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Lexar, SimpleTech cards added to CF Database  
Tuesday, April 1, 2003 | by Rob Galbraith

The latest round of updating of the CompactFlash Performance Database is complete. The following four cards have been added:

  • Lexar Media 512MB 40X WA
  • Lexar Media 1GB 32X WA
  • SimpleTech PRO X 512MB
  • SimpleTech PRO X 1GB

These cards first began to appear in the CF Database last week, in the DCS Pro 14n, Canon EOS-1D and Canon EOS 10D sections. For these three cameras the SimpleTech PRO X results remain as originally published. After discussions with Lexar about the results we obtained with the Canon EOS 10D in particular, however, it became clear that additional testing of the 10D and Lexar's latest Pro Series CompactFlash was in order. We rounded up multiple 10D bodies as well as additional Lexar 512MB 40X WA and 1GB 32X WA cards, with an eye towards confirming or refuting our earlier tests.

What we found was that the performance of the original, production-model Lexar 512MB 40X WA and 1GB 32X WA cards we tested - card supplied to us by Lexar - were not up to the level of the same cards we obtained from a retailer. The differences were relatively small, a few percentage points at most. But, the performance difference was enough to change the ranking of cards in the EOS 10D section of the database. And, since the performance of the newer batch of Lexar cards also made more sense (in the first round of tests the 24X WA had been faster in several cameras than the 40X WA, which didn't add up), we opted to use the Lexar cards we obtained ourselves for all remaining testing, as well as update the results for the Canon EOS 10D, EOS-1D and Kodak DCS Pro 14n to reflect the changed performance of these cards.

What does all this mean? Three things:

  • The overall speed leader in Canon's newest digital SLR is now the Lexar Media 1GB 32X WA. But, this camera's relatively pokey write speed (confirmed across multiple 10D bodies now) with virtually any card inserted means that few photographers will notice a difference between the first place card and one that is many positions down the write speed chart. Note that while the performance results for the Canon EOS-1D and DCS Pro 14n have been changed as well by the new round of testing, the ranking of cards in these cameras has remained the same.

  • Lexar's speed rating is a guarantee of minimum write speed performance only. While we have three Lexar 512MB 40X WA cards here, it's possible that the first one used in testing is exactly 40X, while the other two are more like 41X. Or something like that. The main point is that even Lexar's speed rating system doesn't completely eliminate performance variability. It simply provides a measure of assurance to the photographer of the card's minimum capabilities. So, while the first 512MB 40X card tested did not seem to perform at the level we expected, and therefore we opted to exclude it from testing, the card you buy could offer similar performance to that card. That would put it among the quickest in most digital SLR cameras, but not necessarily faster than the 24X WA model it replaces. You could, of course, also end up purchasing a card that is slightly faster than what we tested too. Some card-to-card performance variation is to be expected always. This is why the text accompanying the results in the CF Database stresses that if two cards deliver performance within about 5% of one another, for all intents and purposes they are the same.

  • Going forward, all CF card manufacturers that emphasize speed have a problem. Without the camera manufacturers designing their products to take advantage of the speed potential of cards like Lexar's 32X and 40X models, Delkin's PRO series, Sandisk's upcoming Extreme/Ultra line and others, faster cards aren't going to translate into appreciably quicker in-camera write times. Already, the fastest cards are running into a write speed wall in almost all current digital SLR's. Performance tricks like Lexar's Write Acceleration, which is supported in both Kodak and Nikon digital SLR models, is a good example of what can be done to eek out increased performance. Worrying, however, is the fact that Canon's latest digital SLRs - the EOS-1Ds and EOS 10D - incorporate measurably slower write interfaces than the models they're derived from: the EOS-1D and D60. By now, all digital SLR cameras should be able to write as fast as, say, the DCS Pro 14n or Canon EOS-1D. But few do.

To help choose between a group of cards which may offer similar write speed performance in your camera, you might find it helpful to know how fast the CompactFlash models on your short list transfer photos to the computer. You may see a performance difference that could add up to a significant time saving when moving files off a stack of cards each work day. The new Card-to-Computer section of the CF Database provides benchmarks for this very purpose.

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