Nowadays, I take a lot of photos in a shoot – probably about 500 at a minimum, but more likely a few thousand if I’m on-site for more than an hour or so. Gig photography mandates this a bit and in the more extreme venues you can end up ‘scattergunning’. As I carry the EOS 5D Mark II and shoot in full RAW it’s inevitable that a shoot will eat up at least a 16GB memory card (probably a lot more) so I need stacks of memory cards for when I’m out on the road and can’t process the photos in a hurry.
Browsing around I happened upon 7dayshop.com. I’ve picked up some cheap flash memory from them in the past (2GB no-name SD cards for the DAB radio and the kids’ cameras) which was fine, so splashed out on a few 32GB Kingston Elite Pro CF cards. The first big shoot after they arrived was Pride London 2010: in previous years I ate up 70GB just shooting JPEG, this year shooting RAW it was going to be utter carnage on the memory side – we’re talking at least 25MB an image here.
(I also bought a Vosonic digital wallet with a 500GB hard disk in it, useful for dumping off photos if I ran out or in case of unexpected issues – I’m quite glad I did that, in hindsight.)
During the course of the day, the Kingston cards performed well. Slow to write but you don’t expect blistering speeds for a penny shy of £60, and the occasional check in review mode showed the images were writing nicely. Simon (who was photographing with me) began running out of CF, and he’d obtained some 16GB Kingston cards so I offered to dump the images onto the Vosonic; we sat down for a quick pint while they copied, the Vosonic chugged through the first few then reported a corruption of the card! Er, what? The images were fine on the back of the camera, we checked again. It was stumbling on one pic so Si deleted it off using the camera, we tried again. It chugged through, then stumbled on a different image. Uh oh. I can’t remember what we did then – probably switched to another card or I lent Si one, I honestly don’t know. Either way, that was the first sign the Kingston cards weren’t up to scratch.
Fast forward to post-shoot when I started dumping images onto my laptop. 32GB of images from one of the Kingston cards and it seemed the computer didn’t recognise it using my USB card-reader – I panicked a little, and connected the camera up directly to the laptop… where it read fine. Phew, but still worrying. I tried it with another reader (I’ve got several card-readers) and all of them exhibited the same behaviour with this particular 32GB card: will read in the camera directly, won’t read on anything else.
One of the 16GB CF cards began showing the same symptoms last week, in the middle of a shoot in Hull. Popped it into the Vosonic where it refused to completely read the card and I ended up using Cardrescue to get the images back. Another pit-of-the-stomach moment, one I can do without.
Since then I’ve done a bit of digging and asking around – three friends are reporting that the cheap Kingston cards cause issues for them, and a discussion on a maillist yielded a link to criticism of Kingston’s MicroSD cards and another FAQ on Kingston CF compatibility. It all points to Kingston rebranding cheap cards and using new microcontrollers from about 2009 onwards which perhaps don’t meet with the electrical specifications demanded by the CF interface.
Needless to say I won’t be buying Kingston again, and now I have about 80GB of CF cards I don’t trust. An expensive mistake, but not as expensive as if I’d lost a shoot completely (I’ve since replaced the Kingston cards with Sandisk and verified they are genuine).