Memory cards are not one of those photography related devices that make photographers excited. You probably never heard a photographer say “wow, that new SD card is so cool, I’ve got to buy one!” Nevertheless memory cards can impact user experience dramatically, especially if you are shooting a lot in burst mode, recording high definition or 4k video with high bit rates or if you have a habit of filling the memory card before transferring all of your images and video files to your computer in one go. This is where the read and, even more importantly, write speeds of the memory card make themselves noticeable. If the memory card is too slow at writing data, the buffer of your camera will fill up rather quickly or you won’t be able to shoot video with high bit rates at all. If the read speed is too low, on the other hand, transferring data from the card to the PC will take quite a long time.
In this blog post I would like to show you some benchmarks and talk a little about my newest SD card, the Transcend Ultimate Speed SDHC Class 10 UHS-1 32GB. Quite a mouthful, isn’t it? In a later post I’m going to decipher the “marketing speak” for you and do a comparison with some of my older memory cards. What you will see is that speeds indicated by manufacturers can be very optimistic or downright misleading. For now, let’s take a look at two very popular benchmarks – CrystalDiskMark and AS SSD – used to test various storage devices (HDDs, SSDs, memory cards, USB sticks, etc.):
Like many memory card manufacturers Transcend only indicates the read speed of the card (90MB/s), but keeps a low profile regarding the write speed. Note that write speed is crucial, because most of the time the card will be in your camera, writing image data. You will be reading the data from the card pretty much only when reviewing photos on your camera’s display – this is where the speed is not really important – and when transferring data to the PC. Luckily for Transcend the card does come very close to the indicated 90MB/s, when reading data. At around 36MB/s the write speed is a bit of a letdown. I would like to see higher write speeds on a card that has “ultimate speed” in its product name.
People often say that such benchmarks are overly theoretical in nature, because they test use cases that don’t happen very often in real life. For that reason I’ve done a manual, practice-oriented test of my own. I’ve grabbed a folder on the internal SSD of my laptop – a Samsung 850 EVO 120gb mSATA drive – and transferred it to the Transcend card and back again. The Samsung SSD is insanely fast and is therefore not the bottleneck. There were twenty-seven Nikon 1 V1 RAW files and five 1080p Full HD video files in the folder, for a grand total of 1.19 GB of data.
My Windows is in German, but you can hopefully decipher that the card does read and write data at 80MB/s and 36MB/s respectively. So yes, the results obtained by use of benchmarks and by practical measurement do add up.
Now let’s put things into perspective. Yes, the write speed is not top notch and, as I will show you in a later post, the Transcend card is hardly faster at writing data than my SanDisk Extreme 32GB 45MB/s card, which I bought in 2012 (!). However, the SanDisk card was a high end model at the time and was therefore quite expensive. The Transcend card is more like an entry-to-mid range model at the time of writing. On the other hand the Transcend card vastly outperforms some rather slow current gen models, like the ones belonging to the Samsung EVO series (not the ones with the + in the product name). My dad bought a Samsung EVO SDHC Class 10 UHS-1 16GB card last year without consulting me first and I must say that it is one of the slowest cards in regards to write speed that I’ve used in a long time. But as I’ve said, I will be comparing different cards that I own and use in a later blog post. One other thing that helps the Transcend look good, is the fact that none of my cameras are able to make use of a faster card. However, you do get the benefit of the faster read speed when transferring photos and videos from the card to the PC – of course, provided that your card reader can match the speed of the card. Should that be the case, the transfer will be completed in about half the time it would take with an older 45MB/s card, like the SanDisk Extreme. This all does make the Transcend a good value. I’ve paid €17 in last October and at €14 it’s even cheaper now. Compare that to the €11 of the comparable Samsung EVO model, which is half as fast at both reading and writing data.
For more info about speeds various cameras can achieve with various memory cards check out CameraMemorySpeed.com. As you can see here the OM-D E-M10 is clearly not able to utilize the write speed of faster SD cards. Its internal SD card interface is essentially limited to USB 2.0 speeds (around 30MB/s). Being that the Nikon 1 V1 was introduced to the market even earlier, in autumn 2011, it is even slower. According to one dpreview user’s test, it writes at around 7MB/s to the card. This is obviously far slower than the write speed the Transcend card can achieve.
However, if you are looking for a card for the Olympus E-M5 Mark II or any other camera with a cutting edge memory card interface and you plan on shooting a lot in burst mode or recording 4k video with high bit rates, the Transcend Ultimate-Speed SDHC Class 10 UHS-1 is the wrong card for you. You should instead take a look at one of the UHS-II cards.
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