SD Cards VS. Compact Flash

Update (Dec. 26, 2015)

It’s been two years since I wrote this article and I thought I’d revisit my opinion/knowledge of the CF vs. SD card debate.  I still think CF cards are a waste of money.  I shoot professionally with many cameras, the Nikon D810 being one of them, and I rarely use the CF slot (if I do it’s purely to back up the SD card but it seems redundant to me).  I have never had an SD card fail on me (I’m knocking on wood as I type this) and trust them wholeheartedly.

I stopped shooting with PNY SD cards sometime ago…  SanDisk makes an amazing SD card that is blazing fast.  Ignore the fancy Extreme, Extreme Pro, Speed Of Zordon, etc. names and look at the tiny little MB/s number (the higher the better).  SanDisk makes the SanDisk Extreme PRO which I love.  With write speeds up to 90 MB/s you can get the 32GB without having to worry about snail pace uploads…  It’s quick as a bunny and only costs about $25.

Conclusion

If you are a pro photographer that shoots sports photography primarily (6+ fps) then you may be able to make a small case for the CF cards but I’d just think you must hate your money.  At the end of the day it’s going to come down to what you are used to and what you are willing to spend.  Either type would work but the SD card is more cost-effective and durable.

What do you think?  Should we give CF cards another look?  Drop a note below in the comment section and give us your 2 cents.

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12 Comments

    • The cf just stands for compact flash. It’s very similar to an SD card but is larger. The compact flash was the most popular (and still is with some professionals) memory card for cameras (still and video) but the SD cards are smaller. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CF_Card if you’d like to learn a little more. There are different types of CF cards with different speeds and not enough room here to delve into it. Hope that helps.

  • The Compact Flash standard was better planned. They didn’t have to change things around each time memory capacity increased.

    With SD, you have SD, SDHC, SDXC.

    Older SD devices won’t recognize cards over 2GB, because they are a different standard.
    Older CF devices recognize any CF card.

    I’m only now beginning to use SD cards, and will be sad to see CF cards fade away, but it’s happening.

  • Apparently you haven’t run into the scenario when an SD card fails just from being inserted and removed repeatedly. I have, on much more than one occasion. The best reason for Compact Flash cards is their durability.

    • Hey, shooting professionally or recreationally I have not had that problem but I’m sure it has happened. I’m also sure that CF can fail as well. As can our cameras. The only way to safeguard from that is to shoot with a camera that has double SD card slots and allow one card to be used as a back up. You could also approach important projects with a new SD card to substantially decrease the odds of any issues. With that being said, I’ve shot over 9000 images in the last six months on the same two SD cards (Sandisk Extreme PRO cards), backing up to external hard drive and erasing after each outing and have not had a problem…. Though now I feel like I’ve jinxed myself so maybe I’ll retire them and start anew. Thank you for you feedback and I hope your memory (CF or otherwise) never fails. Take care!

  • I’ve been shooting digital and cf cards since 2004 using Nikon D100, D200, D300 and D810 cameras and have never had a cf failure. I can’t say that about ant type of Sd card. I shoot scenery and wildlife for the majority of my work and the durability issue is huge for me. I’e also shot a couple weddings an portraits, try telling the wedding couple you lost shots due to card failure and see what happens

  • The first CF card I inserted into my brand new Nikon D300 failed when it was half full the first time I used it. The data was unrecoverable by Sandisk, so I lost a day of street photos from New Orleans. I was advised to always format the card in the camera. Since then I’ve never had a problem with CF.

  • Never had a CF failure. Had several SD fails. My Nikon d800 has a slot for both. I use the CF as the main card(RAW files) and use the SD as back up (jpegs).

  • Also never had a CF fail – but I’ve had two brand-new, out of the box SD’s that were bad and had to be returned/exchanged. I’ve heard of people losing, and personally heard a few stories of them being cracked. CF cards are certainly tougher, As long as performance is as good, I’ll spend a few bucks more for CF (they just feel more industrial).

  • I have both and use both but prefer the CF card. While shooting a model yesterday who was moving I had my SD card in. The “wait” time to see the images seemed excruciatingly long compared to the CF. It may sound silly but with only a small window to shoot and a sunsetting, the little bit of time makes the difference. I prefer the actual bigger size of the CF card as well for handling. For the record, my SD cards are high speed Sans Disc.

    • If you’re using a Canon 5D Mk3, it will definitely be slow reading SD cards, no matter how fast your card is.
      Canon put in a cheap slow card reader, which cripples the SD capabilities.

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