Camera slow? Maybe it’s your media card

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Is that new camera not performing as well as you had hoped? Maybe it’s your media card! Whether you have a dSLR or a digital point-n-shoot, the media card can create a bottle neck to slow you down and your next shot.  Still using the “free” card that came bundled with your camera?

Every camera has a read/write speed.  It should be listed in the technical specs of your camera.  You now have to check the read/write speed of your media card.  If your media card is not as fast as your camera, then the card is slowing you down.

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as comparing the listed speeds on the cards.  It’s more like comparing apples and pineapples; they may both have “apple” in their name, but they are definitely NOT the same.  There is no standardization involving the speed of the cards.  A manufacturer’s speed rating is only a reference for that manufacturer.  A 133x speed rating from SanDisk is not the same as a 133x from Lexar.  So, what can you do?

Rob Galbraith DPI has completed extensive testing on most  compactflash cards and sd cards.  They have even tested these cards under “real-world” conditions by testing these cards in a variety of digital cameras.  Take a look at an excerpt of the performance table for the 5D MarkII below:


In this list, the Sandisk Extreme Ducati 4GB & 8GB are the fastest.  But, start comparing the other cards and the listed speed ratings.  Just take a look at the read/write screens of Kingston Ultimate 133x 2GB, Kingston Ultimate 133x 8GB, Lexar Professional 133x 4GB and Lexar Professional 133x 8GB.  The Kingston Ultimate 133x 2GB is 2MB per second faster than the other cards.  The speed is different even between RAW files and JPGs.

You will also notice a difference between real-world testing and manufacturer claims. For example, the Lexar Professional UDMA 300x 16GB card claims a read/write speed of 45MB/s.  However, in the above testing in the 5D MarkII, it only achieved a write speed of 30.9MB/s … 15MB per second slower than the manufacturer’s claim!  At a price around $200, the Lexar card is only slightly faster than Transcend UDMA 300x 16GB card which is around $150.

These factors can help you find the best media card within your budget:

  • Start by selecting your camera from the drop-down list.  If your camera is not listed, try to pick a camera that is a similar brand and model.
  • Now compare the speed for RAW or JPGs (depending on which type you shoot most).
  • Print this list and start price shopping

Since the speed rating is different for the same card at different sizes, be sure to include that in your comparison.  Shop around for a SanDisk Extreme III 30MB/s Edition 8GB not just any SanDisk Extreme III. Also, keep in mind the read/write speed of your camera. A card faster than your camera may not be worth the money.

So check those sale prices and get rid of that slow media card.

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