We’re in the depths of a format war, and I’m a little uneasy picking the winner so early.
I love XQD cards. They’re a solid, fast, professional tool. Unfortunately they’re fighting for the top spot right now. If they really are going to be ubiquitous, there’s some tech issues and industry politics that will need to be smoothed over first. Sony and Nikon have been pushing, but now, Panasonic has gotten on board with their latest mirrorless announcement. Will it work out?
Too Many Different Versions
Every format has updates. SD cards been have through six upgrades, with a seventh on the way. What’s notable here is that most SD Cards are backwards and forwards compatible with any SD card slot, unless the task requires seriously fast speeds. This isn’t quite the case for XQD cards.
While the current “G” line of cards is up to date and works across the board, there have been a couple others released from Sony: the M, S, N, and H series cards. Confusing, right? That's not including Lexar's system. The big problem is that they require different drivers to be installed and sometimes, different card readers entirely.
This means that you’ll run into headaches if you using a newer card in an older reader and vice versa. Simply saying “Oh that? We discontinued that” doesn’t shrug off the dilemma. I’ve personally run into various problems because of this, some that took hours to troubleshoot with multiple people on set.
Obviously, you’ll never have this happen if your equipment is a closed off ecosystem. But who knows when you’ll need to buy an emergency card from the nearest electronics store, something you can do with SD cards, CF cards, and even SSDs. I don’t trust that I’ll be able to get my hands on the correct iteration of these cards at the last minute.
Sony Doesn’t Love It Anymore
To me, Sony’s broadcast camera lineup was the poster child for these cards, because they pushed the boat out more than Nikon. Their FS7, FS7 II, and PXW-Z100 all used XQD cards. If I remember right, seeing the FS7 get 4K 60p was pretty mind-blowing, and I could fill a 64 GB card in about 10 minutes at max settings.
So, it looks pretty bad when their new PXW-Z190 camera is using SD cards, while the PXW-Z280 uses SxS cards. Both were announced at the same time as the FS7-II. That means that Sony has only put XQD cards into three cameras, and none of them are mirrorless like Panasonic.
If the weight of the industry was getting behind the XQD format, then surely, it wouldn’t make any sense to go back to older formats. Why did Sony think they were doing their customers a favor? Do they see the writing on the wall?
It leaves me worried that the FS7 III will have an entirely new format. Or will a faster card need to be released, adding to the alphabet soup problem I mentioned earlier? We’ll have to wait and see.
If all goes to plan, SD UHS-III is set to reach higher speeds that the fastest XQD card, and the CompactFlash Association may end up replacing XQD (they created the standard) with CFexpress. The latter will be backwards compatible, but it makes you wonder why there are two formats running parallel. It will also mean that backwards compatibility will be at the whim of your camera manufacturer’s software updates.
Without the widespread support of consumers, I could easily see either of these two contenders outpacing XQD. ProGrade Digital already said they’re developing CFexpress cards instead of XQD earlier this year, and Lexar may have to regain the trust of its customers in the wake of a buyout. That leaves Sony, who currently only have a single current generation of cameras supporting XQD.
One obvious argument against this is Panasonic’s inclusion of XQD in their dual-slot full frame mirrorless lineup. Panasonic owns the SD card format with Toshiba, so it’s usually been in their best interest to develop their own format and avoid licensing fees. The fact that XQD was needed for these cameras shows that SD cards are not ready to outpace the competition just yet.
I’m actually not too mad at this. CFast cards have always been expensive, and faster SD cards aren’t cheap either. In my eyes, the only way to bring the prices down is to forgo a small form factor and buy fast SSDs. Obviously, this isn’t viable for most people.
Right now, a 64GB XQD “G” card with a 400 MB/s write speed runs for $130. A regular 64GB UHS-II SD Card with 300 MB/s comes in at $110. Not much difference between them. You’re going to find yourself shelling out more than you want either way.
That’s the heart of my worries: spending too much on XQD cards when fast SD cards may suffice for now. I don’t think this will be up to the consumer so much as camera manufacturers will carve out a trend. Seeing Panasonic support the format while Sony puts it aside doesn’t fill me with confidence. Who knows, now that laptops don’t come with card readers anymore, maybe the new trend will be totally different.
What about you? Have you already invested in a new format?