The 8 Best CF Card Readers
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in May of 2016. With many of today's increasingly tiny devices cutting back on card slots to save space and weight, you might need one of these CF card readers in order to move data files, photos, videos and/or audio to your computer. All of our picks are capable of lightning fast and reliable transfers, and several even have the ability to read other formats in addition to CompactFlash. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
November 19, 2020:
Not too many changes needed to be made this time around since the CompactFlash format has pretty much peaked with the UDMA 7 standard, and it's quite likely no further revisions for CompactFlash will be released due to the increasing implementation of newer formats like CFast and XQD. The maximum transfer speed of the best CF cards is 167 MB/s while USB 3.0 maxes out at 625 MB/s, which means that as long as your reader is compatible with USB 3.0 it should be able to deliver the highest speed your card is capable of. Since all of the models on our list already met this standard there was no need for a major update, however we did make a couple adjustments.
First and foremost, we ultimately decided to remove the CFast readers on our list. Though the standards are somewhat similar in function CFast readers are not backwards compatible with CompactFlash cards, so we thought it would be best to avoid any possibility of someone accidentally ordering the wrong type of device for their needs.
We also added the Unitek Aluminum as a nod to the growing number of devices that only have USB-C inputs. It's true that readers with USB-A connectors can be used with such devices when paired with an adapter or hub, but if your phone and laptop both feature USB-C ports exclusively you may as well avoid these secondary devices for the sake of convenience, cost, and reliability. This option is a budget-friendly choice that fits easily into a laptop or camera bag, and is ready to go at a moment's notice.
The price range of our list has been further expanded with the addition of the Indmem Portable, which is suitable for those who are simply trying to import content from a few old cards, or otherwise don't have a need to read CF cards that often. It's one of the most affordable models on the market and it offers good transfer speeds, but if you're an avid photographer or videographer you're definitely going to want something with a more durable enclosure, as this selection probably won't stand up to daily use as well as many higher-end choices.
If you have a variety of camera gear you may have a need to read SD and microSD cards in addition to CompactFlash cards. If this is the case, consider multi-card models like the Kingston Digital FCR-HS4 and the Zedela Multi, or check out our article that's specifically dedicated to SD card readers.
November 20, 2019:
There are 2 speeds to consider regarding CF cards – read and write speeds. The write speed determines the rate of photo shooting during a mode like continuous shooting, while the read speed is the primary consideration for the rate at which uploading photos onto your computer can occur. Read speeds are quoted in text on the cards themselves and they are usually slightly higher than write speeds (20-40mb/s faster). While read speed will determine how quickly you can transfer images to your computer, a CF card reader with a transfer speed lower than the CF cards read speed can hinder that speed.
For instance, if your card reader is working on a USB 2.0 protocol (which has a maximum read speed of 60MB/s (480Mb/s)), and your card has a quoted read speed of 150MB/s, then the card reader will limit the read speed of your card. Fortunately, USB 3.0 (which has a read speed of 480MB/s or 5Gb/s) is now the standard protocol on card readers, so there are no limitations placed on the read speeds of the cards. Furthermore, the simultaneous reading of multiple cards has become possible as a result of the speed of the 3.0 protocol.
Bear in mind that while CFI and CFII can use the same slot, provided that this slot accommodates the thicker 5mm CFII, CFast – not to be confused with CFII - uses a different standard to CF, and so requires a different slot or card reader. CFast cards are faster, though, as of today, the market-wide adoption of these faster and more efficient cards has been slower than expected. San Disk has announced that they are stopping funding for research and improvement into CF in the interest of moving the market towards CFast. Both of these standards (CF and CFast) fall under the Compact Flash umbrella although they use different interfaces (the CF uses PATA, while the CFast uses SATA). By some definitions, we could treat CFast products as a separate category, like we have with the best CFast 2.0 cards; but since there is a much more limited selection of CFast readers (and not enough to make a high-quality list), I thought it sensible to include the best models here.
To make things more complicated, there are revisions of both the CF and CFast variants. CFast has CFast 1.0, CFast 1.1 and CFast 2.0 and CF has a number of revisions, including CF 1.0, CF 2.0, and more – fortunately, all revisions can work on the same card slots – I am simply disambiguating the Compact Flash category as much as I can so you don’t get confused when shopping for a card reader. It’s hard to find readers that have both CF and CFast slots, so I’ve included two great options for CFast cards – the Lexar Workflow CFR1 and the ByEasy CFast.
Note that there are other, less-related variants of the CompactFlash that fall under the CompactFlash umbrella, including CFexpress and XQD; though they are generally less commonly used and I’ve avoided including them here plus, we already have a separate list for XQD Card Readers. Cameras are usually designed with one of these types of CompactFlash slots, and in some cases, like the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, both CF and CFast slots. I’ve also removed a few of the older models that were beginning to struggle with quality-related issues like the WeMe 9313D and Transcend RDF8K. The latter was released in August 2011 and has a very low transfer rate compared to today's models. I also added the Zedela Multi, which is both very versatile and a bargain product (considering its ability to accommodate 7 different types of cards).
What is a CF Card Reader Best Used For?
These numbers determine their maximum transfer rate and minimum cycle time.
Compact flash cards, or CF cards for short, are mainly used in modern camera systems, and provide additional memory space for photographers and filmmakers. Many photographers choose to use different cards for different projects rather than one card for everything, so the need for a quality CF card reader is very high.
The impact a CF card reader has on performance will often be affected by the quality of the CF card itself. There are a few important considerations in the card, and luckily they are all very easy to understand. The UDMA rating, size of the card, and the read and write speed all affect a card's performance. On most CF cards, the size of the card is placed in bold font on the front. Modern cards can range from between 4 gigabytes of storage to a whopping 512 gigabytes and beyond. Large CF cards have even been used as boot drives to repair computers in a pinch.
The read speed of the cards will also have an effect on how well the reader can do its job. This is the speed at which a computer or memory reader can access or take information off of the card itself. Along with the read speed is the write speed, which is the speed that information can be consistently written to the card. This number is especially important for filmmakers. It is the speed at which the camera can write to the card indefinitely, and a higher speed ensures no skipped frames.
UDMA stands for ultra direct memory access. Though they are not the fastest cards anymore, they are fast enough to handle most user's photo and video needs. The ratings on UDMA cards range from zero to seven. These numbers determine their maximum transfer rate and minimum cycle time.
It is these complex CF cards which CF card readers are designed to best handle, though this is not all they are used for. Most manufacturers understand that if a person is using one type of external memory, chances are they will need another type at some point as well. That is why many CF card readers also accept SD cards, mini SD cards, and SDXC cards, which all have their own speed class identifications that affect their performance.
Benefits Of CF Card Readers
The digital age has brought both simplicity and complexity to our daily lives all at once. This is easily apparent by looking at the most modern laptop of the day. Older laptops contained RGB ports, Ethernet jacks, memory slots, multiple USB ports and even serial ATA jacks for mass storage devices. In order to deliver a more streamlined user product, many computer manufacturers are removing most of these peripheral options and replacing them with one or two USB ports. While this does deliver a modern, streamlined laptop, it makes for a lot of aftermarket dongles and attachments for many users.
Reading directly from a memory card is also much faster than reading from the camera itself.
Photographers and filmmakers are hit by this through the loss of memory card readers. While it means that these people are required to purchase a CF card reader in order to practice their hobby, this is actually great news. The reason is that typical card readers in older computers often caused the pins in CF cards to break. If there are treasured photos or videos on these cards, this can mean disaster. Modern standalone CF card readers are often designed to avoid this damage, and will not let a card be forced into the slot.
Many people also favor CF card readers in order to protect their equipment. While most digital cameras can be connected to a computer via a USB cable, this means the camera must be attached to the computer the entire time the card is in use. There is a higher probability that the camera will be accidentally knocked off of a table or have something spilled on it.
Reading directly from a memory card is also much faster than reading from the camera itself. There is also the added convenience of having a memory card reader attached to the computer for whenever inspiration strikes. Modern memory card readers are also equipped with signal adapters which make it possible for many different types of memory cards to be used by the same adapter, without taking up additional space. Using a memory card reader also makes the computer treat it like an external hard drive rather than another device. This makes copying files and transferring files as simple as possible; often only requiring the drag and drop method.
What Is The Difference Between CF Cards and SD cards?
While there are many opinion articles swimming around the net, there are little which probe into the functional differences of CF cards and SD cards.
Though SD is the industry standard for many files, CF cards still remain a card of choice for photographers and videographers.
SD stands for secure digital. These cards were pioneered just before the new millennium by some of the largest technological giants in the world. Their goal was to create an industry standard memory card for use in portable devices. That goal was a success, and SD cards are still in use years later in portable devices and cell phones. Some researchers even called for adding micro SD cards to dentures for identification purposes. The idea has yet to catch on, however.
The pins in an SD card are flat, and are located on the back of the card. SD cards allow for high rates of transfer, and allow users to securely info lock the cards entirely so the contents cannot be deleted. They also allow for password locks and vendor enhancements such as built in Wi-Fi.
Though SD is the industry standard for many files, CF cards still remain a card of choice for photographers and videographers. CF cards are physically larger than SD cards, and have pins on the side of the card rather than underneath. They are also compatible with older IDE/ATA interfaces. Photographers note no difference in picture quality when using either card, so long as they have similar read/write speeds and a decent sized memory bank. It all comes down to a matter of personal preference.