by Ian Burley
How useful are the latest ultra high-speed memory cards?
UPDATE, 11th November 2007, some E-3 test results added
Last week Olympus released firmware upgrades for the relatively new E-410 and E-510 DSLR models, up from Version 1.0 to 1.1. The only reason given for the upgrade was to correct an issue with writing to high speed memory cards. I can't really say that either our own E-410 or E-510 samples have exhibited any problems in this respect and I have used SanDisk Extreme III and IV plus Lexar Pro 133x and 300x UDMA cards.
Co-incidentally, I have noticed some requests for information about the value of using latest generation of 266x and 300x high speed cards, so I decided to run some timings. For the first time, while running long continuous shooting sequence tests, I experienced one card-writing error with the E-510. It's likely that the last frame in the sequence was lost, though as I wasn't shooting different scenes, I can't be sure. This was before I had upgraded the E-510's firmware to version 1.1. After upgrading, the error was not experienced again.
Faster memory system
An immediate impression is that the E-510 has a significantly faster memory system compared to previous-generation E-system models. I haven't tested the E-410 yet, but I believe the E-410's memory system is similar to the E-510's. In highest-resolution, SHQ picture quality mode, the E-510 is able to sustain an unlimited continuous shooting rate of 3 frames per second (fps) with good quality 133x compact flash cards. xD cards were not tested, but I doubt that this high level of performance is possible with xD media, even the high-speed rated types.
In a similar SHQ picture mode, an E-400 was only able to sustain a long continuous shooting rate at 1.4 fps. The E-510 (and the E-410) at last enjoy the performance benefit of a USB 2.0 High speed port and the older E-400's pedestrian 0.6MB/sec picture transfer rate is eclipsed by the E-510 which, when USB-tethered, can send picture data at over 4MB/sec. However, at over 10MB/sec, you'd still be better off using a good quality external card reader with 133x cards. In RAW mode, the E-510 can shoot up to 11 frames at 3fps burst mode compared to just 5 with the E-400.
No in-camera UDMA support yet
What is crystal clear is that the E-510 does not support UDMA, so the core benefits of the Lexar Pro 300x UDMA are not realised. To be honest, hardly any cameras support UDMA yet. The only reasons for investing in a UDMA card if you are an E-510 or E-410 user are for future-proofing and if you want extra fast transfers using high-speed card readers. You could see transfer rates of up to 40MB/sec if you have a UDMA card reader and a FireWire 800 port on your PC. That would see a full 8GB card emptied in three an a half minutes compared with over half an hour if you transferred direct from the camera.
See the test results
On page two of this article you will find test result tables for selected high speed memory cards used with an E-510, with some measurements made with version 1.0 firmware and others after upgrading to version 1.1. Also included are some comparisons with the performance of an E-400.
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High-speed memory cards tested with the latest Olympus E-Series DSLRs
Four Thirds User editorial team High-speed memory cards tested with the latest Olympus E-Series DSLRs
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