DCRP Review: SanDisk USB ImageMate CompactFlash Card Reader
by Jeff Keller [DCRP Creator/Webmaster]

Since the beginning of the digital camera revolution, getting those photos off your camera and onto the computer has been the most time consuming part of the process. You had to hook up a serial cable, and leave for a few minutes (to over an hour if you had a lot of photos!) while they slowly downloaded.

As an owner of a camera that used SmartMedia, there weren't a whole lot of options for speeding up the process. When the Flashpath adapter came out, I jumped on it, and it was a substantial improvement.

When I got my Coolpix 950, transferring photos off of a 48MB CompactFlash card was just too slow over my 115kbps serial connection. Plus, since my PowerMac G3 doesn't have a real serial port (it uses the Keyspan USB-Serial adapter), I couldn't go as fast as other computers can (230kbps), and the NikonView software was buggy.

So it was time for a card reader! Most card readers are either Parallel or SCSI. Since I don't have a parallel port, and I wasn't going to try SCSI, I chose a model that uses the fairly new USB bus. USB promises easy plug-and-play installation of up to 127 devices, with transfer rates of up to 12Mbps!

So about a week after the Coolpix arrived, I bought myself a SanDisk USB ImageMate card reader, which cost me about $65 from Buy.com.

The SanDisk USB Imagemate, without a CF card in it.

The card reader is pretty small -- reminiscent of the mouse that comes with the iMac, except it's beige and easier to hold <grin>. The green light on the left is for power, and the orange light on the right shows when the card is being accessed (it blinks).

Installation was simple: plug the card reader into an available USB port (mine went into my Bondi Blue USB hub), and install a few small USB extensions. I'm didn't test the card on the PC, but I assume it's just as easy. After rebooting, the ImageMate was ready to go!

So I stuffed in my SanDisk 48MB CompactFlash card to see what would happen!

Hard to tell, but there's a CF card in it now.

Now, I had the NikonView software installed, so it may not look like it does in my screenshots below, but it will mount just like another hard disk (at least it does on the Mac).

See the little Coolpix icon on the left? That's the mounted CF card. Above that is the finder window containing the images -- it's just like any other folder. On the lower right is the thumbnails that the NikonView application creates on the fly.

Copying files is super-easy -- just drag and drop like you would any file! So how much faster is it?

Times to transfer the large version of the above image (click on it to see the full sized one) are below. The image was 663k, fine quality, 1600x1200.
Serial Connection (115kbps, using Cameraid) 64 seconds
SanDisk USB Imagemate 2.2 seconds

Now I don't know about you, but I think saving a minute on each photo is pretty impressive. Even if you could have your serial ports going the full 230kbps, you still aren't even close. If that file was only 663k, imaging transferring 48MB of photos?

For less than $70, the SanDisk USB ImageMate can't be beat -- it's incredibly fast, easy to install, and almost insultingly easy to use! If you don't have a card reader, you don't know what you're missing!

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