How Fast Is YOUR Memory Card? There Are Good Reasons To Know Page 2

How Fast Do You Need?
Does everyone need a high-speed card all of the time? The answers lie partly on the type of digital camera you use, partly on the type of photos you take, and finally on a couple of other factors you may not have thought about.

If you shoot a typical 5-megapixel point-and-shoot model and normally shoot only family and vacation pictures you can get along fine with a medium speed card--at least as far as your current circumstances are concerned. On the other hand, if you are the proud owner of a digital SLR, are capturing your 8-megapixel images as 3.3MB image files, and are shooting a few in raw format (at a whopping 8.3MB each) then, well, you know the answer. You'll get better performance from faster cards. You'll feel the difference particularly when you capture a sequential burst of images and when it's time to download.

But you are hereby encouraged to look beyond your gadget bag. That is to say, even if you're plunking along with yesterday's 3-megapixel digital camera, there's always the possibility that you'll upgrade to a more speed-hungry model in the future. You won't throw your memory cards away--or at least you won't have to if you plan ahead and buy high-speed cards from the beginning. As illustrated in the wood chipper analogy earlier, it doesn't matter if the memory card (wood chipper) is actually faster than your camera (worker)--as long as it is at least as fast.

You should also consider the possibility that you'll be using the memory card in some other type of non-camera device; an MP3 player, cell phone, or PDA. Each has its own data handling architecture, and each has a different threshold where high read and write speeds deliver maximum performance. In many cases you're better off with faster cards in those devices.

Memory Card Options
It's not surprising to see four or five different types of batteries hanging on pegs at the supermarket check-out counter. There are AA, AAA, C, D, and 9v, plus an assortment of other sizes that fit everything from garage door openers to hearing aids.

In that light, the number of different types of memory cards is small. Four types predominate, and that's trivial compared to the number of different types of flashlight batteries.

The two dominant types are Secure Digital (SD) and CompactFlash (CF). Maximum capacities differ depending on type. SD cards top out at 2GB while CF cards stretch all the way up to 8GB. Larger cards of each type are on the horizon. Speed ratings partly depend on card type. The current performance star is the stamp-sized SD card, which in its best incarnation can deliver sustained sequential read and write speeds of 20MB per second. That's 133x. And that's fast.

To the average consumer it may seem like there should be one--and only one--type of memory card. Wouldn't that make things much simpler for everyone? Simple maybe, but it would also handcuff progress. Cameras have gotten smaller, at least in part, because cards have gotten smaller. Camera performance has improved hand-in-hand with improvements in card performance.

Future Card Outlook
You see, when a camera manufacturer's R&D team sits down to plan future models they examine the progressive roadmap of memory card development as well as the future path of image sensors, power supplies, and other pertinent components. Advancements in camera technology are planned to intersect advancements in aligned technologies. Those include memory cards. Emphasis has been on smaller physical size, larger maximum capacity, faster performance, and lower price--all in the same product.

Improvements in card speed have payoffs in other areas, too. Card readers, particularly those that take advantage of the fastest transfer protocols (e.g., High-Speed USB 2.0 and/or FireWire), download fast cards more efficiently than slow cards. This means nothing if you're processing a dozen shots of the back yard barbeque, but if you're handling a few hundred raw format images the time saved can be significant. Which leads to an appropriate summary: faster cards mean faster workflow.

At Kingston Technology we've been working to understand the relationships between cameras, memory cards, card readers, and the actual work habits of photographers. Our long experience in the area of computer memory has given us a springboard to refine and perfect portable and removable media. All of our memory cards come complete with a worry-free, lifetime warranty. We are the only card manufacturer that offers a true end-to-end digital media solution. But more than that, we listen to our customers and try to answer their needs any way we can.

Mark Leathem is the Director of Product Marketing at Kingston Technology Company, Inc. (

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