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Memory Card Sizes

Is Bigger Better? • Windows Or Mac, One More Time • Full-Frame Dust • Preserving RAW Files

Is Bigger Better? Memory Card Sizes

I’ve been shooting with a 10.2-megapixel digital SLR for a few months. I have two 4 GB CompactFlash cards. As I go on safari, I’ve considered getting a couple of 8 GB cards so I won’t have to change and download so often when doing a lot of shooting. Now I’m hearing the 8 GB cards aren’t as good. If this is a fact, what’s the problem?
O. Larsen, Norway

I’ve experienced no difference in reliability of 4 GB and 8 GB cards from reputable manufacturers (SanDisk, Lexar and Delkin are three that I use), except that the 8 GB cards are slightly slower in writing the data. If you’re shooting fast and furious action, you might notice the lag on the larger cards. But there are other reasons you may want to stick with 4 GB cards when you’re in a remote field location.

Only one factor, the size of the image file, determines how many images you can store on a particular-sized card. Most likely, a 4 GB card will take your 10.2-megapixel camera through a full day of shooting (equivalent to 10 rolls of 36-exposure film), even if you’re shooting in RAW. So if you don’t want to download your work every night in the field, several 4 GB cards would suffice. Several 8 GB cards could possibly carry you through the entire safari.

In all my years of shooting digital and teaching digital photographers in the field, I’ve only experienced CF card failure twice. More often, I’ve seen the cards slip through the slats on a bridge or between the crevices in rocks. But here’s the question: If failure or loss happens to you, do you want to lose one day’s work or the entire week? The answer to this question argues for the 4 GB cards. I’d recommend you carry at least four cards in case you lose or lend one or can’t download your images for a time. Still, I never enter a multiple-day shoot without a backup hard drive, and I faithfully download and review the day’s captures every night when possible—not only to protect the images, but also to determine what I might want to do differently or more thoroughly the next day.

Windows Or Mac, One More Time

I’m trying to become the best (digital) fine-art photographer I can be. I presently use a Windows machine. My photo applications are Photoshop CS3, Lightroom and DxO v.4 running under Windows XP. My photo files will often get rather large (300 MB to 900 MB) in processing and typically go to my printer flattened in the 150 MB to 250 MB range. My computer is beginning to require repairs, and I’m spending more time on the machine than doing photography. I’m trying to investigate both Windows and Mac options although the Macs look like they will cost twice as much and take me to the workstation level, which I’m not sure makes economical or technical sense (and then I have new software to buy). If I stay with a Windows-based machine, I’d probably graduate to a 64-bit version of Vista so I could go beyond the present 3.5 GB RAM limit of XP.
T. Mann
Via the Internet

The configuration you’re now using was likely optimal at the time you purchased it. If it’s giving you trouble now and you want to move up, you’re at a point where you can choose between a faster Windows-based machine or a Mac. At all my lectures, I tell people which computer system is the best one to choose—it’s the one the people around you are using and that you can get support for.

Considering that you’ve been working on Windows, most likely you’d want to stay there. An upgraded desktop system, using an Intel Core 2 Duo Processor running Vista, would give you optimum speed. A large internal hard drive (in the 500 GB range) would be recommended. Your software could be moved onto your new machine. You don’t mention your monitor, but I find it to be one of the most important factors in working on images. Large is better, two is best. Be sure to choose monitors that are easily calibrated.

If you make the choice to switch to Mac, a Mac Pro system with a pair of quad-core or dual-core Intel Xeon processors would be the ultimate, not to mention using their wonderful monitors up to 30 inches in size.

While I sympathize with your comment about spending more time on the computer than in taking photographs, I think it’s a small price to pay for the increased control we now have over the processing of our images. That iconic photographer from the pre-digital era, Ansel Adams, spent more time in the darkroom working on each image than he did capturing it in the field. He called the capture “the score” and the print “the performance.” So I guess your computer is your instrument.

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Full-Frame Dust
I’ve read some reviews on the Canon EOS 5D, where people were complaining about getting dust on the image sensor. Is this a problem with just the EOS 5D or all digital SLRs?
B. Ilovi
Via the Internet

In my experience, the full-frame sensors (featured only in the Canon EOS 5D and 1Ds MKII) tend to gather dust more readily than the small-format or APS-C-sized image sensors. The electrical charge of the sensor seems to attract dust. Ironically, the sensors that gather the most dust and need the most cleaning also are the most expensive, so it’s scary to maintain them properly. You can’t be sending them off every couple of weeks to the manufacturer for cleaning, so you just have to do it yourself.

An ideal tool for viewing the condition of your sensor is the Delkin SensorScope. This lighted magnifier replaces the lens and allows you to see every particle that needs to be removed. The actual cleaning can be done with a number of effective tools. You can see them all at I find this website gives unbiased information and will help you to demystify a task that can be quite daunting.

Preserving RAW Files
Upon reading a few websites on RAW, I get the impression that every camera manufacturer uses a different format for RAW. Moreover, they suggest that there’s no guarantee that the programs that can read RAW files today will be able to read RAW files that are created now or in the future, say, 10 to 15 years from now. Is there any truth to this? If so, is it prudent to archive our work in RAW or should we archive in some other format?
A. Jaleel
Ottawa, Ontario

Every new camera typically has a proprietary RAW format. For those of us who work with prototypes of the new cameras before they’re released, this becomes a major problem because programs like Photoshop can’t open the files. We can’t use the RAW image files unless we use an advance copy of the manufacturer’s RAW converter. This problem can be generalized to all digital photography in the future if software manufacturers stop supporting early RAW formats.

Adobe has attempted to address the problem by coming up with a file format called DNG (or Digital Negative) that can incorporate all the different RAW file formats into one universal RAW file. It would be ideal if the camera itself would write in such a universal format, and while some now do, none of the major camera manufacturers do. The alternative today is to convert RAW files to DNG in either Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. There’s also a free DNG converter that can be downloaded from Adobe (

The concern pro photographers have is that the common DNG format won’t be sustained because of the lack of support from the camera manufacturers, so some photographers have been reluctant to use it for archiving images. I use both methods. The DNG converter works perfectly, and I convert my files to this format in Lightroom. At the same time, I continue to archive the RAW files to a separate location. Regardless of the form you choose now, be vigilant to trends in the industry and be ready to convert your files to the new standard when it arrives. In the digital age, that shouldn’t be too difficult.

For more information on the Digital Negative, go to You may want to Google DNG for more commentary on how photographers are using this format.

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One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.