In the bad old days of computing, getting files that were larger than a floppy disk off your computer was an onerous task that involved a lot of proprietary cables, drivers, and expletives.
Nothing has made transferring large files easier than the advent of the Universal Serial Bus (USB) and Flash memory. Unlike the memory your computer uses for day-to-day calculations (RAM), Flash memory doesn't lose its data when you turn off the power. In that way, it is much like a very tiny hard disk, except not as fast. USB is popular because after years of talk about the concept of "plug and play," finally now you really can just plug in a device or cable and the computer recognizes it.
Many people who have digital cameras have more than a passing acquaintance with some of the cards and terms associated with Flash devices because Flash memory is used to store images from almost all digital cameras now. The following Flash device formats are most common right now:
- Compact Flash cards - are square cards with a 50-pin connector on one side. They are solid and easy to work with because there are no fragile parts.
- Smart Media cards - have gold contact points on one side. They are often used in Olympus cameras and some MP3 players.
- Memory Sticks - are rectangular instead of square. They are used almost exclusively in Sony products.
When you buy a camera, you may also want to consider buying a card reader. That way, instead of connecting your camera directly to your computer's USB port with a cable, you can just pop out the card and put it into a card reader that is already attached to the USB port. With a reader, you don't waste your camera's battery power transferring files.
Having a reader also gives you more flexibility to transfer files other than digital camera files. Card readers are extremely inexpensive (often only about $20) so if you need to put your files on another computer, you can take the reader and the card, rather than carting around your camera. The card doesn't care what kind of file you put on it, so you can think of it like a floppy disk that can hold a lot of stuff.