Like some of the memory card backup devices I've reviewed before, including NextoDI's own ND2901, the NextoDI NVS2801 combines a memory card reader with an internal hard drive and rechargeable battery. Put it all together and it makes a portable way backup your photos and videos when you're away from your computer.
Unlike some of the other devices I've looked at, this one is marketed primarily to video shooters--it's even labeled as a video storage device. But with high-end DSLRs and mirrorless cameras now becoming very capable video cameras in their own rights, and some even starting to use high-end memory cards like CFAST 2.0 or XQD, the lines between stills shooting and video shooting is becoming more and more blurred.
The purpose of this device is to create a backup copy of memory cards. So you can create a full copy of the contents of a memory card to the internal hard drive, freeing up your memory card to use again or providing a redundant backup for security. You can perform some rudimentary file management functions like copying, deleting, formatting the internal drive, checking the internal drive for bad sectors, and previewing images and videos. And you make a second backup to an external drive. That core functionality is shared by several other memory card backup devices. But there are some features that set this one apart from the others.
The folks at NextoDI sent me a copy to take a look at, and I've been putting it through its paces. So here's my review.
The reason this device exists is to backup data from memory cards. But of the dozens of memory card format available it only works with a few natively. But because you can also plug in a USB card reader, you can work with many other formats as well.
Built-In Card Slots
The emphasis is on cards used by professional video shooters. And the choice of which types of memory cards to include as built-in slots on the device reflects that. The built-in card slots are:
- SDXC / SDHC. This is by far the most common memory card format used in current cameras. The NVS2801 supports cards 32GB and under formatted in FAT32 as well as larger cards formatted with exFAT.
- CFAST 2.0. For now, Canon and Phase One are two of the biggest camera manufacturers providing CFAST 2.0 slots in their higher-end cameras. Nikon has gone with a competing format, XQD. Please note that you can't just put a CompactFlash card in a CFAST 2.0 slot; while the formats are related, the cards and slots are not the same size.
- SxS. This format, used mainly by Sony professional video cameras, uses the ExpressCard slot on the side (the same slot that you can use with adapters (see below)).
In addition to the built-in slots, the range of memory cards that can be used with the NVS2801 can be extended in two ways, making it, for all practical purposes, compatible with just about any memory card currently in use.
ExpressCard Adapter. The first, and fastest method, is to use one of the ExpressCard adapters. NextoDI makes ones for CompactFlash and P2 cards. The marketing materials mention an XQD adapter as well, but a Nexto DI-branded one doesn't appear to be available yet. But this Sony one will work just as well.External USB Card Reader. The second method basically turns the device into a hub for a regular USB memory card reader via the dedicated card reader USB 3.0 slot (there's another USB socket for an external drive, so you can use both at once). That basically makes the options unlimited because you can attach multi-format readers like this one or fast, dedicated readers like those in the Lexar Professional Workflow line. There are three things worth noting when using the external memory card reader option:
- Not all external memory card readers are USB 3.0, and you obviously won't get USB 3.0 speeds out of a USB 2 card reader.
- You don't need to have the device plugged into AC to use an external USB reader--it powers directly off the battery. (This is unlike the ND2901 in this respect.)
- In the case of SD cards, with a combination of a fast memory card and a fast USB 3.0 reader, you should get transfer speeds significantly faster than using the device's built-in SD slot. I have more on this below.
Interface & Screen
There are two buttons: the power button on the side and a kind of mini joystick on the front that's used for interacting with the menus and screen items. (The screen is not a touchscreen.)The menu system is pretty simple and straightforward. Using it requires a combination of moving the joystick up or down or pushing it in to select an option. When pushing it in, there are two options, a short click or a longer click. In general, the short click is to select while the longer click takes you back. The screen will show S or L to tell you whether to use a short or long click.
The screen is a 2.4" Color TFT LCD that displays 64K color at 320 by 240 pixels. What that means in real terms is that it's a color screen and has relatively low resolution. It's nowhere near as sharp as we've become used to with today's high-density displays on smartphones or tablets. It's more like the screens on old flip phones. So it's useful for a general sense of the image, but I don't find it useful for proofing or checking things like critical focus or exposure. There also aren't any options to display blown highlights or histogram overlays that you get on something like the ColorSpace UDMA3.
When viewing photos, it's compatible with common RAW formats and obvious image formats like JPG. Specifically, it supports these image formats:
- Canon .cr2
- FujiFilm .raf
- Leica .rwl
- Nikon .nef
- Olympus .orf
- Panasonic .rw2
- Pentax .pef
- Samsung .srw
- Sony .arw
Other formats can presumably be added in future firmware updates if need be.
It also has video preview playback from quite a few of the formats commonly used in video cameras:
- DV, DVCPRO HD
- AVCHD, H.264, AVC-Intra
- MPEG2 4:4:4 / 4:2:2 / 4:2:0
- XAVC 2K/4K, AVC Ultra 2K/4K
- XF-AVC 2K/4K
- ProRes 2K/4K
- DNxHD 2K/4K
And you can get thumbnails of footage shot in ARRI Raw and RED Raw but can't play them back.
Functions and Backup Modes
There are a few different ways to copy to and from the device.
Fast Copy. This is the simplest and quickest. It creates a new folder on the internal drive and copies all of the data on the memory card into that folder.
Copy & Verify. This first does the Fast Copy and then it goes back and compares the data, bit-by-bit, between the memory card and the hard drive copy. It takes about twice as long as a Fast Copy alone. If you're pressed for time, you can get the same result by doing a Fast Copy first and then reinserting the same memory card later to conduct just the verification part.
Safe Copy. This introduces a step before starting the Fast Copy. It first verifies that the hard drive space that you're copying to is healthy and doesn't contain any bad sectors.
With any of these modes you also have the option of doing an incremental copy. What that means is that if you've previously backed up the photos from the memory card, then put the memory card back into your camera and shoot some more photos without formatting the card, only the new photos will be backed up. It's a quicker option than duplicating the whole card again and saves space on the internal drive. But you can, if you wish, choose to copy the whole card regardless. NB. This feature is not enabled in the first version of the firmware, but I've been told that it will be added in an October 2016 firmware update.
MCopy. In this mode, which stands for Multi-Copy, you can copy from a memory card to both the internal drive and external drive simultaneously.
Sync. This mode is available when you plug in an external drive. It syncs the contents of the internal drive with the external drive.
Copy from USB. This copies the contents of the external drive to the internal drive.
For peace of mind, after any of these operations you'll get an explicit success or failure message, so you're not left guessing as to whether it's worked properly. And the message is persistent, which means that if you leave and operation to run for a while and it finishes and powers down to save battery power, you'll see the message next time you power it up.
Internal Hard Drives
The NVS2801 is designed to make it easy to install and swap out the hard drive. Where the ND2901 has four fiddly and tiny screws to take out (and risk losing), the NVS2801 has a single screw lock that works with a screwdriver or coin. It makes it much easier and quicker to take the back off and swap out the hard drive. Once the back is open, the drive just slides into place.The NVS2801 accepts both traditional HDDs as well as SSDs. It takes the 2.5" mobile HD drives with less than 9.5mm height.
The advantages of magnetic, spinning HDDs in a device like this are that they're more cost-effective per gigabyte and that you can more easily get drives with large storage capacity. The disadvantages are that they're slower and, importantly for a device like this, they're more susceptible to damage or corruption caused by the kinds of bumps and knocks that are par for the course when traveling. They also tend to be a bit heavier, although in practice we're not talking about a huge difference because the physical size is so small.
The advantages of SSDs are that they're faster and they're much less prone to data loss due to bumps and knocks. The disadvantages are that they tend to be quite a bit more expensive, and while it is possible to get larger drives now, they tend to be prohibitively expensive (like this one).
But not every drive of the right size and format will work. NextoDI has put out a list of recommended hard drives to use with the system. You can find the list here. The top two recommended SSDs are:
The top recommended HDD is:
There are also several other recommended models.
The SSD model I've been using isn't actually on that list, but it's a newer version of one that is: the Samsung 850 EVO SSD. It's worked well for me, but a safer option is to stick to one of the SSDs or HDDs officially supported and recommended by NextoDI.
External Hard Drives
In addition to using the internal drive, you can plug in an external USB drive. Pretty much any external drive should work, and it doesn't have to be formatted as FAT32. The system supports FAT32, exFAT, UDF, and HFS+ filesystem formats.
If the external drive requires its own power, you'll obviously need to plug that in in addition to the device's AC power.
It plugs into the bottom of the device, where there's a dedicated USB socket for external drives--i.e., it's separate to the one used for card readers.
There are a couple of ways you can use an external drive. You can do a standard clone of the internal drive to the external drive to provide a complete, separate backup. But a feature I particularly like is that you can copy from a memory card to both the internal drive and an external drive at the same time. It's something they've called MCopy, and it means you can get two backup copies as part of a single operation.
Something I like less--and something that the ND2901 also suffers from--is that you can't use an external drive without plugging the main device into power. And it only works with the AC adapter, not when powering via USB. I don't know whether that might be something that can be addressed in a future firmware update, but for now the option to MCopy temporarily flashes onscreen as the device recognizes the external drive but promptly disappears and locks itself into computer mode. So, in short, if you want to use an external drive you're going to have to use the AC adapter. If the external drive isn't being detected, this is the first thing to look at.
Real-World Speed Tests
The marketing materials refer to transferring 128GB from a memory card in 6-7 mins. But that's when using a CFAST 2.0 card. You're not going to get that speed with every type of card or even every card you use.
I've been doing some real-world tests with the formats that I use most often, CompactFlash and SD. Below are the results I got. All of these are using the Fast Copy option. The Copy and Verify option takes twice as long.
NVS2801 w/ Samsung 850 EVO SSD
- CF, using ExpressCard adapter with a 128GB Extreme Pro 160MB/s: 19 mins @ 107 MB/s
- CF, using external card reader with a 128GB Extreme Pro 160MB/s: 19 mins 30 secs @ 105 MB/s
- SD, using built-in slot with a 32GB Lexar 2000x 300MB/s: 8 mins @ 62MB/s
- SD, using external card readera with a 32GB Lexar 2000x 300MB/s: 4 mins 10 secs @ 120.1 MB
The upshot is that the built-in CF slot is faster than using the external USB 3.0 reader, but not by much. But with SD, using an external card reader can be significantly faster. The precise speeds you get will depend on the external reader and the memory card.
I also ran some of the tests with an HDD installed rather than SSD. The results were slower, as you'd expect. As an example, the CF ExpressCard 128GB test transferred at 81.6 MB/s with the HDD installed as compared to 107 MB/s with the SSD. The precise speeds will vary a bit by drive and memory card combination.
ND2901 w/ Samsung 850 EVO SSD
For comparison, I ran the same tests on the ND2901, using the same memory cards, data, SSD, and external readers. Here are the results from that:
- CF, using internal slot with a 128GB Extreme Pro 160MB/s: 23 mins @ 88 MB/s
- SD, using built-in slot with a 32GB Lexar 2000x 300MB/s: 15.2 MB/s
- SD, using an external card reader: 32GB Lexar 2000x 300MB/s: 15.2 MB/s
The primary power source is a built-in rechargeable Li-Poly battery (3.7V 4400mAH). Fully charged, it provides around 2 hours of use.
There are two ways to charge the internal battery. The device comes with an AC charger. Using that, you can get the battery from dead to charged in roughly 5 hours.
You can also charge by USB, but that's much slower, taking about 12 hours to charge fully from a depleted state.
If you want to use an external drive you'll need to plug the device in using the AC adapter or the external drive simply won't be recognized or accessible. So leaving the AC power adapter at home may not be an option.
Weight and Size
It measures 6 x 3.6 x 1.3 inches (15.4 x 9.1 x 3.3 cm).
The working weight varies a bit according to what hard drive you've installed--SSDs are often lighter than HDDs--and whether you're using one of the optional adapters. NextoDI's tech specs sheet puts the weight at 430g with an HDD. How I have it configured, with a Samsung SSD, it comes in a bit lighter at 12.9 ounces (366 grams).
There's a paper version of the manual in the box, and you can get a digital version here.
NVS2801 vs ND2901
For the most part, the NVS2801 can do everything the ND2901 and more. But that's not true in every respect. There important caveats, especially if you’re using a memory card format like CompactFlash. The ND2901 handles CompactFlash natively (but not CFAST 2.0 or XQD), whereas with the NVS2801 you'll need to use one of the extended compatibility methods described above.This device is marketed to video shooters. Right there on the case, after all, it calls itself a video storage unit. And for videographers, there are two crucial features that the NVS2801 has that the ND2901 doesn’t. The first is being able to preview video files on the device’s screen. That’s just a convenience thing—you wouldn’t use that screen for actual editing or proofing—but it’s useful as a peace-of-mind feature so you can quickly and easily check that you got the shot. The second is the compatibility with the kinds of flash memory formats that professional video cameras and newer high-end DSLRs use. So if you’re shooting a lot of video footage, those two features probably seal the deal for the NVS2801.
For photographers, it's a bit of a mixed verdict. If you're shooting with CFAST 2.0, the built-in slot will make things far more convenient and provides much faster transfer speeds. If you're shooting with XQD, it's not quite as convenient because you'll need to use either an ExpressCard adapter or an external card reader, but you'll still get much faster speeds than you'll get when using an external reader with the ND2901.
With CompactFlash, I found the NVS2801 to be about 18 percent faster. The catch is that you'll need to pick up an ExpressCard adapter. With SD cards, the difference is much larger: the NVS2801 is much faster.
But there's more than speed to consider. The NVS2801 is larger. Not a lot larger, but it's noticeable if you're packing it in your travel camera bag. And if you're using adapters it creates more things to lose somewhere. But the NVS2801 also offers the ability to create two backups with a single operation, which is a nice feature to have available.
What's in the Box
- NVS2801 main unit
- AC power adapter
- USB 3.0 cable
- rubber bumpers
- manual (You can also get a digital version of the manual here.)
It's not yet clear how it's going to be packaged with retailers, but there's a good chance it will at least be offered in an option of a naked device; that is, without a preinstalled drive. Based on how other models have been packaged, it's also likely to be offered in versions with various sizes of drives pre-installed.
It doesn't include a case, but it does include a couple of rubber bumpers that go on each end to help a little with protection against bumps. They have cutouts that allow access to the various ports.## Miscellaneous Notes
- The device only works with one memory card at a time. You can't insert two or more cards and read from them simultaneously--only the first one will be detected.
- I've found that some micro-USB cables won't work with it simply because the cable's plug is physically too big. I'm referring to the plastic around the plug--it prevents the connection going in properly. So either use the micro-USB cable that's included or make sure that the one you have will fit.
- If you put in an HDD, you have the option of enabling shake warnings (they're enabled by default) that warn you, with a bright red screen, not to shake the device while the hard drive is running. It's designed to prevent problems caused by bumps. Because SSDs aren't anywhere near as susceptible to those problems, the option is grayed out in the menu when you insert an SSD.
- NextoDI is a South Korean company, and that's where the device is made.
- You can also connect the device to a computer and use it just like any external hard drive. The computer will only recognize the primary drive, not any memory cards or external drives you have connect to the NVS2801, so you can't use it as a regular card reader on a computer.
Overall, this is another solid product from NextoDI. It takes a functional approach to the problem and isn't loaded with bells and whistles. We've come to expect a lot from our mobile devices, and like so many other memory card backup devices, this one looks and behaves a bit like a throwback. But while I can certainly put together a pretty long wishlist of things that could make it even better--a built-in CF slot, a built-in XQD slot, better power options not requiring the AC adapter, and a more impressive screen, for starters--for its core purpose of safeguarding images and footage it works reliably, quickly, and smoothly. And that, after all, is really what matters most for a device like this.
Having tried most of the main memory card backup devices out there that are sensible options for travel photography, I'd settled on the ND2901 as my main go-to. While it's not perfect, it's worked reliably for me. And it's quicker than most of its competitors, especially for CompactFlash.
The NVS2801 isn't a direct replacement for the ND2901 (which remains a current model, by the way). And for now, while I'm shooting mainly with CompactFlash, SD, and SDXC, the ND2901 will probably remain my primary backup option when I'm on the road. But as I increasingly move to XQD and CFAST 2.0 as more cameras adopt those formats, the NVS2801 is going to become an increasingly attractive option as one of the first memory card backup devices to natively support these emerging high-speed formats.
Price and Availability
When I first posted this review, the NVS2801 wasn't yet available in US retailers. Now it's available at B&H Photo. As expected, it comes in a few different configurations.
Bundled with a 1TB HDD it has an MSRP of $855.
With a 2TB HDD it has an MSRP of $1000.
And with a 1TB SSD it has an MSRP of $1250.
For now, none of the bundles include the extended card readers, so if you're shooting with CF or XQD and want to use the ExpressCard slot you'll need to pick those separately (you can also plug in an external card reader via USB):