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Flash Memory Cards [ZT]

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Flash Memory Cards

Updated 26-January-2007


The most popular types of flash memory cards for use in digital cameras are: Secure Digital (SD), CompactFlash (CF), Memory Stick (MS), MultiMediaCard (MMC) xD-Picture Card (xD) and SmartMedia (SM).

The type of memory card you use is dictated by which digital camera you buy. These cards are physically different and are -not- interchangeable.

NOTE — NOTE — NOTE — NOTE — NOTE — NOTE — NOTE — NOTE

eBay has become notorious for "fake memory card" sales, thousands of people have been scammed by sellers who are selling inferior or lower capacity cards that have been relabeled and repackaged to look like the real thing. Buyer beware – I recommend that you purchase your cards only from reputable online vendors or brick and mortar stores. If you must buy on eBay then check out this page at Overclockers.com.au for ways to visually identify some (not all) of the most popular fake cards. Also see our public discussion forum for more info.

Click to Jump to the info for:

Secure DigitalCompactFlashMemory Stick
MultiMedia CardxD-Picture CardSmartMedia

Which Card – Which Camera?

SanDisk has an online database to show which cards and/or which size cards will work in specific camera models:

Product Compatibility Database

Secure Digital / MultiMediaCard

Secure Digital cards

As of 2006 the most popular flash memory format for digital cameras is undoubtedly the Secure Digital (SD) card. And in just the first four months of this year we have seen drastic price reductions with the average 1GB SD card dropping from around ~$100 to $35 or less…

SD and MMC (MultiMediaCard) cards are nearly identical on the outside but technically different on the inside. Not all cameras that use SD can also use MMC cards, check your camera’s user manual. SD cards are generally faster than MMC cards.

Lately we have seen many new 2GB and 4GB size cards hit the market – most cameras, even the new ones, won’t work with cards larger than 2GB unless specified by the manufacturer.

SD cards currently range in size from 16MB up to 4GB (if your 4GB card has "SDHC" on it please see the next section.) SD cards come in different transfer speed ratings, SD cards not marked "High Speed" or "Ultra High Speed" are probably only ~2Mb/s capable. The latest cards are capable of transferring data at up to 20Mb/s such as the ATP 150x or Pretec 133x cards. Transfer speed is an important factor if you record high framerate motion video or high quality audio tracks. Many digital camera makers only certify their 30fps VGA motion video capability when using "high speed" SD cards.

The New SDHC – SD 2.00 Specifications

SDHC (SD High Capacity) are the new SD cards larger than 2GB that adhere to the SD 2.00 specification – a design that is required for cards and hosts to support 4GB to 32GB capacities. The specification was developed by the SD Association, which also defined three speed classes for speed and performance capabilities.

SDHC cards adhere to the SD Speed Class Rating specification which defines a minimum sustained transfer speed and use the FAT32 file system. The SD Speed Class Ratings specify a minimum sustained write speed for SDHC cards (Class 2: 2 MB/s; Class 4: 4 MB/s; Class 6: 6 MB/s) – that’s MegaBytes not MegaBits.

Many cameras made from 3Q 2006 and newer support SDHC but the majority of the existing cameras (and external card readers) DO NOT – consult your user manual or manufacturer’s web site before purchasing a SDHC card for your camera or MP3 player. Many manufacturers provide downloadable firmware updates for cameras and are adding SDHC support.

Click here to read the SDHC specifications (Adobe pdf format).

MiniSD card for cellphones, MP3 players, digicams. The miniSD card is both electrically and software compatible with the existing SD standard. It uses the same SD interface, including security features for content protection (CPRM桟ontent Protection Rights Management) as the standard SD card. The miniSD card is 21.5 millimeters (mm) long, 20 mm wide and 1.4 mm thick, and occupies a footprint of 430 square mm and volume of 602 cubic mm.

As of the date of this report we have not seen any digicams using the MiniSD format.

Adapter to allow miniSD cards to be used in devices with regular SD card slots.

CompactFlash

CompactFlash cards contain both memory chips and a controller. Most digicams that use CompactFlash (CF) cards can use ANY capacity card up to 2GB with no problems. CF cards above 2GB use the FAT32 file system, the camera must be able to read this format or it won’t work.

There are two types of CompactFlash cards:

Type I (3.3mm thick) and Type II (5mm thick)

Cameras with Type I slots cannot use Type II cards. Cameras with Type II slots can use either.

CompactFlash Type I cards currently range from 8MB (MegaByte) all the way up to 16GB (GigaByte) – Sandisk and other manufacturers have announced new high-speed CF cards beyond 8GB in capacity !

High-Capacity Storage Options

report for more info about LARGE memory cards

Read my

Shopping for the ultimate performance CF card for a pro or semi-pro digital camera? Check out Rob Galbraith’s CompactFlash Performance Database

CompactFlash Type II

Some digicams are equipped with a CompactFlash Type II card slot which can hold either a Type I CF card or the thicker Type II flash cards or memory devices like the IBM/Hitachi Microdrive (340MB, 512MB, 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 6GB, 8GB).

Click to read my IBM/Hitachi Microdrive review, Hitachi bought the hard drive business from IBM and is now offering up to a 8GB Microdrive. And both Seagate and Western Digital have announced new one-inch hard drives – mostly for portable multimedia devices but also digicams.

Hitachi Microdrives

CF Type I … Type II … what’s the difference?

Physically a CF Type II card looks like a CF Type I card in every dimension except thickness, CF Type II cards are 5mm thick whereas Type I cards are 3.3mm.

Flash memory
CompactFlash Type II and I cards compared

CompactFlash Type II devices can NOT be used in cameras that have the thinner Type I card slots. Pictured above you can see the height difference between Type I and II cards.

Read my
High-Capacity Storage Options
report for more info.

xD-Picture Card (xD)

xD-Picture Card

Olympus and Fujifilm announced they have jointly developed the xD-Picture Card, a new type of memory media with an ultra-compact design about the size of a postage stamp, image storage capacity of up to 8 gigabytes, compatibility with different digital camera brands, and prices that are comparable to current SmartMedia cards.

xD-Picture Card, photo (c) 2002 Steve's Digicams

The xD-Picture Card is available now in 16MB, 32MB, 64MB, 128MB, 256MB, 512MB, 1GB and soon in 2GB capacities.

Click here to view the xD-Picture Card Compatibility Chart to see which cards your Olympus camera can use.

There’s an xD-Picture Card PCMCIA adapter, CF card adapter and a dual xD and SmartMedia USB card reader available now.

November 28, 2005 Olympus America announces new Type H High Speed xD-Picture Card media as seen above. Claims 2-3x faster than original xD or Type M xD media cards.

Sony Memory Stick (MS)

In 1999 Sony brought out their own flash memory product called the Memory Stick which is being used in their Cyber-shot digital still cameras and most of their Handycam video camcorders.

Pictured above is the original blue" Memory Stick (MS), they come in 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 and 128MB sizes. In comparison to today’s SD and CF cards, the original MS card is incredibly slow. The Memory Stick Select (not pictured) allowed pre-2003 Sony cameras to use a 256MB Memory Stick card, it has a switch on the back to select one of the two 128MB memory banks.

The Memory Stick Pro cards (pictured in the center) have capacities up to 2GB and a transfer speed of up to 15 Mbps. MS Pro cards are NOT compatible with pre-2003 Sony digicams except the Cyber-shot F717. You can reference your camera’s Memory Stick Compatibility at the Sony site.

Pictured at the bottom is the latest Memory Stick Pro "High Speed" card with a data transfer rate of up to 80 Mbps on high speed enabled devices. Available in 256MB, 512MB, 1GB and 2GB capacities.

Memory Stick DUO (MS Duo)

The Memory Stick DUO card is 1/2 the size of regular Memory Stick cards. To transfer data in a card reader or Memory Stick card slot you need the adapter. Sony is using this smaller card in most of their new super-compact Cyber-shot digicams such as the "T" and "W" series.

Sony announced at CES 2007 new Memory Stick PRO Duo cards with higher capacities (up to 8GB) and faster transfer rates. The 8GB Memory Stick PRO Duo media card will be available in February for about $300 at sonystyle.com, at Sony Style?retail stores (www.sonystyle.com/retail), and authorized dealers nationwide.

SmartMedia

Physically smaller than a book of matches and not even as thick as a credit card. SmartMedia (SM) cards have no controller, they are simply memory that has been laminated on a plastic card. The controller has to be built into the camera and this causes incompatibilities with cameras made before 2001 and the higher capacity 64MB and 128MB size cards.

Before you buy a 64MB or 128MB card for your pre-2001 camera, check to see if your camera can accomodate it.

128MB SmartMedia

SmartMedia cards max out at 128MB. Nobody has said it but – SmartMedia is very much dead – no new cameras have been introduced that use SM cards since 2003.

External Card Readers

The fastest way to get your digicam’s images from a flash memory card is to use one of the readily available card readers. These come in many varieties depending on the desired computer interface. The most common type are made for PCs and connect to the USB port.

One of the fastest readers (20MB/sec) is Sandisk’s Extreme 2.0 USB Reader pictured above. It reads/writes to CF (Type I and II), SD, MS Pro, and MS PRO Duo. It supports USB 2.0 connectivity on both Windows and MAC Operating Systems. It plugs and plays with no external AC power.

Kingston’s 15-in-1 USB 2.0 Hi-Speed Reader (p/n FCR-HS215/1) is a tiny and very fast card reader/writer that handles: CompactFlash Type I and Type II including Microdrives, SD, SDHC, MMC, MMC Plus, SmartMedia, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Memory Stick Pro Duo, RS-MMC, MMCmicro, MMC mobile and microSD cards. About the only thing it won’t work with is xD-Picture cards used by Fuji and Olympus cameras.

It DOES handle the new SDHC (SD High Capacity) type cards.

Lexar single slot Card Reader is both a card reader (and writer) and a portable USB flash drive in one. It supports SD, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, MMC and xD-Picture cards and are compatible with USB 2.0 ports. No drivers are required for modern operating systems.

Check out our reviews of many popular flash card readers.

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