Most digital cameras use removable memory cards to temporarily store the images you record with them. There have been a number of sizes and types, the most popular in the last several years being CompactFlash (CF— both Type I and Type II), and Secure Digital (SD). A Most digital cameras use removable memory cards to temporarily store the images you record with them. There have been a number of sizes and types, the most popular in the last several years being CompactFlash (CF— both Type I and Type II), and Secure Digital (SD). A few other formats (like Sony’s Memory Stick and xD) have fallen out of favor. Of the lot, CF has stood the test of time better than any of the others and continues to be the format used in the camera bodies with highest transfer rate requirements.
CF cards have not been without a few difficulties. While generally robust (there are plenty of stories around about folks leaving cards in their pockets and sending them through the wash with no ill effects), the one delicate feature is the pin structure of the device the card is inserted into; a misalignment often results in a bent pin and a big, often expensive, problem. Then too, capabilities change over time, and while the latest top-end CF cards can write at up to 103 MB/s and store up to 128 GB of data, we’re reaching the upper limits for the underlying card specifications.
Not too surprising then that another memory card format has been announced. The new card is to be called “XQD” and will replace CF cards sometime down the road. The physical size of the XQD card will be somewhere between current CF and SD cards, and the memory architecture will be based on the PCI Express interface, much faster than the previous ATA standard. In theory they will not only transfer large files much more quickly but will also be more rugged.
While photographers usually don’t have much choice in terms of card formats (you use the one your camera takes), a few bodies (like Canon’s 1D Mark IV) will accept either CF or SD cards. All of us have preferences, and if I have a choice I usually choose a CF card because for me they’re easier to handle and offer higher throughput. Regarding handling, it’s a good idea to treat all memory cards as carefully as you can, avoiding static electricity and damage from a fall or rough handling, and formatting them in-camera after downloading files.
Hard to tell how quickly we’ll see this new format incorporated into hardware like camera bodies and card readers, but it could be pretty quickly. More anticipated specs for the long-rumored Nikon D4 are now indicating one of the card slots will be for XQD. Since the annual (now combined) industry trade show of CES + PMA will be held January 10-13 in Las Vegas, you can expect a number of formal announcements in the days just prior to that event.