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Memory Card Readers: It’s just a reader, right?

27 Jul Posted by Matt in Basics, News |
Memory Card Readers: It’s just a reader, right?

Before you dismiss this post with a sigh, mumbling under your breath that as long as your card fits you couldn’t care less about your memory card reader, let me share a brief experience.

£1 SD Card Reader

Cheap, but is it cheerful?

A week ago my thoughts on memory card readers were, at best, apathetic. Certainly I wouldn’t have predicted writing an article about them. After all, at the risk of losing your attention already, they are hardly an exciting topic.

My workflow for transferring images between my camera and computer has never really changed; I take the pictures, pop out the SD Card, put the card in a cheap USB reader that I got free years ago, and then copy the images across. It’s a method many of you will be familiar with, I’m sure.

Life Through a LensRoll forward to last weekend. I’m shooting an event where the images will be put on a company’s Facebook page for the subjects to tag themselves in. The people I’ve photographed will be expecting the pictures, and as the whole thing was being done as a promo for the company it would look very bad if the pictures were lost. Thankfully a quick flick through them on the back of the camera whist we travelled back confirmed we had a number of promising shots, so we were happy.

Back in my flat I begin the process above, and at the point where the card is out of the camera and in the reader all is going well. I plug it in, wait a few seconds, and get greeted with this:

Disk Not Ejected Properly

That’s odd, I don’t think I’ve removed the the card, and the light on the reader suggests its still connected. A few attempts to plug and unplug the reader have no effect, so still unphased I decide I’ll just get them off through the camera.

At this point it becomes obvious something is up. The camera will now only show a handful of the images that are on the card. I find another card reader, and it won’t even mount.

The memory card is corrupted. Oh dear.

Like most of us, I never thought a corrupt memory card would happen to me. After all I use decent cards (mainly 8gb SanDisk Extremes), format them after most shoots, and don’t do anything daft with them.

I did a little experiment and a freshly formatted card with a few pictures on suffered the same fate in the hands of the cheap card reader – failure to mount, an error, and then the pictures ‘lost’.

I had never considered the ‘quality’ of my card reader to be important, but a sting like this is somewhat of a wake up call. Take a step back and it does seem mad to have thousands of pounds invested in camera bodies, lenses, and other equipment, only to rely on a card reader that is available from Poundland to transfer the resulting pictures.

Fuji Multi Card ReaderThe thing is, a reliable card reader isn’t expensive. The cheap unbranded reader is now residing where it belongs, in the bin. It’s replacement is a Fujifilm reader that was recommended to me by another photographer, and cost £14. In photography terms, this is nothing, and if you shop around the internet you can find it for half that.

I did get the photos back, although as it was beyond what I could do with the recovery software I had on my Mac (and I needed the photos fast), I had to pay for it to be done at a camera shop. At the time £25 was a small price to pay to get the photos back, but if I’d only bought a better card reader in the first place I would be £9 better off, and the photos would have got online faster.

Some food for thought then, and a reminder that whilst you may only use your card reader to ‘read’, it’s probably a card writer as well. From now on I don’t think I’ll be trusting £1 unbranded electronics with any valuable images.

As a London resident living but a stones throw from one of the most exciting and photogenic events in the world, perhaps it’s lucky that I upgraded my card reader in time…


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