Review: Media Buddy by Digital Foci - Macenstein

Review: Media Buddy by Digital Foci

Posted by Dr. Macenstein

As digital SLR camera prices continue to drop, more and more pro-sumers (and even regular old CONsumers) are finding themselves with 8+ megapixel cameras capable of quickly filling up all available space on their memory cards (not to mention their hard drives).

I fell victim to my camera’s increased appetite for megabytes on a recent trip to Arizona. I had just purchased an 8.2 megapixel Canon 20D, and had “splurged� on a 1GB Compact Flash Card. My previous camera was a Minotla DiMage 7 (a 5 Megapixel camera) and in 3 years of use I found I had never needed more space than the 512MB card I owned at the time, even on 2 week vacations. 1 GB seemed like overkill.

That was until last month’s trip.

I was taking/dragging the family along for a 1 week vacation through the Arizona desert in August (perfect timing, I know), and figured 1GB should be more than enough space to handle all the photos of us gradually succumbing to heatstroke. After all, how many shots of buzzards circling us did I need?

Unfortunately, I did not factor in 2 things. First, the Arizona landscape is truly beautiful, and the urge to shoot just about everything is almost impossible to resist. Second, the family was in good spirits, and it seemed every shot of the kids was a keeper.

Well, I am happy to say the whole family made it through that trip, and I lived to regret misjudging my space needs. If I had owned a laptop I could have simply unloaded my pictures each night, but I didn’t. Instead I was forced to begin a nightly ritual of manually going through my photos in-camera, weeding out any that seemed blurry or not quite perfect in an attempt to free up enough space for the next day’s shoot. At the end of the trip, I vowed to find a better solution.

Enter Digital Foci’s Media Buddy. Media Buddy bills itself as “portable digital picture storage�. Designed for serious digital photographers, it can nonetheless prove invaluable to prosumers like myself who want to focus more on taking great pictures than worrying about whether they have enough room for the next shot.

Media Buddy consists of a hard drive (either 40, 60, or 80GB) and a series of memory card slots in all popular (and some Unpopular) sizes. Simply plug in your camera’s memory card, and Media Buddy imports all the photos with the push of a button. This means you can keep shooting on the same card the whole trip, taking as many shots as you want. When you get home, just plug Media Buddy into an available USB 2 port on your Mac, and you can move over all your shots over at once.

Media Buddy supports a wide variety of cards that not only work with your camera, but with some cell phones, PDA’s, and digital camcorders as well. Supported card types include: Compact Flash (Type I & II), MicroDrive, SmartMedia, MultiMedia Card, SD Card, Memory Stick, MS PRO, MS Duo, and MS PRO Duo. Media buddy can also fill the roll of a portable music player, offering support for MP3 files as well.

Media Buddy vs. The iPod

Like most handheld devices, the Media Buddy will inevitably be compared to the iPod. While it is not designed to be carried around in your pocket for day-to-day use like the iPod, it shares enough functionality with the iPod that an iPod owner might wonder just what they would get out of buying the Media Buddy.

Audio Player

While the iPod can be described as a music player that CAN hold photos (via the $29 Apple iPod Camera Connector), the Media Buddy is a Photo holder that CAN play music. While there is similar technology involved, there IS a difference. Personally, I would never choose to listen to music on the Media Buddy. To do so, you need to first lay out all your playlists into folders on your PC, and then copy those folders over to Media Buddy. Media Buddy treats these files as just that, files. There is no real support for playlists or sorting by artist and such. The name of the file is displayed, which may or may not be the name of the song, depending on how you name your music (actually, only the first 6 characters of the file name are displayed, as the drive is formatted as FAT 32, so as to work with both PC’s ad Macs). The iPod certainly has the Media Buddy beat in regard to menu navigation and ease of use in that respect.


Both the iPod and Media Buddy can serve as external hard drives, allowing you to move large files between computers. Storage-wise, the Media Buddy has the iPod beat, as its hard drive can be as large as 80GB compared the the iPod’s 60GB limit (as of this writing). However the iPod can connect to your computer via both USB 2 AND FireWire, while Media Buddy is USB 2 only.

Importing photos

The Media Buddy is designed to be a digital photo importer/storage device, and it does that quite well. However, the iPod actually beats it at its own game in my mind, as once you spring for the Apple iPod Camera Connector, you can import your files directly to your iPod, and then actually VIEW them on your iPod’s screen, something the Media Buddy CAN’T do. This is perhaps the most baffling thing to me about the Media Buddy. I realize color screens cost money and drain batteries, but if you want a photo importing and storage device, it really makes sense that you would also want a photo VIEWING device as well. There is something very unnerving about transferring all your photos to a device and only having the cold, lifeless file names on a backlit LCD screen to assure you that the files are indeed there. It takes a leap of faith to delete them from your memory card without seeing them on the screen. Media Buddy sells another line of portable devices called the Picture Porter (for about $100 more) that have color screens for viewing photos, and those actually seems like a better option to me.


Here again, the iPod is the winner. The Media Buddy is about twice the iPod’s size, and close to twice as heavy as well. If you are a serious photographer, odds are you are used to carrying around a lot of gear with you, so perhaps the Media Buddy’s extra size and weight won’t matter. However, I could make the exact opposite argument; because you have so much other stuff to lug around, do you really need a bulky storage device as well?


The Media Buddy beats the iPod on price, coming in $149 cheaper than the 30GB iPod (with camera connector), and 10GB larger in storage capacity for the cheapest model.


While the Media Buddy does exactly what it claims to do, I still feel let down in some areas. First and foremost was speed. The Media Buddy connects to your computer via USB 2, so it can transfer photos to your computer very quickly. However, the transfer from your media card TO Media Buddy is another matter. After my Arizona trip, I went ahead and bought a 4 GB Compact Flash card for the 20D. It took exactly 90 minutes to transfer a full 4GB card to the Media Buddy, yet only took 16 minutes to transfer those same 4GB OFF the Media Buddy. I don’t know what the connection is between the media card slots and Media Buddy’s hard drive, but it rivals USB 1’s pokey speeds.

Also, the battery indicator does not update during transfers. I was initially impressed with Media buddy’s battery life, as after 80 minutes of constant transfer Media Buddy still indicated it had a full charge. However, as soon as it had moved the last picture, the battery display updated, and showed it was down to around 15%. This could lead to a nasty surprise if the battery goes dead during a transfer.


Media Buddy’s usefulness depends largely on what digital gadgets you already own and take with you on a regular basis. If you usually travel with your iPod and/or laptop, Media Buddy is not likely to bring much to the table.

I will freely admit to being biased towards Mac-centric technology, but as an iPod owner, I do not see a clear argument for buying the Media Buddy. If you already own an iPod with a color screen, you would do well to consider just laying out the extra $29 for Apple’s iPod Camera Connector. You will find you have as much or more functionality than the Media Buddy for $150 less. In fact, for the cost of Media Buddy you can afford a 4GB card for your camera, and odds are you will not fill that before you can get back to your computer.

If, however, you do not already own an iPod, and are looking simply to find a fool-proof way to offload your photos from your memory cards, Media Buddy will certainly get the job done (just don’t expect the iPod’s versatility and portability).

Digital Foci’s Media Buddy

Price: $179 (for the 40GB version)

Holds a huge amount of photos, built-in rechargeable battery, easy one-button transfers, supports a wide range of media card types.

Cons: Slow transfers, no color screen, bulky, music player functionality is very basic.

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