Memory cards can be a hot topic among photographers with many staying loyal to one brand whilst others will buy whatever is available. What is for certain though is that it is often a case of 'you get what you pay for'. Prices for the same capacity memory card can vary wildly with differences of over £20 between the cheapest and most expensive, a difference so large than often you can buy 2 cheap memory cards for the price of one expensive one. Often you will read reports of cheap memory cards either being so much slower or unreliable with high failure rates compared to their more expensive counter parts but is that always the case?
I personally have always used Sandisk memory cards and the only time I bought a non Sandisk card, a Jessops own branded card which I bought in an emergency, it failed on me on the day of purchase. The reason why I've always stuck with Sandisk is because I have never had a Sandisk card fail on me and have always found their performance to be exemplory and compared to other leading brands such as Lexar they are often the cheapest too.
However for our holiday this year we are returning to the Lake District which we last visited in 2005 and where I shot hundreds and hundreds of photos. As I expect to shoot the same amount or more I wanted to invest in a few more memory cards and so again looked at the Sandisk range. I currently use the Sandisk Extreme III 4GB cards but not the new UDMA cards that can read/write at 30MB/Second but the older 20MB ones. The reason for this is that my camera, the Canon EOS 30D, cannot make use of UDMA and so a UDMA card would default to 20MB/Second anyway and as the UDMA cards are considerably more expensive I would just be throwing money away by buying them. So I was looking for an 20MB/Second Sandisk Extreme III card but this time I wanted an 8GB card which is the maximum size card that my camera supports but the cheapest price I could find for one of these at the time of writing was £44.99 from Play.com. Considering the fact that I wanted to buy at least two cards this was going to prove far too expensive for me so I started to look at cheaper cards.
It was then that I came across the Kingston Elite Pro card. I could buy an 8GB one of these for just £14.99 from 7dayshop.com so I could buy three of these to one Sandisk card but were they any good? This is how the cards compare:
The cards are basically identical so why are Sandisk so much more expensive? Are they more reliable or are they faster?
In terms of reliablity there is no doubt that Sandisk are highly reliable cards but then Kingston are already very well established and respected manufacturers of computer RAM and in searching the Internet it appears as though their memory cards are at least as reliable as Sandisks are. So they must be faster then?
The only way to test this was to buy them so I ordered myself two cards and then did side by side tests comparing them to my existing Sandisk Extreme III cards. The single most important test, for me, is the write speed in the camera so I did a series of tests where I fired off several shots in RAW until the cameras buffer was full and then timed how quickly the buffer emptied. I repeated this test 5x for each card, these are my results:
Both cards have identical timings and take, as near as anything, 12 seconds to completely empty the buffer of RAW files. Therefore I cannot see any reason why the Sandisk cards should be three times more expensive and can only put this down to 'paying for the name'. Until I have a problem with Kingston memory cards, which I seriously don't expect to have, I will now always buy Kingston cards. You simply can't beat that price!