What to do when the camera won't cough up your pictures

I love digital cameras, which is probably why I own a dozen of them. But I don't love downloading pictures from them. I was reminded of this fact the first time I tried to retrieve pictures from my Canon PowerShot S300. I dutifully connected the camera to the PC, loaded the USB drivers, and tried to download the pictures—to no avail. The pictures were in the camera's memory but stuck somewhere between the PC and the camera; neither device could find them. Fortunately, I've found some cures to this malady, and you can apply these remedies to most digital camera and computer configurations.

What's at the heart of the problem? TWAIN drivers, usually. These drivers act as the interface between image processing software and image capture devices, such as digital cameras, flat-bed scanners, and film scanners. Programmers who would know tell me that a lot of TWAIN driver developers assume that their driver is the only one on the system; several camera-support Web sites echo this belief. One answer, then, is to uninstall all other camera drivers before installing the new camera's drivers. To remove the older drivers, you usually uninstall the programs that came with that camera. To test this theory, I removed all extra TWAIN drivers. Sure enough, this house-cleaning cleared the way for the S300's drivers to start working. Be aware that if you've just removed your older camera's TWAIN drivers, you might need to reboot. Helper programs that you installed for your old camera sometimes remain in memory and interfere with the new camera's software.

Unfortunately, removing old drivers and applications implies that you can own and operate only one camera at a time. What fun is that? Before you yank too many programs, consider that in some cases, multiple TWAIN drivers can work together, but the individual applications that use those drivers to download pictures won't work. Often, you can start the application that transfers the pictures from the camera to the PC, but the program will hang or report that the camera contains no pictures. In that case, try the Imaging program that comes with most Windows versions (in Win2K, it's at Start, Programs, Imaging). Under the File menu, click Select Device, then choose the camera. Then click Acquire Image under the File menu.

Your problem might also lie in the USB connection: Did you connect the camera through the computer's USB connectors or through a USB hub? USB's luster dulled a bit for me the first time I tried to add a third USB device to my two-USB-port computer. Reaching around behind my computer to unplug and plug USB devices wasn't much fun, so I bought seven different USB hubs. I found that most of these hubs were unreliable—except for one model. ATEN International's UH-107 (http://www.aten.com) performed wonderfully, and I highly recommend it. But don't wait for the hub to arrive to see whether you have a USB hub problem. Instead, plug the camera directly into one of the computer's USB ports, then try again to download the pictures.

I've seen cameras that claimed to store images but couldn't deliver them because I hadn't formatted the memory. Apparently, different devices sometimes want to use a memory module in different ways, so the factory's default format doesn't always work. Take a minute and format your memory device the first time that you use it, before taking pictures.

Finally, don't forget the basics (i.e., make sure that you have charged batteries in the camera and you've downloaded the latest drivers). Your digital camera's fuzzy memories are curable, with a bit of patience.