Memory Card Drives

Memory cards (see Figure 17-4) are really solid-state floppy diskettes (except for microdrives, which are literally tiny hard drives). They are formatted exactly like floppies, and data can be saved, modified, or erased. (See Chapter 4.) Of course, the image files stored on a memory card can be transferred by attaching the camera with the card to the PC, but it's often faster and easier to remove the card and insert it into what is commonly called a memory card drive.

Memory card drives (also called card readers, although they can write data, too) come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and configurations, priced about $10-$60. They're available everywhere that computer peripherals are sold. Most card readers are external, unpowered USB devices with a number of slots to accommodate different types of memory cards (CompactFlash, SD/MMC, Memory Stick, SmartMedia, and so on), like the SanDisk ImageMate pictured in Figure 17-5. A few are dedicated to one type of card only, and a handful connect to the computer via FireWire rather than USB. Other memory card readers resemble a floppy disk drive designed to fit inside your PC in any available drive bay.

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Figure 17-4: Memory cards come in a variety of types. Pictured here are (A) CompactFlash, (B) xD Picture card, (C) SD card, (D) SmartMedia, and (E) Memory Stick. (Photo taken with a Kodak EasyShare CX7430 and transferred to our network using a memory card reader.)

Unless your digital camera happens to come with a dock, we strongly recommend using a card reader as your primary method of transferring images to your computer. In fact, every computer in our studio has a SanDisk ImageMate card reader attached to it. We also have portable card readers in each of our laptop bags. Unless you are using an older operating system, most card readers don't even need a separate driver to install—just plug it in, and the computer will automatically recognize it. Then, when you insert a memory card into it, the card is mounted onto your system as a hard drive, with all files accessible as if they resided on your computer.

Here's some hard-earned advice on selecting and using card readers:

■ Spend a little more money and get a USB 2.0 unit rather than USB 1.1 (assuming that your computer is USB 2.0 compatible).

■ For optimum speed, attach the card reader directly into your computer's USB port rather than into a hub, and preferably a port built into your computer's motherboard rather than a peripherals board.

■ Generally speaking, you may safely insert and remove memory cards whenever you want. But if you want to unplug the card reader, be sure to unmount the drive (on Macs) or click

Figure 17-5: This SanDisk ImageMate card reader can accommodate a variety of memory cards including the CompactFlash and SD card that are currently in it. Notice the USB plug it uses to connect to the computer. (Photographed with a Konica Minolta DiMAGE A2.)

on the Safely Remove Hardware icon (Windows) before detaching it. Otherwise, it may not be automatically recognized when you plug it back in.

■ Be careful putting a memory card into the reader. If it's not in the right direction or if you use too much force, you might damage both the card and the reader.

■ If your computer tells you to Insert a Disk in Drive x rather than recognizing your memory card, try reinserting the memory card into the reader. If that doesn't work, you probably need to reboot your computer.

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