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Thursday, 08 January 2009


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Remember that movie from a few years ago where the character played by Robin Williams would watch the entirety of a person's life as viewed by that person, as if a lifelong videocam was placed behind their eyeballs.

Won't be long now.

How many SDXC cards can fit into a jeans pocket? 20? So you can walk around with two thousand HD movies or 340 thousand images in your pocket. What if you drop one and it falls in the gutter? Oh well... there goes 17000 pictures.

And then it gets accidentally dropped in the waste disposal or over a cliff fumbling with the camera and your life's memories disappear with it.

For stills photography, I really don't see the attraction of really large storage units like this. The chance of total loss increases dramatically. HD video, now that's a different story.


When I wrote "personal devices" my mind was focused on recording devices (still and video cameras). Obviously, even the upper limits of these card capacities would work well in any type of personal media playback device.

I Think everyone so far is looking a this the wrong way. Now we might actually get some cheap reliable storage.


Interesting but ever since I've had a CF card failure I limit my cards up to 4GB for the moment (My 5D2 will push me to 8GB eventually). I don't mind carrying a few cards with me and I feel safer should I get another problem. I was able to recover most photos but it took lots of time and never mind the anxiety!
I agree with Martin Doonan about HD video needs being different.

The obvious market for these are solid state, HD video cameras. However, at 104MB/s you could easily replace your laptop's hard drive with an SDXC card (or 2 or 3 or 4...) that is faster, lower power consumption and much more rugged. I've been waiting a long time for magnetic storage to be rendered obsolete and this puts us one step closer.

Uses will be found...I remember a music freak I met in the Mideast only ten years ago (or so), traveling with a special compact-disk bag and a Sony CD player. With everything loaded, the bag was the size of a large briefcase. Now, you could have more music on an iPod Nano.

I have several hundred DVDs at home; they take up a bookcase. If they were downloaded onto one of these cards, they'd take up the space of a matchbook. You could sell one of these things loaded with all the paintings of the Louvre, in hi-res, to look at in your home at your leisure...& etc.

If I were a software engineer, I'd start studying indexing programs.


If I were carrying my "life's memories", the only copy, on a card I was fumbling with in my camera while standing near a cliff, I'd deserve whatever happened to me.

If huge storage is cheap, the smart way to use it is to *replicate* your data. One copy in my pocket if I want, sure; but another copy at home, and a copy at my mother's, and a copy in the drawer at work.

And I don't imagine the terabyte cards will be all that cheap yet *this* year :-).

As you say, HD video people will be mighty pleased to have bigger cards available.

I don't anticipate any great increase in still image size (not 10x); limitations of the human eye, and limitations of lenses (which limits cropping), are lurking out there not all that far away. It might happen despite not making sense, or it might happen for complex reasons (modest increase of resolution *and* 32 bits of data for each pixel, say), or I might be completely wrong; maybe there really ARE common uses for 200 megapixel images.

Very impressive, but, seriously, I don't think these will affect my "lifestyle" at all. I'm not even sure I have a "digital lifestyle." Gotta love those copywriters.

Oh good, now we can have that 500 megapixel full frame camera that takes 1 gig images, and not have to worry about storage space.

What's with these knee-jerk reactions to the inevitable increases in storage capacity? I can just image you back in the eighties: "Why would you need 20MB on one disk? What if it fails? I'll just stick to my 1.44MB thanks."

We are at an interim point in technological history when people even pay attention to file sizes. Soon storage will be ubiquitous and we will fail to notice data persistence at all.

Consider also that a large card and card reader might make a good alternative to a portable hard drive for backups when traveling.

I would guess that the upper end of this storage spectrum will have nothing to do with personal devices. It will be storage for personal computers and servers. These cards will be used in "RAID" arrays and put an end to mechanical disk drives.

Even with HD video, who in their right mind would commit 60 hours to a single (point of failure) storage item.

Clearly the flash memory industry is seeing a potential gold rush in new (old) home movie market. Now in glorious high-definition!

Two terabytes?????!!!!! This is more than a game changer. It's a world changer. I have Western Digital "My Book" external hard drives that are 1 terabyte each. This tiny card blows them away for permanent storage and doesn't require electricity to run them.

Such a quantum leap forward it boggles the mind.

We'll be the best documented generation of nobodies to have ever walked the Earth. Ain't that something??

To follow-on/agree with DDB above -- cheap small mass storage means you can more easily fulfill the most basic element of a backup, which is that the backup is somewhere else.

The hard part is cheap.

Last time I bought some, six months ago, 8 GB SDHC cards were about 30 CAD. Around that same time, 500 GB hard drives were 80 CAD. So 3.75 dollars/GB versus 0.16 dollars/GB; the price difference is a factor of about 25. (23.4, with the actual numbers I've got. Anyone else remember when 1 USD/MB was a big deal and a mighty milestone?)

At 3 bucks per GB, a terabyte is three thousand dollars. Getting that down to three hundred dollars, a whole order of magnitude, is not going to happen as quickly as everyone would like. Thirty bucks, where the "I have my life's work in my pocket" scenario starts to make sense, is two whole orders of magnitude; I'm not at all sure they can do that in the existing SD form factor.

The standard looks a bit like IPv6, where every cubic millimeter of 300 earths could have its own IP address; the folks who wrote the standard have experienced serious pain from a choke point in the previous standard, and are determined on never having that particular learning experience again.

A couple of points. One: the 17,000 fine grade photos quoted for a 2 TB card assumes individual file sizes of around 117MB. I'm have no idea what kind of camera produces those files. Using RAW images from a 10MP camera with files of roughly 10MB in size, you could potentially take 200,000 images before filling up the card.* Kinda makes a roll of 36 exposure film seem pathetic.

The second point is that in my experience with computers, no matter how much storage space increases, there will always be a way to fill up that storage space. (A computer teacher I knew in 1997 confidently stated that a 2 GB hard drive ought to be big enough for most people. He literally couldn't imagine how anyone would surpass that capacity with the applications people normally used. This was just a couple years before consumers widely embraced digital video, digital cameras, and mp3 files.)

Third bonus point: by the time SD cards get up to 2 TB, I'd imagine that hard drives will routinely be in the 500TB range. So 117MB image files from a consumer camera at that point is probably likely.

*assuming I haven't made an mathematical error which is always likely.

There'll still be trillions or , soon, quadrillions of photos in storage which will never be seen- without good indexing any system is less than useful. My mind is boggling. Or maybe googling. Still, 80% of the Earth's population has never used a computer. "We'll all be rooned, said Hanrahan...." (classic Australian Bush poem worth reading in current climate. )


Hmmm. If 2TB SDXC cards could be made cheaply enough -- and just think how much cheaper memory cards are now than when you bought your first one -- they could become the new backup medium. Just imagine the offsite storage possibilities: a handful in your garage, a handful in your glove compartment, a handful at your in-laws', several handfuls on location -- well, you get the idea.

With that kind of capacity, having SDXC cards for still photography makes no sense; just put one embbebed within the camera and forget using cards anymore; just plug the camera to the PC to transfer and delete pictures. The ability to keep pictures of this memory could be higher than the shutter life.

Dear folks,

I think some people are misreading the press release. This is merely a specification, not a product announcement. While it says that 100 MB per second read speeds will be available this year, I am pretty sure it's not saying the 2 TB cards will be available this year. (another comma would've helped make this clearer to readers) All this is doing is establishing that there is now a standard for building them when the time (and cost-effective technology) comes to do so.

I'm in agreement with DDB in terms of file sizes for conventional photography. The most I can see showing up in ordinary cameras (and there are good reasons for it to reach this point, which I've made in previous threads) is 80 megapixels, and at two bytes per pixel that's 160 MB. There's really no point to pushing beyond that.

But... that assumes conventional photography as we know it. I can immediately think of two nonconventional but desirable (to most photographers,which includes all the amateurs out there, even if not to individual readers here) approaches.

One is "computational photography" as discussed and demonstrated by Adobe, which involves capturing many high resolution images simultaneously from slightly different vantage points and constructing the final photograph from those. Another is a final merging of video and still, where pressing the button on the camera (in the appropriate mode) starts capturing 30 full-resolution photographs per second for as long as you hold the button down. So if you want to catch that decisive moment, you start photographing shortly before you think it's going to happen and let your finger up shortly after it happens, and then you pick the frame out later. I know, anathema to many purists. But there are far more people out there who would love it than there are purists.

All of this sounds truly profligate and wasteful in terms of storage, but it all depends on how much storage you have! These days, frequently, I'm setting my S100fs on auto-exposure bracket and just capturing three frames of anything I photograph. Doesn't really make any difference in terms of my photography; I simply get to do the histogram "chimping" later at my leisure instead of on the spot. And I'm eating up 65 MB just to make one photograph. But, hey, I'm still fitting over 60 photographs on a single 4 GB card that cost me nearly nothing (after rebates).

10 years ago I'd have considered this incredibly wasteful. Now it's merely utilitarian.

Oh, and by the way, John Camp nailed the big picture perfectly.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

That was to be expected, wasn't it? Remember Zip-discs? Not that long ago they were the most amazing thing because with 100 mb they had many times the space of a floppy disc. Now my usb-stick has more space by an ever bigger factor. That's something that will keep happening. And the prices always go down.

It will take some time, but at some point these cards will be cheap enough to have several around as storage. I'm looking forward to that, not having to drag harddrives around and having it easier with doing backups – but also owning many and spreading them around for safety. I've had a few SD-cards terminally fail on me (no CF yet) and I don't think I'd ever rely on one single card to be safe. Certainly not for a lifetime of memories.

I also think there'll be ways to fill all that new storage up. Technology keeps pushing boundaries, and now a certain size-limit is being pushed exponentially – so some kind of application will pop up to fill all that room. Also, data has a habit of growing, and without the external need to keep it limited we as users will be less and less likely to edit or throw out anything we produce.

Soon we'll be able to create a continuous video in HD, 3D, dolby surround, what have you, of our whole life – just who'll be wanting to spend theirs watching it is a different question.

Interesting - OK, amazing - development, but one of my New Year's resolutions was to be much more attentive to my "analog lifestyle" than to any "digital" one.

Imagine the possibility of getting all the porn ever made in a handful of these puppies. Yeah...imagine...

The tipping point will be, I think, when flash memory is cheaper (or comparable) per gigabyte than magnetic disk memory.

Might be some time before we get there...

"There'll still be trillions or , soon, quadrillions of photos in storage which will never be seen"

Bruce, you might add, "and should never have been taken in the first place".

Regarding image/file sizes. I have been thinking that with HDR and multi-focal imaging possible, the only thing preventing designing a camera that simultaneously captured a range of exposures and focus points and combining them into a 'all encompassing' photo is buffer size, transfer speed and memory. Looks like this makes the concept feasible. Or, 100+ exposures/second continuous frames.

Select your exposure range, focus or even focal length at leisure.

Look, until I get the personal jetpack I was promised back in the '60s, I'm believing nuthin' till I see it.

Fill a 2TB card and then get your shutter serviced....

I don't get it. Why does everybody get so exited about another new specification for SD cards, which will render all our actual cards readers, digital cameras and other electronic devices obsolete?

They already did it a few years ago with the SDHC specification. A new standard is never a good thing. It reminds me of the compatibility problems with the SmartMedia/xD Cards so dear to Olympus and Fuji. There is no issue with Compact Flash cards. The only problem is that there aren't many cameras taking Compact Flash nowadays...



Abbazz - There most certainly is a problem with Compact Flash - size. It's entirely too large for many devices that could make use of it (think MP3 players, phones, and ultra compact cameras). And even in larger devices, the space could be better used in the future to get more features and circuitry in. The only advantage to CF over SD that I can see is that CF is slightly easier to hold, which actually isn't very important to most people, I wouldn't think.

"You could sell one of these things loaded with all the paintings of the Louvre, in hi-res..."

Of course there are ways to make hi-res scans of paintings consume insane amounts of storage:


Not sure even 2TB would get us many of those hi-resolution 3D scans!

Dear Abbazz,

In what way does this render your existing devices obsolete?! Anything that currently uses SD cards will still be able to use SD cards (and they are still being made and sold in profusion) and anything that uses SDHC cards, the same.

A new specification has in no way obsoleted that equipment anymore than the existence of hardware and software specifications for high-capacity hard drives obsolete old machines that can't access that much memory.

There are extremely good reasons for not making a specification that works forever: it makes the equipment more expensive and less efficient, and with improving technology it may turn out that your long-term design isn't even the best one.

And, by the way, tell me where in the CF standard it specifies that it can support 300 MB data rates and 2 TB storage spaces? I bet you a bagel that if you go look at that specification, you'll find it has walls, too. You just haven't hit them yet.

No one's going to be making you use these new cards. Stop griping.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

This was an interesting topic to see here, right after I went to MacWorld Expo. A show that had little of interest for photographers (other than the modest fact that the NEC monitors keep getting better and cheaper; they are really starting to look like some of the best price/performance deals on the market).

The only trend I saw that was interesting was that storage devices continue to outpace every other aspect of computer electronics out, as they have for the past 25 years. Home hard drive boxes are now coming in 16 TB sizes. Imagine! We're not talking about equipment for AV professionals... or even hobbyists. This is just for handling the usual entertainment (it's not a digital versus analog lifestyle; it's all just music and pictures). They are not inexpensive, but the prices are entirely in line with what people pay for very good audio and video equipment for their homes.

But, 16 TB? In casual home use? Astonishing!

The other noteworthy highwater item were PROFESSIONAL arrays from Western Digital with a sustained output of 1.5 GB per second and burst rates of 4 GB per second.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Someone asked if anyone remembers when $1/meg was a big deal. I missed that, but I *do* recall when computer memory broke through the $100/meg barrier and it made the front pages of the computer press.

Dear Ctein,

Let me quote the Wikipedia article about SD cards:

"The format has proven to be very popular. However, a change in the format, while allowing capacities greater than 4 GB (SDHC), has created compatibility issues with older devices which cannot read the new format. Since SDHC format cards have the same physical shape and form factor as the older format, this has caused considerable confusion for consumers. SDHC cards require an SDHC capable device firmware, generally not found with older devices".

I have a number of digital cameras and card readers that are not compatible with SDHC cards. The first time I tried to put an SDHC card into an old incompatible card reader, I thought my card had been damaged, which it was of course not.

I am afraid the new SDXC standard will add to the confusion.

The thing that I loved the most about the Compact Flash standard is that my newest 16GB card works like a charm in the old Sandisk reader that I bought with my first 4MB card. I am aware that the current 4.1 CF specification is somewhat limited (133MB/sec data rate and 137GB capacity); so the old CF card is doomed, its successor, the newly announced CFast card, being incompatible...

Regarding CF cards being bigger than SD cards, this is not really an issue. Cameras using SD cards are not necessarily smaller than the ones using CF cards. Just like the Olympus XA (a rangefinder camera using standard 35mm film) was smaller than most Kodak 110 cameras, despite the latter's much smaller frame size.

I know that nobody forces me to buy the new cards. What I am griping about is that they force me to buy the new camera and the new card reader if I want to be able to use the new card. I am also griping about the lack of vision of the engineers who launched the SDHC standard in 2006 to allow for new high capacity cards, and who are now promoting a new partially incompatible standard for the very same reason. Or maybe it's the marketing department which is behind this move?



Abbazz -

"Regarding CF cards being bigger than SD cards, this is not really an issue."

It most certainly is. I think you are only thinking of your particular uses. Think about devices that are intended to be as small as possible; Perhaps a nearly credit card thin pocket cam. SD is certainly an advantage in these cases, and I think this is where we may be heading. (Of course, if memory gets big and cheap enough, built-in memory may make removable cards obsolete, but that's a separate issue.)

Using an example of what are both fairly large devices doesn't mean the engineers creating new devices wouldn't like to save space everywhere they can....small, light, and thin sells.

As for the other points, I believe Ctein said it already - making new standards so that old devices are forward compatible is very foolish from an engineering and economic standpoint. That may not take the sting out of having to buy new things, but it's the real reason. It isn't done just to force you to spend more money. It's done to stay competitive and provide the best products.

Dear Abbazz,

Well, I'm glad you dropped the word "obsolete." I get very tired seeing people constantly misapply it whenever there's a technological advance. To quote my favorite line from The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Now, I'll bite at your bait.. what camera do you have and what kind of photography are you doing where capacities of 32 GB/card and data rates of 30 MB/sec are insufficient?! Seriously. IMWTK.

pax / Ctein

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