I've finally upgraded to digital, with the Canon EOS 5D (Mk. I). I'm debating the advantage of using an SD-CF adapter vs regular CF cards. The primary advantage of the former is that it avoids necessitating the purchase of a CF-USB adapter to upload photos to my computer (and from thence to my hardrive).

However, I have heard that not all devices are forward compatible with newer SD cards.

Which solution is preferable for a 12-year-old dSLR?

  • \$\begingroup\$ can you use usb cable to download pictures directly from camera? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2017 at 2:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @aaaaaa, not sure, I'll check the manual (although I expect it would be slower) \$\endgroup\$
    – NoahM
    Jan 26, 2017 at 2:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NoahM - Yes you can download images directly from the camera via USB. Yes it will be slower than using a CF-USB. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Jan 26, 2017 at 2:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ What exactly do you own? Canon 5D, SD card, SD card reader? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2017 at 3:03
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ it seems that CF-SD adapters are usually not very high quality. You might save $30-40 in short turn with chances of some long-term problems. Plus you will lose your laptop SD card as storage. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2017 at 4:44

6 Answers 6


The biggest issue with using an SD to CF card adapter is that most of them aren't that reliable. So even if you have a fairly high quality SD card in it, if the adapter causes issues while you are in the field shooting you will have no way to get your images recorded to the SD card. CF cards are some of the most robust and durable memory cards available. My advice would be to use a CF card in the camera while recording images. It is by far the most reliable option to safely record your images.

That leaves you with two basic choices regarding how to move your images from the camera to your computer: via a USB cable attached to the camera or via a CF card reader. The cable option would be cheaper but (probably) slower. The card reader option would require the purchase of a reader, preferably a name brand one from a company such as SanDisk, Lexar, Transcend, etc.

The cheap, no-name CF card readers tend to be very cheaply made and the slot for the cards usually isn't deep enough to insure proper insertion. This can lead to problems with the pins on the reader getting bent and not lining up with holes on the card. There have been some reported cases of pins shorting out on adjacent pins and damaging a card being inserted.

Personal disclosure: I almost always use the camera to transfer my images to PC using the USB cable and EOS Utility. As the images are transferring they're also being renamed to my specification, being placed in a folder automatically created to my specification, and I'm able to see a quick preview of each image while the next one is transferring. If you ever need to any type of recovery operation (say you accidentally deleted some images from the card before transferring them), though, a CF card reader is indispensable.

A few other things to consider:

The 5D "Classic" as originally shipped only recognized CF cards up to 4GB. To use higher capacity cards with the 5D one must be running firmware version 1.1.1. This was the last firmware version released for the original 5D. This allows cards of up to at least 16GB (and maybe more) to be fully utilized. A larger card would work, but the camera would neither see nor use the full capacity.

The 5D, released in 2005, is also fairly slow by current standards with regard to the speed at which it can write to the CF card slot. An UDMA card gains you no advantage, but any UDMA card is also backwards compatible with slower devices so it would work in your 5D. Any CF card you can find on the current market is probably going to be far faster than the 5D can take advantage. Keep in mind that often the most current and fastest cards can be found at a lower price than older, slower cards.

The USB port is USB 2.0 Hi-Speed compatible.

One advantage the original 5D has over its newer counterparts: It can be directly connected to most computers without the need for EOS Utility or other additional software or drivers. The in-camera menu selection for Communication just needs to be set to Print/PTP rather than PC Connect.

This is a very good thing since the last version of EOS Utility listed on Canon's support page for the 5D is version 2.7.3. The last Windows OS for which v.2.7.3 is certified compatible is Vista (32)! For Mac you have to go back to OS X 10.5 for certified compatibility with EOS Utility 2.7.2.

On the other hand, Canon's most up to date version of Digital Photo Professional, version 4.5.20, is compatible with raw files from the 5D "classic". This is the first version of DPP 4 that includes the capability of processing raw files from the 5D. Previously 5D users were limited to versions of DPP 3 and earlier that were far less capable. You can download any of the Canon Software from their support pages for your particular geographic area.


The primary advantage of the former is that it avoids necessitating the purchase of a CF-USB adapter to upload photos to my computer (and from thence to my hardrive).

If this is your main reason then it is not worth it. I have a 40D, and bought an adaptor and a 16GB SD card. So far it all works fine, however removing the SD card from the adaptor is difficult. There is only a tiny bit of the SD card which you can get a grip on so I have to remove it with a pair of pliers and the SD card casing has started to crack. Also because the adaptor is made from a very thin piece of metal, it has started to shave part of the SD card casing off.

So I have just left both devices together, and put the whole thing in a CF card reader. I had originally thought I could buy a few cheap SD cards and just have one adaptor (and maybe a spare), but frequently removing and reinserting an SD card in to the adaptor is not possible, as after 3 or 4 cycles the SD card is becoming damaged.

If you will buy an SD card plus adaptor, fit them together once and use them basically as you would use a normal CF card then I think you will be fine (assuming the quality of the adaptor is adequate), but if you are expecting to be able to separate them frequently then this will not work.


There isn't necessarily a preferred method, because as you noted each option has its own pros and cons. Only you can make the decision what is right for you.

You need to consider:

  • Speed
  • Cost - Sometimes SD cards can be cheaper
  • Convenience - Adapters, size, existing computer slots
  • Availability - Do you already have cards of one type?
  • Reliability - Points of failure (2 cards vs 1)
  • Probably other items as this list isn't exhaustive

Since in almost all cases CompactFlash cards should give you the fastest speeds to read/write while using the camera, usually it is an easy choice for people to make. Most people don't want to sacrifice camera performance for other benefits, but of course that is your choice. Maybe you are willing to put up with a slightly slower buffer, or you never shoot burst shots - but instead you greatly value the convenience of not having to carry an extra USB cord or CF-USB adapter.

In the end, the reality is with a 12 year old camera using any modern high speed card, be it CF or SD via CF adapter - you will probably get results that are perfectly acceptable for most conditions. I just don't know that I'd deal with the hassle of an off brand adapter that could break, cause issues, or slow me down.


Unlike other answers (including ones I've upvoted) I always use a USB card reader with my CF cards, and have only had one failure from 3 cheap readers (plus a couple of more expensive ones and printers, hard drives with built in readers). A brand like belkin cost a similar amount to a fairly small card last time I checked; my cheap external ones cost around 1/4 of that.

I stopped using EOS utility when I stopped using win98 (a little later than most people) and don't miss it. At the time I made good use of a portable hard drive with card reader that could back up cards on the road, and of course that didn't work with canon's software.

Whether your model supports SDHC or not should be findable online, and worst case you end up with a card you can't use. But if you avoid SDHC you can be sure you'll be fine. You can still buy basic SD cards.

  • \$\begingroup\$ EOS Utility and DPP have changed just a bit (LOL) since win98. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jan 26, 2017 at 17:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Chris, whether it supports SDHC would be a question for an adapter, as the camera doesn't have a built-in SD slot. \$\endgroup\$
    – NoahM
    Jan 26, 2017 at 18:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaekClark I've actually used them on a work machine recently. That led to me buying a couple more cheap card readers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    Jan 26, 2017 at 19:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NoahM you're right of course. I could have been clearer. But there is a chance that the adaptor will support cards that then don't work in the camera - test before shooting anything important \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    Jan 26, 2017 at 19:05

Just a note on the 16GB cards and the older cameras. As long as you format the card on a computer and not in the camera, they will work.

I currently have a 32GB card that works perfectly, in one of those SD to CF adapters and a 20-D. I also have a half dozen of those adapters that don't work on anything, anywhere.

Enough time wasted on these unreliable adapters. Also as above, the adapter sticks in the camera slot and I have to use a needle nose to remove it.

I just ordered a 32GB CF card on eBay, the prices have come down to where, there's no advantage, and minimal savings, in using a SD to CF adapter.


Used one (the most sold adapter, the red one), then had a bent pin inside the camera (Nikon D800) then repaired, then bent again. Guess am a slow learner. Conclusion: these doodads just aren't manufactured well enough. Never again for me. I use the SD port and stick an old CF card in the other one. If you really need this, try to Not take it in and out of the camera too many times.


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