Recently Toshiba made the news with their new Toshiba Exceria Pro Compact Flash cards claiming to be the fastest read/write speeds in the world and that got me thinking about how far we’ve come since CF (Compact Flash) cards were relevant. At some point in your photography endeavors you’ll do a little research on which SD card is the best for your camera and you’ll come across CF cards and wonder this exact same thing. Now if you are a pro then you have already got a pretty good idea what a CF card is because there is a good chance there is a slot for it right next to your SD card slot.
Recent Update Below (Dec. 26th, 2015)[alert type=”info”]When I say SD card I’m referring to SD HC cards, the old SD cards with 2GB or less memory aren’t really relevant anymore.[/alert]
Compact Flash cards are a little larger than the SD cards and were the first to the scene with digital photography, SD cards didn’t come into play until down the road and they were considerably slower at first. Then the SD card evolved and become just as fast as CF cards. SD cards helped manufacturers make smaller cameras because of their smaller size. The speed difference was negligible until now, the Toshiba Exceria Pro CF is said to be considerably faster than current SD cards.
The Good, the bad, and the CF Card.
Firstly, most of you probably don’t have the option for the CF card in your camera. I certainly wouldn’t let that be a factor in your next camera purchase either. CF cards are expensive (about $72 for the 16GB Toshiba discussed above). A lot of CF vs SD card comparisons will tell you if you need more than 32GB of storage then your only option is a CF card but that is no longer true. There are plenty of 64GB cards out there but why you’d use one I’ll never know. Anything over 16GB tends to take forever to get to the photographs towards the back of the bunch. Have you ever hooked up your 32GB card to your computer when the card was 3/4 full and sat there wondering when in the world all the photos would load so you can pick the ones you want to transfer to your computer? I have, that very day I decided I’d never shoot on anything larger than a 16GB SD card, you’ll normally find me with an 8GB card (mainly b/c I prefer not to load a ton of pictures on one card in case I lose it and they are super cheap).
SD cards are like the tom boys of memory, they can fall down, get wet, and are x-ray and magnet proof. What’s the point of having a camera that is shock proof and water-resistant (professional cameras with CF slots) when the memory card (CF) inside is not?
A valid argument for a CF card with the read/write times listed by Toshiba could be made by sports photographers shooting at 6+ fps in RAW. That’s like aiming a fire hose at your memory card with 10 to 20 megabyte per photo 6+ times per second. A class 10 SD card like the PNY 16 GB Class 10 SD Card is good enough for most and can be had for around $12.
There is a lot to say about compatibility as well, SD cards are becoming the standard as cameras get smaller and smaller. Not to mention the droves of computers that come equipped with SD card slots for easy transfer of images from card to computer. For the price of a CF card I can buy 5+ SD cards and back up my photo library.
So when does it matter? Never really, it’s difficult to justify spending the extra $60+ for a CF card that is larger, slightly faster, and more delicate.