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I've heard that compact flash readers allow your computer to much faster read the photos off the camera, than when you connect your camera over USB.

Is that true? What about other card formats, like SD?

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See also photo.stackexchange.com/questions/14669/…, on issues other than speed. –  mattdm Aug 7 '11 at 19:07

3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

It depends.

My last camera only connected at USB1.1 speeds, so was slower than using a USB2.0 card reader.

However, if your camera can do USB2.0 or you have a USB1.1 or USB1.0 card reader, you wont see that benefit.

You can get Firewire or ExpressCard card readers for CF cards, which are faster than USB2.0, (and I think generally limited by the speed of the CF card). Sandisk do the fastest of these - see Extreme Firewire Reader and Extreme Pro ExpressCard Adapter.

Of course with USB3.0 devices beginning to appear, these are (theoretically) faster still than Firewire - but you need a machine that supports them (rather than running in USB2.0 backwards compatibility mode) to benefit from this speed.

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I've always found that the quality of the card reader also seems to affect transfer speed. My cheap USB 2.0 card reader was slower than most USB 2.0 cameras but my new, better quality, reader is much, much faster. –  digitalpardoe Sep 19 '10 at 13:02
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For me the camera is slightly slower than using the card reader. However, I'm willing to pay that price for the security that I cannot forget the card in the reader at home ... –  Joey Jan 10 '11 at 15:53

This depends on a number of factors but, in general, it would be true. The primary reason is that many readers are not attached via USB and so are not limited by the speed of the USB bus and are also not sharing the bandwidth of the USB bus with other devices. However, if your CF reader is USB, it wouldn't likely be much faster, if at all. Anyways, it can be all over the map and will very much depend on the speed of the reader, the speed of the computer, and the speed of the card.

However, a big win on transfering via a reader is that you don't waste your camera battery doing the download. Even if I wasn't gaining anything on speed, this is enough of a reason for me to not transfer via USB (though I do gain on the speed with my reader).

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I've not seen any external card reader that didn't connect via USB? even the internal ones I've seen use an internal USB connector... –  Rowland Shaw Sep 17 '10 at 14:38
    
I'm not sure about internal readers (my assumption is that these are over internal USB), but there are external non-USB readers. They're more expensive and use slightly less common ports, so most people wont use them - only those after the extra speed. (I've added a couple of links to my answer) –  Peter Boughton Sep 17 '10 at 15:23
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There is one external card-reader that is FW800 based made by sandisk. It's pretty rare to find in stores (usually you need to order it online). Everything is pretty much now USB2.0 (with USB3.0 on the horizon). –  Alan Sep 17 '10 at 16:25
    
@Rowland: Who said it was external? I have internal readers on a few of my machines and not all are USB connected, some are on the PCI bus. –  John Cavan Sep 17 '10 at 23:04

If you don't want to drain your battery every-time you transfer the files from your camera, then you should use a card reader. Directly connecting your camera to the computer to transfer pictures, drastically drains the battery.

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