Not all flash memory cards are created alike. Nowhere is this more evident than with the new SanDisk Extreme Pro CompactFlash Card. Available in 16GB to 64GB capacities, this card promises, and delivers, on extreme: Armed with SanDisk's rearchitected controller, this card can achieve up to 90 megabytes per second read/write performance in a digital SLR that supports UDMA (mode 6).
I took this card out for several shoots, and have to say I've been impressed with how it handles. I didn't gauge its "performance" with regard to its rated write speed as compared with other, more lowly and less pricey cards; rather, the proof of this card's worth lies in how the card handles in the field.
As a photographer, I never want to miss the shot. You know the one -- whether it's an athlete's elation at a successfully completed routine, a gymnast's gravity-defying midair flip, or a couple's first kiss at a wedding -- those are the shots that burst-modes were made for. Unfortunately, even with SLRs that boast fast frames-per-second, well, those superfast ratings have been for shooting JPEG, not RAW.
Personally, I vascillate on the JPEG vs. RAW subject, and I'd prefer to shoot RAW, simply because I know I'm sacrificing potential image quality by not allowing myself to capture the most possible information for a shot, which a camera's large, unprocessed RAW file provides. But I don't have the time to do the necessary post-processing for every image that shooting RAW requires; plus, whenever I've tried shooting RAW only, or RAW plus JPEG, I've found myself quickly disappointed by missing a key backflip or sudden moment I thought I could capture, but couldn't because my camera's buffer had filled and I had sacrificed shooting speed.
Between my trigger-happy shutter finger and my desire to capture "the moment," I can fill a camera's buffer in heartbeat using just JPEG (and even using CompactFlash cards rated at 300X, the previous top-tier card). (An aside: Some manufacturers list ratings in so-called x-ratings, much like DVD drives have "X" speed rating; other manufacturers, like SanDisk, use names instead to describe speed, although it does note the Extreme Pro as equivalent to a "600X" card.) The more sluggish write speeds for shooting the large RAW files was, for me, too much of a sacrifice.
Until now. With the SanDisk Extreme Pro card, I didn't feel constrained because I was shooting RAW. Nor did I feel constrained when I shot using the camera's RAW + JPEG Fine modes -- which captured both file types for me. (I consider that the holy grail of shooting -- this way, I have the high-quality JPEGs for quick sharing, and immediate use, and the high-quality RAW file for editing, cropping, and finessing image worthy of the extra effort.
Using an SLR rated at 7 frames-per-second for JPEGs (and 5 frames-per-second RAW), I shot a parade. I shot a wedding. I shot daily happenings, sights passing by out of a car window, and more -- and I captured every moment I intended to. I have yet to try and capture a multirelease sequence on men's high bar, but my early hands-on with the card leaves me hopeful that I'll be able to do so.
More importantly, this card makes it clear that there are real and tangible differences among flash memory cards. Just because a card is on sale with a deep rebate doesn't mean that card will take full advantage of your camera's capabilities. If you have a newer digital SLR that supports the fast UDMA (mode 6) interface -- cameras like the Nikon D3, Nikon D300 and D300S, Nikon D700, Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon EOS 50D, and the forthcoming Canon EOS 7D -- a card like the SanDisk Extreme Pro can be well worth its high price of admission. Yes, $300 is costly for a 16GB card, but in the end it's a small price if it means capturing the moments you're missing in the best quality possible.