I can download the pictures from the camera using the data cable or I can unplug the card and plug into my PC's card reader. Both work and I couldn't notice big differences in speed or reliability.

What's your take on this?

  • 3
    I hope this won't be closed as subjective & argumentative.
    – Eimantas
    Aug 7 '11 at 18:47
  • 1
    Regarding the 'plug-out/plug-in the card' method I'm a bit worried about the life of the slot's contacts and the card's life too... Aug 7 '11 at 18:53
  • Possible duplicate of photo.stackexchange.com/questions/3345, although as asked that question only covers speed and not other potential issues.
    – mattdm
    Aug 7 '11 at 19:06
  • You will probably get the best download speeds when you use a dedicated card reader built into your computer. With a cable the download can only be as fast as the USB port will allow which may be slower then a high-end card download speeds. In my case it makes a significant difference to plug it dirrectly into a computer. Aug 8 '11 at 13:37

Reasons to use the memory card:

  1. A good card reader will be faster than your camera's data cable (a cheap card reader - not so much)

  2. When you use the camera data cable you also use the batteries, I had an old camera that really drained the batteries when using the data connection (a set of batteries lasted a few days of shooting or about 30 minutes of data connection) - I expect most cameras are better but I haven't used the data cable since.

  3. For SD cards - most laptops have a built in card readers, lots of printers also have card readers, the USB reader that's always connected to my desktop computer right now cost me about $5 - why bother connecting the data cable when I already have a card reader connected.

  4. For CF cards - I've heard (my camera only has an SD card) a good card reader will be so much faster than the camera you'll never ask this question again (a new generation reader from one of the leading memory card brands - not my $5 one).

Reasons to use the camera data cable:

  1. If you don't already have a built in card reader it's one less thing to carry

  2. You could potentially damage the camera's card slot (but I've used my old high end point and shoot so much the lens fell off and the card slot didn't show any damage - so I don't think this is real).

  • 1
    Good answer! Can I suggest adding "hassle" for reasons to use data cable? i.e., it can be fiddly to remove the card from the camera and replace it afterwards.
    – Reid
    Aug 7 '11 at 20:13
  • @Reid - isn't it just as fiddly connecting the data cable? on my camera (Canon 550D) the tiny mini-usb connector is one of 4 black-on-black connectors behind a rubber cover and the card is behind a solid plastic door I can operate with one hand in the dark (but then I have to turn on the lights to find the card reader's slot that is not as well designed)
    – Nir
    Aug 7 '11 at 20:24
  • I was wondering if anyone had a memory card slot failure in regard to the electrical contacts or mechanical spring or whatever... Aug 8 '11 at 7:02
  • I came across a camera (think it was one of the older Canon point'n'shoots that wouldn't allow me to access the card directly - I had to have the card in the camera and connect the data cable to that. Personally I just connect the cable to the camera and download that way, but it does mean that while I'm downloading I can't take photos! Aug 8 '11 at 10:00
  • @Andrei Rinea - I did a quick Google search and I've found nothing - since just about every electrical device today has a memory card slot (except Apple devices obviously, the iPhone is completely perfect in every way and never needs a memory card) I would guess that even id there was a 0.1% chance of failure the internet would be full of stories
    – Nir
    Aug 8 '11 at 11:00

I prefer using the faster method of removing the card, but I've had problems with two cameras using this method. It seems to wear out the contacts on some cards and/or camera slots which can be an expensive repair job.


When using my D100 I've almost always used the data cable but I'm never in a rush. When I started out with the camera I bought a CompactFlash card reader or two but none of them ever worked very well for me, possibly becasue they were low quality items.

For my wife's Coolpix I use the SD card in the SD slot of my laptop which works very fast, but I have left the card in the laptop a couple of times which is a bit embarrassing...

  • 1
    I forgot the card in the laptop as well. The easy thing to do to avoid this is to leave the card door open on the camera so when you take it, this will remind you about the missing card. Jan 4 '12 at 9:06

I would say it's better to use the memory card as going through USB turns out to be much slower in my experience. You also end up having to keep the camera on in order to use USB to transfer pictures.


I have a card reader in my Desktop PC and it works fast and efficient. On trips I transfer from SD cards to my WD external storage ( thankfully small and light) until I get home.

  • How does it compare to using the camera tethered directly? The OP is looking for guidance between the two, so without something to compare to it doesn't really answer the question.
    – AJ Henderson
    Aug 15 '19 at 0:43

Here are a few reasons I found for using the USB connection on cameras of mine:

a) no suitable card reader or adapter at hand. Sony DSC-R1 has both Compact Flash and MemoryStick slots and no™ laptop has a CF reader built-in (and the CF card is sort of like "internal memory" to me when I've forgotten to replace the MemoryStick). Also some Sony cameras take MemoryStick and some take MemoryStick Duo cards, and Expresscard (or builtin) readers tend go only for one of those.

b) memory card is inaccessible when camera is in use. Panasonic DMC-FZ200 has its battery-and-memory door located that you have no chance to open it when on a tripod. And it's so close to the mount screw that it's not even accessible when just a quick release plate is on the camera. Putting the camera in a lens clamp helps.

In the same vein, the screw-on leather half-case of the Sony DSC-R1 leaves both memory card and battery door inaccessible.

c) camera does not offer copying between memory cards. Particularly relevant for the DSC-R1 to get images from the CF back to a MemoryStick.

d) half of the time you forget putting the memory card back into the camera, leading to an unpleasant surprise when you next want to use it. So for just checking/getting a single photograph, the cable might be easiest.

e) with a large size microSD card in a MemoryStick adapter, the first use in-camera after working on it on the computer takes a really really long startup time in the DSC-R1. No idea what the camera is doing then, likely some integrity check.

That being said, as a rule I take the card out and put it in the computer.

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