There are two dominant formats in the removable memory market for digital cameras. CompactFlash II at the DSLR end and SecureData at the compact and entry-level DSLR end. Despite the fact that they are both storage formats, they do work in different ways, which is why the SD card format ran into a brick wall on the capacity front, leading to the new, enhanced, SDHC format.
ATP Pro Max SDHC 4Gb
SDHC is the same shape and look as your regular SD card, but the HC stands for High Capacity and allows for capacities in excess of 2Gb. It has its own standard, called SD v2.0, which defines three speed ratings, from Class 2 at 2Mb/s+, Class 4 at 4Mb/s+ and Class 6 at 6Mb/s+. Because SD cards do not contain the drive interface electronics inside the card, they can only be used in cameras and card readers that support the SDHC format. A SDHC-compatible camera or card reader can read the older SD format, but if your camera only reads standard SD cards, it can't use SDHC.
ATP Pro Max II CF 4Gb
CompactFlash II is different in that the drive interface electronics are inside the card - one reason why it's physically larger - so the card can be used in any camera or card reader that support the CF II format. As CF II was launched over five years ago, any modern camera will support it. The other advantage is that as faster speed cards are launched, you can benefit from that speed in your camera. However, the latest development in CF cards is ones that use the Ultra Direct Memory Access (or UDMA) interface which offers speeds up to 45Mb/s or, 300x.
ATP are a major manufacturer of memory cards and readers and sent in the ATP ProMax II 4Gb 300x CompactFlash card, the Class 6, ATP Pro Max 4Gb SDHC card, and a Pro Max USB2.0 UDMA ready card reader for review. We put both cards and the reader to the test, but also tested a 1Gb Kingston CFII card and a 1GB SanDisk SD card at the same time, to give you a typical comparison for the kind of speed increases you might expect when transferring files from the card to the computer. All performances will vary, depending on the computer and OS being used. This was done on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 dual-core Processor 3800, with 1Gb ram with the 64-bit version of Windows Vista Home Premium. 68 files totalling 313Mb were transferred from each card to the computer and timed.
The cards were also tested on a Crucial USB2.0 card reader (didn't support SDHC though), where they performed at a similar speed to the ATP Pro Max card reader, just being a couple of seconds slower on each test. For clarity, those results have been excluded from those below.
Kingston CF II card - 57secs or 5.49Mb/s
ATP Pro Max II CF card - 17secs or 18.4Mb/s
SanDisk SD card - 37secs or 8.46Mb/s
ATP Pro Max SDHC card - 22secs or 14.22Mb/s
As can be seen from this, both cards were some way off the maximum rated transfer speeds of 45Mb/s on the CompactFlash side and 22Mb/s for a Class 6 SDHC, but there are notable speed increases, particular for the CF card compared to the older technology.
ATP Pro Max In-camera performance
Transferring images down onto your PC is the main area where faster cards will benefit, but there's also the in-camera performance as well. The CompactFlash cards were both then used in a 10sec burst test in the Canon EOS 40D, and the time taken for the buffer to completely clear was recorded.
Kingston CF II card - 106secs
ATP Pro Max II CF card - 25secs
What was also interesting about this, besides the ATP card being over four times faster, was that the Kingston card couldn't shift the data fast enough and at 9secs the camera stopped recording for the last second. The ATP card was still going strong when the test finished, so is even faster than the numbers above as it was used to record more images.
The same test was carried out on a Pentax K100D Super which supports SDHC cards. As has been mentioned, the drive interface is in the device - in this case the camera - rather than on the card, so while the SDHC card offers greater capacity, even a standard SD card will work faster in the SDHC camera because of the faster drive electronics. This in fact proved to be the case, with identical performance from both cards in the Pentax camera. However, this is down to the camera not being able to demand more than the SDHC card was capable of dealing with, rather than the two cards being capable of the same performance. Even though the drive electronics are in the device, the SDHC cards can access and use the card memory faster than an SD card can. So, a higher performance camera would make better use of the SDHC card than something like the Pentax K100D Super can.
If you're in the market for faster speed downloads and better in-camera performance, the new SDHC and CompactFlash II UDMA cards will radically reduce the time you spend waiting for things to happen. The cards from ATP certainly fit the bill, compared to standard technology cards.
ATP Pro Max II 4Gb 300x CF Plus points
Works in any CF II slot
High speed downloads
Better in-camera performance
ATP Pro Max II 4Gb 300x CF Minus points
Download performance depends on PC config
ATP Pro Max 4Gb SDHC Plus points
Larger capacities than SD cards
ATP Pro Max 4Gb SDHC Minus points
Only works in SDHC-compliant devices
SD cards work just as fast in SDHC devices
Check out the ATP website at http://www.atpinc.com/ for more details on the ATP product range, availability and pricing.