Transcend 600x CompactFlash – fast UDMA for the Mark IV

A mini review here of the Transcend 16GB 600x CompactFlash memory card.

I’ve used Transcend cards since about 2002 when I first got into digital photography with the original EOS-1D camera. Through the years I’ve collected a number of their offerings ranging from 512MB, 1GB, 2GB, 8GB and now the 16GB 600x series. During this time I’ve also regularly used Lexar and Sandisk professional CF cards. While this is purely anecdotal, of the three brands, Transcend’s cards have for me been the most problem free. I experienced serious interface problems with Lexar and 1DII camera many years ago, a failed Lexar that Lexar replaced and currently two Sandisk 16GB Extreme III cards that always write properly, but intermittently exhibit communication problems with two different card readers and both of my laptops.

The Canon 1D Mark IV is my first camera with proper UDMA implementation, resulting in very fast buffer clear times with compatible cards. In my opinion, the Transcend 600x cards were the logical choice because the brand was very reliable for me in the past and is consistently very competitively priced against the high end Lexar and Sandisk options. While the Transcend might give up a slight amount of in-camera speed to the other two brands’ top cards, the price more than makes up for it.

RAW 10 fps sequences will quickly hit the Mark IV’s buffer wall. With slower cards such as the Sandisk Extreme IV or the ‘new’ Extreme III I was typically waiting in the range of 20-30 seconds for the full buffer to clear. This can be quite painful when it happens during an extended sequence during a football game, for example. In contrast the Transcend 600x clears the IV buffer in about 7 seconds on average. It means being ready for the next play that much faster, being able to change cards faster after a long sequence and the ability to continue shooting a sequence almost immediately after hitting the buffer wall.

Another advantage of UDMA Mode 6 compliant cards is that they can transfer files to the computer very quickly with the proper UDMA card reader. Unfortunately USB 2 is a bottleneck and to get the best performance it’s necessary to connect either via FireWire 800 or with a CardBus CF reader for those who have laptops with a CardBus slot.

Like all computer memory products, pricing is fairly volatile and tends to go down during the course of the product’s lifespan. As of this writing in mid-November 2010, the 16GB 600x cards are about $75 at B&H. It’s worthwhile keeping an eye on prices if one anticipates a near-future need because like many other memory products, prices tend to fluctuate. Also, due to their apparent popularity, they are sometimes times out of stock at B&H.

One final note about performance: What might work well in a Canon 1D Mark IV may not work as successfully in a different Canon or Nikon camera. If in doubt, buy one card and test it. At least for $75 it’s not a huge gamble compared to paying double for a Lexar or Sandisk. Buying a cheaper 8GB card also won’t necessarily match the performance of a larger capacity, so for testing purposes it’s best to buy one in the size you plan to use most.

Buy Transcend 600x cards at B&H

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