The iPhone (or iPad) might be the camera you always have with you, but many people still carry a snapshot or higher-end standalone camera for other reasons: compactness, interchangeable or zoom lenses, or easier control of picture-taking options. It’s typically a breeze to connect a camera or its storage card to your Mac if you want to back up or sync images while you’re traveling. But what if you have just an iPhone or iPad? Pack the right cable or adapter and you’re set.
Since the addition of the Files app to iOS and iPadOS, you can access external storage, such as a connected camera or a USB storage card reader.
Step 1: Connect a camera or card reader to your iPhone or iPad
The difference between the two isn’t just USB 2.0’s 480Mbps and USB 3’s 5Gbps top data rates. (You’ll only get a faster rate over Lightning when using iPad Pros.) Rather, it’s the passthrough Lightning power port found in the Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter. Plugged into power, you can charge your iPhone and a connected camera while also passing data from the camera.
Some cameras, including a Sony snapshot model I tested, won’t work by default with an iPhone or iPad using the Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter because they’re designed to charge while plugged into USB. However, many models do let you turn off power over USB, allowing the use of the straight-through USB adapter. (Remember to turn USB charging back on in your camera settings or your camera won’t charge when you plug it into a regular USB power adapter.)
You can also opt to use the Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter, plug it into passthrough power in the Lightning port, and never need to mess with the USB power setting on the camera.
Either adapter may also be used with a USB Type-A camera card reader. If you want a card reader that plugs in directly, Apple sells both Lightning (iPhone, iPad) and USB-C (iPad, Mac) models that read full-sized SD Cards or other sizes with an SD Card adapter.
A more modern camera with a USB-C jack unfortunately can’t use a USB-C to Lightning cable or other direct connection. iPads and iPhones with Lightning lack the ability to handle USB without using one of the above Apple adapters. You can use a USB-C to USB Type-A or USB-C to USB-C cable with an adapter to plug into the Lightning adapter.
If you have an iPad model that sports a USB-C jack, you can plug a Type-A camera cord in via a Type-A to USB-C adapter or directly connect a USB-C to USB-C cable to a camera with USB-C.
(Some manufacturers offer iOS/iPadOS apps that connect directly over Wi-Fi to certain of their camera models, letting you bypass USB altogether.)
Step 2: Use Files for transfer
The Files app comes preinstalled in iOS and iPadOS and lets you manage iCloud and other local storage as well as externally connected storage. That includes a storage card inside a camera or a card plugged into a card reader.
Here’s how to transfer files from your camera or card to your local Photos storage:
Tap the Browse button at the bottom of the screen.
Files almost always shows the iCloud Drive view by default. Tap Browse in the upper-left corner to see all sources and destinations.
A camera or card typically appears as Untitled followed by additional text. Tap that.
You may have to tap down multiple levels of a folder hierarchy to find the location that holds camera images, nearly universally labeled as DCIM.
Tap the … in a circle (more) button in the upper-right corner and choose Select.
Tap to pick individual images or videos, or tap Select All in the upper-left corner to choose all of them.
Tap the share icon (a square with an upward-pointing arrow) and tap Save Images.
Files copies these images over and saves them into your local album. Make sure you have enough storage available to hold these images or videos.
If you have iCloud Photos enabled, your device immediately begins syncing images if you’re connected to a network and other conditions are met. For instance, Photos may pause if you’re on a Wi-Fi network but aren’t plugged in to charge. If you have optimized storage enabled on your iPhone or iPad, Photos will purge local storage as images are uploaded if it needs to free up space.
I would retain images on your camera’s memory card, giving you an additional copy of your media, until such point as you’re confident you have an extra backup somewhere else: via full-resolution downloads to a Mac or other backups you make.
For more advice about moving photos between your devices read:
Ask Mac 911
We’ve compiled a list of the questions we get asked most frequently, along with answers and links to columns: read our super FAQ to see if your question is covered. If not, we’re always looking for new problems to solve! Email yours to firstname.lastname@example.org, including screen captures as appropriate and whether you want your full name used. Not every question will be answered, we don’t reply to email, and we cannot provide direct troubleshooting advice.