Goodbye, CompactFlash cards? Nikon and Sony welcome the XQD format with open arms

Nikon’s just-announced full frame D4 is getting attention for a lot of reasons. There’s the fact that CES is just around the corner, there are all the rumors about the anticipated D800 (we want to put the 36-megapixel spec to bed now), and of course its video capture and low lighting performance upgrades are part of the excitement.

But there’s something else that stands out about the D4: it’s the first digital camera to use the new XQD flash memory card format (it will also support CompactFlash cards).

Nikon-D4_Slot_XQDAnd Nikon wasn’t the only one jumping on board with the new system. Sony also announced it will produce the first XQD cards as well as a reader and adapter. What timing! Everyone, go pre-order your D4 and some Sony XQD cards to go with it.

If you’re feeling a little out of the loop, that’s because the XQD format became official last month. The CompactFlash Association announced XQD cards as the next step in memory card technology. XQD is meant to step up and replace CompactFlash (CF) cards, which are used in professional level DSLRs.

So what’s the difference? Well the 25-percent speed increase over the fast CF cards on the market is nothing to sneer at. It’s a big upgrade, and one advanced photographers are more than ready for. Sony’s new 32GB XQD card has a data transfer speed of up to 1gbps (or 125mbps). Future iterations (not necessarily Sony’s) are supposed to boast speeds of 600mbps—an astounding number for those of us toiling in the approximately 91mbps range the current best CF cards come with.

CF cards—including new units from Lexar—are getting faster though. The new Lexar 1000X CF card reads at 150mbps and writes at 145mbps (and costs $170 for 16 GB; up to $900 for a 128 GB). But what’s being hyped about XQD is that it’s better designed to utilize your DSLR’s speed capabilities. “When using Nikon’s DSLR ‘D4,’ XQD memory cards can record approximately up to 100 frames in RAW format in continuous shooting mode,” reads Sony’s press statement. The potential for this format to get faster (and get there sooner than CF) is what’s also earning it plenty of attention.

These new cards should also be a little smaller, falling somewhere between tiny SD cards and the bigger CF cards.

The first XQD cards from Sony will cost $130 for the 16 GB model and $230 for the 32 GB model. And of course early adopters will need adapters and readers, and in Sony’s case that’s an extra $50.

There’s always a cost to getting in early, but Nikon and Sony are already on board with the format (we assume manufacturing the cards means it will be introduced into Sony professional DSLRs as well), and Canon has acknowledged XQD is the future of memory writing for digital imaging. Adoption is inevitable as it appears this is the future for digital photography. 

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