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A friend loaned me an 8GB CompactFlash card to take away with me on vacation, and using it provoked some thoughts—especially in my capacity as Macworld ’s de-facto reviewer of non-iPod photo viewing and storage hardware. I wondered whether packing an 8GB CF card directly into my camera would pretty much obviate the need for such devices. After all, 8GB is a lot of space for a weekend, recreational shooter like me.

Indeed, traveling through southern Oregon, I experienced the thrill not only of Crater Lake and the Howling Acres Wolf Sanctuary, but also of seeing 900 pictures left on my CF card, something that even the tiniest, most compressed setting failed to show on my own 125MB card. Not surprisingly, I captured many more images—including an astronomical number in raw format, experimented with endless bracketed exposures, and simply shot with abandon. So that’s how it feels.

But in the back of my mind, disaster lurked. What if this 8MB behemoth somehow got corrupted? Who really knows the dynamics of CF cards, after all? My relatively trivial photographic pursuit may support shooting without a safety net—the only risk was losing some precious images of a summer camping trip. While I’d be unhappy if that happened, it would not be the end of the world.

But what if I’d traveled across the globe—on an assignment, perhaps? That would be different. Even the slightest CF card malfunction would be costly in time, hard work, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime shots, or even my professional reputation. So I reconsidered my judgment—that the larger the CF card, the less need for a device in which to empty the images and go on shooting, and that these photo viewer devices were a relatively expensive flash in the pan. I decided that while the need to save room on a CF card may be slowly receding, the need to back up your images on the go is more important than ever.

Casual weekend shooters can afford to freely trade convenience for safety—the larger the card, the better. But for pros, or anyone shooting somewhere they will likely never go again, your iPod, Coolwalker, FlashTrax, P-2000, or Digital Camera Link for iPod is not only a worthy companion but a necessary one.

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