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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Less is More?

By Carl Weese

My new camera uses SD cards instead of Compact Flash cards. Is it just me, or does anyone else marvel at the technical accomplishment...
...of getting all that data into such a small package, but at the same time...
...think that these things are so small they are actually more difficult to handle than those big, clunky, late 20th-century CF cards?

Posted by: CARL WEESE

Featured Comment
by Mark Myers: In reference to Carl’s post, I offer the following…

Guess what this is:

It's a hard disk in 1956....

The volume and size of 5MB of memory storage in 1956. In September 1956 IBM launched the 305 RAMAC, the first computer with a hard disk drive (HDD). The HDD weighed over a ton and stored 5MB of data.

Let us start appreciating our gigabyte-sized memory cards!


Blogger juze said...

If you think SD cards are too small, well, my phone uses miniSD, while most use microSD. They're ridiculously small, really, and I do prefer CF, especially when I'm using gloves, but SD cards are generally faster and whatnot.
Still, I wish for a film-like form factor.

7:25 AM  
Blogger jp said...

Agree, they are small. Just be happy your camera isn't using Memory Stick Micro. I got that with my new telephone. I'm honestly afraid to pick out of the telephone for fear of losing it.

7:42 AM  
Blogger MJFerron said...

Personally I like my SD cards. Flat contacts. No chance of bending pins.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

I think the idea that I can store the equivalent of 30 or so rolls of 120 film on something the size of an after dinner mint (i.e. a compact flash card) is freaky enough for me. I a 4 gig card in my pocket right now and I'd like to get it somewhere safe asap.

9:01 AM  
Blogger gravitas et nugalis said...

does anyone else marvel at the technical accomplishment...?

sure, I think back to my first Mac llci with its 80mb hard drive, back when 2 gigs was something that bands did twice.

what would marvel me even more, though, is some kind of assurance that the data that those little wonders record will still be around and readable farther on down the techo-road...

9:07 AM  
Blogger Dan Creighton said...

It is amazing how much can be stored on all these increasingly smaller cards but I truly prefer the CF card format for professional DSLR and professional uses and hope that manufacturers stick with the smaller formats like SD for P&S's. The smaller formats are just too small and awkward to use in comparison.

9:34 AM  
Blogger PatrickPerez said...

Try using (losing) a micro-sd card. Literally a third the size of a pinky fingernail.

The bigger gripes I have with some of the newer card formats are capacity limitations inherent in the spec (xD, micro, and mini-SD all cap out at 2 GB. SD was just supplanted with a new (not back compatible version) in order to go above 4 GB (which was never supported officially anyways). As well, most formats are speed restricted (xD being an especially egregious offender here). CF cards have he greatest capacity and have the fastest speeds available (though SD usually is available in the same speeds).


9:56 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

I'm not inclined to agree, I admit that CF does feel better in the hand, and is ergonomically a better size, but I don't think the size of SD is a a real problem or impediment. If you don't like SD cards, then you're going to hate TransFlash and miniSD. (Yes, the last image on that second page, is an adapter to "squeeze" the miniSD card into a normal SD slot.

In a little while I fully expect the above two formats to start making their way into digicams. They're already there for high-spec camera phones. The transition to dSLRs will take a little longer, or might not happen at all. Since these things would definitely be way too fiddly for a working pro (or even amateur) out in the field (Canon 1-series dual format capabilities notwithstanding).

Also the capacity advantage afforded by the larger physical package-size of CF (both in terms of the amount of chips you can cram into the pacakage, plus the greater flexibility in how you can design the device) will never go away. With resolutions hitting 39MP+ now on the high end stuff, I still don't see any upper bound on write speed nor capacity requirements. Consequently the manufacturers of flash still have some place to go market-wise with CF. SD is a good compromise though for all "non-Pro" dSLRs especially given their current ubiquity among digicams, and it seems the manufacturers are largely in agreement on that point.

However, eventually I could see a world where something like miniSD becomes the (open) dominant format and (high speed) adapters from miniSD => SD like the one pictured above and SD => CF (like the old, discontinued Minolta SD-CF1), are used when necessary.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Guy said...

If you think a SD card is small, have you seen a microSD card? I just got a 1 GB microSD card for my GPS. The card is smaller than the fingernail on my little finger! The card ships with a SD-sized carrier for use on a computer.

The card is so small that it is hard to handle. I don't think it could be used with a device where it was necessary to change the card regularly.

2 GB microSD cards are available now. I imagine there will be larger capacity cards in the future.

Guy Scharf

10:12 AM  
Blogger Charlie Didrickson said...

I'm with you on this all the way Carl.

A couple years ago I bought an Olympus C-5060 (wish I still had it) It came with a 32 MB SD card. I purchased an additional 512 SD card instead of a CF because I was intrigued by the size and it was a great price.

On the second day of shooting I quickly filled the 512 card and while holding the 32 MB card in my right hand I attempted to swap cards with the same hand. It was cold and windy and my hands felt like wood. I just so happened to DROP both cards while trying to insert the other card. (can't totally blame the SD cards but)

Did I mention I was standing on a rock 15 feet out into Lake Michigan? ;-)

To this day I have never held another SD card in my hands warm or cold.

I now use CF cards and can easily exchange them even while wearing the gloves I use for winter shooting.

I am about to buy an 8 gig CF card and will have little need to ever swap cards while shooting on an average full day outing. Personally I'd rather have a built in drive and not have to remove or install cards ever.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Ken Tanaka said...

I agree 100% with you, Carl. SD cards are blazing fast and, according to the flash memory industry, represent the future form factor of such products. But they're too small and easy to lose for my taste. There's some psychological difference between the SD and CF cards that makes me uncomfortable. Perhaps if SD cards were as thick and robust-feeling as a CF card?

11:33 AM  
Blogger Aaron Bredon said...

CF actually amazes me technically - it is the ONLY small flash format that hasn't hit a memory limit, despite being the oldest still in use.
In comparison:
SmartMedia hit design limits (insufficient contacts for further capacity) at 32, 64 and 128MB, then died.
Memory stick hit an unexpected size limit at 256MB. MS Pro was released for higher capacity.
SD/MMC hit an unexpected size limit at 2GB. SDHC was released for higher capacity.
xD hit an unexpected size limit at 2GB (xD was originally advertised as having an 8GB limit). Type M xD cards were released for higher capacity.

In comparison, any 4GB or less CF card (when formatted correctly) can be used in any camera that uses CF. This 4GB limit is due to the FAT16 format being limited to 4GB. Cameras capable of FAT32 format can go far beyond 4GB in capacity.
I expect there will be another limit seen at 128GB (the IDE LBA32 size limit), and probably another at 144 petabytes (the IDE LBA48 limit).
This longevity is partly due to basing CF on the existing PCMCIA standard and using the IDE hard drive interface and command set.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Player said...

With a D80 and a D200, I have to handle both SD and CF cards. I don't have a preference, I just wish the camera makers would choose one type, stick with it, and use it for all their cameras.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Erio said...

There is a fine line between size, both physical and virtual that I won't mess with, if I can help it. I don't often get into situations where I'm in extreme situations, but the CF card is a nice size that seems to be at the level where I'm pretty sure I won't accidently drop it or misplace it. The sd cards scare me because of the size. If you stuck it in your pocket, would you know it was there?

Also, I'm not moving beyond 4 gb cards. I don't want to have the basket full, only to loose everything. With my 30D and 2 and 4 gb cards, I'm happy. Not sure what weill happen though with the next generation camera I get.

12:13 PM  
Blogger dasmb said...

Yeah, smaller memory is harder to deal with. It's especially prevalent when working in dim light or trying to swap memory fast. I can change a CF card with one hand without looking in a few seconds, like I used to do with film. MMC and other thin styles of memory are too light and thus are easier to bend, drop or fling unless you're very careful and using both hands. You're also pretty much required to use a plastic case -- I confess that I do sometimes put a CF card in my pocket with no protection. Embarrassing, but it hasn't hurt me yet.

Canon's various CF pocket digitals have proven to me that Compactflash is small enough for pretty much any camera application, and one would think hardier than these other cards. There's also a difference in the way the data is stored...CF cards were, at least four years ago when I shot a Fuji that took both CF and SmartMedia, more reliable with regard to reads and writes than other forms of memory.

But what's worse than that is that the size of the cards is driving undesirable changes in camera design. Rather than using the decreased size of the memory management area of a handheld camera to increase sensor size, increase battery size and increase the size and quality of optics, the opposite is happening. With smaller cards, we're getting smaller lenses and smaller, more densely packed sensors on smaller cameras with smaller, harder to use controls. The end result is a smaller, more expensive mess.

12:41 PM  
Blogger dasmb said...

Oh, as a quick aside -- I lost my Fuji S602 (an early device with both CF and SmartMedia support, allowing you to load two cards at once) in a sea kayaking trip when my airtight solution turned out to be not so air tight. The camera was gone, irreversably damaged. The smart media card that was in there was damaged as well. The 256 meg CF card, once dried out a bit, was fine, and still lives on today in my wife's A75.

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, CF is better. I sling it in and out of my camera during a wedding with confidence. An SD just takes a slip and someone stepping on it and you're toast.

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem I have had with the SD cars is %$#@ reporters cramming them in the wrong way, which requires a deft touch with the needlenose pliers, so far I havn't lost a camera or a SD card, but I do have a couple of kinked SD cards that are only for emergency use only.

And they are small enough to loose in pockets and camera bags

4:02 PM  
Blogger Dr Hiding Pup said...

Those xD cards by Fuji and Olympus are mighty tiny...

Presumably, at some stage, someone will just have to say that there's a theoretical limit to the capacity of any card - and that a physically larger card must be able to store more than a smaller card, investment in technologies being equal... Oh, hang on, that's what they say about digicam sensors...

7:53 PM  
Blogger Robert Roaldi said...

By and large small is good as far as I am concerned, so long as it concerns things that don't need to be manipulated much. Memory cards fall into that category for me, although they may not for others.

But, I have been wearing reading glasses for 5-6 years now and one area of miniaturization that I don't like has to do with all the parameters on cameras that are accessed via a menu on an LCD. I can still operate a K1000 without glasses, including manual focusing, but when I go out now with my digicams, I need reading glasses with me all the time. With the passage of time, you would think that I would get more and more used to this, but in fact the opposite is happening and I am resenting this design paradigm more and more.

7:44 AM  
Blogger clive said...

My move to digital has been via Eposn Rd 1 [i have two] so I have ONLY used SD cards!
Consequently I find CF cards too big.........
My sympathies lie with Robert, one ot the things I really like about the RD 1 is the fully analogue controls.
I need Pentax to bring out an analogue control full frame k10D before I go digital SLR [still using my LXes for long lens and architecture]

10:37 AM  

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