Home   Donate   New   Search   Gallery   How-To   Books   Links   Workshops   About   Contact

SD Card Speed Test
© 2009 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

Intro   Teknik   Performance   Analysis   Recommendations

Please help KenRockwell..com

Cards

Memory cards tested here. It helps me keep adding to this site when you use these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and eBay to get your goodies. Thanks! Ken.

 

October 2009     Leica Reviews     Canon Reviews      Nikon Reviews

 

Introduction         top

Intro   Teknik   Performance   Analysis   Recommendations

adorama

Ritz Camera

I personally buy from Adorama, Amazon, Ritz, B&H, Calumet and J&R. I can't vouch for ads below.

 

Are faster SD cards any faster than slower, cheaper SD cards?

Let's try some and find out.

(For comparisons of CF cards made with USB versus Firewire, see CF Card Speed Tests.)

 

Teknik         top

Intro   Teknik   Performance   Analysis   Recommendations

I had 207 files totaling 406.6MB (as read in OS 10.4.11 Get Info) in two folders shot with the LEICA M9, including JPGs of various sizes and some DNGs.

I clocked how long it took to download this SD card into my Quad 2.5GHz G5 Mac (OS 10.4.11) with the hottest USB reader available today, the SanDisk ImageMate Multi-Card Reader.

Once I downloaded my card, I asked myself why it had to take a minute to suck in what should have come across in just seconds if I had shot it on a professional CF card instead of SD. I got curious, since I have a need for speed.

I timed how long it took to copy this same data set from my hard drive back to each of several different SD cards, as well as onto some of my pro CF cards.

I then clocked how long it took to download that data set back from each card onto my hard drive.

I also tested to see how fast each could be written to from a camera, however the camera I used, the LEICA M9, takes more time perfecting each image (3 to 4 seconds each) than it does to write the data.

 

Performance         top

Intro   Teknik   Performance   Analysis   Recommendations

Initial Ingest

Initial raw suck from SanDisk 2GB Ultra II 15MB/s card: 45.2s.

I also tried the same suck in my tiny SanDisk MicroMate one-piece plug-in reader, which took 47.6s.

You must be kidding. This means that a 32GB SD card would take an hour to copy into a computer. Heck, in an hour, I can drop my film at Price Club, go have lunch, and when I return, all my film is developed, everything is already backed up to CD, and I've got full sets of prints, all in less than an hour. So why again do people shoot digital? Didn't it used to be something about the speed? I don't get it.

 

Copy Back to Cards

Now that this data is on my hard drive, let's copy this off to each of several cards.

I tried a professional (Extreme IV) and a consumer (Extreme III) CF card for comparison, in my professional SanDisk Extreme IV reader connected via FireWire 800.

These times aren't that important, but since I need to copy the same data set to each card to test download speed, I may as well clock this.

Card
Copy to card
Compact Flash via FireWire 800:  
SanDisk 4GB Extreme IV CF
20.6s
SanDisk 2GB Extreme III CF
51.8s
 
SD via USB SanDisk ImageMate Multi-Card Reader:
SanDisk 8GB Extreme III 30MB/s
53.8s
Lexar 1GB 32x (2006)
63.6s
SanDisk 4GB Ultra II 15MB/s
66.7s
SanDisk 2GB Ultra II 15MB/s
69.7s
Kingston 2GB Ultimate 120x (c.2007)
74.8s
 
SD via MacBook Pro 13.3" 2.53GHz SD Card Slot:*
SanDisk 8GB Extreme III 30MB/s
26.1s
SanDisk 4GB Ultra II 15MB/s
38.4s
SanDisk 2GB Ultra II 15MB/s
33.9s
Lexar 1GB 32x (c. 2005)
54.0s
Kingston 2GB Ultimate 120x (c.2007)
30.5s

* Different day, different data set of 405MB as seen in OS 10.6, 390MB in Canon SD880.

For comparisons of CF cards made with USB versus Firewire, see CF Card Speed Tests.

 

Download from Cards

Once loaded, I can clock how long it takes to download the same 406.6MB of data from each card.

The shorter the time, the more money I can make doing something productive instead of waiting for downloads.

Card
Download time
Compact Flash via FireWire 800:
SanDisk 4GB Extreme IV CF
11.4s
SanDisk 2GB Extreme III CF
40.4s
 
SD via USB SanDisk ImageMate Multi-Card Reader:
SanDisk 8GB Extreme III 30MB/s
44.7s
SanDisk 4GB Ultra II 15MB/s
48.6s
SanDisk 2GB Ultra II 15MB/s
49.1s
Lexar 1GB 32x (c. 2005)
51.4s
Kingston 2GB Ultimate 120x (c.2007)
51.8s
 
SD via MacBook Pro 13.3" 2.53GHz SD Card Slot:*
SanDisk 8GB Extreme III 30MB/s
15.7s
SanDisk 4GB Ultra II 15MB/s
25.5s
SanDisk 2GB Ultra II 15MB/s
25.2s
Lexar 1GB 32x (c. 2005)
38s
Kingston 2GB Ultimate 120x (c.2007)
20.5s

* Different day, different data set of 405MB as seen in OS 10.6, 390MB in Canon SD880.

(For comparisons of CF cards made with USB versus Firewire, see CF Card Speed Tests.)

I got the same speeds both connecting the hot SanDisk ImageMate Multi-Card Reader either directly into the back of my Mac, or through a USB hub. The SanDisk MicroMate one-piece plug-in reader was about as fast.

Clearly the professional CF cards slam everything in SD cards.

Among the reasons that little SD cards are so much slower is that they only have 9 electrical contacts, while CF cards have about fifty pins. CF cards can spew of data in huge massively parallel chunks, while all the bits have to wait in line to get on and off an SD card.

There are no professional FireWire readers for SD cards, probably because the little cards can't support a data rate that would make sense for FireWire anyway.

Out of curiosity, I couldn't find a USB CF reader around my desk, so I pulled a Nikon D3 out of my studio and read data from the hottest Extreme IV card. It took 52.9 seconds to download that same data set over USB; the same speed as the SD cards took over USB. I tested USB CF speeds earlier.

 

Shooting, Buffer and Writing

I timed from when I first pressed the shutter to when the card access light stopped blinking.

I shot the LEICA M9, which isn't as fast to process images as most larger DSLRs. As you'll see below, the LEICA M9's ability to process its own data is the slowest part of this chain, but hey, the LEICA M9 is the only professional camera that can't accept professional CF cards, which is the whole point of this experiment.

Oddly, the LEICA M9 didn't recognize the Kingston card. Heh heh, it just goes to prove what everyone, including myself (but except memory card salesmen) tell you: stick with SanDisk and Lexar, or be prepared for problems.

"Buffer" means how many 2FPS shots the LEICA got off before its buffer filled and it had to stop and wait for space to clear. I only made 8 shots maximum, so if the buffer was deeper, I didn't try it.

 

Compressed DNG

Shoot and write 8 frames compressed DNG. Daylight WB. Shutter release to end of blinking:

Card
Time
Buffer
SanDisk 8GB Extreme III 30MB/s
24.7s
7 - 8
SanDisk 4GB Ultra II 15MB/s
24.5s
7
SanDisk 2GB Ultra II 15MB/s
24s
7 or 8
Lexar 1GB 32x (c. 2007)
21.9s
8
SanDisk blue 256MB (2006)
51.6s
7

 

JPG

Shot and write 8 frames 18MP JPG Normal (in the German menu; same as Basic JPG in the English menu), daylight WB. Shutter release to end of blinking:

Card
Time
Buffer
SanDisk 8GB Extreme III 30MB/s
26s
7
SanDisk 4GB Ultra II 15MB/s
26s
7
SanDisk 2GB Ultra II 15MB/s
26.7s
7
Lexar 1GB 32x (c. 2007)
28.2s
7
SanDisk blue 256MB (2006)
28.4s
7

The LEICA takes longer to process JPGs than it does to store DNG data.

 

Small JPG

Shoot and write 8 frames 4.5MP JPG Normal (German menu; Basic JPG in English menu). Auto WB. Shutter release to end of blinking:

Card
Time
Buffer
SanDisk 8GB Extreme III 30MB/s
32.0s
7
SanDisk 4GB Ultra II 15MB/s
33.1s
7
SanDisk 2GB Ultra II 15MB/s
32.9s
7
Lexar 1GB 32x (c. 2007)
32.6
7
SanDisk blue 256MB (2006)
36.9s
7

The LEICA takes even longer to calculate auto WB and reduce the size of JPG images, much longer than it takes to write any data.

 

Compressed DNG + Small JPG

Shoot and write 8 frames compressed DNG + 4.5MP JPG Normal (German menu; Basic JPG in English menu). Tageslicht (Daylight) WB. Shutter release to end of blinking:

Card
Time
Buffer
SanDisk 8GB Extreme III 30MB/s
40.4s
7
SanDisk 4GB Ultra II 15MB/s
39.3s
7
SanDisk 2GB Ultra II 15MB/s
40.1s
7
Lexar 1GB 32x (c. 2007)
40.7
7
SanDisk blue 256MB (2006)
67.4s
7

Now I've really slowed things down by asking the LEICA to reduce the size of the JPG and to store all the DNG data.

 

Analysis         top

Intro   Teknik   Performance   Analysis   Recommendations

1.) USB is the speed limitation when reading from SD cards, not the cards themselves.

 

2.) The tiny, convenient SanDisk MicroMate one-piece plug-in reader is just as fast as the fancy cord-connected SanDisk ImageMate Multi-Card Reader.

 

3.) All tested SD cards, even those from years ago, can be written to from my computer at about the same speed, give or take 20%, if I'm using a USB connection.

 

4.) Regardless of marked speed, all tested SD cards download at the same speed, give or take 10%, which doesn't matter, if I'm using a USB connection.

 

5.) Fast SD cards only make a difference if you have something like a MacBook Pro with a direct SD card slot to read them.

 

6.) Fast CF Cards used properly are faster than anything in SD.

 

7.) Don't buy anything from anyone other than SanDisk or Lexar. If you do, it may not be compatible with whatever camera you have today or tomorrow.

 

8.) The LEICA M9 takes a long time to process images, regardless of how fast they may or may not be written to the memory cards. The LEICA is not a camera for indiscriminate shooting.

The LEICA is the last camera one should use to test SD cards, since it is slower than any of these cards. I used it because its the only pro camera I've seen that can't use Compact Flash (CF) cards.

 

Recommendations         top

Intro   Teknik   Performance   Analysis   Recommendations

1.) When shooting SD cards, spend money to shoot only SanDisk or Lexar.

 

2.) When shooting SD cards, don't spend money to get faster speed ratings.

Even the 256MB card I got free with a Casio EX-Z850 camera I bought back in 2006 downloads data just as fast as the hottest 30MB/s cards in 2009, even if slow cameras can't empty their buffers into it as fast.

 

3.) All current decent SD cards made in the past few years (40x, 15MBs and 30MB/s) download just as fast if you're using a USB reader.

 

4.) Only pay for fast SD cards if you have a MacBook pro with a direct SD slot, or some other high-speed reading device that doesn't use USB.

 

Help me help you         top

I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.

If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

If you've gotten your gear through one of my links or helped otherwise, you're family. It's great people like you who allow me to keep adding to this site full-time. Thanks!

If you haven't helped yet, please do, and consider helping me with a gift of $5.00.

The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help to me. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

Thanks for reading!

Ken

Home   Donate   New   Search   Gallery   How-To   Books   Links   Workshops   About   Contact