Memory & Storage; A New SD Format

The big news is the availability of the new standard in Secure Digital (SD) memory—SDXC. SDXC is currently supported by only a small number of cameras, like the Panasonic GH1 (not surprising given that Panasonic is one of the main proponents of the new memory format). The cards look physically the same as SD and SDHC cards, but they have a new format that promises large data storage capacities. Panasonic was showing and shipping SDXC in 64GB capacities at the show, and is talking about shipping cards with up to a 2TB capacity in the next year or so. With the addition of video to so many still cameras, this increased capacity, along with the improved data transfer rates, will be a welcome feature.

It’s obvious that SD is the future standard as well. The newest Canon D-SLR, the Rebel 2Ti, uses only SD cards, and even Sony is moving away from their own Memory Stick format to use the SD standard in new bodies. CompactFlash (CF) still seems to be a standard feature on the high-end pro D-SLR bodies like the Canon 1D and Nikon D3 series, but even here we’re starting to see most of the D-SLR bodies that include video support include an SD slot along with the CF slot.

On the CF side, while capacities aren’t going up dramatically like they are with SDXC, speeds are bumping ever higher. Delkin Devices is showing the CompactFlash PRO UDMA with capacities up to 64GB, and transfer rates of up to 420x (63MB/sec). You’ll need a UDMA-compliant card reader to achieve the top transfer rates of these new cards, but Delkin has you covered here with their excellent ImageRouter (announced at last year’s PMA), and their USB 2.0 Reader series, all of which support UDMA transfer speeds.

Hoodman claims the highest transfer speeds for their Raw series CF cards with a 675x or 100MB/sec rating. With SSD flash as the storage medium, Hoodman also says they’ve had three years of sales without a single failure worldwide—pretty impressive when you think about the number of digital images shot each day. Also touted as a benefit is the longer life cycle of 500,000 uses/formats. The Raw cards are UDMA, and available in capacities up to 32GB. At $499 for a 32GB card, they aren’t cheap, but if you’re making a living with your shots, it could be pretty affordable compared to the cost of a botched assignment.

On the storage side, Western Digital continues to impress me with the increasing capacity and reliability of their external drives. The My Book Elite series is available in capacities from 640GB to 2TB. What I really liked about the My Book Elite is the e-label—an always visible (even with no power) customizable label on the front of the drive. It not only shows the available space, but you can name the drive whatever you like—I can see having a series of these on my shelf as an archive with the labels showing the date range of images. While the My Book Elite is targeted at Windows users, the My Book Studio offers the same e-label display, up to 2TB capacity, and adds a FireWire 800 to the USB 2.0 port.

Western Digital My Book Studio

The My Book Studio Edition II now has a capacity of 1TB to 4TB, and includes USB 2.0, FireWire, and eSATA ports in a RAID 0/1 configuration, with 4TB going for $549. But, if you’re a Windows user (right now, Mac support is unofficial), and want the fastest speeds possible, the new My Book 3.0 is worth a look. In 1TB and 2TB capacities, the drive gives you the new USB 3.0 interface (a card is available with the drive) for transfer rates up to 10x faster than USB 2.0.

WiebeTech RTX400-QR

If you’re looking for huge capacities, along with the safety of a RAID system for redundancy, the WiebeTech RTX400-QR is an excellent option. Available with or without drives, you can use four drives for a maximum of 8TB of storage. The device can be configured in RAID 0, 1, 10, 3, or 5 (RAID 5 is an excellent compromise between speed and safety). It’s a sturdy package with USB 2.0, FireWire, and eSATA connection options, and is fully compatible with both Mac and Windows systems. Prices for the RTX400-QR start at $899.