variety and connected to a laptop via USB. That is changing. There are now wifi enabled hard drives that let you access and transfer data wirelessly. This opens up the workflow options for a mobile strategy tremendously.
One such offering is the Gauntlet from Patriot Memory. Perhaps best known for their desktop/laptop computer memory products (RAM), Patriot produces a number of other memory and storage related products as well, including the Gauntlet. Thanks to the folks at Patriot Memory for providing me with a unit to evaluate for the book.
The Gauntlet comes in a couple versions. One, the version I have, comes with a 320GB hard drive pre-installed. The other, called the Node, comes as the enclosure only and accepts 2.5″ hard drives or solid state drives up to 2TB in size. The Gauntlet comes with its own wifi card and acts as an access point for wireless devices to connect to. Normally you can connect to just one wifi access point at a time, but the Gauntlet also has an ‘internet pass-through’ mode that allows you to remain connected to it and still surf the web or access email through another wireless connection such as the wifi network in a hotel or coffee shop. In addition to working with mobile devices, it also works with laptops.
The Gauntlet is small enough to fit in the palm of the hand. Using it is dead simple. You power it on and it automatically begins broadcasting its wifi signal. Through the wireless option in the settings of your mobile device, you simply scan for new devices and the Gauntlet will appear. By default it has no security so you simply touch on the screen to connect to it. You can add WEP, WPA or WPA2 security. I would advise doing this since, without it, anyone nearby could access it and your data.
Patriot does include a clever bit of security for file protection; however. You’re not permitted to alter or edit files when connected to the drive in wifi mode. When I first started using it and tried to edit some images via my tablet I got the warning message that I didn’t have access to edit the files on the drive. Puzzled, I contacted Patriot’s tech support. Tech support responded very quickly and informed me that this was as intended to prevent unauthorised alteration of data. At first, I wasn’t sure about that as a ‘feature’ but when I considered it for a bit, it made sense. Most people are unlikely to enact security on the drive so their files would be wide open. Even though files can’t be edited, data can still be transferred to and from the device, of course. The drive can also be connected via USB and when so connected, editing of files is possible. The USB connection is the 3.0 standard so it’s fast.
The drive can act as a media server so you can stream content to your mobile device from the drive. This allows you to, for example, stream movies or music while on a flight. You could also stream a presentation to a tablet which could then be viewed by an audience with the tablet connected to a projector. You can connect up to 8 devices at a time so you could also use the Gauntlet to share content in a client meeting so not everyone has to crowd around a single screen.
At 320GB, the drive has plenty of space for any trip I might consider taking and since it can be configured with drives up to 2TB, there’s really no lack of storage capacity for extended trips. The enclosure alone sells for about $95. The configuration I have goes for about $160. That might seem like a lot but when you consider that it acts as its own wifi access point, the cost certainly isn’t out of line. Carrying two, one for primary storage and one for backup wouldn’t put a big dent in the budget for a working photographer, nor take up much space in the kit bag. Battery life is rated at 5 hours. I’ve been able to use mine for about 4 before needing a recharge. The battery does drain when the unit is powered off so if you don’t use it for a period of time, you’ll have to charge it again.
The drive comes with a dedicated USB cable for connecting to the mobile device. As it happens, it’s the same connection at the drive end as for my Nikon D800 so I only have to carry a single cable for two purposes. There’s also a USB charging cable and USB wall plug. The nice thing about a lot of these newer devices that can be charged via USB is that they use basically the same USB wall plug so you can carry just one for multiple devices. The drive will also charge via USB, but takes longer. A full charge via the wall plug takes about 3 hours. The plug on the Patriot wall charger folds down to reduce size and prevent damage to it or other items. If you’re going to carry a single wall plug for multiple devices, this would be the one to carry.
There is a companion app available for both Android and iOS platforms to allow you to browse files on both the internal memory of your mobile device and the Gauntlet. The app won’t let you browse or access files on a USB-connected drive; however. The company told me that’s not a feature they plan to add. For my purposes, I don’t use the Patriot app, but rather a different, photography-specific app called Photo Mate Pro which I’ll discuss in the near future.
The Gauntlet definitely fits into a mobile strategy for photographers on the go. It works well, it’s simple to use and compact to carry.
As a side note, the photos in this article were all made with a workflow that is, except for the camera, completely mobile – including the lighting – and it’ll be discussed in more detail when the new book comes out.
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