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A tech idea whose time has come?

I was talking digital cameras with a friend of mine recently. It turns out that our cameras take different memory card formats, and therefore we couldn't share and swap if necessary.

That's when I had an idea that I'm sure will be quickly shot down as wildly impractical.

Why not replace flash cards with flash drives? Replace all the SD/CF/MMC/whatever slots with a simple USB socket that you could plug a USB drive (flash drive, mini hard drive, whatever) into? You could choose whatever type or size you wanted. Feeling cheap? Grab a 128MB keychain drive. Shooting some video? Then use a 5GB mini hard drive and go nuts.

There's got to be a flaw with my idea. This is the point where you, the faithful Wizbang readers, point out just how I'm talking out of my butt.

Have at it, folks.


Comments (20)

Get a flash card reader, yo... (Below threshold)

Get a flash card reader, you can swap data from one type of flash card to another or download several different types to your computer for under thirty bucks. This is the one I use for swapping pics with friends, works great.


Bullwinkle, I have a card r... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Bullwinkle, I have a card reader. The idea was to consolidate into a single format, and one that is already a standard.

I got the idea when I saw my digital camera (with CF card slot) next to my MuVo flash drive/MP3 player. I wanted to just plug the player into the camera and forget about the CF card entirely.


Without knowing specs and i... (Below threshold)

Without knowing specs and internals (I'm no EE), I wonder if the limitation is one of speed? Snap a picture, write to RAM. Very efficient with or without a fixed- or variable-size cache buffering data before getting placed into a bigger DRAM bank. If the data is cached, storing to disk might not be a problem since data can be held briefly before HD writes. In the no-RAM scenario, if there is no cache in the pipeline, then writing to disk might take too long and, as a consequence, be impractical for photos. Would the shutter need to be open and your hands steady while HD heads write? If it's a high resolution image, that could be too long.

Just a guess after giving 30 seconds of thought to it. Like I said, I have no idea to the internals of the camera, just computer I/O basics. I don't even own a digital camera.

Your idea seems doable, however. It would probably require a nice bit of expensive, very fast cacheing-quality RAM and a short, fast bus to a USB port. And a little bit more internal communication wizardry. Let us know when you have blueprints.

Both of my cameras have min... (Below threshold)

Both of my cameras have mini USB out ports on them, I can run directly to my laptop to shoot video or pictures, no need to use the memory card for anything but a buffer, but you're going to have to have a laptop for the controller and power supply for the hypothetical 5GB hard drive, might as well just use the hard drive that's in it. If you already have a card reader and your cameras have the USB out on them you already have what you're asking for, my first comment was just about sharing, my neighbors here are mostly European and none of cards seemed to match so I got the reader to swap pics back and forth. It gets a lot of use from everyone.

Some folks don't want</i... (Below threshold)

Some folks don't want a common format. See, e.g., Olympus and their XD cards. Just like batteries, filters, etc. Proprietary (or semi-proprietary) add-ons tend to be good money-makers for mfgrs.

USB may be fine for some purposes, but form factor is not convenient, and it may not be fast enough for some apps (also not exactly a completely transparent "standard"; if not a "USB mass storage device", you may still need a driver).

As for HD versus flash/NVRAM, you already have that for Compact Flash format; IIRC Fuji has some CFII cards with 1-4+ GByte thin drives. Only drawback is speed. You may not be able to write movies to these at full speed.

IOW, people are well aware of the "problems" and the "solutions".


My cheap camera is a Kodak ... (Below threshold)

My cheap camera is a Kodak Easy Share DX4530 and I can shoot fair quality video with it and a laptop or take pics as fast as the flash recharges using the USB cable. The camera was less than $250 a few years back so I use it down here where the salt air destroys everything electonic in no time at all. When it's hooked up direct it uses the card only as a buffer, and I shoot video at 29.97 frames/second so I think what you're wanting is already out there. I use a freeware program called Virtual dub to capture the video. I do exactly the same thing with my JVC video cam and never had a problem with any of it. The only drawback is lugging the laptop around, but there USB cables with amplifiers built to get past the 12' limit. What I really need it a battery for the laptop that lasts longer.

The flaw with your plan, Ja... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

The flaw with your plan, Jay Tea:

It makes too damn much sense.

It's been touched on in oth... (Below threshold)
Jim Hines:

It's been touched on in other responses but in simple terms.....the biggest impedence is that the usb drive would need a power supply. Batteries drain fast enough with the flash memory cards. Next is the write to speed.

The next item is that you h... (Below threshold)
Red Five:

The next item is that you have to have a USB host or master, which is what all computers are. Requires more electronics to do that. USB also requires a regulated 5V supply, and many cameras (my Canon PowerShot 340A included) only use 3V (2.4V if using rechargables). No good.

You could always use the ne... (Below threshold)

You could always use the new iPod Camera Connector (not released yet), which dumps whatever's on your camera into your iPod through USB...

Arne, have you ever heard o... (Below threshold)

Arne, have you ever heard of USB 2.0?
it's pretty freakin' fast...

the obvious 'why not' answe... (Below threshold)

the obvious 'why not' answer is that people don't want a USB device hanging off their camera or phone, it reduces the utility in that you have to disconnect it when you stick it in your pocket, etc. Also, USB is not as power efficient as SD/MMC/et. al.

A better solution would just be to have bluetooth on more devices, this would make transferring files a lot easier.

For increasing the storage capacity, Samsung is rolling out some new cell phone handsets this year that feature hard drives as opposed to flash storage. Considering that they are also releasing 7 megapixel camera phones, one has to wonder how much of a market will exist for midrange digital cameras.

The new SD cards (and I thi... (Below threshold)

The new SD cards (and I think they're working on a CF format) from Sandisk fold in the middle to reveal a nifty little USB 2.0 prong. Practically everyone but Olympus and Fuji are going to SD for their pocket line, most enthusiast level cameras (8MP with 5x lenses and up) are CF, and Pentax even has a DSLR out with SD.

SD is the wave of the future, hell, you might even see Olympus and Fuji figure it out sometime in the next five years.

- Prolly some combination o... (Below threshold)

- Prolly some combination of any and al of the above as interum "fixes" but in the long run you shouldn't have to "store" a damn thing on your camera. Heres where it should go people....

- Your camera should be cell/phone web ready and you just click away while a local mem cache stores ahead and sends them home to your email as you shoot.... viola .... your virtual desktop....

- Only limited in poor cell phone coverage areas....

and if you don't have email... (Below threshold)

and if you don't have email? What about when you are traveling in a foreign country and don't have a roaming agreement... I'm also not too excited about the idea of signing up for another service agreement to use my digital camera.

The above is a good added value feature set, but to eliminated local storage for this strategy only results in reducing your addressible market... in other words, it's a hell of a good way to sell a lot fewer digital cameras.

Insofar as camera phones are concerned, the current generation of handsets already do this. When I take a picture with my SE S700 I can MMS it to someone or email it Flickr.

I don't see why we can't ju... (Below threshold)

I don't see why we can't just adapt an industry standard on flash memory. It's ridiculous that you've got to buy different stuff for different things, and then buy a flash card reader.

RE: Raina's post (March 11,... (Below threshold)

RE: Raina's post (March 11, 2005 03:15 PM)
I don't see why we can't just adapt an industry standard on flash memory...

What, and commoditize it like the PC industry? That would shrink profit margins and compromise brand loyalty. (Arne inferred this earlier.) You're thinking too much like a logical consumer and not a saavy manufacturer trying to outcompete other producers, all of whom want incompatibility designed in.

On industry standards: wise... (Below threshold)

On industry standards: wise man say, "The great thing about standards is there's so many to choose from." The winner always sifts through eventually, though. Just sucks when you get stuck betting on the wrong horse.

On USB on your camera: first and foremost, USB has a host end and a device end. You could have a camera that acts as host (some printers do) but the further issue is that USB plugs are designed to stick straight out, which is ugly. Also, there's a "mini-B" standard ("device" plugs, but very small) but no "mini-A" that I'm aware of, which means your camera would have to support about 2 inches of USB plug. RAM/caching is not really an issue, since AFAIK the system described in a post above (caching images, then writing them to flash) is precisely what all digital cameras do now. Speed is not an issue; I know of no flash cards that can be read/written even close to as fast as the peak bandwidth of USB2. For the time being though, I like SD -- I mean, that shit is small.

On the issue of big wonkin' storage: be enlightened. Now, I'm not endorsing that particular product, having never actually used it, but if you need lots of storage space, it could answer your prayers. Granted, that doesn't solve the issue of how to shoot hours of video, since you'd have to break for a few minutes to "dump off" your card every now and again. Two cards of modest size could be "hot swapped" to minimize losses, I guess. But I think it's a good solution for *most* people. I'd still like to see a DSLR that has room for a 2.5" hard drive. Would it suck down batteries? Sure, but lithium ion is getting cheap as chips at this point, and has excellent energy density. It'd be bigger and heavier, sure, but some people prefer a beefy/chunky camera. Such a device would probably be priced out of my range, but I could see someday spending on a "real" camera that also does hi-def video, as a "long term investment". Well, I can dream, anyway.

AnonymousDrivel, Wha... (Below threshold)

What in the hell was I thinking? Really, we should make it like the cell phone industry so that every time you buy a new kodak camera you have to buy completely new accessories including flash memory, bag, tripod, spare battery, etc.

Why not Firewire instead of... (Below threshold)

Why not Firewire instead of USB? Oh......






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