Camera makers unveil new media format

Photo giants Olympus and Fuji Photo Film announce a new removable media format despite analyst concerns that camera buyers already have to deal with too many storage choices.

Digital camera makers Olympus and Fuji Photo Film announced a new removable media format Tuesday, despite analyst concerns that camera buyers already have to deal with too many storage choices.

The new xD-Picture Card will be less than an inch square and will be capable of storage capacities of up to 8GB.

The new format is seen as a replacement for SmartMedia, a storage format that Olympus and Fuji, along with memory makers Toshiba and Samsung, have championed. SmartMedia cards have waned in popularity in the past year, as smaller, faster options such as Secure Digital proliferated. SmartMedia cards rank No. 3 in the market for removable flash memory cards, estimated to reach $1.7 billion worldwide this year, said Alan Niebel, an analyst for research firm Web-Feet Research.

"The momentum has shifted to Secure Digital and (Sony's) Memory Stick, and Compact Flash continues to be strong," Niebel said.

Fuji and Olympus said in a statement that the companies will continue to produce SmartMedia products, however, and will remain members of the SSFDC Forum, the organization that maintains the SmartMedia standard.

Fuji and Olympus will begin selling cameras with xD-Picture Card this fall, along with Fuji-branded cards in 16MB, 32MB, 64MB and 128MB capacities. Adapters that allow the cards to work in PC card and Compact Flash slots will also be available.

Advantages of the new format include its compact size and significantly faster data transfer speeds. A card with capacity of 64MB or higher can record data at 3MB per second, according to Fuji, six times faster than a comparable SmartMedia card.

However, Niebel said the companies will have a tough time getting the market to accept a new media format.

"The market is actually going in the other direction, where it needs to reduce the number of formats," he said. "This just brings another level of complexity for the consumer."

Sony, through aggressive marketing and its dominant position in consumer electronics, has been able to broaden the market for its Memory Stick. But proprietary storage formats generally have a bad track record, Niebel said, pointing to failures such as Iomega's Clik disks.

"To be honest, Fuji and Olympus don't have the clout to make this catch on," he said. "It's going to be a very niche market."