I use my digital camera a lot (mainly in conjunction with Apple’s free iTools solutions), but I can’t say that the speed of my USB card-reader bothers me too much. The FireWire card-reader is noticeably faster than the USB model, but I wouldn’t shell- out £59 to replace it. However, if I was relying on a USB cable or had just bought a CompactFlash-based digital camera, I’d definitely pay the extra £10 for the faster connection.
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With digital photography now mainstream for computer users, many of us are more familiar with memory cards than we are with fiddly rolls of 35mm film. Getting the pictures from your camera isn’t difficult, but can take time. Most modern digital cameras allow you to download straight to your hard disk via a USB cable; and improvements in Mac OS X 10.1 make this even easier. Another popular way to get pictures from the memory card to your Mac is via a dedicated card-reader. Remove the card from your camera, stick it in the card-reader, and drag the pictures to the hard drive. That’s a lot easier than rewinding film, putting it in that little plastic canister it came in and that you put somewhere safe (but where?), getting to the nearest Boots, queuing up, depositing film, going back to Boots, queuing up again, paying large a sum of money for fast prints, getting home from Boots, etc. But even the swift delivery that digital cameras offer can seem like a drag when you get used to it. USB is nippy, with a data-transfer rate of about 1.2MB per second (MBps). But those of us who use 128MB and larger cards would jump at a faster connection method. The obvious solution is FireWire, which is capable of about a 5MBps data-transfer rate. Unfortunately, very few digital cameras come with a FireWire connection – which is more the preserve of the digital camcorder. The next best thing is a card-reader that connects via FireWire rather than USB. And Microtech’s popular CameraMate is now available with FireWire. In Macworld tests, the FireWire connection was more than twice as fast as the USB connection – downloading 25MB of high-res pictures in 13 seconds, compared to the USB version’s 34 seconds. The USB CameraMate included slots for both CompactFlash and the rival SmartMedia format. This FireWire version is for CompactFlash only. This is a shame for SmartMedia users, but sensible for Microtech as, in Macworld’s last digital-camera round-up, the chunkier but larger-capacity CompactFlash format was supported three-to-one over SmartMedia. FireWire CameraMate comes with a couple of low-level software tools: Voyager PhotoFolio (slide-show) and PhotoGenetics (image optimizer). However, if you’re serious about image-editing, you’d be better-off with Adobe’s Photoshop Elements.