Which memory card is better, a compact flash or a an SD card?

We have compiled a list of the TOP50 questions that we hear on our workshops. From gear, to settings, to composition, and shooting styles, we have decided to post three questions and answers a week till we get through them all.

We hope they answer some of the questions that you may have. Here is todays question.

Question: Which memory card is better, a compact flash or a an SD card?

Answer: Lets first look at what both the cards actually are.

CompactFlash (CF Cards) was first produced in 1994 by the SanDisk company and quickly became the go-to portable mass data storage device. CompactFlash cards are physically a little bit larger than other formats and are still one of the most reliable mass data storage units in the market.

CompactFlash are now the preferred memory card for professional videographers using digital video cameras.

Secure Digital memory cards (SD Cards) are used in just about every type of portable device available, from digital still cameras, video cameras/camcorders, tablets, to cell phones and smartphones. Since being designed and distributed by the SD Card Association in 1999, the number and styles and manufacturers of SD cards have exploded.

Secure Digital memory cards are significantly smaller than CompactFlash cards, and are equipped with a nine-pin interface as compared to the 50-pin interface of the CompactFlash. The result of having fewer interface pins means that the SD cards are limited to a four-bit data bus, whereas CompactFlash cards have a 16-bit data transfer bus.

While this sounds like it would make CompactFlash cards the better choice because the Secure Digital cards’ transfer speed slower, in reality, and here is the answer to the question, the difference really is negligible due to advances in digital camera technology.

But the question runs deeper…

Your camera really decides which memory card you have to buy… So the question that I think is more relevant is writing speed of the cards.

For me, because I shoot in RAW, and a lot of times shooting in burst mode, I look for cards that write the fastest so that the processor in my camera does not buffer and write the images while the action is happening in front of my lens.

The reality is that the faster the speed of the card, the more money coming out of your bank account. But regardless of the money, this is my job, and within reason, money isn't my first deciding factor. For me, here is my memory card of choice… For a SD card it is the 32 GB SanDisk Extreme PRO Plus and for Compact Flash card it is the 32GB Lexar Professional 3400x CFast 2.0 card

If you have any further comments, please add them to the comments section below. The more feedback and ideas the better.

Thanks for reading,



Kevin A Pepper

Kevin is a photographer and educator based in Waterloo, Ontario. His first love is photographing nature, regardless of the season or weather condition; the Ontario landscape and its wildlife are his inspiration. But you will also see other styles of photography in his portfolio. From street photography to urban exploration of abandoned buildings and architecture, he loves to capture it all with his camera for his corporate clients and his growing personal portfolio. Kevin’s images have been featured in Canadian Nature Photographer, PHOTONews Canada, Photo Technique Magazine, The London Free Press, The Weather Network, and National Geographic Online. His diverse client list includes the City of Cambridge, Olympus, GORE Mutual, TVO, and African Lion Safari. Kevin also operates “Northof49 Photography”, a company launched in 2012 dedicated to teaching amateur photographers through International and Canadian-based workshops. In the coming year, Kevin will be leading workshops in Iceland, Mongolia, Tanzania, Venezuela, Provence, and numerous destinations across Canada. Website: www.kevinpepperphotography.com