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Digital Photography Workflow

In-Camera Image Storage Devices

The Kodak EasyShare has 256 Megabytes of internal storage that can hold up to 1500 of your favorite pictures so they are easy to share. This keeps them separated from those you capture and transfer to your computer. You can organize the pictures into albums with a stylus and touch screen menus.
Flash chips courtesy of ST.com.
Samsung developed the technology that makes 64 GB CompactFlash cards possible.
Hitachi makes the Microdrive, a tiny high capacity hard drive.
With traditional cameras, the film both records and stores the image. With digital cameras, separate devices perform these two functions. The image is captured by the image sensor, then transferred to an in-camera storage device of some kind. These devices are only designed for temporary storage. At some point you transfer the images to a computer, erase the device, and reuse it.

Almost all but the cheapest digital cameras use some form of removable storage device, usually flash memory cards, but occasionally small hard disks. The number of images that you can store during a shooting session depends on a variety of factors including:

  • The number of storage devices you have and the capacity of each (expressed in Kilobytes, Megabytes or Gigabytes).
  • The resolution or image file format used to capture images.
  • The amount of compression used.
The number of images you can store is important because once you reach the limit you have to move them to a computer, quit taking pictures, or erase some existing images to make room for new ones. How much storage capacity you need depends on the factors mentioned above and how prolific you are when photographing .

Over the past few years a variety of flash memory cards have come and gone. At the moment there are two types in widespread use—Compact Flash (CF) and Secure Digital (SD). These cards store your image files on flash chips that are similar to the RAM chips used inside your computer but there is one important difference. Your photographs are retained indefinitely without any power to the card. These chips are packaged inside a case equipped with electrical connectors and it's this sealed unit that is called a card. Flash memory cards consume little power, take up little space, and are very rugged. They are also very convenient; you can carry a number of them and change them as needed.

  • CompactFlash (CF) was developed by SanDisk Corp and these cards are about the size of a matchbook.
  • Secure Digital (SD) cards are smaller than CompactFlash cards and are used in over half of current camera models. However there are compatibility problems since more recent 2GB and larger cards look the same as older cards, but use an SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) format that isn't supported by older devices.
  • MultiMedia (MMC) cards are even smaller cards used in a few pocket cameras.
Most cameras store images on a removable memory card that slides into a slot on the camera. Courtesy of Kodak.
  • Memory Stick™, a proprietary format from Sony Corporation, is shaped something like a stick of gum. These cards are used only in Sony products.
  • Hard drives such as Hitachi's Microdrive and Sony's Compactvault are high speed, high capacity hard disk drives. These drives are so small they can be plugged into a Type II CompactFlash slot on a digital camera or flash card reader. (Type I CompactFlash slots are thinner).
  • One-time use flash cards have been introduced with the idea that flash memory is so inexpensive you can leave your photos on a card instead of copying then to a computer. This is not recommended for serious photographers.
One thing to consider is the "speed" of a card. Many companies sell regular and more expensive high-speed versions. Unless you are missing shots because your camera can't move images from the buffer fast enough, you may be better off investing elsewhere in your system, especially since any bottleneck may be in your camera, not the card.

When you first buy a memory card or use it in a different camera you should format it. Every camera that accepts these cards has a Format command listed somewhere in its menus. Formatting prepares a card for use in a camera, and reformatting it when first using it in a specific camera ensures the card will be accurately written to and read in that camera. You may also find that formatting fixes a card that has developed problems. Just be aware that the Format command erases all of the images stored on a card. Should you ever do this by mistake, there is digital image recovery software available. To find it, just Google "digital photo recovery".

Some cameras come with software that lets you connect the camera to the computer (called tethering it) and operate it from the computer. When shooting this way, captured images can be stored on the computer's hard drive instead of on the camera's memory card. Although this approach is most often used in a studio setting, it's also occasionally used by landscape photographers when they want to immediately evaluate images on the computer's much larger screen.

When you have more than one card, a case protects your spares. Courtesy of In Any Case at inanycase.com.

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