Sandisk today has announced a new line of CompactFlash cards aimed directly at professional digital photographers. Called the Ultra CF series, Sandisk indicates a write speed of up to 2.8MB/second, or about double the maximum write performance of Sandisk's fastest CompactFlash cards previously.
Manufacturer-supplied write speed data gauges performance on a test bench, and is rarely an indicator of the actual performance photographers will see in their favourite digital SLR, owing to differences in the way different cameras pass off data to the card. Real world performance in the camera, then, is the benchmark that really matters. Of the digital SLRs on the market today, none benefits more from a fast card than the Nikon D1X. The table below describes the relative performance of Sandisk's Ultra CF 512MB card against both their own standard CompactFlash and competing 512MB cards, in Nikon's high-resolution camera.
||D1X - Large Fine JPEG
||D1X - Uncompressed RAW
|Sandisk Ultra CF 512MB
|Lexar Media 512MB 12X
|Sandisk "standard" 512MB
Testing notes: The time it took for 9 Large Fine JPEGs of about 2246K each, and 6 RAW images of about 7878K each, was measured. The testing method used is different than in other CompactFlash card reports on this site. Therefore, the performance numbers are not directly comparable to previously-published data. The new test method does not alter the relative performance of cards in a given test, but it does result in write speed values that are lower. The change in the test method has been made to better reveal a camera's ability to shoot photos and write photos simultaneously, and will be the test method used for all future CompactFlash tests on this site. Start delay is an indicator of whether the card imposes an additional wake-from-sleep delay in the D1X, over and above the cameras own delay.
D1X testing demonstrates that the Ultra CF series delivers much-improved speed over all previous Sandisk CompactFlash cards. In Nikon's flagship digital SLR, the 512MB Ultra CF's write speed trails the performance leaders - Lexar's 12X and Toshiba cards from Microtech and Delkin - but not by much. Most photographers would be hard-pressed to notice the write speed difference between any of the four fastest cards above.
With several major CompactFlash card vendors and manufacturers selling cards with pro-level performance now, photographers benefit from the expanded choice. It's good to see Sandisk, the dominant player in the CompactFlash arena overall, finally producing a card worthy of consideration by professional digital SLR shooters. In fact, based on the cards available to pro shooters today, more than ever the decision needs to be based on service, support, price and other factors, since the performance gap between A-list CompactFlash cards has narrowed significantly of late. The speed race begins anew, however, when Lexar releases its 16X line of CompactFlash cards next month.
Sandisk Ultra CF cards are available in 128MB, 192MB, 256MB, 384MB and 512MB capacities. Shipping has already commence everywhere but Japan, says a Sandisk press release; Japan will see Ultra CF cards on the shelves in November. Street prices are expected to be just shy of US$1/MB (i.e. about US$500 for the 512MB card) across the capacity range.