PhotoFast CF and SD Cards
How Fast Are They?
How Big Are They?
Things have been quiet on the memory card front for a while, but now several companies have introduced bigger and faster cards. One of these is a previously unknown called PhotoFast, a Taiwanese company that I expect is going to become much better known in the months ahead.
I haven't been paying much attention to card technology for a while and was quite surprised to see that 32GB SD cards are now available and also 64GB CompactFlash cards. More to the point, these aren't just high capacity cards, they're fast. The 32GB CF cards are rated as 90MB/s Read and 80 MB/s Write (533X), while the 32GB SD cards are 21MB/s Read and 18MB/s Write. This ranks the SD cards as Class 10, far faster than the Class 6 cards which have been the fastest available until now.
Along with bigger and faster PhotoFast also offers less expensive and available now. For example, a 32GB GMonster CF card is $249 while their 64GB CF card, with almost identical specs is $299. In the SD card class, a 32GB Class 10 Dual Channel card is $199. The competition to these cards are the new Sandisk Extreme Pro cards which are just hitting the market.
I have no expertise in formally testing cards, and really have no time or inclination to do so. The best site on the web for memory card tests is Rob Galbraith's. Here he compares the new PhotoFast CF 533X GMonster cards against Sandisk's new and competitive Extreme Pro cards and Transcend's comparable 600X CompactFlash cards.
After a week-long shoot with these new PhotoFast cards, using a Phase One P65+, Sony A900, Panasonic GF1, and Leica M9 and a 15" Macbook Pro in the field, I found them to be as fast if not faster than anything that I've used to date. The price is certainly right, and that leaves only one question – reliability. It's a major question too, and one which only long term use will answer. Likely though you'll only hear if something goes wrong, and but you'll hear it loudly. If all is well over time we'll probably be on to the next generation of bigger and faster cards by that time.
NB–1: Be aware that not all cameras are able to handle the 64GB CompactFlash cards. Apparently the Nikon D2X, D3, D3X, D300 and D700 are not compatible with 64GB cards at this time.
NB-2: I tested the PhotoFast SD cards in two cameras, the Panasonic GF1 and the Leica M9. All three cards which I had, 4GB, 16GB, and 32GB formatted and worked fine in the GF1. All three cards were unable to be recognized by the Leica M9. I don't know if this is an anomaly of the cards or the camera, but Leica users be forewarned – these cards are incompatible. I have used Panasonic, Transcend, and Sandisk SD cards in the M9 without trouble so my guess is that there is something about the PhotoFast SD card architecture that the Leica doesn't like.
Who Needs Cards This Big?
A question that people are bound to ask is – who needs cards this big, especially the 64GB CF card? There are several answers that I see. One, is that anyone shooting video will find that they can shoot at the highest resolution that their camera is capable of and still have lots of capacity. The second is that with a very large card one can shoot images for a week or more, even with a camera or back that has a very high res sensor, and be able to put the whole shoot on one card. Of course you'll do daily incremental backups to a laptop, external drive, or other storage device. But, with a 64GB card you can simply keep shooting to the same card for the duration of ones assignment or travels.
The card then becomes your security backup when traveling home. Stick it with your wallet or passport and you're good to go without having to travel with an extra hard drive or other device.
PhotoFast cards are sold exclusively in the US and Canada by DVNation.