My 4GB Sandisk Extreme IV CF cards have served me well for shooting somewhere in the ballpark of one thousand bands at concerts and festivals over the last few years.
However, when faced with a string of summer festivals, I was in need of a pair of fast, large-capacity compact flash cards for my Nikon D3 and Nikon D700.
My requirements were 16GB capacity and UDMA. The solution? A pair of 16GB Transcend Extreme Plus 600x CF cards. Here's my review of these memory cards that punch well above their price point.
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In flash storage, there are pretty much just two big names: SanDisk and Lexar, both of which offer pro-grade CF cards and the prices to match. I've long been a user of Sandisk compact flash cards – even back to my first DSLR the D70, I've used Sandisk CF cards. I've used Lexar cards as well, but SanDisk has always been my preference.
What made me go with Transcend was research into their price, performance and user reviews. First, the price. Let's face it – the SanDisk and Lexar equivalents cost almost twice as much as the Transcend cards with the same specs.
A pair of the 16GB Transcend Extreme Plus 600x cards go for $138.98 from B&H Photo Video at the time of this writing (and where I personally bought two of these Transcend cards), compared to $120.83 for one of the equivalent Lexar 600x 16GB cards or $149.99 for a SanDisk Extreme Pro.
However, as appealing as a good price would have made the Transcend Extreme Plus 600x CF cards, the real tipping point for me was the consistent and exceptionally high praise given to the cards when combing reviews on B&H Photo Video and Amazon.com. B&H alone has 73 reviews with an average of 5/5 stars at the time of this review for the 16GB Transcend Extreme Plus 600x, with both the 8GB and 32GB versions also racking up 5-star averages.
Moreover, these reviews support the CF benchmarks performed by sites like Tom's Hardware, where the Transcend consistently performs in grouping with the equivalent Lexar and SanDisk cards. A great price and 100 or so glowingly positive customer reviews? I was sold.
16GB – Go Big Or Go Home
Aside from the performance increase of 600x read/write speeds over my Sandisk Extreme IV cards, one of the main reasons for upgrading was for larger capacity.
So, why go from 4GB cards to 16GB cards? For me, this is simply an effort of providing maximum storage (short of going to 32GB cards) for my present gear while anticipating for the larger files of future gear as resolution continues to increase.
For me and my work, 16GB hits a sweet spot of ample storage for music festivals and other all-day shooting events while not seeming as ridiculous as a 32GB card. In other words, it just feels right.
With a 16GB card in both my Nikon D3 and Nikon D700, I'm more than set for individual concerts with zero possibility of having to change cards for most shows, while I'm equally in good shape for even all-day festivals.
Built For Speed – UDMA-Enabled & 600x
For me, it's essential that the CF cards I use are UDMA-enabled. UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access) is a standard that enables accelerated transfer speeds over non-UDMA-enabled cards.
This benefit comes in incrementally faster read-write speeds in-camera, but most noticeably with multi-GB downloads where the sustained transfer speeds add up to big gains.
Using a UDMA-enabled cards and card readers combine for extremely fast download speeds, especially when using a Firewire 800 or USB 3.0 connection.
Naturally, we've seen transfer speeds creep up over the years, from 100x and 200x cards just a few years ago to the 600x speeds we see today.
While going with a more modest transfer speed of 400x saves a fair chunk on price, my interest in 600x cards is simply an effort of buying the best currently available today so that I'll be guaranteed high performance for future use. The use of fast CF cards centers around better performance for extended shooting (bursts) and faster transfer speeds for downloading. Both of these elements are fairly specific to photojournalism, or shooting with an emphasis on impatience at the very least.
If you're not an event or high-volume shooter who will benefit from UDMA and 600x speed increases, I'd highly recommend saving some money and going with smaller cards. It's only the particular needs of music photography and high-volume shooting that really push me to grab fast cards of this size.
The Transcend Extreme Plus 600x CF cards are a little shinier and showy than their Sandisk counterparts, with metallic foil on the faces, but the body is of course the standard CF Type II design with which we're all familiar.
There are already benchmarks for the Transcend 600x cards that pit it against the competition from manufacturers like SanDisk and Lexar, such as testing performed by Tom's Hardware. In these tests the Transcend cards performed with some of the best marks, consistently achieving some of the highest read and write averages. In these tests, the Transcend Extreme Plus 600x CF cards cards actually out-performed the SanDisk Extreme Pro on a few of the tests.
Needless to say, this isn't a benchmarking type of site, so instead I won't rehash what's already been done. Instead, below are my qualitative thoughts on how the Transcend Extreme Plus cards have performed in terms of shooting, downloads, and general compatibility.
In my testing, the Transcend 600x cards are blazingly fast. Image playback is instantaneous – there's nothing worse than waiting for image review when you need to check the exposure and histogram on a file. Moreover, the cards clear the buffers of my D3 and D700 noticeably faster than that of my old SanDisk Extreme IV cards.
With modern digital cameras, image files aren't written directly to memory cards, but in first are temporarily stored in a RAM buffer. This process allows a camera to shoot in bursts without by being limited by the write-speed of the memory card. Where a faster card like with a 600x speed comes into play is shooting bursts and the ability of the cards to quickly pull images from the camera's on-board buffer once you've reached the buffer limit.
Not only do images transfer more quickly from the camera, the extra speed allows the buffer to clear more quickly and thus enables extended shooting at large volumes.
Aside from the speed benefits while shooting, the cards enable extremely fast downloads, thanks to the UDMA technology. When paired with a UDMA-enabled card reader like the blazingly fast Sandisk Firewire 800 CF reader and downloads are almost surprisingly quick. Downloads via Firewire 800 clock in at about 2.5GB per minute.
The Transcend cards also worked flawlessly when downloading to a new 11″ MacBok Air using a USB 3.0 UDMA-enabled Delkin card reader.
Reliability & Compatibility:
The big question when using a new brand is always reliability, especially when the performance of the product lives up to the specs.
In my use of the Transcend 16GB 600x CF cards, the reliability has been solid. No errors or corrupted files with thousands of files written and read so far. Only time will tell, but reliability isn't a concern.
The Transcend 16GB 600x CF cards work flawlessly with all my gear, just like my Sandisk cards. No issues whatsoever with the Nikon D3, Nikon D700, Sandisk Firewire 800 CF card reader nor my Mac Pro that I regularly use.
In effect, the Transcend cards work just as well as the Sandisk cards I've been using, so there's zero change in my workflow. If anything, my workflow is simply faster thanks to the increased speed of the cards for downloads.
Both in and out of the camera, these new 16GB Transcend Extreme Plus 600x CF cards cards have offered rock solid performance that's exceeded my expectations. Write-read speeds offer a substantial improvement over my old SanDisk Extreme IV cards without any sacrifice to performance.
Will these cards stand up to the rigors of rock photography, with hot festival days, constant use and continual formatting? I'll report back after 6 months of use, but for now, I have no problem trusting my images to theseTranscend Extreme Plus 600x CF cardscards. Consider these Transcend cards ishootshows.com approved.
Where To Buy
You can buy the Transcend Extreme Plus 600x CF cards at B&H or Amazon.com. B&H has a slightly better price, especially with discounts for purchasing multiple cards, and that's where I personally bought these cards.