PhotoFast CF and SD Cards Review

by on October 7, 2009

in Reviews

I have been using a few memory cards from PhotoFast over the past few weeks alongside my usual mix of Lexar, Kingston and SanDisk cards. Specifically, the PhotoFast GMonster 533x 32GB and 533x Plus 16GB CF cards have spent a lot of time in my Canon 5D Mark II and a Nikon D300s that I’ve had on hand.  Additionally, I’ve tried out the PhotoFast 16GB Class 10 SD/SDHC card.

I didn’t really know a lot about PhotoFast as a memory card maker other than that they are based in Taiwan and make a variety of memory products.  A little more history about the company: “PhotoFast was built by a group of talented R&D engineer who has served in SONY Japan. The professional R & D team joined PhotoFast Taiwan (established 1980) and established a Head Quarter in Taiwan in 2001.” (Source) Additionally, PhotoFast seems eager to get their products out in consumers’ hands and get some feedback on them.  At this point, I don’t really have any complaints.

PhotoFast CF Card Performance

The  533x Plus CF card bested the Lexar 300x (my personal gold standard in my bag) in max frames captured in burst mode at higher ISO settings (by one additional frame) and matched it at lower ISO settings.  (FYI, higher ISO settings produce larger image files.)

Additionally, both the 533x and 533x Plus cards have a quicker buffer clearance in the 5D Mark II than the Lexar 300x at all ISO settings.  The 533x vanilla flavor clears the buffer slightly faster (maybe a second or so) than the Lexar 300x card, while the 533x Plus clears the buffer substantially faster than the Lexar 300x card.  I also found the PhotoFast Class 10 SD card to perform on par with the SanDisk Extreme III SD card in the Nikon D300s.

Looking at Rob Galbraith’s tests (scroll down to the charts near the bottom), the 16GB 533x Plus appears to be the best match for the 5D Mark II in terms of speed, which correlates with my real world perception.

Both cards are right up there with the best when transferring data via card readers, but I’ll be honest, I really don’t care much about a smidge or two of difference in transfer speed over my card reader.  As a result, this stat really doesn’t matter to me; however, if card reader transfer speed makes a difference in your real world use, Rob Galbraith has you covered there as well (I’d also like to know how and why that matters to you – please let me know in the comments).  All in all, I was really impressed with the real world performance of PhotoFast’s memory cards.

One of the big benefits that I found with these cards is in their capacity.  For the first time, when I inserted the 32GB CF card into my 5D Mark II with quality set to record Raw images I saw “999″ register on the remaining images (that’s the max number the 5D Mark II will display).  I never managed to fill this card up in a single outing.  I get around 140 or so out of a 4GB card and am pretty used to cycling through these when shooting.

PhotoFast Quality and Reliability

I always worry about losing data during or after a shoot.  I have more confidence in brands that I know and use on a regular basis (e.g., SanDisk, Lexar and Kingston).  I’ll admit that I’ve been a little uneasy about this the entire time I had images on these cards; however, after a few thousand images across the three of them, I’m getting a little more comfortable with their reliability.  I’m also one of those guys that formats a memory card each time one goes into any camera.  I’m a firm believer that a lot of corruption problems can be avoided by religiously formatting.

I also inquired with PhotoFast about reliability, service and support and they pointed me to their virtual factory tour. Here’s PhotoFast’s statement on Quality Control:

PhotoFast has implemented the concept of Total Quality Control throughout every level of the company from R&D and Production to Administration and MIS. “Quality” is the guiding principle for PhotoFast products, staff development, and business and management systems. Internal regulations and procedures have been established to provide tight control over every aspect of PhotoFast’s operations. These rules and procedures are periodically evaluated for reformation or revision. The flexibility of the company’s business practices means there is always room for improvement and adoption of new methods. (Source)

The PhotoFast memory cards carry a limited lifetime warranty, which reads pretty solid, stating that PhotoFast “warrants that its Flash based products are free from defects in material and workmanship and will perform as advertised.”  Limitations and conditions for the warranty are pretty typical as well.  You have to go through your authorized reseller or distributor and may have to show proof of purchase.  Additionally, the warranty doesn’t cover damage that results from accidents, abuse or misuse of the cards, along with disasters, or unauthorized disassembly, repair or modification by the user.

Basically, all the warranty mumbo-jumbo means that PhotoFast will replace or repair defective cards unless you broke it by running over it with a car, dropping it in a lake or something similar.  For those of you who want to read the whole thing, I have pasted it at the bottom of this review.

When I inquired about returns of defective memory cards, PhotoFast told me they haven’t had a single card returned defective yet.  I’ll take that as another good sign.  The more that I’ve poked and prodded at these guys on their reliability track record, the better I feel about the quality of the cards overall.

PhotoFast Price Advantage

Looking back at the recent release of the SanDisk Extreme Pro CF cards, the PhotoFast 533x and 533x Plus cards seem like a steal.  SanDisk’s Extreme Pro CF cards currently run $242.95 for the 16GB version, 431.94 for the 32GB version and $689.95 for the 64GB version.  Contrast that with PhotoFast’s current CF card prices:

533x Plus – 8GB at $85

533x Plus – 16GB at $139

533x Plus – 32GB at $249

533x – 16GB at $95

533x – 32GB at $129

533x – 64GB at $299

Not a bad deal at all given the speed that you get and the prices of other comparably spec’d cards.  Additionally, the PhotoFast Class 10 SDHC cards run $60 for 8GB; $79 for 16GB and $199 for 32GB.

*Note: Within the past day or so of this review’s publication, DV Nation had a slight price increase changing the 16GB from $95 to $99, and the 32GB 533X from $129 to $149.  I missed this revision prior to publication and was informed by PhotoFast that this pricing list is slightly off with regard to the above two items.

Conclusion

I really don’t have anything bad to say about my experience with the cards.  The performance of these cards are solid and up to par with the top-notch cards from the name brands but at reduced prices.  Additionally, the reassurances of quality control and warranty commitments eases many of my concerns of putting a card in my camera that doesn’t wear a brand name badge.  Based on my initial observations over the past few weeks, their performance, as well as the apparent value, I would recommend the PhotoFast CF and SD cards as a more affordable alternative to the brand name products that carry the premium price tag.  I have to say that I kind of hate to send the review samples back to the manufacturer.  I would likely continue using them on a regular basis and will probably consider picking one up the next time I go shopping for memory cards.

PhotoFast Availability

The PhotoFast CF and SD cards are currently available for US customers through DV Nation – here’s their link.  (UPDATE: PhotoFast CF and SD cards are now available on Amazon.com.)

PhotoFast Warranty Terms

Warranty Policy

1. Terms of Limited Lifetime Warranty Coverage

PhotoFast Global Co. Ltd, warrants that its Flash based products are free from defects in material and workmanship and will perform as advertised. The warranty is subject to the conditions and limitations set forth:
1-a. To obtain warranty service through your authorized reseller, or distributor, a customer may be required to provide product identification information with a detailed description of the problem(s) they are experiencing.
1-b. A customer may also be required to include proof of the date of original purchase.

2. Product Replacement

PhotoFast, Corp. will at its option, either repair or replace any part of its product(s) that prove defective by reason of improper workmanship or materials.
2-a. Repaired parts or replacement product(s) will be provided by PhotoFast on an exchange basis, and will be either new or refurbished, to be functionally equivalent to new.
2-b. To exchange, or receive a credit for your product, please discuss with the reseller from where you originally purchased the product, or discuss with your PhotoFast Account Manager.
2-c. This warranty does not cover any damage to products that results from accident, abuse, misuse, natural or personal disaster, or any unauthorized disassembly, repair, or modification.

3. Discontinued Product

Product which is no longer manufactured by PhotoFast Tech, but still under warranty, can be returned for repair.
3-a. In the event that the product is not repairable, an attempt to replace the product with a refurbished part will be made, or the customer will be notified of additional options, if available.

4. Duration of Warranty

4-a. Warranty Coverage Review:
Product                                                                        Warranty Coverage
1. Flash Memory Cards                                          Limited Lifetime Warranty
2. Memory Card Adaptors                                   1-Year Warranty
3. PC Adaptors                                                          1-Year Warranty
4. Card Readers                                                        1-Year Warranty
5. SLC Based SSD                                                      1-Year Warranty
6. MLC Based SSD                                                    1-Year Warranty

5. Voided Warranty

Conditions that void the PhotoFast warranty include:
5-a. Any damage to products that result from accident, abuse or misuse at the hands of the customer, or end-user.
5-b. Any natural or personal disaster
5-c. Any unauthorized disassembly, repair, or modification by the customer, or end-user.

6. D.O.A. Definition and Service

Dead-On-Arrival (D.O.A.) is defined by PhotoFast as product which is defective within 7 days from the date of invoice for the original purchaser.
6-a. D.O.A. product must be returned within its original packaging and with all accessories.
6-b. D.O.A. product will be processed under the standard RMA policy and for immediate replacement after receipt.

7. Return Material Authorization (RMA) Request

All product returns must first obtain a valid PhotoFast authorization before sending product back to PhotoFast.

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{ 14 comments }

1 noroom October 7, 2009 at 7:49 am

FTC Tells Bloggers to Disclose Freebies or Be Fined:
http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/10/ftc-bloggers/

Did you receive any gifts from PhotoFast for reviewing their cards?

2 Eric October 7, 2009 at 11:58 am

@noroom – no.

3 WillC October 7, 2009 at 1:17 pm

Based on DVNation’s dubious looking ecommerce site, I’m far less willing to drop that kind of money on memory cards that’s only available from one source.

If PhotoFast wants to attract new customers they’re going to have to get better retailers that are more legitimate looking and try some giveaways to real consumers.

4 Micah October 10, 2009 at 3:24 am

If selling direct keeps prices down, why not?

As for why read speed is important: a full 16gb card takes about what, 7 minutes at 40mb/s? At 10mb/s that turns into a half an hour. It not unusual for me to fill two 16gb cards shooting a wedding. I’d rather spend the 45mins I saved with fast cards and readers editing pictures than waiting for sluggish cards to download.

5 ossme October 12, 2009 at 1:49 am

seems good, but one note is that these cards are equivelent to Sandisk extreme and not the extreme pro. the sandisk extreme 16GB cards can be purchased for as little as $110 if you don’t the OEM look with no packaging.

6 Eric October 12, 2009 at 1:50 am

@ossme – I disagree.

Although I haven’t personally tested the new SanDisk cards, take another look at the Rob Galbraith link above. The 533x Plus model exceeds the performance of the SanDisk Extreme Pro cards in the 5D Mark II according to Rob’s tests. Even the standard 533x cards are pretty close to the Extreme Pro performance in several of his tests (and better in some). We’re talking about minute differences in speed between the PhotoFast 533x Plus and SanDisk Extreme Pro cards but, based on Rob’s numbers, I think they are on pretty even footing in terms of real world performance. At that point, price and brand name become the big questions for you to answer.

7 ossme October 12, 2009 at 1:55 am

Forgit it, after reading Rob’s review of the card and reading the new prices in amazon, I found out that this card eats the sandisk alive in terms of speed. I don’t know about the reliability though. I always bought sandisk and they never fail me, specially in bad weather conditions.

8 ossme October 12, 2009 at 1:58 am

( I wish I can edit or replay to my posts). Anyway, you can buy it from DVnation for as little as $99 for the OEM version.

9 Pratap October 15, 2009 at 2:19 am

I ended up buying a Photofast 8GB 533x Plus CF from ebay because DVNation wouldn’t reply to my pre-sales questions via email. I paid a little more, but what the heck – bad customer service means no business.

10 Bob Jensen November 4, 2009 at 7:43 pm

I have a Canon 5D MK2 and was told that I need 40mb/s write speed (about 300X) to get smooth HD video with the camera. My agent has a 300X card and it works great. Anything less than that produces a “choppy” movie. Per various recommendations, I bought the new 32gb CF Photoflash card (533x). I just shot video with it in my 5D MK2 and the movies are extremely choppy. The movie is worse than using a Kingston 133x card! Either this card does not write at the speed advertised or something else is going on? Any ideas? Thanks.

11 Mike November 25, 2009 at 11:31 pm

@Bob Jensen: You really don’t need 40mb/s for HD video on the 5Dm2, anything over 10MB/s is good enough. I use Transcend 32GB 133X (10.7MB/s) for that purpose and it works great. If your videos are choppy, maybe your exposure is set too slow? Go outside/daylight with fully auto video and try your 533X card again. Still choppy? Go to Rob Galbraith’s benchmark page and look for any card greater than 10MB/s. Your Kingston 133X might not meet the minimum 10MB/s though.

The real need for faster cards is sport photo shooting. It’s no fun with a slow card like the 133X. I will hit buffer wall so damn often. So I’ll be buying some of those PF 16GB 533X.

And of course, card read speed is a big plus when downloading your shots.

12 Yang February 19, 2010 at 10:38 am

DVNation suck. I ordered a Photofast SSD Micro-PATA for $399 and it was DOA. Sent it back and was told that it will be replace in a couple of weeks. I followed up with Jason, and my drive was just sitting there for two weeks not knowing who that drive belong too. Please don’t order anything from DVNation. Jason is terrible. PhotoFast company is in Taiwan and if you need to replace because your device is DOA, you need to wait for weeks or if not months. Just want to share with you about these two companies. Bad bad bad….

13 fiathriel October 8, 2010 at 12:58 am

I have a 5D MK II and I’m using two of the 366X 32GB cards quite regularly over the last 4 months, so far so good, I shot 2500 photos over a 5 day period a few weeks ago and no problems at all.

Although, I format my card in the camera each time before I start shooting and I backup to a laptop straight away just in case.

If I have any problems with them I’ll come back here and write again!

fiathriel

14 Julia November 21, 2010 at 9:06 am

I wanted to let you know why someone might want as fast as possible transfer speeds. I do because I’m shooting a documentary and gonna use DSLR for interviews and B-Roll. I am buying what I can afford in terms of cards (2) to start but want to be sure that if I need to dump one during an interview it will go fast.

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