Roundup: Memory Cards And Data Transfer Accessories; How Fast Are Those Fast CompactFlash And SD Cards? Page 2

Note: It's important to emphasize that the test results would differ depending on the exact computer, camera, and accessories used. As well, different results would be produced if using an entirely different mix of image files and formats. Consequently, the results of my tests should be viewed only as an indicator as to which products may be lightning fast and which may be downright sluggish. However, it's likely that the relative performance of a card would be similar. In other words, a super-speed card is unlikely to be slow regardless of the test methods and equipment used.

Memory Card Evaluation
The extensive testing of a broad variety of cards certainly proved to be revealing. First, the SD cards are faster on average in camera than the CF cards; the Kingston 133x ULTIMATE SD was especially impressive. This is relevant only to those with cameras that accept SD cards. Of course, a few of the CF products--particularly the fastest Lexar and SanDisk cards--were quite competitive with the SD cards with my EOS-1Ds Mark II. And in both formats, the oldest and the least expensive cards proved to be the slowest.

After in-camera performance, the second most important factor is data transfer speed to a computer. Most of the newer cards proved to be quite fast, particularly the latest Kingston, Lexar, and SanDisk cards. If you frequently shoot numerous high-resolution images, this aspect of performance may be important. Finally, I noticed that data transfer from a computer hard drive to a memory card was typically slower, as indicated in the chart. That's not nearly as important because few photographers routinely record data to a memory card. A USB flash drive is a more commonly used accessory for quickly moving image files from one computer to another.

Overall, several memory cards emerged as the strongest contenders using my test parameters: the Kingston 133x ULTIMATE SD, SanDisk Extreme III SD and CF, and the latest Lexar 133x cards. A few others, including the Delkin CF card, came very close and would be just as desirable for most digital photographers. In fact, when reviewing the charts, a difference of less than 10 percent in speed should not be considered to be significant.

Final Assessment
While there is a consensus among some photographers that higher capacity cards are faster than more modest cards, as a rule, I was not able to confirm that belief. Of course, I did not have enough cards of the same type, in a broad variety of capacities, for extensive comparison testing.

The difference between the "very fast" and "quite fast" performers in the in-camera recording category is most meaningful for photographers who frequently shoot very long bursts as in sports photography. For most other applications, just about any of the newer cards should be fine. On the other hand, the frustratingly slow speed of the oldest and cheapest cards should be a lesson for anyone who owns such media. If you're now shooting with a newer high-resolution camera, donate your slowest cards to a friend with an inexpensive compact digicam. Replace them immediately and begin to take full advantage of the blazing speed that your camera can provide.

Write Acceleration Technology
For several years now, many of Lexar's high-end CF and SD cards have featured Write Acceleration (WA) technology. According to the company, this "allows digital cameras and the WA cards to work together perfectly to pass and store images more quickly and achieve image-write speeds never before possible." Camera manufacturers that support WA technology include Kodak, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, and Sigma. However, only certain digital SLR models in those brands are actually WA-enabled, as listed at

Are the WA-series cards much faster with cameras that support WA technology? I cannot provide a conclusion because I did not have one of the few supported cameras for testing. Surprisingly, the latest Nikon, Olympus, and Pentax digital SLRs are not included in the WA-enabled list. Frankly, that may be academic. While testing various digital SLRs over the past year I found the Lexar 80x cards to be extremely fast, regardless of a camera's WA compatibility. And as a company rep emphasized, "all of Lexar's cards perform at their advertised speed specifications in all cameras, including those not WA-enabled."

So, the bottom line on the WA technology is this: The high-speed Lexar cards are great for use with any fast camera. If you do own a WA-enabled digital SLR, there may be some benefit to using the appropriate media. On the other hand, you should find that the ultrahigh-speed cards of other brands also provide exceptional performance. Finally, as an educated guess, I would say that the entire WA issue will be clarified further in the near future.

Camera Firmware And Memory Card Issues
During testing of the numerous cards an interesting fact came to light: The latest version of the camera manufacturer's firmware can affect the speed of certain cards' performance. At least this applied to the new Lexar 133x WA CF cards when tested with the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II. When I completed the original testing, the latest Lexar cards--not yet available in stores--proved to be somewhat slow, in camera.

Subsequently, Canon released a firmware update for the EOS-1Ds Mark II. This was not well publicized but I found it eventually, just before this review went to press. After installing the new firmware, I re-tested a half dozen cards; only the results for the Lexar 133x CF cards were different. They were now much faster and I had time to update the chart.

While this experience may have been unique, it emphasizes the value of checking for firmware updates for any camera. In addition to superior performance with entirely new memory cards, the updates may add useful new features or improve camera performance. (The benefit provided by the firmware update for the Nikon D70 is a perfect example of the value of keeping a camera up-to-date.)

Unfortunately, most manufacturers do not notify camera owners about updates. It's up to us to keep an eye on News items in magazines and on the web. In order to determine whether new firmware is now available for your digital camera, use a search engine such as with the keyword firmware and the full name of your specific camera. If an update is available, be absolutely certain to install it exactly as specified on the manufacturer's website. Also check for any "disclaimers" or notes about "side effects" that the update may produce.

A long-time "Shutterbug" contributor, stock photographer Peter K. Burian ( is the author of several books, including "Magic Lantern Guides to the Maxxum 7D and Maxxum 5D" (Lark) as well as "Mastering Digital Photography and Imaging" (Sybex). He is also a digital photography course instructor with

ATP Americas
750 N Mary Ave.
Sunnyvale, CA 94085
(408) 732-5000

Delkin Devices, Inc.
13350 Kirkham Way
Poway, CA 92064
(800) 637-8087
(858) 391-1234

Kingston Technology Co.
17600 Newhope St.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
(877) 546-4786
(714) 435-2600

Lexar Media, Inc.
47300 Bayside Parkway
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 413-1200

Panasonic Corporation of North America
One Panasonic Way
Secaucus, NJ 07094
(201) 348-7000

SanDisk, Inc.
140 Caspian Ct.
Sunnyvale, CA 94089
(408) 542-0500