If you are using the cable that came with your digital camera to transfer images to your computer, you are going to be VERY glad you read this post!You need to buy a card reader.

A card reader allows you to take your compact flash card out of your camera and insert it into a device that attaches to your computer by high speed firewire or USB 2.0. The data transfer rates from the card reader are MUCH faster than they are from your camera. Sometimes five to eight times faster.

If you have a USB 2.0 port on your computer, and you probably do if it was purchased in the last few years, you will need a $20 USB card reader. If you have firewire on your computer, for $10 more you can get a fast firewire card reader.

Both the USB and the FIREWIRE card readers act like disk drives. They show up on your desktop and you can simply drag files from the card reader to your hard disk. Once you have moved all your images to your computer, you unmount the card reader and you’re done.

It’s faster and more efficient and you will love it.

Join the conversation! 36 Comments

  1. I’ve heard people discuss that formatting CF cards with their computer is better than doing it in your camera…is this true and if so is this another advantage of having a card reader?
    Does brand matter when you’re choosing a reader?

  2. I’ve heard people discuss that formatting CF cards with their computer is better than doing it in your camera…is this true and if so is this another advantage of having a card reader?
    Does brand matter when you’re choosing a reader?

  3. Matt,

    If you read your manual, I’m sure it will say to NOT format in your computer….Well it does in every camera manual I have read….You can really fudge up your card and make it unreadable by your camera….Worse yet, you can mess up sectors of the and you won’t know it till you get home from a shoot and all those awesome shots you got are unreadable “Corrupt File”.

  4. Matt,

    If you read your manual, I’m sure it will say to NOT format in your computer….Well it does in every camera manual I have read….You can really fudge up your card and make it unreadable by your camera….Worse yet, you can mess up sectors of the and you won’t know it till you get home from a shoot and all those awesome shots you got are unreadable “Corrupt File”.

  5. I have always been a fan of Sandisk cards. They have provided me with outstanding service. Sandisk states there cards are warrantied regardless of whether you fill out the form or not. Two months ago I have a 4Gb card not read or write sent it to Sandisk and got a free repalcement. So you know where my loyalty will be with cards and readers.

  6. I have always been a fan of Sandisk cards. They have provided me with outstanding service. Sandisk states there cards are warrantied regardless of whether you fill out the form or not. Two months ago I have a 4Gb card not read or write sent it to Sandisk and got a free repalcement. So you know where my loyalty will be with cards and readers.

  7. I agree with David – always format in camera. I do it every time after I upload my photos to my computer.

  8. I agree with David – always format in camera. I do it every time after I upload my photos to my computer.

  9. Yup, a card reader is faster and a Lexar is what I use.
    But I often miss the various auto filename and location saving options that were available with the EOS download software. It was handy to be able to just plug the camera in and have it automatically download everything to where I wanted, with dated folder and filename conventions as I set up.
    In this case, a trade off…download speed or automated file management.
    Hmm…maybe it’s time I found a batch file renaming utility…one that gives me more options than Explorer’s ‘number in parenthesis’ batch rename. I can’t go back to the cam’s easy-going USB download speed…not to mention having to fight that insufferable rubber port cover.

  10. @Derik: I use Sandisk exclusively too, and you can get a good and fast Sandisk USB 2.0 card reader bundled with some of their cards for free.

  11. Has anyone every had problems with cheap card readers corrupting files on the compact flash? I had cheap reader and a kingston 2gig card that continually had problems and trashed a bunch of photos. I retired the compact flash to my pda and got a sandisk reader, the old one is in the bottom of a closet. I was wondering if anyone else had similar issues. I never could figure out if it was the reader or the flash card.

  12. Has anyone every had problems with cheap card readers corrupting files on the compact flash? I had cheap reader and a kingston 2gig card that continually had problems and trashed a bunch of photos. I retired the compact flash to my pda and got a sandisk reader, the old one is in the bottom of a closet. I was wondering if anyone else had similar issues. I never could figure out if it was the reader or the flash card.

  13. Has anyone done a speed test with expresscard adapters vs firewire card readers?

  14. Has anyone done a speed test with expresscard adapters vs firewire card readers?

  15. Great tip here on using a card reader instead of the camera. I’ve never really ever considered doing file transfers direct from camera not only because of the speed issue, but also because files can become corrupted during slow transfers.

    On the format question, while it’s true that you should always format cards in camera for optimization, there is nothing inherently wrong with performing a fat32 format on the PC. Actually, I will format in PC on average of once a month to clear out empty folders since my XT only generates 100 images per folder before generating a new one. Without reformatting outside the camera, those folders remain in place (why I don’t know…ask Canon engineers!).

  16. It is faster , but if you use compact flash cards, I think its better to get maybe a 2gb card and leave it in the camera, Its not worth it to me to take a chance on broken pins. Ive had two cameras break pins. That will be a buying point on my next purchase.

  17. It is faster , but if you use compact flash cards, I think its better to get maybe a 2gb card and leave it in the camera, Its not worth it to me to take a chance on broken pins. Ive had two cameras break pins. That will be a buying point on my next purchase.

  18. I have found that the reverse is true with my Canon G9 and my 400 Xti. If I connect the cards to my reader, the transfer is painfully slow. If I connect with the camera, it goes much faster.

  19. Jack, that doesn’t make sense because the pins are not in the CF card, but in the receptacle of whatever you insert the CF into. If pins are breaking, you are probably forcing the card in too fast, or you have grey or black market CF cards that are not made properly. A properly designed CF Card I or II will have their female pinholes aligned so that the pins of the device (whether a card reader or a camera) will insert properly.

    The flaw you are speaking of has nothing to do with CF card size (1 Gig, 2 Gig or 4 Gig, rather in CF card design flaws which are typical of knock-offs and gray market/black market or lower end cards. The ones I use are Ridata and SanDisk, and I only buy from reputable vendors like B&H and Adorama. Another brand to consider would be the ones from Hoodman which get excellent reviews from professional shooters.

  20. I would like to note that using the cable with Pentax brand DSLRs is just as fast as a card reader. I can transfer a full 4GB card using the included cable in no time flat.
    –JZ

  21. I would like to note that using the cable with Pentax brand DSLRs is just as fast as a card reader. I can transfer a full 4GB card using the included cable in no time flat.
    –JZ

  22. One more reason why it’s a good idea…
    If you are transferring your images directly from your camera and the camera battery dies (transfers also eat up a camera battery) there is a good chance the memory card will get corrupted and the remaining images on the card might be lost. My brother had this problem first hand.
    Ernie

  23. One more reason why it’s a good idea…
    If you are transferring your images directly from your camera and the camera battery dies (transfers also eat up a camera battery) there is a good chance the memory card will get corrupted and the remaining images on the card might be lost. My brother had this problem first hand.
    Ernie

  24. One other reason to use a reader is that downloading from you camera drains your battery big time. Everyone loves a longer battery life.

    In regards to formatting, I always do it in camera–and with the camera you’re shooting with. I also format instead of deleting all my pictures after a session. Things may have changed in newer DSLRs (we shot on D1s and D1Xs), but I used to work at a theme park where we would do 8-9 sessions a day around salt water, so we worked out the memory cards. These were the rules they had in place to prevent memory card problems. So don’t go too many shoots without formatting and format on the camera you’re shooting with.

  25. One other reason to use a reader is that downloading from you camera drains your battery big time. Everyone loves a longer battery life.

    In regards to formatting, I always do it in camera–and with the camera you’re shooting with. I also format instead of deleting all my pictures after a session. Things may have changed in newer DSLRs (we shot on D1s and D1Xs), but I used to work at a theme park where we would do 8-9 sessions a day around salt water, so we worked out the memory cards. These were the rules they had in place to prevent memory card problems. So don’t go too many shoots without formatting and format on the camera you’re shooting with.

  26. Not always firewire card reader is faster than USB 2.0 ;-).

  27. Not always firewire card reader is faster than USB 2.0 ;-).

  28. Is this true when the camera has a USB 2.0 interface to start off with. I would assume it would be a very comparable.

  29. I though one of the early tips in the podcast was to only use your memory cards in one camera, always format in that camera, and I think it was Scott who said he only deleted photos in his camera from the camera controls. This doesn’t conflict with that advice?

  30. Jason , I understand how it works, I use lexar cards, not grey market. Im very careful putting the card in. You can get things in a hole if you are out in bad conditions or loose a case or whatever.
    I know size has nothing to do with it, Im just saying that 2gb size is a good size most people can live with. I dont want more than that in any one place at a time. It is a unnecessary evil to have pins ,when contacts(SD)have almost no chance of messing up.
    Thanks for your reply. As far as battery life some one mentioned, canons are so good that i dont see any substantial loss transferring from the camera. Ive been using a card reader since 03, Ive just recently started using adobe bridge to import from the camera.
    It works well for me.

  31. Jason , I understand how it works, I use lexar cards, not grey market. Im very careful putting the card in. You can get things in a hole if you are out in bad conditions or loose a case or whatever.
    I know size has nothing to do with it, Im just saying that 2gb size is a good size most people can live with. I dont want more than that in any one place at a time. It is a unnecessary evil to have pins ,when contacts(SD)have almost no chance of messing up.
    Thanks for your reply. As far as battery life some one mentioned, canons are so good that i dont see any substantial loss transferring from the camera. Ive been using a card reader since 03, Ive just recently started using adobe bridge to import from the camera.
    It works well for me.

  32. @LatFoto yes firewire is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS faster than USB 2.0 if you’re looking at sustained transfer speeds and that’s what we’re talking about here.

    @Chris there’s nothing inconsistent here. Importing from a card reader is not the same as deleting the files on that card reader. Import from the card reader, format in the camera. Don’t loan cards to friends or switch cards between cameras. These are best practices.

  33. @LatFoto yes firewire is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS faster than USB 2.0 if you’re looking at sustained transfer speeds and that’s what we’re talking about here.

    @Chris there’s nothing inconsistent here. Importing from a card reader is not the same as deleting the files on that card reader. Import from the card reader, format in the camera. Don’t loan cards to friends or switch cards between cameras. These are best practices.

  34. [...] post over on This Week in Photography got me thinking about my memory cards and the rituals or practices I take to conserve my image [...]

  35. I know there was some talk of which specification was actually faster than what. heres the layout.

    Low-speed devices (1.5 Mbit/s)
    Full-speed devices (12 Mbit/s)
    High-speed devices (480 Mbit/s)

  36. I know there was some talk of which specification was actually faster than what. heres the layout.

    Low-speed devices (1.5 Mbit/s)
    Full-speed devices (12 Mbit/s)
    High-speed devices (480 Mbit/s)

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About scottbourne

Founder of Photofocus.com. Retired traveling and unhooking from the Internet.

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