Saturday, May 22, 2010

Memory Cards: How fast is fast enough?

  The trend of using higher resolution sensors (more mega pixels) in new cameras continues, and often these new cameras have faster frame rates (fps) in continuous drive mode than their predecessors. So not only are the files becoming larger than ever, the cameras are generating them faster which may require you to upgrade your memory cards. The addition of HD quality video to most new cameras also has to be considered when looking for new storage media.

  Memory technology has changed to allow more storage space and provide faster read/write speeds to keep up with the flash memory requirements of modern electronic devices. CF cards come in numerous storage sizes and speeds starting with slower Direct Memory Access (DMA) type cards which offer speeds up to 33Mb/s to the newer Ultra DMA (UDMA 6) cards which offer speeds up to 133Mb/s. Secure Digital (SD) cards have replaced CF cards in a lot camera models including some of the newer DSLR being released. Some of the professional grade DLSR models offer both media types, allowing users to store files to either card type or both at the same time. Being able to store JPEGs to one card and RAW files to the other has real benefits, both for speed and convenience if your a photojournalist. SD cards have also undergone numerous updates and are now offered in SD High Capacity (SDHC) or SD Extended Capacity (SDXC) with write speeds as high as 104Mb/s.  

  Like everything storage space and speed comes with a price. Your camera will be able to use all available space on any card when saving your pictures, however it may not be able to take advantage of a card's maximum write speed. The speed that a camera will empty it's buffer has an upper limit, and ideally you want your card to be able to handle that maximum speed. If your card is too slow,  your camera will bog down when you select continuous drive mode and start blasting away. Too fast and you could be wasting your money, however the extras speed may allow you to transfer your images into your computer a bit faster.

  So how fast is too fast when it comes to memory cards, it really comes down to your camera's write speed requirements. Rob Goldbraith's web site is a great resource for digital photography information, and thanks to Rob you can check his extensive database of cameras and cards to see which brand and model will provide the best performance for your camera.

Check out Rob's Camera / Card data base at:  CF/SD Performance Database

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