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Cameras

Crave Talk: 32GB SDHC to kill CompactFlash?

With the Panasonic 32GB SDHC card on the way and a 16GB card bundled with Panasonic's DMC L-10 dSLR, we take a look at the exciting world of memory and consider which formats are on the way out

Memories are made of... what? Memory needs to be reliable yet invisible, and it's never glamorous. Seagate got it right when naming a 60GB drive 'DAVE'. Today we're interested in memory on the move: cards for cameras, camcorders and MP3 players. We first saw Panasonic's RP-SDV32GU1K -- also known as the 32GB SDHC card -- at CES this year. It will be available in April 2008, and we're hoping it will be a nail in the coffin of proprietary formats, while CompactFlash's days could be numbered.

Performance-wise, the 32GB Panasonic is a Class 6 speed card, meaning that it will transfer data at a sustained rate of at least 6MB per second. In a classic piece of PR-speak, Panasonic also claims the card will be "equipped with a new user-friendly labelling feature", which means they've bunged a sticker on the front and you can write on it -- presumably magnifying glass and tiny pen are sold separately.

With a suggested retail price of $699 (about £350 -- gasp!) the 32GB card seems like too much of a good thing for photographers, even those shooting raw and JPEGs simultaneously while bracketing all their shots on full resolution. Even with that kind of belt-and-braces, snapping on an 8- or 10-megapixel dSLR you can still get more than 100 shots on a 4GB card, available now for less than £20.

Where the 32GB card may come into its own is in video. Panasonic claims it will store up to 12 hours of 1,440x1,080i high-definition video, and four hours of 1080p 'Full HD'. That isn't as much as you get on a hard drive-based camcorder, such as the 100GB Toshiba Gigashot A100 or the forthcoming 120GB Sony HDR-SR12, but it beats disc and tape-based shooters. With memory card slots turning up in more and more devices, the convenience of being able to introduce a newly filled disc to your TV and start watching straightaway will be possible with card as well as disc.

CompactFlash cards can reach 32 and even 64GB, although generally at the expense of transfer speed. Most dSLRs use CompactFlash, but they're physically bigger than SD cards and more expensive. Realising the creeping ubiquity of the SD format, Pentax's new K20D and Samsung's new GX20 support SD and SDHC. Meanwhile, Panasonic is bundling a 16GB Pro High Speed SD Card with new purchases of the DMC-L10, and don't get us started on microSD or Eye-Fi.

CompactFlash is reinventing itself with a new CS format, but as this won't be compatible with existing CF devices, we think it's too little too late. For us, CompactFlash is on the way out: maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon. Of course, that's not a problem for anyone whose existing CF cards won't suddenly stop working. With the xD format also on the ropes -- Fujifilm has added SD support alongside xD in newer cameras -- hopefully Sony's proprietary MemoryStick will be next against the wall. -Rich Trenholm