Professional photographers have a wealth of options for transferring pictures from a digital SLR's CompactFlash card to a Mac or PC. These options include tethering the camera to the computer, installing an internal card reader in a desktop computer, using the card slot that is a standard feature of most laptops or connecting an external card reader.
This report focuses on the last two options. We evaluate the speed and overall usability of the PC Card slot in late model Mac and PC laptops, as well as 8 external card readers, most of which are FireWire or USB 2.0. FireWire and USB 2.0 are among the quickest interfaces available on a broad range of computers today, and reader manufacturers have responded by producing a steady stream of FireWire and USB 2.0 card readers.
Though one USB 1.1 reader is included, it's here only to highlight that for those looking at a USB reader, one capable of operating at USB 2.0's higher throughput is a much, much better choice. Assuming, that is, that your computer's USB ports are USB 2.0 as well. To gain the performance benefits of USB 2.0, both the device and the port to which its connected must be USB 2.0.
Card readers tested for this report
CompactFlash remains the dominant storage media in digital SLR photography, and as such we looked only at readers that support this format (though some readers also support other formats). If your camera is the Kodak DCS Pro 14n, you might want to look at the handful of readers we tested that also support MMC/SD cards, since Kodak's newest digital SLR accepts both CompactFlash and this newer card type.
To measure each reader's performance, we gathered 11 different CompactFlash cards and filled each with about 225MB of digital SLR photos. We then timed how long it to transfer photos from each card to a Mac and PC using each card reader. The centrepiece of the report is the performance data gleaned from these tests. You'll also find information on each reader's features and usability. We hope that you'll be able to look at how fast a reader is, weigh what's hot and what's not about that reader in other areas, and then make a decision about which reader is right for your pro digital workflow.
Testing assisted by Megan Somerville.