What Other Card Options Exist?
There are currently several different recording media available:
- Compact Flash
- Compact Fast
- Memory Stick
Compact Flash – One of the more commonly used formats of digital for cameras and camcorders has been the Compact Flash (CF) card. It’s physically larger than an SD card and tends to have rather robust construction. Where it has possible issues is how it interfaces with the devices it fits into. A series of thin wire pins in the device or reader fit inside tiny openings in the card.
The CF card itself is study, but those thin pins are somewhat prone to damage. Admittedly, the damage is more likely to occur due to user error, but preventing that is a concern. If one or more pins get bent over or broken off, the device may not be able to record at all. User repair for this problem is not an option for most photographers, so their equipment ends up in a repair shop for however long it takes.
Another issue with CF cards for more modern equipment is that they have also pretty much already reached their upper limits for speed and storage. Writing speeds of 167MB/s and storage of 512GB is what these cards are currently limited to, which is even lower and slower than current SD cards. Since the CF card was introduced in 1995, earlier than SD cards, this isn’t all that surprising.
Compact Fast – A new protocol for the CF type cards was introduced in 2009 with the Compact Fast, or CFast, card. While improving data transfer speeds to 600MB/s, this is still a low limit compared to the SD Express and CFexpress cards.
CFast cards are used in some medium format still cameras as well as high-end digital video camera systems. The large size of CF and CFast cards has apparently discouraged some manufacturers of compact cameras from adopting the format.
xD – Fujifilm and Olympus adopted a compact card format known as xD, for extreme digital. Storage size was up to 2GB, but transfer speeds were quite slow. While the cards are still available, xD is not used by any currently made cameras.
Memory Stick – Sony still has the Memory Stick for some of their consumer-level video camcorders. Transfer speeds were fast enough for consumer-level video, but maximum storage seems to have maxed out at 64GB.
XQD – XQD is one of the newest digital card formats, primarily used by professional and prosumer-level Nikon still digital cameras and Sony video camcorders. There is a lot of buzz going on about this new card format. Huge storage capacity and extreme transfer speeds are coupled with a very safe and secure form factor.
This is great news for photographers, but it hasn’t come without some issues. The biggest concern right now is that Nikon and Sony appear to be the only camera makers currently employing XQD format. Probably not as big a concern as some first thought, since the even newer card format, CFexpress (CFE) is made in the same form factor. A simple firmware update should be all that is needed for cross-compatibility between XQD and CFE.
CFexpress cards are made in the same size and shape as XQD cards, so there appears to be no big issue concerning the format achieving industry-wide use for still and video digital cameras. That’s good, because I personally feel we don’t need a dozen different formats for digital recording media.
That reminds me of competing still film formats of 35mm, 120/220, 65mm, 70mm, 116, 118, 126, 127, 110, and Disc. And movie films in sizes of 8mm, Super8, 16mm, Super16, 35mm, Super35, 70mm, and so on. Maybe it’s just me.
CFexpress Speed and Storage
Storage capacity and transfer speeds for CFE are mind-boggling. Especially the speed. Storage sizes of 64GB up to 256TB or more are already in the works. Transfer speeds of 8GB/s are also in current plans, with the top limit for transfer speed being open ended so far.
This is fantastic news for photographers and videographers shopping or planning for the best equipment available or soon to be on the market. In addition to medium format camera sensors already in the 100MP sensor size range, smaller format cameras such as full-frame 35mm digital format cameras are pushing close to that size, too.
Let’s not forget video, either. In addition to special purpose cinematic video cameras such as the Canon EOS-C line, many of the newest DSLR and mirrorless cameras have outstanding video modes built into them. How long before we see still imaging cameras with full-frame 4K or 8K video?
Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that video modes in DSLRs were limited to low resolution, smaller format recordings. Now, I can walk up to the counter of a full-service camera store and buy a system that wasn’t even in my imagination a mere decade ago.
CFE May Come in Several Sizes
The recording capabilities of CFE are intriguing. In fact, there are now three sizes of CFE planned for devices coming in the near future.
The original specifications for CFE were all in the same size and shape as XQD cards. But, manufacturers have been calling these cards CFE Type B since February 2019 because there are Type A and Type C cards also planned.
The CFE Type B will likely be the card of choice for many new professional-level cameras and camcorders. The XQD form factor is similar in size to the CF cards (but not identical or compatible) and is an easy fit into cameras sized similarly to what we’ve seen professionals use for a couple of decades now. And these cameras are similarly sized to the professional-level film cameras many of us grew up seeing and using.
CFE Type A will be a smaller size and a different shape. The Type A cards will not have the blazing fast speeds of Type B and XQD, but they won’t be too much slower. Imagine your next consumer-level mirrorless interchangeable lens camera with a full-frame 35mm format 75MP sensor and 4K video recording. Hey, it could happen! If it had one or two current SD cards, those would probably fill up fast. Using a CFE Type A card or two, though, might give recording times and storage size that the average high-end consumer would desire.
Type C will be a larger card. This card could conceivably replace the extra memory drives we’ve been using to complement our computer’s storage. Instead of attaching via a USB cable, perhaps these would fit into their own slot in the computer. Being larger sized, storage sizes could probably be increased, too.
The CFE card design is pretty exciting, giving promise of a lot of capability to come in the near future.