September 8, 2008

Flash Memory Basics

Here are some basic things for those new to digital photography to ponder.

1) Know the difference between Compact Flash and Secure Digital (CF and SD). Most DSLRs and digital point-and-shoots use CF. But some of the newer cameras, and even some DSLRs use SD cards.

2) All flash memory cards are not created equally.

If you shoot Nikon, buy Lexar cards if you can afford them. They are optimized for Nikon shooters. Conversely, if you shoot Canon, don’t waste the money on Lexar cards. They won’t show a speed boost in your camera.

Avoid the very largest cards. Even 16-Gig cards scare me. The bigger the card, the more likely it will have a file allocation error and crash. There’s also the eggs in one basket worry.

If you want REALLY fast cards, look for UDMA cards, but make sure your camera supports them.

Just about once a day I get an e-mail asking me what I use. Well here’s the answer.
I now use Hoodman UDMA cards. In my tests they are consistently as fast as anything else and the company claims the cards have never been reported failing while in the field.

And here’s a tip on how to buy memory cards at the best prices. Go to http://www.dealram.com and compare.

NOTE: This is just a primer on flash memory and is not intended to be a complete top-to-bottom tutorial.

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This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store

Join the conversation! 34 Comments

  1. I use Sandisk cards with my camera not just for the name but for their reputation. I had a card fail on me with images on it. The fact that I could recover the images with Rescue Pro was one thing but Sandisk actually replaced the card for free so you can guess who I will stay with.

    Reply
  2. I use Sandisk cards with my camera not just for the name but for their reputation. I had a card fail on me with images on it. The fact that I could recover the images with Rescue Pro was one thing but Sandisk actually replaced the card for free so you can guess who I will stay with.

    Reply
  3. Another important tip that the non-tech or newbies to digital often overlook is the benefit of a card reader. It’s much faster and more efficient (less drain on your camera battery) to pop cards into a USB or FireWire card reader than having to plug a cable directly into your camera every time you want to offload images. They’re cheap and you can easily get one that will read all the popular formats.

    I would disagree with the statement that “Most DSLRs and digital point-and-shoots use CF.” I know there’s still a pretty good chunk of DSLRs on the market that use CompactFlash, but I haven’t personally seen a consumer point-and-shoot that uses CF in years and years. The last one I bought with CF was in 2002 — since then it’s been xD and SD. I know there’s still a few out there, but they’re pretty rare. SD is the reigning champion in P&S, and it’s slowly taking over DSLRs too — from the bottom up, it seems. I think all or most of the cheaper consumer level DSLRs use SD at this point.

    Reply
  4. Another important tip that the non-tech or newbies to digital often overlook is the benefit of a card reader. It’s much faster and more efficient (less drain on your camera battery) to pop cards into a USB or FireWire card reader than having to plug a cable directly into your camera every time you want to offload images. They’re cheap and you can easily get one that will read all the popular formats.

    I would disagree with the statement that “Most DSLRs and digital point-and-shoots use CF.” I know there’s still a pretty good chunk of DSLRs on the market that use CompactFlash, but I haven’t personally seen a consumer point-and-shoot that uses CF in years and years. The last one I bought with CF was in 2002 — since then it’s been xD and SD. I know there’s still a few out there, but they’re pretty rare. SD is the reigning champion in P&S, and it’s slowly taking over DSLRs too — from the bottom up, it seems. I think all or most of the cheaper consumer level DSLRs use SD at this point.

    Reply
  5. If you search for current (non-discontinued) cameras that use CF with DPReview’s “feature search” (http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/compare.asp), you will not find any of the point-and-shoots. I believe that P&S cameras stopped using CF cards a couple of years ago.

    My DSLR, the Pentax K10D, is one of a few DSLRs that use SD cards. This does appear to be the direction that the industry is heading, though, since the following cameras also use SD cards: Nikon D90, Canon 1000D/XS, Nikon D60, Canon 450D/XSi. Even the Canon 1Ds Mark III uses SD (in addition to CF).

    Reply
  6. If you search for current (non-discontinued) cameras that use CF with DPReview’s “feature search” (http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/compare.asp), you will not find any of the point-and-shoots. I believe that P&S cameras stopped using CF cards a couple of years ago.

    My DSLR, the Pentax K10D, is one of a few DSLRs that use SD cards. This does appear to be the direction that the industry is heading, though, since the following cameras also use SD cards: Nikon D90, Canon 1000D/XS, Nikon D60, Canon 450D/XSi. Even the Canon 1Ds Mark III uses SD (in addition to CF).

    Reply
  7. I found sandisk to be an excellent brand too.

    Reply
  8. I found sandisk to be an excellent brand too.

    Reply
  9. I use a sandisk 16GB Extreme III CF card on my Canon 1DMKII and haven’t had a failure. Granted, I suppose this should be qualified with “yet”.

    For me, I found it advantageous to keep shooting on a single card for a long and large shoot. I could have sent backup images to an SD card (if I had one) in the camera at the same time – but haven’t.

    I basically don’t use my 2 and 4GB CF cards anymore – maybe this is a mistake – but I haven’t run into anyone who’s had an issue (yet).

    Reply
  10. I use a sandisk 16GB Extreme III CF card on my Canon 1DMKII and haven’t had a failure. Granted, I suppose this should be qualified with “yet”.

    For me, I found it advantageous to keep shooting on a single card for a long and large shoot. I could have sent backup images to an SD card (if I had one) in the camera at the same time – but haven’t.

    I basically don’t use my 2 and 4GB CF cards anymore – maybe this is a mistake – but I haven’t run into anyone who’s had an issue (yet).

    Reply
  11. I use San Disk Compact flash. I’ve rarely had a problem. They have even taken a couple trips through the wash and I’ve never lost an image.

    Always have recovery software for the human errors.

    I remember purchasing two IBM 340mb mirco drives in 2000 for my Nikon D1 for $500 each and they both died within six months.

    I’ve had my CF disks for years and I just picked up a 4GB for 39.95. It still kills me.

    Rosh
    http://www.newmediaphotographer.com

    Reply
  12. I use San Disk Compact flash. I’ve rarely had a problem. They have even taken a couple trips through the wash and I’ve never lost an image.

    Always have recovery software for the human errors.

    I remember purchasing two IBM 340mb mirco drives in 2000 for my Nikon D1 for $500 each and they both died within six months.

    I’ve had my CF disks for years and I just picked up a 4GB for 39.95. It still kills me.

    Rosh
    http://www.newmediaphotographer.com

    Reply
  13. Here is a good website that contains independent testing to determine what flash cards give the best speed out of certain cameras. Use the drop down menu top right in the article to select your model.

    http://www.robgalbraith.com/bins/multi_page.asp?cid=6007

    Reply
  14. Here is a good website that contains independent testing to determine what flash cards give the best speed out of certain cameras. Use the drop down menu top right in the article to select your model.

    http://www.robgalbraith.com/bins/multi_page.asp?cid=6007

    Reply
  15. It seem like very few new consumer point-and-shoots have CF these days. Am I mistaken? They seem to like the smaller form-factor for SD cards. However, SD cards are pretty flimsy. I broken more than one by not being careful. Of course, CF have those fragile pins…

    Reply
  16. It seem like very few new consumer point-and-shoots have CF these days. Am I mistaken? They seem to like the smaller form-factor for SD cards. However, SD cards are pretty flimsy. I broken more than one by not being careful. Of course, CF have those fragile pins…

    Reply
  17. Obviously if you shoot (or are considering) Fuji or Olympus cameras you need to be aware that some of their cameras (though not all any longer) use xD memory cards. xD and SD are NOT compatible cards, they are completely different (including form factor).

    When Sony took over the camera division of Konica-Minolta, the first thing they did to (some models) was to add MemoryStick to them (though I don’t know why).

    Reply
  18. Obviously if you shoot (or are considering) Fuji or Olympus cameras you need to be aware that some of their cameras (though not all any longer) use xD memory cards. xD and SD are NOT compatible cards, they are completely different (including form factor).

    When Sony took over the camera division of Konica-Minolta, the first thing they did to (some models) was to add MemoryStick to them (though I don’t know why).

    Reply
  19. How are Lexar cards optimised for Nikon? CF and SD are standards, if you make your card fast for a Nikon it will also be fast with a Canon camera or a PC/Mac.

    Possibly some of the Canon cameras cannot write as quickly as the high end card can handle but that isn’t an optimisation for Nikon that is just Canon using lower spec technology in their products.

    Reply
  20. How are Lexar cards optimised for Nikon? CF and SD are standards, if you make your card fast for a Nikon it will also be fast with a Canon camera or a PC/Mac.

    Possibly some of the Canon cameras cannot write as quickly as the high end card can handle but that isn’t an optimisation for Nikon that is just Canon using lower spec technology in their products.

    Reply
  21. Hi Scott,
    Have you any more information on Lexar’s optimisations for Nikon? I’ve heard you say that before, but after contacting both Nikon and Lexar, neither company’s customer relations people could tell me anything that confirmed (or denied) that – just that Lexar cards are approved by Nikon…

    I’m not trying to catch you out – just trying to understand more (as I’ve always used Lexar Pro cards with my D70, and now I find that the write acceleration is not even supported on that camera!).

    Thanks, Mark

    Reply
  22. Hi Scott,
    Have you any more information on Lexar’s optimisations for Nikon? I’ve heard you say that before, but after contacting both Nikon and Lexar, neither company’s customer relations people could tell me anything that confirmed (or denied) that – just that Lexar cards are approved by Nikon…

    I’m not trying to catch you out – just trying to understand more (as I’ve always used Lexar Pro cards with my D70, and now I find that the write acceleration is not even supported on that camera!).

    Thanks, Mark

    Reply
  23. Hoodman RAW UDMA rocks! Definitely worth the price…

    Reply
  24. Hoodman RAW UDMA rocks! Definitely worth the price…

    Reply
  25. Scott, I must say that “Most DSLRs and digital point-and-shoots use CF.” would be inaccurate. I’ve seen only a handful of PaSs that shoot CF.

    Reply
  26. Scott, I must say that “Most DSLRs and digital point-and-shoots use CF.” would be inaccurate. I’ve seen only a handful of PaSs that shoot CF.

    Reply
  27. @Colin Barber @Mark Wilson

    CF is different (and more expensive) than SD Memory because unlike SD, CF cards actually have firmware built into them (sort of like a disk controller) that allows, even a “standard” like CF to be optimized for certain uses.

    I am not surprised that Lexar doesn’t name Nikon outright, after all they still want to sell as many CF cards as possible, and (at least in their view), even their cards that are optimized for Nikon are still as fast, if not faster as the competition in other cameras. Look at the following paragraph taken from Lexar’s FAQ about their “digital film” (CF cards)

    “Lexar’s CompactFlash digital film features patented SpaceManager ™ technology, an innovative, indirect memory-mapping technique that significantly reduces the time a picture file can be written to the digital film card. While actual performance will vary between camera models, Lexar digital film offers sustained WRITE performance that is nearly two or three times faster than other CompactFlash solutions. In some digital cameras, Lexar digital film is 200% faster than general-purpose flash memory! Imagine the shots you could miss while waiting for your images to be stored: a baby’s smile, a wedding kiss, or any other precious moment.”
    (The full FAQ is at http://www.digitalfilm.com/support/faqs_gen.html)

    Note the words, “In some digital cameras…” those are the ones that are optimized for one camera or another. I wasn’t able to locate a direct article (from Lexar) about the Nikon optimization, but this press release (from 2002) was when Nikon optimized one of their Memory cards for the Canon EOS 1-D. (So, obviously they are willing to optimized when they see the opportunity and market for such).

    It should also be noted that with announcement of the D90, SanDisk also released a new card that it claimed was optimized for the new Nikon camera. You can see information on that at http://it.tmcnet.com/topics/it/articles/38145-sandisk-intros-extreme-iii-30mbs-edition-line-sdhc.htm.

    Hope this helps clarify a bit.

    Reply
  28. @Colin Barber @Mark Wilson

    CF is different (and more expensive) than SD Memory because unlike SD, CF cards actually have firmware built into them (sort of like a disk controller) that allows, even a “standard” like CF to be optimized for certain uses.

    I am not surprised that Lexar doesn’t name Nikon outright, after all they still want to sell as many CF cards as possible, and (at least in their view), even their cards that are optimized for Nikon are still as fast, if not faster as the competition in other cameras. Look at the following paragraph taken from Lexar’s FAQ about their “digital film” (CF cards)

    “Lexar’s CompactFlash digital film features patented SpaceManager ™ technology, an innovative, indirect memory-mapping technique that significantly reduces the time a picture file can be written to the digital film card. While actual performance will vary between camera models, Lexar digital film offers sustained WRITE performance that is nearly two or three times faster than other CompactFlash solutions. In some digital cameras, Lexar digital film is 200% faster than general-purpose flash memory! Imagine the shots you could miss while waiting for your images to be stored: a baby’s smile, a wedding kiss, or any other precious moment.”
    (The full FAQ is at http://www.digitalfilm.com/support/faqs_gen.html)

    Note the words, “In some digital cameras…” those are the ones that are optimized for one camera or another. I wasn’t able to locate a direct article (from Lexar) about the Nikon optimization, but this press release (from 2002) was when Nikon optimized one of their Memory cards for the Canon EOS 1-D. (So, obviously they are willing to optimized when they see the opportunity and market for such).

    It should also be noted that with announcement of the D90, SanDisk also released a new card that it claimed was optimized for the new Nikon camera. You can see information on that at http://it.tmcnet.com/topics/it/articles/38145-sandisk-intros-extreme-iii-30mbs-edition-line-sdhc.htm.

    Hope this helps clarify a bit.

    Reply
  29. Scott,
    I think only few high end (d3 type) still use CF. Otherwise it is pretty much SD(HC) world for digital cameras.

    I’ve used SanDisk all my life. Once I even had a very painful occurrence where I was doing a photo shoot on the water in Turks & Caicos and had the camera drop into the salt water. I know I know… But it happened. The good news… The SanDisk card worked just fine after I dried it, salt water and all.

    Reply
  30. Scott,
    I think only few high end (d3 type) still use CF. Otherwise it is pretty much SD(HC) world for digital cameras.

    I’ve used SanDisk all my life. Once I even had a very painful occurrence where I was doing a photo shoot on the water in Turks & Caicos and had the camera drop into the salt water. I know I know… But it happened. The good news… The SanDisk card worked just fine after I dried it, salt water and all.

    Reply
  31. Lexar are optimised for Nikon? Well according to Rob Galbraith Lexar cards are outperformed in Nikon DSLRs by Sandisk every time. For my money I’ve gone down the Sandisk route.

    Reply
  32. Lexar are optimised for Nikon? Well according to Rob Galbraith Lexar cards are outperformed in Nikon DSLRs by Sandisk every time. For my money I’ve gone down the Sandisk route.

    Reply
  33. Sandisk is great. I have been using them for 5 years now. Even the smaller cards I bought originally haven’t failed on me. I do generally stay in the 2 gig range. I would rather switch out cards then loose 100 pictures.

    I am going to look into the Hoodman UDMA cards though, good info.

    Great post!

    Reply
  34. Sandisk is great. I have been using them for 5 years now. Even the smaller cards I bought originally haven’t failed on me. I do generally stay in the 2 gig range. I would rather switch out cards then loose 100 pictures.

    I am going to look into the Hoodman UDMA cards though, good info.

    Great post!

    Reply

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