Accept No Substitutes
reliable, fast write speed, good capacity
a little slow to copy from
The Bottom Line:
I've found these to be the best combination of speed, size and cost on the market today.
When you are using a digital SLR camera, there are 4 critical things you always need to have with you - the camera (obviously), a good lens, a charged battery, and in some ways most importantly, a good memory card. You can have a fantastic camera and expensive lenses, but if your memory card is sub-par, you'll suffer in the end.
I've tried several different cards now - Hitachi, Kodak and SanDisk - and the best performer has consistently been my SanDisk Ultra II CF 1GB card.
[ what is COMPACT FLASH? ]
Compact Flash is one of many types of flash memory available for cameras and related electronic devices - others like memory sticks, smart media cards and the like use a different format but essentially do the same thing - save data quickly on something that can then be used to transfer it to your computer.
With cameras, you'll find that each camera manufacturer seems to have their own favored format. The compact flash format is used by the big two (Nikon and Canon), and have quite a following. Measuring a measly 1-5/8" x 1-3/8" x 1/4" thick, they are fairly light but hold a LOT of memory in a compact space. The Ultra II discs come in sizes from as small as 64MB all the way up to a massive 8GB. They also run in a number of different speeds are are getting faster all the time.
[ little, compact, POWERFUL ]
With a digital camera, having the ability to get a lot of shots on each card is a key element, and the Ultra II meets the demand. In Nikon RAW mode on the D70, I can fit 178 shots (each at about 6MB) on a single card - more if I have a simple background on a lot of the shots. If I switch to lower resolution images (jpgs for example), my shots go up to 256, 512 or even 1,100 shots on a card (of course, at that resolution, your shots are going to be pretty bad). Your mileage may vary depending on your camera and the types of shots that you take.
But almost as important as space is speed - and this is where the Ultra II excels. I've shot my D70 in continuous shutter mode for up to 10 frames and only once missed a shot. It might take a while for them to display as the read portion catches up to the writing, but I've been able to write as fast as I can shoot. The card has a minimum read/write speed of 9MB/s and 10MB/s, respectively - more than enough for most shooting. In comparison, my Kodak CF card is much slower and has missed shots on several occasions when I was shooting in burst mode.
On the other end of the equation, this card is pretty good when transferring your images as well, although not necessarily as fast as my SanDisk Cruzer microdrive. To download 178 RAW images (about 1GB) usually takes less than 10 minutes, less if I use a card reader instead of taking the images directly from the camera; also, using my rear USB port instead of the front one lowers time (the back USBs are faster) - but the front ones are more convenient so I deal.
[ convenience and DURABILITY ]
I've never had any problems with this card and its handled over 10,000 shots so far. My Hitachi card crapped out after less then 3,000. They are fragile, but not so ridiculously so that you have to handle them like gold - which is nice out in the field.
[ final THOUGHTS ]
In the end, I'm sold on SanDisk CF cards - my wife and I both have them and love them. I tend to use only 1GB cards, although I've toyed with the idea of getting a 2GB. The risk is that if you lose a 2GB card, you stand to lose a LOT more information (in this case, photos) than you would with a 1GB. Plus, obviously as you increase size and speed, you also increase in price - sometimes significantly. 2GB cards a little more than double the price. As for faster, the Ultra III cards double that rate, but they are also more than twice as expensive.
So, I'm going to stick with the 1GB cards - a perfect blend of size and cost. At the current going rate, one or two of these should be sufficient for most shooters. And if you have to choose a brand, choose SanDisk.