Don’t Fear the SD Card

OK, I’ll admit it, I’m a CompactFlash (CF) memory card snob.  In the early days of digital photography, the first cameras I used did not use CF or SD cards, but a PCMCIA card called a Viper. These cards stored about 85mb and cost about $200.  But with the introduction of affordable professional digital cameras came the CompactFlash (CF) card. They were smaller than the Viper card, yet faster and with greater capacity.

For years, all the Pro digital SLRs I used required CF cards, while the compact point-and-shoot cameras required the smaller Secure Digital (SD) card.  Then with the introduction of affordable entry level DSLRs we began to see the use SD cards in a digital SLR. Thus began my disdain of the SD card.  This was nothing logical, mind you.  There was nothing wrong with the SD, I just associated it with inexpensive consumer grade cameras. To me the larger, manly CF card was the card of the pro, while the petite SD card was the card of the amateur. But over the last few years I’ve been seeing manufacturers create really nice digital SLRs that utilize SD cards.

Following a recent discussion with Sandisk National Account Manager Peter Liebmann, I’ve begun to see that my disdain of the SD card may be irrational.  According to Peter, the SD card may even have some advantages over the CF card.  Peter says that because the CF cards have holes that connect with pins in the host device (ever heard a camera called a host device before?) they are not waterproof, additionally the pins in the host device can become bent.  Meanwhile SD cards can be made waterproof and don’t require pins in the host device to make contact.

Peter also surprised me by explaining that despite their smaller size, the future path of SD cards may give us faster and larger cards than could be created in the CF card format.

He said that the largest CF card in the Sandisk lineup is a 64 gig card that moves data at 90 Megabytes per second (MB/s).  In the future he suggested that we are likely to see CF cards max out at 128 gigs and 100MB/s. Editor’s Note: Recent announcements by the Compact Flash Card Association hint at larger capacities and faster speeds than currently practical.

Meanwhile, over in SD land, the largest SDXC card (SDXC is the designation given to SD cards with a capacity 32G or greater) currently is 64 gigs, while the fastest SDHC (less than 32G) card is 30MB/S.  But things could really get interesting in the future.  SDXC card specifications suggest that we could see SDXC cards with capacities up to 2 terabytes and speeds up to 300MB/S.  Whether we actually live to see this is another question, but it does indicate that the future of SDXC cards offers a much greater potential for growth in speed and size than that of the mighty CF card, which seems to be nearing the end of its growth curve.

Peter doesn’t see CF cards going away anytime soon, but he does see SD cards being used with greater frequency in future camera models.

So if you’re like me and have been looking down your nose at those tiny SD cards, it may be time to get over it and embrace the SD.

Michael A. Schwarz is a commercial and editorial photographer, digital photography consultant and photo workshop leader based in Atlanta, Georgia.
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