Slow, but still Fast Enough

Mar 26, 2004 (Updated Jun 18, 2005)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Large capacity, trusted brand, reliable

Cons:Low speed, slightly higher price

The Bottom Line: The original SanDisk card is slow, but never the less fast enough for most digital cameras. The recent price at under $100 is really a good deal.


I came across this product when I was buying memory for my new Canon G5 digital camera. My main mission of the research was focused on whether or not I need to buy higher speed memory card, and how fast (or slow) are the cards I was considering. Another card that was in the lineup was the SimpleTech (http://www.epinions.com/content_186421972612), which I eventually picked over this one.

It turns out that someone already did all the work to check the speed of CF cards for us. Please visit the CompactFlash Performance Database Database (http://www.robgalbraith.com/bins/multi_page.asp?cid=6007) by Rob Galbraith, as well as the slightly outdated article by Phil Askey (http://www.dpreview.com/articles/mediacompare/). Below I would like to discuss what I have learned from these two websites.

So Do I Need High Speed Cards?
The answer, unfortunately, is it depends.

The quick answer is no, provided that you are using a digital point and shoot with resolution less than 4 megapixels (MP), and you download your pictures to your computer through the camera.

Be very careful when digital sales people try to scare you with the claim that the newer digital camera’s “won’t work” with the standard speed memory cards like this one. This is not true. The performance might suffer a little with slow cards, but to most people, and most camera, the difference is not obvious, because usually the speed limit of the cameras play a more important role.

What is the speed limit of the camera
The answer becomes more complicated when you are dealing with high performance cameras. The new 8MP cameras need to write a lot of data to the card for each picture. If the speed is low, either by design flaw or slow cards, you will be forced to wait a long time before you are able to take the next picture. One such examples of design flaw is the SONY 828. When you use RAW picture format for serious photography work, the camera locks you out for 6 seconds before you can take the next picture, even if you use a high-speed memory card. If you use low-speed cards (like this one), the wait will be ridiculous. By the way the speed limit on that camera is about 16x (more on speed limit and what the “x” mean latter).

Most of the digital point and shoot cameras (in contrast to the digital SLRs such as the Canon 10D, or Nikon D2H, etc.) does not put an emphasis on data transfer rate. The camera vendors will only put in the lowest speed memory interface that they can get away with, to reduce the cost. For consumers, it is important to determine the speed limit of the camera, because spending extra money on cards a lot faster than the speed limit is a waste. For example, the now very old Nikon 995 (release in 2001) has a speed limit of 4x (by the way, 1x = 150 KB/sec, just like the speed ratings on CD drives). The SONY 828 is about 16x. There are really fast cameras out there, such as the Nikon digital SLR D2H (H for high speed), at about 35x (or 5.2 MB/sec), which holds the speed crown for now.

I don’t have the memory speed limit on my Canon G5, unfortunately. But from what I read in the Performance Database, it cannot be faster than 9x (as seen on the new Digital Rebel, or 300D).

So what is the speed of this card?
As seen in the CF Performance Database, the original Sandisk cards such as this one are only rated for a low speed of 5-6x. I guess the Sandisk design, being one of the first in the industry, is becoming old. And they are really pushing their high speed models (Ultra and Ultra II). However, recall that the G5 speed limit cannot be higher than 9x, such memory card speed might still be fast enough for the G5.

Quick Spec
Type: Compact Flash Type I (the most common CF card. CF II is a little thicker but uses the same connector)
Capacity: 512MB
Speed: ~5x (= 750 KB/s)

Conclusion
This memory card comes from a very reputable vendor. It also comes with a good 5 year warranty. Historically SanDisk charges a premium for its name and reliability. But recently this card can be had for a low price of under $100. I think it is really a good deal.


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