Lexar XQD More Rugged Means of Storage
By Stan Sholik
All images ©Stan Sholik
One could always make the argument that photography was a numbers game, but there can be no doubt about that since the introduction of digital capture. Hardware and software companies have stressed numbers to entice photographers to purchase their latest products with ever increasing resolutions, and image capture and processing speeds. For the few photographers in need of these increased capabilities, the advances have been a boon. For the mainstream, it has often meant increased cost and complexity, while adding little to the process of creating great, or at least memorable, images.
The XQD memory card strikes me as an example of this. Developed by Sony Corporation, Nikon, and SanDisk and made available in 2012 with the introduction of the Nikon D4, XQD cards were promised to deliver increased capture speeds and higher capacity than the compact flash (CF) cards in existence at that time. XQD cards were easily capable of keeping up with the 11 frames per second capture rate of the D4 and could capture more images before slowing the frame rate due to a full camera buffer. Early XQD cards delivered up to 180 MB/s, a high rate when compared to the CF and Secure Digital (SD) of the time.
But technology keeps advancing in all areas, and the latest Lexar Professional 2933x XQD 2.0 card faces stiff competition from Lexar 3400x CFast 2.0 CF and 2000x SDHC cards, both in terms of speed and capacity.
I tested the 128GB Lexar Professional 2933x XQD card in a Nikon D4s vs. a Lexar Professional 32GB 1066x CF card and the results are below. However, as I was using the XQD card, I came to realize that while the specifications may be what memory card manufacturers are using to impress consumers, the XQD cards are what professional photographers really need.
I have dealt with CF cards since the earliest days of digital imaging. And I have done the unthinkable only once—forced a CF card into its slot incorrectly when I was in a hurry, bending the pins and requiring camera repair. Less of a problem with dual slots now, at least you can keep shooting in one slot, but not that day. Those pins, both in the camera and in the card reader, are fragile, It doesn’t take too much to bend one beyond use. This is a real downside to CF cards, along with their lack of weather proofing and shock protection.
I have even more of an issue with SD cards. No pins to deal with, but exposed contacts instead. And sure, we would like our cameras to be smaller and lighter without losing capabilities, but how much larger would they need to be so support a memory card that was less bendable and large enough that it doesn’t get lost somewhere in your pocket or case when you are swapping cards or simply removing it from your camera to plug into your card reader.
What I discovered is that the XQD card solves all of these issues. The connections are not pins but are three sets of solid contacts in the camera and card reader that could not bend. The contacts fit into the card so that there are no exposed contacts on the card. The XQD card is only 2/3 the size of a CF card, although slightly thicker, so it saves space in the camera while still being a reasonable size to handle and not lose. It also pops in and out of its slot like a SD card, eliminating the need for the space taken up by the ejection button for the CF card.
And even more importantly, the XQD card is rugged. The front and back plates are metal, and I have no reason to doubt Lexar’s claim that the design provides “exceptional resilience in regards to water, temperature, shock/vibration and more.”
Metal plates on the front and back add to the
ruggedness of the XQD card.
As for performance, the 2933x XQD card outpaced my 1066x CF card. Using a D4s, set to ISO 100, 11 fps, and 1/8,000 second shutter speed, both cards ran to the full buffer capacity of 200 large, fine JPEG captures without slowing down. A dead heat. Shooting with the same settings, but capturing14-bit lossless compression raw images, the XQD card delivered 83 captures before slowing down while the CF card slowed down at 73. While I didn’t test 4K video capture, it seems likely that there would be less danger of dropped frames with the XQD card. If these numbers are meaningful to your work, then the XQD card in a Nikon D4/D4s is the way to go.
Along with this latest XQD card, Lexar released a new XQD card reader, the Professional Workflow XR2. You can use the $50 XR2 as a standalone USB 3.0 reader for the XQD card, or plug the XR2 into one of Lexar’s Professional Workflow hubs along with Lexar card readers for other memory card formats.
You can use the Professional Workflow XR2 card reader on its own or connected into one of Lexar’s Professional Workflow multi card reader hubs.
Using the XR2, transfer time for 100 D4s raw files into my desktop computer using the XR2 through USB 3.0 is 10 seconds. This compares with the 10 seconds it took to transfer the same number of images D4s raw images from the 1066x CF card through a USB 3.0 card reader to the computer. Another dead heat.
The current downside to XQD cards is their cost. The 128GB Lexar Professional 2933x XQD card I tested has a street price of about $615. But CF cards were expensive when first introduced until production ramped up. With Lexar and Sony the only sources (SanDisk, while involved in development, is not manufacturing XQD cards) and little hardware supporting them, the price will remain high. What is needed is an industry-wide shift from CF and SD cards to XQD cards for professional DSLRs. Then the price will fall as we benefit from the speed and ruggedness of the XQD standard.
Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, California, specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book, "Shoot Macro" (Amherst Media), is now available.
Fast saves in camera
Fast transfer to computer
Only supported by Nikon D4 and D4s DSLRs and Sony camcorders