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Gadget Bag: Memory Today

Shooting with a hi-res D-SLR can take up a lot of memory in a hurry. Manufacturers have responded with new ultra-high capacities that will provide safe storage for your precious images.
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Eye Fi Eye-Fi Wireless SD Card
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Some people believe that there are too many different types of memory cards. Why can’t all cameras use the same storage media? Uniformity is not likely to ever happen, but we may be moving a bit closer to a universal media system. Based on the number of new digital SLR and high-end compact digital cameras introduced so far this year that are compatible with Secure Digital, it’s becoming clear that CompactFlash is losing ground. The advent of high-capacity SDHC has opened the door to cross-platform compatibility. Flagship consumer models like the new Canon Rebel XSi, Nikon D60, Pentax K200D and Fujifilm S100FS all use SDHC. That’s one of the factors shaping the memory card category.

The popularity of high-definition digital camcorders that use SDHC for storage is another big factor. Capturing digital still images is a comparatively tame endeavor compared to digital video. The more stringent requirements of HD video trickle down to deliver higher performance for still photography.

Another factor is the availability of high-quality memory cards from more manufacturers. A few years ago, SanDisk, Lexar and Sony dominated the market. But today, brands like Kingston have made their bones with professionals and serious amateurs alike, as have ATP, Transcend and PNY. The result is a market that’s loaded with high-quality products at ever-decreasing prices.

Clearly the most significant improvement in the world of memory cards is the adoption of objective, standardized speed ratings for Secure Digital cards. All SDHC cards that are Class 4, for example, can write at the speed of 4 MBps. Class 6 cards write at a minimum of 6 MBps. But it’s more than just truth in labeling. Before the new standard, cameras couldn’t determine the storage conditions inside the card when writing data. Writing speed is heavily dependent on card fragmentation; that is, the availability and arrangement of empty storage space governs write speed. Now, with the new classification system, a properly equipped camera can check the fragmented state in the card and calculate the write speed at every storage location. This means it can determine where to write the data according to its speed requirement.

Kingston 16 GB SDHC Card
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ProMax 8 GB CompactFlash
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PNY Optima Pro 16 GB CompactFlash
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Panasonic 32 GB SDHC

The final factor shaping the state of digital memory is cost. Digital memory cards continue to become more affordable. Standard-performance 1 GB SD cards cost less than $10, while 2 GB cards can be routinely found for less than $20. Even high-performance cards are quite reasonable, because intense competition for market share among card makers has kept street prices artificially low. The next time you shop for memory cards, check out the new crop of card readers. You can’t fully realize the benefits of faster cards if you’re still using a slow card reader. SanDisk, for example, offers a nifty FireWire-compatible card reader that’s capable of read/write speeds up to 40 MBps.

SanDisk Extreme Ducati Edition 8 GB
SanDisk Extreme Ducati Edition 8 GB CompactFlash Card
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SanDisk Extreme Ducati Edition 4 GB
SanDisk Extreme Ducati Edition 4 GB SDHC
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SanDisk Extreme III 16 GB
SanDisk Extreme III 16 GB CompactFlash Card
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Kingston Technology is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of memory. It produces a variety of memory products for computers and flash memory for digital cameras, mobile phones, MP3 players and PDAs. All Kingston memory cards are backed by a lifetime warranty and 24/7 technical support.

“Higher-resolution digital cameras and increasingly popular HD video camcorders require high-capacity memory cards with faster data-transfer rates to maximize overall performance of the recording device,” according to Jaja Lin, flash-memory marketing manager for Kingston. Its latest introduction is a 16 GB SDHC card that’s Class 4.

Celebrating its 20th year in the memory business, Transcend offers a full line of memory modules, USB flash drives and portable hard drives, MP3 players, flash memory cards, card readers and other multimedia products. Its newest product is a 32 GB CF card that delivers 133x read/write performance.

ATP, another relative old-timer in the memory game, uses a System-In-Package (SIP) flash-card manufacturing process, a highly sophisticated technique that involves advanced wire bonding, stacking and encapsulation procedures. What this means to us is that ATP memory cards are reliable and durable. They’re also fast. ATP was the first flash manufacturer to deliver a 4 GB SDHC card that’s Class 6. Its ProMax line also includes an 8 GB version.

Panasonic announced the development of the world’s first 32 GB SDHC memory card with Class 6 speed specification at the annual CES Show in Las Vegas. The 32 GB-capacity card is able to store approximately eight hours of 1440 x 1080i high-definition video and more than five hours 1920 x 1080i full high-definition video. Panasonic also offers SDHC in smaller densities, including 8 GB and 16 GB.

SanDisk is the world’s largest manufacturer of flash-memory storage products. Considered by many to be the originator of the medium, SanDisk is the only company that has the rights to both manufacture and sell every major type of flash card. One recent introduction is the SanDisk Video HD card line. Available in SDHC and Memory Stick PRO Duo, the cards are labeled to indicate minutes of video recording time in addition to raw capacity. But the hottest-looking SanDisk product—and one of the most attractive camera accessories you’ll encounter—is the SanDisk Extreme Ducati edition. The CompactFlash version is capable of achieving a 45 MBps data-transfer speed, fast enough for any photo application imaginable.