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Yesterday, i was having a light chat with my favorite camera reseller, and he was telling me about how misinformed the users are on the importance of a good Compact Flash card.

Many of us, especially those who are new to photography, are always looking for the best best bang for buck equipments and accessories on the market. However, in the midst of finding that elusive item, we always get carried away and forget why some things are expensive as they are.

Rather then talking about camera equipment, I like to stress more on the item which we tend to overlook a most of the time.  If you are thinking about camera batteries or third party flash, then you are way off. I am referring to the smallest but no less important item for a D-SLR of today. What I am referring to is the compact flash memory card which we use all the time to store pictures.

The question always arise, “Which brand should I go for?” or “Which brand is reliable and Cheap? ”

Well, there are numerous brands that are currently on the market. The most that we hear today are from Toshiba, Kingston, SanDisk, Transcend, A-Data, etc.  so which is the best buy?

Personally, I have tried 4 out of the 5 brands i have mentioned above and 2 of them did not make it in my book. I shoot a lot of Raw format pictures and so transfer speed is everything. When I first started (over 8 years ago), i was using the Toshiba 2GB entry level CF cards, and since i shoot mostly in jpeg at that time, it does not affect me much. But once I started shooting in Raw and my files started to hit a 8-10MB, the card fails most of the time. Especially, when I shoot either in burst or consecutive shots in short intervals. My buffer would fill up and as expected, the camera will show me a message that the memory card is faulty and needs replacement. A quick reset using the power button did the trick.

I manage to live with the constant resetting for a couple more years and soon after that I move on to a faster Kingston 2GB, with the faster CF cards, the problem with the memory cards has finally vanished. I am happily shooting with the Kingston 2GB and with the Toshiba cf card as the absolute back-up card.  And soon after that, when i switched from old Nikon D100 to the much Improved D300, card space became an issue. With Raw files touching 9 MB most of the time, it is time to move to a bigger storage. So with budget in mind, I bought the A-data 4GB card. Again, not learning from experience, I bought the entry card level card for the sake of price.

Luckily, even though slow, the memory card error did not pop-up. so if i am Shooting casually, i don’t mind the slow transfer speed as long as it is reliable. Soon enough, i started accepting freelance event coverage. And knowing i will need card space, I bought a Kingston 16GB pro 133x CF, well, it is the cheapest among the lot.

The card failed miserably, the memory card error keeps popping up and i keep loosing shots trying to reset using the power switch. At the last straw, i resorted to using my slower A-Data 4GB card with continued.

Since covering events is getting more and more frequent, I took the plunge and bought myself 2 4GB Extreme III SanDisk and a 16GB Extreme III SanDisk. After switch over to SanDisk, i never looked back. The 3 cards are always in my memory card pouch and even today when i have started shooting 14-bit  Raw files on my D700, which calculates to 14-16 MB per file,  they never seem to break down.

Up to this point, most of you would think that I am a spokes person or some sort for SanDisk and is here to destroy all other competition brands. Well, too bad I am not.

What i am trying to emphasize here is the importance of selecting a reliable compact flash for your Camera. If you ask me on what brands to get well I can tell you that from experience, Lexar and SanDisk seems to be the most reliable to date. but if you shoot in jpeg a lot, most brands will do because jpeg files won’t go anymore then 4 mb at most cases.

But if you shoot raw and needs reliability, then get a good reliable card. paying slightly more for reliability won’t hurt that much when there is a happy client on the other end.