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Sony Announces New Card Format for SLRs

The rise of digital cameras has been closely mirrored by the proliferation of memory cards that power them. Since the early 2000s, we’ve seen SD, mini and micro SD, XD picture cards, Compact Flash, and a slew of Memory Sticks. Think we have enough memory card formats to work with? Sony doesn’t think so: in the next few weeks it will debut yet another type of storage, the XQD card, first to be used in the Nikon D4 SLR.

According to Sony’s press release, the new format’s increased speed will appeal particularly to photo enthusiasts. The card stores and organizes images a lot faster, reducing time between shots and making high-speed photography (the kind used in sports and races) a lot more convenient. In continuous shoot mode, it can take up to 100 RAW-format frames–something few cameras are able to do because it takes time to save in between images.

This is nicely complemented by faster download times, a must for photographers who need to empty and reload their cards before gearing up for the next series of shots. Sony’s tests show transfer rates that can reach 1Gbps to write and 125 MBps to read, but that will depend on the device’s hardware. So far, only the Nikon D4, one of the first cameras to offer high-speed full HD recording, is compatible with the XQD.

Although photography and videography are the primary targets of the new format, some experts see potential popularity with other markets, particularly mobile gaming. The industry has slowed down with competition from tablets and was largely hampered by technical issues; for example, the PlayStation Portable was notoriously prone to lag and compatibility problems. A new high-speed memory card may allow users to bring their games back on the road without sacrificing performance.

Not surprisingly, the main catch is the price: a 16GB card, generally accepted as the minimum size for today’s digital SLRs, goes for $130 and the 32GB card is priced at $230. Also, transfer options may be limited since not many computers have an XQD card slot, although this is expected to change soon. For the moment, users can purchase the XQD ExpressCard Adapter ($45), which goes into the Express Card 34 port of a computer. A card reader will also be available for the same price. All of these, including the Nikon D4, are expected to hit the shelves in February 2012.

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