Card readers are the new camera bags…

©Neil Turner, December 2014. A small selection of the CF card readers that I own

©Neil Turner, December 2014. A small selection of the CF card readers that I own

As I sit here about to hit “buy” on yet another new reader for compact flash cards I am feeling more than a little bit of deja vu. And when I say “deja vu” I mean multiple layers of it. Sure I’ve bought plenty of CF, SD and even PCMCIA card readers in my time and of course none of them has been perfect but that feeling is an identical replica of the feeling I get when I buy a new camera bag – it’s a complex emotion; optimism meets resignation as I want to think that “the one” that I am buying is as perfect as I long for it to be whilst knowing full-well that it is going to be just as disappointing and just as deeply flawed as the last one, the one before that and the twenty or more before that.

It appears to be part of the psyche of professional photographers that we have to seek perfection in the equipment that we buy and use without acknowledging that such a thing doesn’t exist and that it probably never will. In just the same way that there is a colossal amount of choice in the camera bag market, there are lots of different CF card readers out there. Where the two markets diverge is in the quality of the construction and the longevity of the products. I have camera bags that have lapped the world and lived in more car boots than I can remember and that are still perfectly serviceable whereas CF card readers are cheap, poorly made and don’t appear to be of professional quality at all.

It isn’t completely the fault of the manufacturers: the pin design on compact flash cards isn’t as tough as you’d like and the way that the current crop of USB3 readers with separate cables  experience problems with the cable to reader connection would imply that it may be the USB3 standard that is at fault rather than the manufacturers quality control or design. This is backed up by the number of portable USB3 hard drives that are being reported as failing due to that same connection. It wasn’t always this way. I still have a couple of Sandisk Firewire 800 card readers that are as good as new despite having a hard life and being pretty much obsolete and the ancient PCMCIA reader that lives in a box in the loft was a proper professional bit of kit.

The accepted wisdom was that readers with removable cables were a good idea because the cables were the part of the kit that was prone to damage but that’s no longer the case. In an almost heretical move I am leaning towards the idea that built-in cables, avoiding the car crash that is the USB3 standard, are once again a good idea – and that is why my finger is hovering over the “buy” button because Delkin Devices have produced a reasonably solid looking USB3 reader with a built-in, chunky cable. Of course I’m resigned to the idea that there will be issues – this is one of those moments where optimism is high and the deja vu is strong.

Here goes…


  1. Now that I only have a use for SD cards, I use the inbuilt card slot on my laptop. My travel machine doesn’t have an SD slot so I use a USB card reader that has no cable at all: It looks like a USB stick with a slot in the side.

    The only issues I have had with reading SD cards is with the inbuilt card reader.

    The first time the inbuilt card reader failed to read, my heart sank. Thankfully it was solved by a quick scrape of the contacts on the card with a craft knife.
    Camera bags are another story. I like Domke. I like the lack of boxy structure and I like the metal quick fasteners. I like the bags except for the way the black canvas fades to a dirty ‘unsuitable for anywhere remotely posh’ grey colour.
    What bags do you like?


    1. SD cards aren’t really the best thing for me most of the time so I still have the agony of finding CF card readers. As far as bags go, I have dozens.

      On a daily basis I use a Domke J3 or a LowePro Stealth Reporter 650. When I’m travelling it is more likely to be a Think Tank Airport Take Off. My laptop lives in a small back pack.


  2. Great post as always Neil.

    How true this is. Can’t believe how many SD/CF card readers I have been through too. I think the vast majority are either too cheaply made and therefore cheap to buy, or they are too expensive and you can’t warrant paying out that much money on a device which is likely going to fail anyway.

    I have never managed to have the perfect camera bag either. I usually go for Lowepro, but think I might be changing next time, as I am fed up with zips breaking on them, even though I think they are well made. My last camera bag a lowepro pro trekker aw ii was far too big, and when all my gear was in it, it weighed a ton. My current Bag is way too small and was not as good as i thought it would be when I purchased it. I used to like the old Billingham bags, but they caused me back & shoulder issues.

    I now have some Think Tank pouches which help so much, especially with my back. So maybe I should look into a bag that I can either use off the shoulder/hip or as a back pack for my next bag.

    Thanks – Let us know how you get on with the one you buy.


  3. I just bought another bag, but I was under no illusion about it – I know I’ll never find ‘The Perfect One’
    The hunt is fun though.


  4. Oh the eternal search for the perfect something or other…I feel your pain.

    I wish sd cards were better made, I’ve written three off this year, that plastic slidy thing breaks off.

    As for bags, I’ve chosen a bag that’s great but is in no way a looker. It the all weather carry bag from newswear and looks like military webbing. From here to wherever I’m going it travels loaded inside my pacsafe backpack, then gets worn when I’m working. For me it’s all I could ever want, comfy but you have to put up with the strange looks.


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