Flash memory quickly became more popular than film or traditional ways of storing data in the last decade as it could withstand intense pressure, extreme temperature and immersion in water. But when a flash memory card claims to be extreme, well, it better have some evidence to back that up.
Winner of the “Best Imaging Storage Media” category at the TIPA 2010 awards, the SanDisk Extreme Pro is designed for pro photographers who want high memory capacity (16GB, 32GB and 64GB), fast transfer speeds and equipment that will not fail in very hot, cold or wet conditions.
Based on the card’s claims to offer extreme durability and reliability, we tested it in situations where failure is most common: while travelling, when shooting in extreme locations and in post-production. We asked professional photographer Mark Teo from Singapore to test the 16GB card.
Photographers are on the move all the time and have to work fast. What happens if you have an accident with your card, how safe is your data?
The Extreme Pro can withstand accidental drops up to 9 feet (2.75metres) – and anything can happen when you’re travelling. Yes, you might have a waterproof memory card holder, but what happens if you don’t?
In wet conditions, we dropped the card multiple times from a balcony, wiped off the moisture and inserted it back into the DSLR. The result? No corrupted images. The card’s housing showed no signs of cracking open.
If it could withstand drops, how about sudden impact? We ran over the card several times with a skateboard and a BMX bike to see if the card casing would crush under the pressure of physical weight. Surprisingly, the card took the abuse and the photo data was still readable after inserting it into a card reader.
Not satisfied with that, we threw the card repeatedly against a climbing wall. Yes, we shuddered every time we heard the impact.
"Ouch, no way is it going to take that. That’s too much," said Mark Teo, laughing out loud.
Again the card withstood the punishment. As an explanation, SanDisk have used fewer parts in the card’s circuit board to make the card more impact-resistant and reliable in case of individual component failure.
But what happens when you are going through security at the airport? Thankfully, because of the way flash memory stores information, data is not affected by magnetic fields or X-rays.
"Durability is really important,” said our tester Mark Teo. “Most photographers remember to look after their cameras but not their cards. Chances are that the card is going to be left around in all sorts of places – beaches, deserts, dirt-parks, glaciers. The risks to your gear are endless.”
Ordinary flash cards will work in a range between 0°C to 60°C. According to the SanDisk warranty, the Extreme Pro functions in temperatures between -25°C to 85°C which, quite honestly, is far more than most photographers would ever need. We left the card in our trusty freezer at -5°C over night and were able to use it again in the morning.
We can’t confirm whether the card is going to function in the world’s coldest locations, temperatures can go as low in -60°C and -90°C in Greenland and Antarctica respectively, but the Extreme Pro is an excellent solution for explorers, ice-climbers and ski or snowboard photographers.
In terms of extremely hot temperatures, the card can more or less be used anywhere on the planet as temperatures do not get much hotter than 50°C.
To test its reliability in heat, we left the card in the oven for thirty minutes at 50°C. When it was cold enough to handle, we inserted it again into the card reader. No corrupted data. We were pretty shocked that the plastic casing showed no signs of melting.
According to Mark Teo, heat resistance is a crucial concern for photographers who shoot in burst mode or leave their cards in direct sunlight for long periods.
"Some cameras heat up after extended use, so you want to be sure that the memory card can handle heat. The worst feeling is when you lose your work because of technical failure. The Extreme Pro stood up to that test."
Also interesting for photographers who work in humid conditions is that the card has a special silicone coating for added protection against moisture and humidity.
The Extreme Pro can withstand humidity up to 90 percent – the equivalent of extremely uncomfortable, oppressive and very humid conditions – such as in the Persian Gulf or by the Red Sea in North-East Africa.
To really test the card, you would have to be shooting in Ethiopia, which has the highest known dew point temperature at 46°C and a dew point of 94 percent!
Transferring data at speed is also crucial for a photographer working under extreme time pressure. Post-production is also where a photographer can accidentally spill liquids onto the card. Sugary drinks or coffee can be fatal for a memory card’s pins.
We spilt various liquids onto the card – water, sugary drinks, coffee and tea. After cleaning the card, the data was still readable from the memory card thanks to the protective silicone coating.
"I wouldn't dunk the pin-side of the card into coffee or sugary drinks though - that's asking for trouble! And if you leave the card in your trouser pockets and put it in the wash, forget it! But the casing could handle spills and moisture, which is comforting to know."
A card’s pins can apparently be used 100,000 times. As we couldn’t find anyone willing to do this test for us, we decided to remove the card from the card reader during file transfer to test if the card would fail. Although this is in no way recommended, the card did not have to be re-formatted and the data that was transferred was still readable.
"You don't want to ruin your cards, you invest in good gear. But in fairness to the card, it took a lot of abuse and still worked. I'd trust the card in wet conditions, like if I was kayaking or if I was shooting in the snow."
"If you have one of these new high-end DSLRs with fast buffer speeds, you can also shoot in burst mode almost indefinitely as the card can write 90MB a second. However, do not expect major differences if you have a standard DSLR and a regular card reader."
"But if you have the right equipment, this card will save you a lot of time. Imagine if you have a thousand images on your card - this card will save you a few seconds every photo, which adds up."
"A pro photographer needs a durable, reliable card that has mega-capacity to take RAW pictures and fast transfer speed to download them. So I think the SanDisk Extreme Pro ticks all the boxes."
Every photographer with a photo in the final 50 images of Red Bull Illume will receive one SanDisk Extreme Pro 64GB Flashcard, while category winners will receive 10 each. The overall winner will enjoy a year’s supply of 20 SanDisk Extreme Pro 64GB Flashcards.