Is a hard drive or SSD better for pictures?

When it comes to storing your photo collection, two main options are hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs). HDDs have traditionally been used for storage due to their large capacities and low cost per gigabyte. However, SSDs are now viable options as prices have come down, and they provide significant advantages in speed and reliability.

There are several key factors to consider when deciding between an HDD and SSD for photo storage: capacity, speed, reliability, and cost. HDDs can offer much larger capacities, while SSDs are dramatically faster and more reliable. But SSDs cost more per gigabyte. This article examines the pros and cons of each type of drive to help determine the best option for storing photos safely over the long term.

Storage Capacity

When it comes to storage capacity per dollar, hard disk drives (HDDs) are far superior to solid-state drives (SSDs) ( HDDs offer significantly more gigabytes per dollar compared to SSDs. This difference in cost per gigabyte is important for photo storage, which can take up a substantial amount of space. While SSD capacities have been increasing over the years, they still have limitations compared to HDD capacities. For example, consumer HDDs are available up to 20TB, whereas most consumer SSDs max out at 8TB. For photographers or anyone storing a large photo library, the larger capacities offered by HDDs make them better suited for that purpose.


SSDs are significantly faster than hard drives when it comes to reading and writing data. This is due to the lack of moving parts and the direct electrical connections of SSDs (SSD vs. HDD: What’s the Difference?). SSDs can have read and write speeds over 500 MB/s, while hard drives max out around 200 MB/s.

The increased speed of SSDs provides a major benefit when accessing photo libraries, allowing almost instantaneous viewing of high-resolution photos. The faster data transfer eliminates lag and delays when loading images. This makes editing and reviewing photos a much smoother experience compared to slower hard drives.

The downside of using a hard drive for photo storage is that there will be noticeable lags when opening files and programs, along with slower transfer speeds. This can disrupt workflows and reduce efficiency for photographers managing large libraries of raw images and edited photos (SSD vs HDD: Which Do You Need?). Hard drives are best suited for archival storage where access speed is less important.


SSDs are generally more reliable than hard drives for storing photos long-term due to having no moving parts. HDDs rely on platters that spin and read/write heads that move back and forth to access data, which can fail over time and lead to data loss. SSDs instead store data on flash memory chips with no mechanical components. According to one study by Backblaze, SSDs had an annual failure rate of just 1.2% over 5 years compared to HDDs which had a failure rate of 1.8% per year1. With no moving parts and greater resistance to shock, SSDs are less prone to sudden failure.

However, HDD reliability has improved over the years as well. Modern drives can often last 5 years or more before mechanical failure. The key differences are that SSDs offer more consistent predictable reliability without degradation over time, while HDDs can slowly decline and eventually fail unexpectedly2. For irreplaceable photos, the more dependable nature of SSDs makes them the safer choice.


Hard drives tend to be cheaper per gigabyte compared to SSDs. A 1 TB hard drive costs around $50, while a 1 TB SSD costs around $100. This means the price per gigabyte for a hard drive is around 5 cents, while for an SSD it is around 10 cents. While the price gap has narrowed significantly over the years as SSD prices have dropped, hard drives still provide more storage capacity per dollar spent.

According to historical pricing data, SSD prices have declined steadily, with the price per gigabyte dropping from around $2 in 2012 to around $0.20 in 2022[1]. However, hard drive prices have also declined over the same period, going from around $0.06 per gigabyte in 2012 to around $0.05 in 2022. So while SSD prices have dropped dramatically, hard drive pricing has also become more affordable. Current projections estimate that SSD and hard drive pricing will reach parity around 2030 if these trends continue[1]. For now, those looking for the most storage capacity per dollar spent will find better value in hard drive storage.


Power and Portability

SSDs are generally more power efficient than traditional HDDs, which makes them better suited for laptops and mobile devices where battery life is a key consideration. According to discussions on Reddit and the Framework community forum, NVMe SSDs only consume around 1-5W of power, whereas a traditional HDD can use over 5W (Source 1, Source 2). The lower power draw of SSDs helps extend battery life.

In addition, SSDs are smaller, lighter, and more durable due to having no moving parts. This makes them better suited for portable external storage and travel than traditional HDDs. An external SSD weighing just a few ounces can store hundreds of gigabytes or even terabytes of data. Overall, the power efficiency, compact size, and light weight of SSDs provide significant advantages for laptops and mobile computing applications.

Backup and Redundancy

Having backups of your important photos is absolutely crucial, as losing those precious memories would be devastating. Both hard drives and SSDs can fail unexpectedly, so relying on a single copy of your photos is very risky.

One of the best ways to backup photos is to use multiple storage devices and services. For example, you could store photos locally on an external hard drive or SSD, while also backing them up to a cloud storage service like Google Photos or Dropbox. This provides both an onsite and offsite backup.

For hard drives, you can use RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) to provide redundancy in case of failure. RAID allows multiple hard drives to be used together, and data can be duplicated across the drives. So if one fails, data integrity is maintained. However, RAID does not help if the entire array is lost, stolen, or damaged, so offsite cloud backups are still recommended.

Overall, having redundant copies of irreplaceable photos in multiple locations, both onsite and offsite, is the best practice for long-term preservation and protection against data loss catastrophes.

OS and Software Considerations

Using an SSD for your operating system and software programs is highly recommended to optimize speed. Operating systems like Windows and macOS will boot up faster, launch programs quicker, and feel much more responsive when run off an SSD versus a traditional hard drive.

Some photo editing and management software can also benefit from the increased speed of an SSD. Programs like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop that work with large image files and access the storage frequently will launch faster and feel more responsive when run from an SSD. This is especially noticeable when working with RAW photo files that are large in size.

So while photo storage itself may not see dramatic improvements on an SSD, using one for your OS, photo software, and scratch disk can significantly improve performance. Just be sure to balance capacity needs with the speed benefits of an SSD.


When it comes to storage for photos, both HDDs and SSDs have their advantages. Here is an overview of the best uses for each when building a tiered storage solution:

SSDs are best suited for primary storage and working drives where speed matters. Use a portable SSD like the Samsung T7 or SanDisk Extreme for your main photo library and current projects. The fast read/write speeds will make accessing, editing, and exporting photos much quicker.

For archival storage and backup, HDDs provide more storage capacity for the price. A WD Red internal drive or WD MyPassport external HDD have reliability features ideal for long term backup. Use them to store your full photo archives once projects are complete.

For optimal performance and redundancy, use both HDD and SDD in a tiered system. Store active projects and most frequently accessed photos on the SDD, while archiving all images to the HDD. Maintain at least one additional backup of the HDD off-site or in the cloud.


In summary, both hard drives and SSDs have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to storing photos. The key factors to consider are:

Storage capacity: Hard drives offer far greater capacity for the price, with multi-terabyte options readily available. For photo storage, capacity is often the most critical factor since photo libraries eat up space quickly.

Speed and reliability: SSDs are much faster at reading/writing data and more reliable in the event of bumps or drops. This makes editing and accessing photos quicker.

Given the large storage demands of photos, hard drives tend to be a better choice for most casual photographers. The ample capacity offsets the slower speed. However, professionals or anyone editing large batches of photos may benefit from an SSD for a smoother workflow.

In the end, choose the storage option that best aligns with your budget and needs. Hard drives offer more capacity per dollar spent, while SSDs provide speed and resilience. And using both in tandem gives you the best of both worlds.