In the early days of digital photography, the only way to transfer images from the camera to a computer was with a cable usually USB, but some early digicams used SCSI or Firewire connections. As reusable memory cards became popular, card readers appeared, allowing users to quickly move images from the card to their hard drive.
Surprisingly, even today, many digital photographers still transfer their images to their computer via a USB cable. Card readers are inexpensive, faster and more reliable, yet many digital camera users still have not acquired one.
1: Card readers are far faster
Undoubtedly, the biggest advantage to a card reader is speed. Images transfer at a rate several times that of a camera USB connection. It is helpful whenever you can shorten the image acquisition period. As memory cards increase in capacity and cameras offer greater pixel density, however, transfer speed becomes a major issue. My initial digital camera only had 8MB of storage memory, and I felt it took a long time to transfer the images to my hard drive. Today a single raw image could be twice that size. A card with thirty or forty images of that size would take an eternity to transfer by USB cable.
2: When reliability is a priority, choose a card reader
While speed is important, reliability is crucial. The problem with connecting a camera to your computer is that the camera has to be on all the time the transfer is being executed. If the battery dies during the transfer, the current transfer will be lost. Even worse, there is a danger that the memory card will be corrupted if the power goes down during a read. Its true that many newer cameras have longer lasting batteries, but memory cards are also getting larger, so that might not be much help. Some camera manufacturers actually recommend that the camera be powered by an AC cord during the transfer, in order to alleviate any problem of the battery dying during the copy.
There are no power consumption worries with a card reader. Power comes directly from the USB or Firewire connection. Unless there is a major power outage or the computer crashes, the power to the card reader will remain stable.
3: Digital camera connections are plug and pray
Connecting a camera to the computer is fairly simple, but I have experienced many instances where the computer refused to recognize the camera. Rebooting the computer typically fixes the problem, but that is still an annoyance.
In contrast, card readers are generally found immediately by the computer. Plug the reader in, insert the memory card and you can start transferring your files.
4: Memory Card readers allow you to walk away
Once you have stated a transfer, you are free to do other things. Eat dinner. Watch TV. Take a walk. Even go to bed for the night. You do not have to baby-sit the file transfer process. I would not feel comfortable leaving my digital camera unsupervised in the on mode for an extended length of time. Maybe I am being too conservative, but leaving my camera on overnight just does not seem like a good idea. With a reader, when your file transfer is completed, everything just waits until you return.
5: You are free to use your camera while your files transfer to the computer
If your camera is tied to your computer, transferring files, you obviously cannot be off shooting. In contrast, you can load a memory card into your reader, start a file transfer and then load a fresh card into the camera and continue making images. The ability to transfer pictures while you are off shooting new ones is another major advantage to a reader.
So what are you waiting for?
If you are serious about digital photography, I suggest you ditch that USB cable and get a good card reader. You will soon wonder how you ever got along without one!
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Tom Bonner provides photography and web design services to clients in the Gastonia, North Carolina area. You can find out more about Tom at http://adventuresindesign.com