Downloading Digital Media from Camera or Camcorder to your Computer

Downloading Digital Media from Camera or Camcorder to your Computer

Today's digital cameras and digital video cameras are designed to work right with your computer. You can take the pictures or video right from your camera and bring it into your computer, where you can store it, edit it and enjoy it.

It wasn't all that easy a few years ago, when the vast majority of video cameras were analog. To bring analog signals into a computer requires converting them to digital, so that they can be read, stored and manipulated. Special devices or internal cards were needed to convert the analog signal into digital, allowing it to be imported into your computer. I remember buying a Media Center computer, just to have this capability. A short time later, the improvements in cameras had made this obsolete.

For your digital camera or camcorder, there are two ways of getting
the digital into your computer:

      •  Using a cable to attach the camera to the computer

      •  Using a Card Reader to read directly from the memory card

Cable Connections

Let's start with attaching the camera to the computer via a cable. Your camera should have come with a cable just for that purpose. If not, don't worry, they're common items and easy to come by. This cable will either connect the camera to the USB port or a FireWire port. While both of these ports have been developed for the same essential purpose, there are differences in architecture, connection and performance.

One of the design criterion for the Universal Serial Bus (USB) was to make it "hot swap" compatible. What that means is that it is designed in such a way as to allow connecting and disconnecting of various devices to a computer, while the computer is on, without the risk of damaging either the computer or the device. Although the original FireWire specification included making the connections "hot swappable" there is apparently a problem with its ability to do so. It is in fact dangerous to "hot swap" FireWire devices; doing so can cause device failure.

On the other hand, FireWire is clearly faster for data transfer than USB. While USB 2.0 boasts that it is can transfer 480 Mbps, FireWire's specification is only 400 Mbps. However, the difference in system architecture, allowing devices to communicate both ways, makes FireWire 16%-33% faster in transferring small files, but as much as 70% faster in transferring large files. Since video files are enormous, this is a definite advantage.

Cable transfer of your video files generally requires the installation of a program or at least a driver on your computer. Since most everything today is plug-n-play, the first time you connect your camera to your
computer, it should automatically install the driver, getting you ready to go.

Many manufacturers also provide a camera interface program, which allows you to view the pictures or video on your camera, and select which ones you want to transfer to your computer. While some of these programs are
kind of cute, I personally think they're a waste of time. If you have a good photo viewing program on your computer, it'll do the same thing, without having to add another program.

Using a Card Reader

If you're like me, you're fortunate enough to have a card reader built right into
your computer. That's part of the deal I got with buying my high-dollar Media
Center. However, most computers don't come with this option built in.

On the other hand, if your computer doesn't have a card
reader, you can easily rectify that problem, by adding a USB 2.0 Card
Reader/Writer. These connect directly to any USB 2.0 port and will generally
read a variety of different types of memory cards. Most manufacturers try and design these devices to accommodate as many types of cards as possible.

When using a card reader, the computer sees the memory card (or chip) as if it was a USB Thumb Drive. That allows you to transfer files back and forth between your memory card and computer, just as if you had those images on any other USB device.

Memory Cards

There are a wide variety of memory cards which have been designed in recent years. Different devices use different cards, so you want to be sure to make a perfect match between your camera, your memory cards, and whatever card reader you are using. Memory cards, along with thumb drives and external hard drives, are referred to as "mass storage devices."

Most of these are based upon flash memory, hence the name. Flash memory is the old EEPPROM (electronically erasable programmable read-only memory) with a fancy new name. EEPROM was originally invented to be a way for manufactures of computer controlled devices to "burn" a program into a memory chip for a simple computer controlled device. The great thing about this is that it makes for extremely stable memory; more so than some other mass storage devices.

Compact Flash


Compact flash is one of the earliest and most successful formats of mass storage devices. This is the most common format used in high-end SLR cameras. Available in up to 32 GB of memory on one card. There is now a Type II CompactFlash which is thicker than the Type I and won't fit in all cameras.

One great advantage that CompactFlash has over other formats is that it has an onboard chip, allowing it to deliver higher transfer rates than other mass storage devices.

Sd Card

 SD (Secure Digital) Card

Secure Digital has become the most popular form of memory for lower priced cameras. It has become the de-facto industry standard. The great advantage of SD memory is its small size. Of all the mass storage devices, SD is the smallest.

As if that wasn't small enough, there is now a mini and a micro SD. These smaller versions have been developed to accommodate the memory needs of smaller devices, such as telephones. The same micro SD card that is used in a telephone can be used in a digital camera with an inexpensive adapter. SDcards are available with up to 32 GB of storage.

xD Picture Card

 xD Picture Card

XD stands for "Extreme Digital" the name given the format by Olympus and Fujifilm for Olympus and Fuji cameras. Although as good a format as many others, it was never largely accepted by other manufacturers, and has basically been phased out.

Memory Stick

 Memory Stick

Memory Stick was developed by Sony for use in their digital video and still cameras. A newer version, Memory Stick Pro was created to allow the higher transfer rates needed for HD video. This newer version also comes in a smaller package, with adapters available to use it in older equipment. Still largely in use, especially for digital video cameras, the Memory Stick is available in up to 32 GB.



The MicroDrive is the rare exception on this list to units that are based on
flash memory. Instead of flash, this unit is actually a 1" hard drive,
mounted in a Type 2 CompactFlash compatible case. This gave the capacity to create the first memory card with over 1 GB of space. As flash memory technology improved, the MicroDrive was overtaken by other mass memory formats and is largely obsolete.



SmartMedia was one of the earliest flash memory formats in use. It was originally touted as a replacement for floppy disks, rather than as a camera memory card. As such, it is larger than other cards, which has led to its ultimate demise. While SmartMedia cards are still available for purchase, no manufacturers are designing new equipment that uses them.

Since the SmartMedia card is being phased out, if you own a camera that uses them, it would be a good idea to stock up on these cards while possible. SmartMedia cards are still available in up to 4 GB.

Regardless of the equipment you have and the way that you are going to transfer your pictures and video to your computer, remember that pictures and especially video are memory hogs. You can fill a hard drive with pictures and video just about as fast as you can blink. For that reason, you may want to sort through your photos and video from time to time, getting rid of those out-of-focus shots, the one you took just to bother your spouse, or things that were taken for a temporary purpose, but have been kept on hand for the last five years.

Another thing you may want to consider is moving your photos and videos to external hard drives. This will allow you to save your internal hard drive for the things you need it for. It also gives you essentially unlimited space for videos of the kids growing up, as all you have to do is buy another external hard drive.


Rich Murphy