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Category: Recordable Media

The rise of the SD surfer - Duncan Evans looks at how the SD card has become the format of choice for many camera manufacturers.

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An SD card, yesterdayFive years ago the SecureData card was little used in the general photographic industry, with Panasonic flying the flag for the unpopular format. Nikon and Canon were wedded to the CompactFlash card, Olympus and Fujifilm had just come up with a replacement for the SmartMedia card in the form of xD-Picture Card, and Sony had their own, and more expensive, MemoryStick format for use across a range of electronic devices. Time rolls on, cameras have got smaller with larger resolution CCDs squeezed in, and it became obvious that the large CF format wasn't suitable for compact cameras. So, where did the manufacturers head? Nikon, Canon, Casio, Panasonic, Pentax and Kodak all now use the SD or SDHC card for their compact cameras. It's even started to find its way into entry-level DSLRs, as well as camcorders and TVs. This has left Olympus and Fujifilm as the main proponents of the xD card alternative, but in a surprise move, Fuji have included an SD slot in their latest compact cameras. Does this signal the end of the xD-Picture Card format as the SD becomes the format of choice?

First of all we asked Panasonic, who needless to say, had every reason to feel pleased with themselves.

Mark Robinson, Product Manager-Lumix, Panasonic UK: "SD cards have become more universally accepted and popular and are now widely enjoyed across a number of products - including camcorders, digital still cameras, SLRs (including Panasonic's high end DMC-L1) demonstrating their popularity.

A further benefit of SD cards are their home networking capabilities. Home networking is revolutionising the way we use technology in and around the home - for example, images that have been taken on a Panasonic digital camera such as the DMC-TZ3 can be viewed as a slide show on a plasma such as the TH-42PX700 due to its built in SD Card slot - ensuring that the images can be truly enjoyed."

But it was Fuji's decision to include an SD card slot, after championing xD Picture Card, that first raised eyebrows. We asked for their explanation.

Andreas Georghiades, Product Manager, Media Cards, Fujifilm UK Ltd: "Fujifilm remains committed to its xD-Picture Card format. xD has been specifically developed for use with standalone compact digital cameras and demand amongst consumers remains consistent. Fujifilm has introduced Secure Digital compatibility in its latest compact digital cameras in order to give consumers who already own SD cards the option to upgrade to a Fujifilm digital camera without also investing in a new card format."

Olympus are one of the few advocates of xD, so they were next.

Mark Thackara, General Manager, Marketing, Imaging, Olympus UK: "At the moment no. What might happen in the future is harder to predict. A whole new generation of memory could be just around the corner that changes the way all devices work. Or memory will be required to do more than be just memory. We keep a watching brief as they say."

Casio are making full use of the SD format, and have firmly tied their flag to its mast so we asked them about it.

A Casio digital imaging spokesperson: "People's increasing multimedia lifestyles, and the associated need to be able to transfer image and data files between devices, will dictate the shape of the popular memory formats of the future. Digital cameras' future storage capabilities will therefore need to integrate themselves into the wider family of digital devices in order to win a place in a consumer's life. SD, and the newer SDHC format, are proving extremely popular at present, and as they are used by many manufacturers on many devices, offer the easiest way to guarantee lifestyle integration for the foreseeable short term future."

Conclusion
There's little doubt that the SD card has risen from being a niche format to being the main format for compacts and entry level DSLRs; it's used in camcorders and even TVs. Most companies have shifted over to using it, apart from those with an interest in alternative, proprietary formats. Olympus were more ambivalent about the future of the format while Fujifilm denied that they are going to abandon it, but as Fuji are now starting to incorporate SD card slots in compacts, the popularity of the SD format will continue to rise.


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