To XQD Or Not To XQD

What is XQD? For those unfamiliar, digital cameras use a variety of memory cards for storing images. XQD is a slightly obscure memory card type that is used by some high end digital cameras. The XQD memory card format is a high speed memory card that uses PCI Express as a data transfer interface. They’ve been around since 2010, but their popularity has been low due to the cost and availability. But, they are fast. Really fast. Which comes in handy if you have a camera that can take advantage of the higher read/write speeds they offer. As of 2018, only Sony, Nikon and Delkin are the only companies manufacturing XQD memory cards.

I own two cameras that can use the XQD memory card. The 46 megapixel Nikon D850 and the 21 megapixel Nikon D500. Until recently, I’ve been using SD memory cards, which are physically smaller, with slower read/write speeds and much less expensive. I’ve stuck with the SD card interface for many years, as it makes it much simpler to manage the memory cards in my kit, as all of my cameras will use them.

To eek out the highest performance from my cameras, I should be using the XQD cards, as they increase the buffer capacity for long bursts of photos and speed up the transfer of those photos to my computer for post processing. But I’m a penny pincher to put it bluntly. Photography can nickel, dime and dollar you to death with all the side accessories and I never really invested in the more expensive memory cards.

Until recently.

I picked up a single Sony 64 gigabyte XQD card this past month, just to play with and see if I actually got any benefit from using them. The results are still out but here’s where I hope to find improvement. The faster card certainly increases the buffer depth on both Nikon bodies. I can fire off more continuous frames on both cameras, giving me a lot more photographs in long bursts. And, the download (import) times are much faster when I get back to the office. Of particular note, the RAW files being produced by the Nikon D850 are huge. Moving those image files to the computer takes quite a bit of time. If I do a shoot with the D850 and come back with 500-600 photos, it takes a lot of time to download those huge files and process them on the computer. I normally don’t even plan to edit those files until the next day after I’m home, as I set them to process overnight when I can work on them the next day without having to sit around waiting for all the computer processing to complete. The D500 isn’t as problematic as the files are much smaller and take about half the time of the D850, but being able to buffer more shots means that I typically have a lot more photos to process from that camera and thus the time saving is kinda moot. But, the other advantage of the D500 using an XQD memory card is that I can shoot continuously for about 200 frames vs 50 frames using a fast SD card.

There is a newer high speed memory card standard though, the CFexpress B standard. Which is more or less the replacement standard for XQD. The newer camera bodies are now supporting the CFexpress B standard, with some backwards compatibility of the XQD standard. Nikon has issued firmware updates to the D850 and D500 to allow use of the newer CFexpress B cards, but I don’t believe it provides the full speed benefit of the newer format on those cameras. That means, any XQD cards I buy will probably be obsolete sooner rather than later and I’ll end up having to buy CFexpress B cards instead.

So, I’m testing a Sony 64 gigabyte XQD card now. Next I’ll pick up a CFexpress B  card for comparison later this year, compare the price/performance and then decide. In the meantime, I haven’t decided that I need to invest in either type of card long term. If it works the way I think it will work, I’ll probably skip buying more XQD cards and just go with the CFexpress cards.

Oh, and I’ll need new card readers too. My laptop only has a SD slot and I have to keep a card reader with it for the newer types of cards. Nickel, dime and dollar me to death. Photography is expensive.

Here’s a nice comparison of the different memory cards for digital cameras.

Best memory cards for the Nikon D850