How do I keep shooting in the field if I only bring a couple of cards? I only own a couple of CF cards and have made about 60,000 shots on my Nikons these past few years.
Laptops and Target Disc Mode
I keep the laptop in a small padded nylon sleeve case made by "incase." I throw that in my Swiss Army travel bag. I load the travel bag with all the chargers and cables and drives and CDs. These take up little room along with my clothes and toiletries. The Swiss Army bag also has backpack straps, which is how I travel with it. Today I throw my D200 with 18-200VR lens in a sock and throw that into the same bag and I'm good to go.
I use the laptop to burn CDs and backup to portable hard drives as desired. When I return I use the Target Disc Mode to transfer all my shots back to my primary desktop computer.
Target Disc Mode turns the laptop into a simple hard drive. Plug a firewire cable into both computers. The computer in Target Disc Mode appears as a hard drive on the other computer. Drag and drop your new files to your main computer. Transfer time is fast via firewire. Every Apple computer does this.
You get to Target Disc Mode by holding the "T" key (as in Target) while starting. If the laptop is on, I prefer to go to Apple Menu (top left) > System Preferences > Startup Disc > Target Disc Mode instead of trying to hold the T key while restarting.
If I expect to be gone any length of time, I use the same mode and copy all my email, my entire website, and anything else I need to my laptop the same way. I copy User > Library > Mail and I have every email from 2000 through today, right where I left it on my main machine. It's easy!
Windows computer may not have this mode, another reason pros use Macs. If not, you may have to do something stupid like copy everything to an external drive and back again. You're better off stepping up to a Mac.
Card-Reading Smart Photo Drives
I don't trust any of the card-reading drives like the Nikon Coolwalker, Delkin, Epson P-4000, iPod camera adapters, etc. like this, this, and this. I don't trust them since I can't do anything with the images on them. If I don't trust them I won't use them. I can't see anything on a 4" screen.
Laptops vs. Smart Drives
I need the power of a laptop, not a video game. A small laptop isn't much bigger or more expensive than the toys sold to photographers. I already own the laptop, making it cost even less.
Why spend $500 for a toy when for $1,099 you can get a complete Apple laptop, with CD burner, 60 GB drive, iPhoto sorting and editing, Wireless Internet, 1280 x 800 resolution screen, DVD player, full size keyboard and trackpad, stereo speakers, bluetooth, Firewire, Gigabit Ethernet, and much, much more? My 12" laptop is three years old and much worse than what you can get today. I used my old laptop for everything, including making this site, for two years. I still use it in the field.
As a professional I bring my tiny 12" Apple iBook laptop everywhere. I need this much horsepower to do what I do. I can accomplish anything photographically with it. I can't do anything on a video game like a Coolwalker or P-4000. From my laptop I can edit, run Photoshop and put everything up on the Internet and email.
Another advantage of ingesting to my laptop each night instead of using one of the half-baked "CF drives" is I can select and delete on my big screen while I'm still in the field. I know what I've got because I can see it on a real computer, not a 6" screen. I also can have have most of my work done when I get back to from the field, if I have enough time in the evenings.
I bring a portable external hard drive to backup the laptop, so I now have two copies of everything. I prefer the tiny drives that power themselves directly from the USB or Firewire cord.
FIELD BACKUP REGIMEN
Rule 1.) Never erase your card until your images are secure elsewhere. I never trust just one copy on my laptop's hard drive. I only ditch my cards when my laptop's hard drive is also backed up. This is easy.
Rule 2.) Never store originals and backups together while out shooting. I always take my backups with me if I leave my computer in my hotel or hut, or vice-versa. Make certain that a calamity in one location will not take out the only copies of your images. Presume you will never see anything you leave behind again, and presume that you could lose everything you take with you. It's unlikely that anything so bad would happen that it would take out both you and your lodging at the same time. I cover that below, too.
1.) Ingest (copy) images from your camera to your laptop. Personally I catalog them in iView after copying them to my laptop.
2.) Backup the laptop. I do this with any portable, self-powered firewire hard drive as I explain on my backup page. it only takes 15 minutes to make an exact copy of my entire laptop drive, so if I lose my computer I can just copy my backup drive to a new laptop and not miss a beat.
Extra Credit: CDs for Mailing
I burn a set of CDs with each day's images, too.
Mail each night's CDs home to yourself each morning.
Even if you and your computer never return home, at least your images will be there for your next-of-kin.
I carry a bunch of CD mailers and stamps in my laptop bag. This is easy.