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Monday, 10 September 2007


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I was just wondering that the other day. I mean the new i-pod has a 160GB HD Why not just build it in to the camera?

I suppose if it fails you are stuck, and have to send it back to the maker for a huge fee to fix it. Maybe it's just better to let us make our own choices regarding these things? I'd love to be educated cause I really don't know a damn thing about this stuff. What are the pros and cons?

Not every camera? just to add a funny note, my not too expensive Nokia phone can, I have it fitted with a 2gig microSD card that looks smaller than a fingernail to me. Doubles as an Ipod too. I find it hard to predict if there will be any differentiated kinds of portable devices in a few years. The phone/camera/ipod/tv/pc/brainreplacement thing will reign, I believe. If we could just plug it in our frontal lobes, would our IQ step up or only our memory capabilities?

Delete this article Mike, lest the idea gets out of the house. Heaven forbid I should have to plug my camera into my computer.

Rather, promote interest in the permanent flash cards we heard about a few months ago. It would be ever so nice to download images from the computer onto a cheap and permanent 'write once' flash card as extra back up. A 16GB card at say $1 a GB, would be a lovely way to make multiple safe copies.

Except I don't think flash memory is very safe for long-term storage, is it?

Ironically, a black-and-white negative, as long as it's on a stable substrate, is a VERY good long-term storage medium. Gelatin silver prints aren't bad either.


"I suppose it's only because of convention and habit that cameras don't come with built-in memory, like an iPod."

Probably because it saves them a few bucks to instead include a slot and a throwaway card in the box. I'd have no hesitation buying a top-end DSLR with 16GB internally and no slot.

For a $100-200 camera, it will presumably be cheaper to manufacture it with a 1GB built-in memory, avoiding having to provide a door and connections to removable cards.
For DSLRs, maybe there'll always be replaceable memory cards, unless wireless comes to be able to transmit at, say, 100MBytes per second, when it could make sense to offload the weight and power usage of the storage and display, and perhaps some of the controls, from the camera to a PDA-type accessory.

No-card camera sounds like a great idea. The card reader and circuitry does take up some space and cost, and I - and a lot of people, I suspect - never actually remove the card I have. I have an extra card just in case, but after a year with this camera I have yet to actually use it.

On a related note, I would like to see a DSLR with no monitor on the back; instead have a tiny screen projected into the viewfinder. It'll save on weight and size, and the projected screen can be made to project much larger than the small back screen ever could. And no problem with seeing the screen in sunlight on one hand, or having the back screen light you up at night on the other.

Having memory built in is a nice idea. However, until they circumvent the limited write capability of flash media, it won't be a safe idea for anyone who shoots many images. I suppose they could use memory akin to microdrives, but speed then becomes an issue (supposedly).

In point and shoots geared towards casual users, it may make sense.

"Ironically, a black-and-white negative, as long as it's on a stable substrate, is a VERY good long-term storage medium."

Yes. Except if there's flood or fire. A friend of mine lost hundreds of thousands of negatives in a fire. Digital files can be duplicated and sent elsewhere. (Sure, storage media may fail or become obsolete, that's an issue.)

Flash memory has a limited number of write cycles. That is, you can only store data to it a limited number of times. So for heavy use a built-in card probably isn't a good idea.

There were (are?) some point-n-shoot cameras that have both built in basic memory and a card slot for expanded memory, but I have no idea which brands/models they were.

For my uses, internal memory would be a hindrance. First, the throughput speed of direct camera downloads is agonizingly slow compared to a firewire or USB reader. Second, I often need more than one card. Third, and arguably most important, with technology at it's current point, large internal storage cards would need to be micro-drives rather that static memory. And, as I can attest from my days shooting with 160mb Viper cards, those small drives are fragile. I have more than one that sounds suspiciously like a castanet.

I'm not sure what could go wrong with a flash card that's just been written to and not touched again. It's the number of write [i]cycles[/i] that's a problem.

As far as flash being built in, that's already happening:


That screen on the D3, D300 and A700 is not as unique as you might think, it's basically just like this same screen reduced in size a little. I've handled the camera before at the local Sony Style store here, and it's quite hefty and nice, but it's clearly not a "camera" at all. The entire "camera" is little more than a screen + 2GB of flash with a lens and sensor attached (almost) as an afterthought. However, I think Sony is very clever with this concept. There is clearly some market for a device like this. By leveraging a whole bunch of diseparate technologies that they've already spent the R&D on, they are free to experiment to find out what they can charge.

Interesting comments about limited number of write cycles on Flash cards. Never seen anything written about that in the usual photographic sources. Would be good for an article....

Noooo!!! I'm against locking people in with built-in memory! Look at the Nikon D70. Getting a bit long in the tooth, but still a perfectly good and viable camera. When it was introduced, a 1 gig card was considered HUGE. If that had been built in (in fact it would more likely have been a 512 MB built-in) then those people still using D70s would be stuck with tiny memories now. No good on an extended shoot or a two week holiday. Also, what about have choice of transfer speeds and other options? (E.g., I use a SanDisk SD plus, which converts to a USB reader. That means I can pop out my card and load the images onto any computer, anywhere, any time. No drivers or cables needed.)

So now we have 16 GB. That's at the extreme end now, so built-ins would probably have 4 GB max. What's 4 GB going to look like two years from now?

Built-in memory would only be acceptable if it were upgradable. But that's what we have now, with removable memory cards!

apple generally builds in memory for the same reason they build the battery in -- cost. replaceable batteries and memory slots cost money, not to mention the moving parts for the slot, cover, latch, etc...

also, since the li-ion batteries in the ipod die after 2 years or so anyway, so build in memory isn't too much of an impediment.

I guess it all comes back to how long you keep your camera-- if dslr's are now disposable goods and not durable, then build in the memory AND use wireless connectivity-- its less slots to weather seal.

About flash memory not being stable, see this article:


Dear Mike,

Short term, seems unlikely for cost reasons-- profit margins on too many of these cameras are razor thin. That's why they don't come with even a minimally-workable amount of built-in memory (like, say, 64meg), just enough to make sure the camera is functioning.

Long term is a lot more interesting. Depending upon where image file size plateaus (and it WILL plateau), you hit a point 10-20 years down the line where it's economically and technically worthwhile for a camera-maker to build a camera-lifetime's worth of storage into the camera. No kidding. 100,000+ photos in-camera.

(and greater-than-gigabit wireless will be the standard I/O, also for economic reasons)

Not sure whether this is a good idea. On the plus side, simplicity and high reliability. On the minus side, people keeping all their eggs in one loseable/breakable basket. Way too difficult to figure out digital consumer habits circa 2020.

But it's a startling concept-- "film" (digital or otherwise) no longer being something you buy because it's inherently part of a "camera."

pax / Ctein

You want built-in memory ? Stick a 4gb card into its slot and glue the door shut. Bingo !

Now when you go on a long trip you'll have to lug some sort of separate storage device to download the camera to.

Now when you are out in the field snapping all those pictures of little green men from space and the built-in memory fills up, whoops, hold it guys, have to download my camera.

I suspect that if cameras always came with built in memory and Canon came up with the concept of CF cards we'd all be oohhing and aahhing over them

A while ago a German computer & tech magazine tested the claim that flash memory has limited write cycles. For days on end they bombarded a poor USB stick, then a CF card with data, constantly erasing and re-writing random patterns. All the while they were probing it for errors and verifying the data that had just been written.
After millions of cycles not a single media that they tested failed. Not a single chip controller had to blank out a sector, because it had become unusable.

So there goes your "limited write cycle" myth. I really wonder why the flash memory industry hasn't done more of these tests themselves - the myth is hard to beat!


More and more, I travel to remote locations to shoot. Remote means that there are no facilities available to replace or repair camera gear for hundreds of miles. When going to these places, weight is also a serious issue, so I take multiple storage devices as backup instead of a laptop and extra hard drive. If I had a choice, I wouldn't buy a camera with built-in storage even if it were guaranteed by the manufacturer. (If I had to change brands, I would do it.) I buy 2GB cards for the same reason. If one fails, I've lost - at most - 98 photographs. If storage fails in the camera, I've lost the photographs and the camera, which then becomes an expensive doorstop that must be schlepped around until it can be repaired.

No way, no how.

First i find an in-camera hd the worst thing. hds are fragile and prone to fail. bad bad idea.

Second, one thing to consider: my 4 year old Olympus C5050 is a mulitple times faster with new 2GB extreme III than with an old card. so this thingy was opened up for future development. well, most manufacturers suck in this regard too...

And third, what is now considered as plenty of memory, is puny in 2 years from now. my 5050 would have used 512 MB then. I have way more fun with 2 GB now. Forget about built in memory.

Last month, I bought a 2gb Extreme III card for £16.99, sold the software that came with for £5, which brings my memory cost down to £6/$12 per gigabyte... Happy days!

Sinar/Jenoptik's eMotion digital backs come with built-in RAM for speedy image capture and then can move the images to CF cards to make room for more. I've encountered nothing but praise for this feature.

…no one think its just more handy to pull off the card from the camera and put in in a card reader that stays stuck to the puter than having to plug the camera to the puter ?

i think its not even as safe

PS. where is the zeiss ikon review ?

John Banister:
All dSLRs come with such RAM--only they call it buffer space.

Fred W:
I'm a little bit curious about the details of that flash trial, do you happen to have a link?

I'll weigh in with another comment: if anything I'm in favor of MORE interchangability not less. We should be able to choose the memory card that we feel is most appropriate, just as we chose the lens in the case of cameras that let you do that.

I would also like to see interchangable SENSORS (although I realize that would require a huge technological leap towards some kind of standardization) as well as interchangable FIRMWARE.

I'm for both: onboard camera memory and memory cards.

Flash memory is divided into blocks, each block can be written to anywhere between 100,000 to a million times.

Now, assuming every time you go for a photo shoot you fill the entire card, you'll need at least 100,000 of those before the card will be at its limit.
If you fill the card to half capacity, you'll need 200K photo shoots to achieve the same.

All flash cards have algorithms to spread the writes across the blocks in a way that maximizes the life time of the block.

Now, with most cameras I suspect that you'll need to replace the shutter (i.e. the camera) before that ever happens.

I just won a Sony compact in a competition (dumb prize for a photographer). There is a pathetic amount of built in memory, 32 mb I think. What's the point? It The camera crams 8+ megapixels into a tiny machine, but 32mb memory? It also crams a massive amount of low level noise into the machine.

Built-in flash memory can be a real hassle to deal with if it develops problems. Especially when it's on Mars: http://marsrovers.nasa.gov/newsroom/pressreleases/20040124a.html

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