Last March, I obtained UDMA 8GB and 16GB Compact Flash cards from Hoodman, SanDisk, Lexar and Delkin. I wanted to test them in a real world setting – over a three month period. While I don’t have an EE degree, nor any fancy test equipment, I do know the difference between a good card and a bad one — a fast one and a slow one. I’m not going to bore you with all the details of each test. This isn’t that kind of post. I’ll mention a few numbers, but this post is really about what I think in general after using all this stuff in the real world AND in the lab.
Since switching to Nikon I was particularly interested in UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access) cards since my D3 was UDMA compliant. In my tests, I also used the high-speed, UDMA Firewire 800 card readers supplied by each manufacturer where available.
While the marketing materials for every company were a bit optimistic regarding speed and throughput, it was an apples to apples test – since all cards were used in the same camera, shooting similar subjects and downloading to the same computer.
Then, just to make sure I wasn’t experiencing some abnormal behavior, I switched cameras and computers and tested again – over a period of more than a month with each camera and machine combo. There were very minute statistical differences in the results too small to measure.
Every time the results came out the same. The Lexar Professional UDMA 300x Speed CF card/reader combo gave the best results in my Nikon D3 bodies compared to the other brands I tested.
But speed isn’t everything, so I also tested reliability. We ran 10,000 files onto and off of each card and through each reader multiple times. I am glad to say that most of the cards (from any manufacturer) held up very well. We abused the cards, passing them from camera to camera, computer to computer and back. We formatted them on the computer sometimes (not recommended) and other times in the camera (recommended.) There were only two data failures with any of the cards and even those were recoverable. The Lexar had no data loss in any of our tests. (I’m not going to mention the maker of the card that failed because we tortured it and I don’t think it would be fair to that company to do that.)
I tested transfer speeds and got consistent results in the 27-27.5 MB/s range using the Lexar 300X 16GB card/Lexar UDMA Firewire card reader. That’s slower than they advertise but faster than any other card in my camera. These tests were using RAW files generated by my D3. I got slightly faster transfer rates using the Lexar 8GB, but barely enough to mention.
Transfer to and from the computer was blazingly fast using all of the UDMA card readers with one strange result. We consistently got better results from the Hoodman UDMA USB reader than we did their FIrewire 800 reader. Go figure.
The Lexar 16GB UDMA Card comes with Image Rescue 3. I’d like to note that Image Rescue 3 does NOT work with the latest version of the Mac OS. When I contacted Lexar about this they said they will be addressing this issue in a future version of Image Rescue. That’s not a lot to go on but you may want to keep this in mind if you plan on banking on the Image Rescue software to get you out of trouble in an emergency if you use the latest Mac OS.
The good news is that the Lexar cards were not the most expensive in my test, but were the fastest and the most reliable IN MY CAMERA. If you’re interested in UDMA, you’re probably fine with any major brand of UDMA CF card. I think most of them are OEM’d out of the same two factories – that said, the cards are made to different specs.
This all probably means very little to you if you don’t have a camera that supports UDMA. It may mean something to you (but not as much as it does to me) if you shoot Canon or with a different UDMA camera. Results can vary from camera to camera.