Storage and Beyond

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Flash memory cards are the film rolls of the digital age with the added benefits of reusability and being compatible with computers and portable storage devices. Carrying spare cards and related accessories when you're away from home or the studio can make the difference between a successful shoot and one in which being out of memory is akin to running out of gas.

Secure Digital (SD) and Compact Flash (CF) are among the most popular card formats used in digital cameras, but there are a few others. So, if you're not sure, check to see which type of memory card your camera accepts. We'll deal you some great deals on cards below, but first let's talk about some of the cool ways memory cards are transcending their traditional roles of simply being seated inside a camera:

  • Cards can plug directly into a handheld hard drive or portable media player so that images can be offloaded and, if you want, viewed on a slightly larger screen – freeing up space for more picture-taking without lugging a computer along.
  • A new type of hybrid memory/WiFi card transmits images wirelessly from any SD-compatible camera to a computer and the Internet.
  • Cards can slide into certain models of flat-screen HDTV sets for big-screen slide shows.

Stand-alone data storage devices are the photographer's first line of defense. With their relatively capacious hard drives, these battery-powered handhelds let you transfer all the images from multiple memory cards. This category of digital way station offers a text screen for copying options but assumes you've either viewed images when the card was in the camera or later when you dump the hard drive's contents to your computer. Among your options is the Digital Foci Photo Safe, a 40-Gigabyte portable which is $119.95, and the Wolverine Flashpac 7000, a 60GB device for $139.95. Another product in this category and the best value of all is the SmartDisk PhotoBank, a standalone device with 80GB of storage for $129.95.

Digital Foci Photo Safe Wolverine Flashpac 7000
Digital Foci Photo Safe

SmartDisk PhotoBank
SmartDisk PhotoBank

If you decide to step up to a storage/viewer, you'll recognize the category by its more common name—the portable media player (PMP). Typically, it not only lets you view slide shows, but it plays music and video, too. Not all PMPs, though, accept a memory card or offer an amply-sized high-resolution display. So, if photo offloading and viewing is your priority, you'll want a PMP optimized for pictures. Models that fit the bill include Epson's P-3000 Multimedia Storage Viewer and P-5000 Multimedia Storage Viewer. The P-3000 contains 40GB ($409.95 minus a $150 rebate); the P-5000, 80GB ($649.95 including a complimentary Travel Pack valued at $79.99.) The $100 portion of Epson's P-3000 mail-in rebates expires on Mar. 31 and the $50 portion on June 30. The Travel Pack for the P-5000 is offered as a mail-in rebate that expires on Apr. 30 and there is a $6.65 shipping and handling charge. Both Epson models feature 4-inch VGA screens (640 x 480 pixels) and accept JPEG or RAW (from select digital single-lens reflex camera) photo files. They play a wide variety of video and music formats and accept CF (Type I & II) and SD cards.

Epson P-3000 Epson P-5000
Epson P-3000 Epson P-5000

An alternative PMP to consider is the Wolverine ESP 160GB Portable Multimedia Storage and Player, ($489.95). Though it contains more storage and costs less than the P-5000, the screen is smaller (3.6-inches) and the resolution isn't as sharp (320 x 240). A card slot accepts CF, SD, and several other types of memory cards.

Wolverine ESP 160GB Portable Multimedia Storage and Player
Wolverine ESP 160GB Portable Multimedia Storage and Player

Yet another PMP is the Archos 605 4GB Wi-Fi Portable Media Player with SD Slot. At $199 the Archos is less expensive than the other players, but its 4GB of internal storage – there is no hard drive – is a fraction of what's available on the hard drive models. Also, the slot is limited to SD cards. On the other hand, the 605's 4.3-inch screen is larger and the resolution (800 x 400 pixels) sharper than the others. And the Archos features a touch screen in which you can flick a finger across the display to bring the next image into view. The 605 also has the ability to surf the Web in a WiFi hot spot via an optional plug-in application.

Archos 605 4GB Wi-Fi Portable Media Player with SD Slot
Archos 605 4GB Wi-Fi Portable Media Player with SD Slot

While you can't yet use the 605 to wirelessly send photos, any camera that uses an SD card can be turned into a WiFi-capable camera using an Eye-Fi Wireless SD Memory Card. The 2GB card ($99.99) embeds a WiFi transmitter so that your nearby notebook or desktop computer can receive your photos. They're then automatically sent to popular photo-sharing or printing sites including Photobucket, Facebook, Picasa Web Albums, SmugMug, and Flickr.

Eye-Fi Wireless SD Memory Card
Eye-Fi Wireless SD Memory Card

The great thing about memory cards is that they have no moving parts, making them smaller, lighter, and less power-hungry than disk drives. Also, they're less likely to degrade over time. So, keeping a small stash of memory cards isn't such a bad idea though as with any digital storage, the data should be backed up elsewhere.

CF card users should consider the Sandisk 4GB Extreme III CompactFlash Card. The memory card stores some 323 uncompressed, full-resolution pictures images using an 8-mega pixel camera. Though priced at $59.95, the card comes with a mail-in rebate from Sandisk: $20 if you buy one card; $50 if you buy two; $80 for three. Purchases must be made by Mar. 30 and rebate requests postmarked by April 27, 2008.

Sandisk 4GB Extreme III CompactFlash Card
Sandisk 4GB Extreme III CompactFlash Card

To carry around those cards in style, loop the Hoodman H-FP5 FlashPack to your belt. The $23.95 leather case holds four CF cards in their plastic cases.

Hoodman H-FP5 FlashPack
Hoodman H-FP5 FlashPack

SD card users may want to consider the Lexar 4GB Professional 133x Secure Digital Card. This is a Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) card, which uses denser memory chips than a standard SD card. (Though SD and SDHC cards are the same size, keep in mind that SDHC devices are downwardly-compatible with SD cards, but older cameras and readers may not be compatible with SDHC cards.) Though the Lexar card normally sells for $99.99, B&H is offering it for $54.95, and Lexar includes a USB 2.0 card reader.

Lexar 4GB Professional 133x Secure Digital Card
Lexar 4GB Professional 133x Secure Digital Card

While both the Lexar and SanDisk cards above feature 20 MB/second sequential write speeds, which allow large image files at least in theory to be captured faster, buffer memory in today's cameras precludes the need for extra write speed. You should be equally pleased with the performance of the “slower” cards presented below. (One way to take advantage of the extra speed may be when you transfer the card to a camera you purchase in the future or where read/write transfer speeds can be better exploited as in the FireWire device below.) The Sandisk 2GB SD Card 2-pack, for example, is suited for all applications and readers. By buying a pair of 2GB cards (only $34.95), you're cutting the deck prudently: one card for the camera, one as a spare.

Sandisk 2GB SD Card 2-pack
Sandisk 2GB SD Card 2-pack

But if one 2GB card is all you need, you can't go wrong with the Kingston 2GB Elite Pro 50x SD Memory Card. It's just $15.95.

Kingston 2GB Elite Pro 50x SD Memory Card
Kingston 2GB Elite Pro 50x SD Memory Card

A card reader is an essential bridge to your computer especially as a backup to the proprietary USB cable that probably came with your camera. One of the most versatile is the Aluratek AUCR204 USB 2.0 Multi-Media Card Reader. The reader supports SDHC, SD, CF, SmartMedia, xD, and Memory Stick cards. It's $19.95.

Aluratek AUCR204 USB 2.0 Multi-Media Card Reader
Aluratek AUCR204 USB 2.0 Multi-Media Card Reader

CF card users who have a FireWire port on their computers and crave speedy transfers should look at the Sandisk Extreme FireWire CompactFlash Card Reader. Optimized to take advantage of cards with the fastest read/write speeds such as SanDisk's Extreme IV CF cards, the $59.95 reader includes two extended FireWire cables. You can also buy the reader bundled with a 4GB Extreme IV CF card ($144.95 minus a $60 mail-in rebate) or with a 2GB card for $104.95 minus a $50 rebate). The rebate offers expire on Mar. 30, 2008.

Sandisk Extreme FireWire CompactFlash 2GB Card Reader
Sandisk Extreme FireWire CompactFlash 2GB Card Reader

Though most people move images from a memory card to their computer, owners of high definition TV sets are discovering the joys of sharing their slide shows on the big screen by moving computer-archived images to a memory card. Check to see if your TV has a digital media slot. If it does, you can use your TV's remote to control a slide show of JPEG files, and the image resolution will be higher than if you connect your camera using a composite video cable. Of course, if the images you want to show off are still on the card in the camera, you can bypass the computer and go directly to the TV by walking over the card. Panasonic is one manufacturer, for example, that builds SD card slots into many of its televisions.

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While I'm sure there must be valuable, timeless information in this article, its over 2 years old now, and so I question the value of the comparisons. Too, the prices quoted are surely out of date! Does B&H Insights have an archiving policy for such articles, I wonder?