The 7 Best Compact Flash Cards

Updated March 07, 2018 by Brett Dvoretz

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We spent 45 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. Whether you are a professional photographer or videographer, or you just love to snap a lot of pictures while on vacation, you're going to need one of these compact flash cards to hold all your images. Boasting capacities of up to 256 GB, these CF storage and transfer devices are ideal for everything from professional quality portraits to 4K UHD and 3D video. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best compact flash card on Amazon.

7. Kingston 4GB

If you're more of a casual jpeg shooter looking for a small storage option to take with you on vacation, the Kingston 4GB should work just fine. It's definitely at the slower end of the spectrum, but for a few pictures at a time, it'll get the job done.
  • rarely corrupts data
  • stores images reliably for years
  • not suitable for professionals
Brand Kingston
Model CF/4GB
Weight 0.6 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

6. Lexar Professional VPG-20

The Lexar Professional VPG-20 offers fast, 120 MB per second transfer speeds, so it's a fine choice for those constantly moving files from one device to another. It also meets the Video Performance Guarantee specification for professional-quality video.
  • suitable for 4k and 3d video
  • lifetime warranty and support
  • finicky with some card readers
Brand Lexar
Model LCF64GCRBNA800
Weight 0.3 ounces
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

5. SanDisk Ultra

The read and write speeds of the SanDisk Ultra won't win any races, and its storage capacity options don't make it a heavyweight, but this option's low price and branded reliability still make it a fine choice for many users.
  • minimal lag time between shots
  • works with all major camera brands
  • supports video up to 1080p
Brand SanDisk
Weight 0.3 ounces
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

4. Transcend 800x

The Transcend 800x sits at the intersection of modest price and high quality. It comes in large and small capacity options, perfect for casual photographers and for those video clips of concerts or nights on the town, and it can support fast-action burst shooting, too.
  • premium nand chips
  • free download of recoverx program
  • can store raw image formats
Brand Transcend
Model TS32GCF800
Weight 1.4 ounces
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

3. Lexar Professional 1066x

The Lexar Professional 1066x is one of the most expensive options on the market, but that's for a very good reason, namely its massive capacity and included image rescue software. If you are shooting UHD or even 3D video, you're going to want to use this one.
  • supports vpg-65 video specifications
  • backed by lifetime warranty
  • should improve workflow efficiency
Brand Lexar
Model LCF128CRBNA1066
Weight 0.6 ounces
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

2. SanDisk Extreme

The SanDisk Extreme comes in 32-, 64-, and 128-GB models and offers a read speed of 120 MBps for quick retrieval and viewing of previously captured photos and videos. While the write speed is significantly slower, it is still suitable for the needs of the average user.
  • budget-friendly price
  • shock and vibration resistant
  • silicone coated for durability
Brand SanDisk
Model SDCFXSB-032G-G46
Weight 1.8 ounces
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

1. SanDisk Extreme Pro

With write speeds reaching upwards of 150 MB per second, the SanDisk Extreme Pro is useful for everything from raw still photography with a high burst rate to fast, reliable 4K video capture on any camera that might support it.
  • each unit is rigorously tested
  • very fast transfer speeds
  • performs in tough environments
Brand SanDisk
Model SDCFXPS-128G-X46
Weight 4.8 ounces
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

Digital Video Is Everywhere

It's hard to overstate the importance of digital video in our modern world. This incredible technology keeps us up-to-date on significant current events. It offers visual interpretations of the most critical world news, as well as the most exciting sporting events. Movies and television give artists a popular medium through which to express themselves while entertaining worldwide audiences. Important social and political movements gain traction through the compelling blend of visceral and intellectual pleas put forth when activists poignantly take advantage of visual media. Today's society often calls for visual proof before it believes many claims. This is due in part to the unprecedented availability of recording devices and accessories, as well as the spread of high-speed information processing.

Humans today live in what could be considered the golden age of digital recording. Smaller and faster chipsets than ever have raised the bar sky-high for mobile, accessible videography and photography. Today's best cameras are those found in mobile phones, in the vast selection of DSLRs, and among various types of filming apparatuses powerful enough to shoot entire movies in 4K resolution.

With the increasing bit rates and color depth of just video and still-image capture, attentive professionals keep their eyes on one area of particular significance: memory cards. Fast, reliable, high-capacity storage will always be of the utmost importance when handling large amounts of precise, high-definition video and audio data.

Flash Memory: How Does It Work?

One important focus of modern computer engineering has been the development of dependable high-speed data storage. Traditionally, most data is stored on computers using electromechanical means such as the standard hard drive. This works for everyday use in the home or office, but there are times when bulky HDDs certainly won't fit the bill. In order to provide fast data retention for small, portable devices, researchers have come up with methods of digital storage that stores charges within microscopic circuits rather than on a spinning disc.

Flash memory is common in a number of popular devices today. Home computers are transitioning to solid state hard drives for the impressive rate at which the units can start up and process large quantities of information, such as when editing HD footage or playing state-of-the-art video games. Lacking any physical remnant of deleted data, flash-style memory is effective for high-security applications. Everything from smartphones to USB memory sticks to the firmware in your broadband router uses flash memory. It's truly ubiquitous, not just in the realm of video, but also in the electronics world in general.

While different types such as NAND and NOR flash (typically found in simpler electronic devices) have different architectures, their fundamental operation is similar. The controller module is a chip that's located onboard the unit in the case of USB drives and SSDs, or inside electronic devices such as cameras and cell phones. This controller writes many small pages of data, typically just a few kilobytes in sizes, onto larger blocks with capacities of around one-half to one megabyte. The total number of blocks, as well as the number of layers of data that can be stored on each one, determine the total capacity of a flash memory unit.

The physical construction and operation of NAND flash help explain a couple of the drawbacks to this non-volatile option. First of all, each block is only viable for a certain number of writes and rewrites, also called program-erase cycles. Multi-level or triple-level setups double and triple the number of charges that can simultaneously be stored in each circuit, resulting in lower-cost models than traditional single-level chips. However, this stacked configuration heavily increases the rate of redundant read/write operations across the blocks, which greatly reduces the memory's lifespan.

Also, as memory continues to be erased and rewritten, it sometimes bleeds into other, unused blocks in a process called write amplification. This can render parts of a memory chip inaccessible, leading to communication issues with controllers and computers. To combat this as well as prevent worn-out blocks, the more advanced flash units utilize wear-leveling and garbage collection techniques that help to prolong the life of modern storage cards.

Why Is Flash Important?

With endless varieties of photo and video cameras, as well as vast online communities and content sharing opportunities, it's no surprise that there's massive demand for high-speed, portable digital storage. Flash memory of different types has been the industry standard for professional photographers for over two decades. In fact, the Compact Flash Association has led the charge during that time, calling for widespread compatibility and ushering in major increases in speed and capacity.

Compact Flash cards are available in sizes from 2 GB all the way to 512 GB. In addition to high capacities, CF cards often boast high speed ratings. It's important to have a storage card that is at least as fast as your camera, to take advantage of the highest resolution video and the most rapid-fire still shots. To this end, CF cards are rated as Ultra DMA class 1 through 7, with UDMA-7 maxing out at a theoretical 167/MBps.

With technology's constant attempts to better itself, more efficient communication protocols are constantly being developed. Standards such as XQD and CFexpress will continue to evolve the flash field, allowing memory modules to more effectively interface with the computers that program them. So, while Compact Flash is still a major player, keep an eye out for the latest technologies.

As easy as it is these days to capture and preserve cherished memories and important current events, it's equally important to store that information reliably and quickly. By selecting the fastest flash storage card with the capacity to fit your needs, this task becomes much easier.

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Last updated on March 07, 2018 by Brett Dvoretz

A wandering writer who spends as much time on the road as behind the computer screen, Brett can either be found hacking furiously away at the keyboard or perhaps enjoying a whiskey and coke on some exotic beach, sometimes both simultaneously, usually with a four-legged companion by his side. He hopes to one day become a modern day renaissance man.

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