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No matter what type of digital memory card your camera uses -- compact flash card, Memory Stick or SD card -- you're going to want a simple, efficient way to get photos out of the camera and into your desktop or laptop computer. Most digital cameras have USB connectors, and some newer ones work through wi-fi connections. But the most efficient way to move photos out of your camera is to remove the full memory card and plug it into a card reader connected to your computer. Many newer desktop or laptop computers have built-in card readers that can accommodate compact flash cards, Memory Stick duo pro or secure digital cards in one reader. If you do not have a built-in reader, you can usually purchase one for as low as $25. You can purchase a reader that reads multiple card types or one that works only with your current card type. Either way, you'll find downloading photos to be more efficient.
Some manufacturers are starting to give consumers a choice about using multiple digital memory cards:
* Sony DSC-R1 Cybershot has slots for both a Memory Stick Pro card and Compact Flash card.
* Canon EOS-1D DSLRs accept both CF and SD cards, as do some Konica/Minolta Maxum and Dimage models.
* Olympus EVolt and late Fuji Finepix cameras use both XD cards and CF cards.
If you have an older digital camera, you may use an out-of-date digital memory card. Here's a round-up of older digital cards:
Microdrive: These are small hard drives built by Hitachi. The cards fit into compact flash templates and were made with a capacity of up to 1 GB. These have largely been replaced by faster high capacity compact flash cards.
Smartmedia: These tiny cards are pretty much dead, replaced by the faster, high-capacity SD cards. Do not try to buy a new Smartmedia card for your pre-2001 camera without checking to see first if it is compatible.
Apple iPods can hold so much music because they have actual micro-hard drives built in. And Hitachi has squeezed micro-drives into compact flash cards. So why aren't there digital still cameras with hard drives?
The answer may have to do with use patterns, convenience, size and cost. Still photographers like the convenience of removeable media, and using cards keeps the size, weight and cost of the camera down. And it allows the camera to be treated much rougher, too.
Video camera makers such as JVC and Toshiba have released digital video cameras with hard drives, instead of digital tapes.
So a digital still cam could be in the future.
Digital memory cards -- compact flash card, SD card or Memory Stick -- all have speed ratings. The higher the rating, the faster a digital camera writes images to the card. This can be useful when shooting sports or other action activities where you want to take multiple photos quickly or shoot high-res videos.
High-speed cards are designated with ratings such as 24X, 40X, 80X and more. They can also have terms like "ultra" and "pro" in their branding.
Not all digital cameras benefit from a high-speed memory card. If you're thinking that a high-speed card will speed up your photo taking, it may. But you need to know the speed rating for your camera. Don't buy a card with a higher speed rating than your camera or you will be wasting your money.
Check the camera manual, or contact the manufacturer, to determine the maximum speed card your camera takes.
Memory Stick is Sony's proprietary flash memory card. The company has been requiring the use of the Memory Stick since 1999 in all Cyber-shot digital still cameras and most Handycam video recorders, as well as its PDAs and some computers and portable music products.
The original Memory Stick comes in limited sizes -- only up to 128 MB -- and is very slow, compared to today's high-speed SD and CF cards. In 2003, Sony came out with the Memory Stick Pro, which has capacity of up to 2GB and transfer speeds comparable to other high-speed cards. However, you cannot use Memory Stick Pro cards with all pre-2003 Sony digital cams.
If you're a Sony user, the Memory Stick lets you use cards to transfer images and data between your camera, laptop, PDA, etc. But if you're not ready to go all Sony, these proprietary Memory Stick and Memory Stick pro cards are virtually useless. Sony has a challenge by almost always limiting users to its proprietary technology, when open source seems to be the popular trend.
Two new digital memory card types have been introduced: mini-SD cards and xD cards. Mini-SD cards are identical to standard SD cards, except they are about 30 percent smaller. The primary appeal is the size. As cameras and other electronics grow smaller, using a smaller digital memory card becomes worthwhile. xD cards are new from Olympus/Fuji. xD cards are small like mini-SD cards, but they offer capacity of up to 8 GB.
While video cameras with hard drives have appeared on the scene during the past year, there have been no rumors yet of digital still cameras with hard drives. The different types of cards -- compact flash cards, secure digital cards and Memory Sticks -- seem to meet consumer needs.