Terabytes And Klingons

The butter yellow exterior of this mansion on the outskirts of Salzburg, Austria is offset with vivid green window shutters.

Many of us have external storage devices onto which we store our digital images and other essential files. These days external storage devices of 1 or 2 Terabytes (Tb) are quite common. Look out for petabyte, exabyte, zettabyte and yottabyte devices into the future.

Sounds like science fiction yet it wasn't all that long ago on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation when, if my memory serves me right, Will Riker (i.e., Number One) informed Captain Picard of a 1TB upgrade to the weapons system of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the face of a Klingon attack. It's just another example of life imitating art.

But, given where we are today with storage devices, the following points may help add some perspective to where a 1 Terabyte device fits into the scheme of things?


A Bit is a binary digit which we can express as 2 to the power of 1. The most basic unit of digital information, we can describe a bit as having only two possible values. For example on or off, 0 or 1.


A Byte is a unit of digital information that usually contains eight 8 bits. Historically a byte was the number of bits used to encode a single character (e.g., K) of text in a computer.

A Byte can also be expressed as 2 to the power of 8. Interestingly, if you do the maths (2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2) you'll arrive at 256 which is the number of levels of brightness in a JPEG image, where 0 is jet black and 255 pure white.

Kilobyte (Kb)

A Kilobyte (Kb), which can be expressed as 2 to the power of 10, is comprised of 1,024 bytes or 8,192 bits of data or information.

Megabyte Mb

Defined as 2 to the power of 20 a Megabyte (Mb) is, roughly, 1,000,000 bytes of data.

Gigabyte Gb

Similarly a Gigabyte (Gb) is 2 to the power of 30 which equates to around 1,000,000,000 bytes.

Terabyte TB

And that now very affordable 1 Terabyte drive, expressed as 2 to the power of 40, is capable of storing around 1,000,000,000,000 bytes of data.

Well, I hope that was a bit of fun and, hopefully, informative for some of you. Because knowing it won't make you a better photographer, I wouldn't worry about consigning it to memory (your own, not the computers).

Nevertheless, I think it’s worthwhile having some idea of how such things fit in the greater scheme of our lives as photographers/digital photographers/digital image makers. On that note I wonder which of those 3 terms will most commonly be used in the next 5 to 10 years when the term Terabyte will, for many, seem like ancient history.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru