Desktop darkroom

You've bought a digital camera, or you're about to make the leap - no film, no negatives, no fuss. But there's another side to digital photography: the downloads, the tweaking, the printing, the archiving.

Sound complicated? It isn't, if you know the ropes and have the right tools. We show you the simplest and best ways of transferring your pictures to a PC, enhancing them, and sharing them online.

So, take that digital camera to the footy, to your sister's wedding, and to your next family barbecue. And read on for a bonanza of tips telling how to make the most of your desktop darkroom.


Nearly every digital camera comes with the cable and software you need to transfer your photographs (which are usually stored on an included CompactFlash or SmartMedia card) to a PC. Using the bundled cable consumes a camera's battery power, and the process can be tedious - if the cable is too short, for example. For an easier and faster method that doesn't drain your camera's battery, invest $80 to $220 in a memory card reader.

Many card readers plug into a desktop's USB or parallel port and behave like any other external storage drive. Cable-free card readers are also available: for example, you can insert a FlashPath floppy disk adapter right into a computer's floppy drive. Another cable-free option is a PC Card adapter that allows you to plug a memory card first into the adapter and then into a notebook's PC Card slot.

After a card reader is installed, Windows assigns a "drive letter to the reader (except in the case of floppy adapters, which retain the floppy's A: drive designation). As a result, you can easily access stored images on your CompactFlash or SmartMedia memory card through Windows Explorer and other standard applications.

Almost every memory card reader we evaluated outperformed a USB cable hookup from a digital camera to a desktop system. Most of the readers transferred digital photos at speeds ranging from one-quarter to one-third faster compared to using the camera's bundled USB cable.

The PC Card adapters performed the best, but only by an eyelash. The only exception to the memory card adapters' speedy results: FlashPath floppy disk adapters for SmartMedia cards were far slower at the task than any other transfer method.

For this card reader evaluation, we tested 13 readers with various interface and media combinations. In determining our top choices, we looked for speedy transfers and a reasonable price. If your digital camera uses CompactFlash memory cards and your PC has a USB connection, we recommend using the $88 SanDisk CompactFlash ImageMate ( If your USB port is on the front of your PC rather than on the back, go with Microtech's $106 ZiO (, a compact, cable-free reader.

If your camera stores images on a SmartMedia card, try the $83 SmartMedia USB Reader from Lexar Media ( If you need to handle both CompactFlash and SmartMedia, consider using Microtech's $215 CameraMate USB or Lexar Media's $169 Universal Digital Film Reader USB.

Finally, if you use a notebook, the fastest, most convenient option is to use a PC Card adapter. Check out the $25 SanDisk PC Card Adapter for CompactFlash. SmartMedia card users can obtain the Olympus PC Card adapter for a steep $178.

- Melissa J. Perenson and Grace Aquino

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?