Are You Paying Too Much For Your CompactFlash Cards?

Last month I reported on an enticing price drop by Lexar on all their memory cards that was to end at the beginning of October. Imagine my surprise when I checked on prices today and found not only was the deal still on, some cards were even cheaper!

I don’t normally shoot with Lexar but it got me thinking: At these prices, would it be worth it to upgrade from my older Transcend X133 cards? And if so, should I stick with the cheaper brand or pony up the extra funds for Lexar or SanDisk?

The conclusion I came to is that, for my shooting, a mix is likely in my future. Let me lay out some numbers for you before you go hog wild on the cheap prices still available this month.

How Much Faster, How Much Cheaper, Which One To Get

We know SanDisk and Lexar are the Big Boys of memory cards, but I have long used Transcend with no problems. I started using them back in probably 2002 when media was much more expensive and the gap between Kingston and SanDisk and something like Transcend was a lot larger. I wasn’t shooting pro at the time and money mattered.

What about now?

To compare the cards, I turned to Rob Galbraith’s extensive database on card speeds and coupled that with current prices on Amazon.com. What I found was interesting and I want to lay out the numbers so you can decide for yourself.

Rob explains the stats on his site, but here’s the short version: JPEG represents speed to dump 25 images from the camera to the card. RAW is the same with 25 RAW. Burst is how many RAW+JPEG images were recorded in 30 seconds. He normalizes the targets and lighting in his tests to keep variables out of the picture.

First I was curious to see the cheaper 16GB cards at 400X or 60MB/s rating. I was a little limited in picking cards because not all were tested at each speed and size.

This first round is with a Canon 1D Mark IV, one of their top-end cameras. Prices are Amazon prices as of today (click to verify price as the Lexar sale is set to end on October 31, 2012).

Compact Flash 16GB 400X (60MB/sec) Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
Company Card JPEG (MB/sec) RAW (MB/sec) Burst (qty) Cost (USD) Warranty
Lexar Professional 32.9 39.9 58 $44.90 Limited Lifetime
SanDisk Extreme 37.6 45 62 $52.79 Limited Lifetime
Transcend 31.4 38 54 $40.98 Lifetime

And now with a Canon 5D Mark II. I chose this camera because there are more in circulation than the newer Mark III. I realize not everyone out there has the latest gear.

Compact Flash 16GB 400X (60MB/sec) Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Company Card JPEG (MB/sec) RAW (MB/sec) Burst (qty) Cost (USD) Warranty
Lexar Professional 28.2 33 38 $44.90 Limited Lifetime
SanDisk Extreme 30 35.9 39 $52.79 Limited Lifetime
Transcend 25.8 30.1 34 $40.98 Lifetime

Even with the Lexar sale currently going on, and if speed is your thing, it looks like you will probably want the SanDisk in this size and speed. But at $12 less, would a Transcend card work for you? Unless you’re shooting sports and non-stop action, it probably will.

What about faster cards? 16GB and 600X or 90MB/s. Same cameras.

Compact Flash 16GB 600X (90MB/sec) Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
Company Card JPEG (MB/sec) RAW (MB/sec) Burst (qty) Cost (USD) Warranty
Lexar Professional 40.2 54.8 70 $189.99 Limited Lifetime
SanDisk Extreme Pro 40 52.9 68 $81.50 Limited Lifetime
Transcend 36.9 46.5 64 $53.46 Lifetime

What the heck is up with that Lexar price? It turns out this item is “Out of date” and not available at many online stores. When viewing Lexar’s site, they no longer list the 600X speed with CompactFlash. Looks like they are only offering 1000X or 400X. So what about that 1000X?

Compact Flash 16GB 1000X (150MB/sec) Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
Company Card JPEG (MB/sec) RAW (MB/sec) Burst (qty) Cost (USD) Warranty
Lexar Professional 43.1 63.9 78 $79.80 Limited Lifetime

Now that’s interesting. The Lexar 1000X beats out the SanDisk 600X in speed (to be expected, and quite a bit for RAW and Burst) AND it’s cheaper, currently.

Now for the Canon 5D Mark II numbers.

Compact Flash 16GB 600X (90MB/sec) Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Company Card JPEG (MB/sec) RAW (MB/sec) Burst (qty) Cost (USD) Warranty
Lexar Professional 31.4 44.3 48 $189.99 Limited Lifetime
SanDisk Extreme Pro 31.9 40.8 46 $81.50 Limited Lifetime
Transcend 27.4 35.1 38 $53.46 Lifetime

And the 1000X numbers.

Compact Flash 16GB 1000X (150MB/sec) Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Company Card JPEG (MB/sec) RAW (MB/sec) Burst (qty) Cost (USD) Warranty
Lexar Professional 31.6 46.4 52 $79.80 Limited Lifetime

The speed difference between the 1000X Lexar and 600X SanDisk is not as extreme with the 5D Mark II.

Warning!

Your camera may not care that you bought the top-of-the-line 1000X card. Check your camera stats to make sure it can take advantage of the increased speed in 400X, 600X and 1000X cards. Not all cameras can and you’ll be throwing away money if you buy a fast card for a slower camera.

Conclusion

Lies, damn lies and statistics, they say.

And that’s true with memory cards as prices change and shift. Right now, that Lexar 1000X is looking mighty enticing if speed is your thing. But if you are shooting flowers or landscape or cityscapes, the Transcend 16MB 400X comes in at half the price, which means you can buy twice as many (or pocket the change and spend an extra day in Thailand shooting on your next trip).

Options abound and the prices will change as competition keeps the game lively. Worker strikes, trade disputes, natural disasters…we’ve seen all of these things play havoc with electronics prices. But for now, things are looking reasonable if you want some speed.

Current prices of all these cards can be found below. If there is interest, I can run the numbers for SD cards as well, but they seem to hold the same trend at first glance. And if you’re looking for other sizes of the Lexar cards including the 128GB 1000X, check out the original post here.


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Peter Carey

Peter West Carey is a world traveling professional photographer currently leading photo tours to Bhutan, Nepal and Hawaii. He also hosts basic photography workshops along the West Coast of the USA as well as the free 31 Days TO Better Photography series on his blog.