Cameras may be sexier, but we're equally beholden to the devices that let us store, work with, display, and share our digital images. This year we note several trends in storage technology: Memory cards have doubled in both speed and capacity; hard drives are cheaper, with new ways of connecting to computers and entertainment devices; portable hard drives have become tougher and more communicative; and pocketable flash drives are cleverer and more playful. Traditional card-reading storage viewers have become further refined, while multimedia devices are proving increasingly valuable to photographers. Professional technologies like RAID and drive networking are being pitched to non-pros. Another new technology, the Blu-ray writable disc format, gives optical media a huge boost in storage size. All of which makes for a brave new world in digital imaging.
STORAGE PRODUCT OF THE YEAR: LEXAR PROFESSIONAL UDMA COMPACTFLASH CARDS
As the resolution of digital cameras increases, so does the size of the image files they produce. This means your memory card's data transfer rate must be fast enough both for fluid shooting and for speedy upload of large numbers of high-res photographs to your computer. As of this writing, the fastest cards on the market are these new Lexars, available in 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB versions. They use the same Ultra Direct Memory Access (UDMA) data transfer protocol as the latest generation of fast hard drives, permitting a top 300X speed equivalent to 45 megabytes-per-second.
That's at least 12 percent swifter than the fastest competing cards, and 125 percent better than Lexar's own 20MB/second offerings, including the new 133X Lexar Professional 4GB SDHC. The only catch is that to realize the UDMA cards' full shooting potential you'll need a UDMA-enabled camera (Lexar says several will be announced later this year), and to realize their top upload speed you'll need Lexar's own Professional UDMA card readers, available now. The new cards come bundled with Lexar Image Rescue software (for file recovery), Lexar Backup N Sync (for managing your collections), and Corel Paint Shop Pro X (for advanced photo editing). About $65 (2GB), $120 (4GB), and $220 (8GB).