ultra high speed compact flash cards

any benefit to e-i users?


The speed at which digital technology advances is breathtaking. The first 'large' compact flash card I purchased - a 1GB unit from an unknown maker - was aroung 19 months ago and cost me dearly. This 'MUSE' card had a stated write speed of 40MB which, as it turned out, belied its true speed. Not long afterwards I bought a SanDisk Ultra II 2GB unit - with a stated read/write speed of 66/60MB thinking I would enjoy enhanced performance of about 50% in write speed. HA! Not so. There was little to no difference in speed between these cards in use in my E-1 even with the (then) latest firmware upgrade on board. I entered into various discussions with C/F card manufacturers, Olympus Europa and my friend Andrzej Wrotniak about write speeds in general. This led to taking part in several forums seeking speed data, all of which were most interesting but none improved the speed of my machine!

In the last few weeks I've handled the E-500 and realised just how much internal processing speed has increased. The E-500, in speed terms only, makes my E-1 seem a bit tardy. Coincidentally a friend in Canada pointed me to a source of inexpensive C/F memory - a UK company offering a 4GB SanDisk Extreme III for £150 **see below for details** I thought it opportune to buy one. It was only as an afterthought that I wondered if the E-1's latest firmware upgrade that mentioned something about using faster flash cards would make any difference. Based on previous experience I doubted it.


Shortly after purchasing my E-1 (October 2004) I carried out some extensive write speed tests in collaboration with Olympus Europa; here is a quote from my correspondence with Olympus Europa back then:

"Nice to speak with you again Jiri. This email is about write speeds to CF we discussed. I repeated the tests today with the following results:

Test conditions: E-1 in MF, Manual mode, 400th second, lens fully open, ISO 400, ESP, Burst mode. Rec view on 5 seconds. Each card formatted in camera before test. Battery fully charged.

Method: E-1 set as above and shutter depressed and held until all 12 images taken and then released. Timing commences when red light goes on and ceases when red light goes off. Three tests were carried out on each card at each resolution.

Oh my wallet! PQI (Jan 2004) £55. Muse (July 2004) £85. SanDisk Ultra II (Oct 2004) £125

1st test in SHQ

CARD: PQI - F1 40x (512mb) = 27/26/27 seconds avg = 26.7

CARD: SanDisk Ultra 2 60x (2GB) = 28/27/27 seconds avg = 27.3

CARD: Muse third party ?40x (1GB) = 26/27/27 seconds avg = 26.7

Comment - both third party brands marginally faster (2%) than SanDisk

2nd test in TIFF

CARD: PQI = 58/57/57 avg = 57.3

CARD: SanDisk = 57/58/57 avg = 57.3

CARD: Muse = 55/54/54 avg = 54.3

Comment Muse faster by 5%

3rd test in RAW

CARD: PQI = 38/38/38 avg = 38

CARD: SanDisk = 38/38/38 avg = 38

CARD: Muse = 36/36/36 avg = 36

Comment Muse faster by 5%

This batch of testing was done as accurately as I could. If as you say, the E-1 is only capable of writing at 36x, or, put another way, there is no discernable difference with cards speeded 36x to 60x, then the differences noted above are worthy of some comment.

1. There is an inconsistency in size of cards used - not comparing the same combination of size and speed. However, the Muse card is the middle one in terms of size so logically if size is playing a part in speed of storage to the medium, the smaller 512MB PQI 40x card should be faster; this is not so. Conversely, the fact that the faster card, the SanDisk 60x is equally or more slow than the PQI card may suggest that size does affect the result. In other words because there is more available space the controller has more operations to undertake and is therefore slower. With an assumed constant data flow at 36x these might cancel each other out because the inherently faster SanDisk 60x card can perform its controller operations over 2GB quicker than the smaller PQI 40x card can over 512MB. Hence the remarkably similar performances of these two cards.

2. Perhaps the reason the Muse card scores better across the three tests indicates it has a better controller or is structured better and well suited to the data stream from the E-1, giving it the advantage over the faster SanDisk.

3. A consistent difference of 5% is not huge, but is still worth having. My tests seem to show that as all three cards exceed the writing ability of the E-1 it is a mixture of internal size, controller and structure that affect the overall performance and result.

I am very interested in seeing the results from E-1 writing to Lexar 80x with WA technology. I wonder if this combination will reduce the write times in the above tests? Personally I think not. Can the write speed of the E-1 be improved through a firmware upgrade?"

Reply: Olympus Europa Speed Test Results:

Dear John, Let me send you finally our simple test of 1 GB Lexar 80 x card exactly according on your description.

1st test in SHQ (Size of JPEG picture depends on character of the picture.) Lexar 80x = 26.3 sec.

2nd test in TIFF Lexar 80x = 57.3 sec

3rd test in RAW Lexar 80x = 37 sec

Please note the speed of CF card depends also on size. (Sometime even bigger size has faster saving). Improving speed by E1 firmware upgrade is theoretically possible but the result will not be remarkable. All four image processors in camera are very well tuned.

So even the mighty Lexar wth WA technology on board made no difference. Seems the E-1 is stuck with its internal 36x speed - period.


This makes interesting reading. I'm going to repeat the RAW write test exactly as described with the SanDisk Ultra II C/F card to see if the latest firmware upgrade (October 2005) will alter the time taken for this test.


SanDisk Ultra II 60x = 38 seconds.

I've repeated this several times and achieve the same 38 seconds. So, no improvement with my 'older' cards. E-1 write speed of 36x apparently rules the roost.

How about the SanDisk Extreme III?

From onlinememory; 4GB 133x Price £157 incl VAT P&P (01/06)

[What's the devil is ESP? From the SanDisk website: "SanDisk Extreme III memory cards feature innovative ESP Technology for the fastest speeds and highest performance. ESP stands for “Enhanced Super-Parallel Processing”. Simply put, it means you are getting the fastest read/write speeds available – an amazing minimum 20MB per second."] In addition the 4gb card is formatted FAT32 and with such format is only suitable for DSLR cameras using the FAT32 file system.

I repeat the RAW test with my new SanDisk Extreme III card


SanDisk Extreme III 133x = 27 seconds.

This test has been repeated several times. It is consistently boring - 27 seconds.

This is a significant improvement of 30% faster write time over my Ultra II card (rated at 66x).

How about the new 266X SanDisk Extreme IV?

From onlinememory; 8GB 266x Price £115 incl VAT P&P (04/07)

I repeat the RAW test above with a new SanDisk Extreme IV card


SanDisk Extreme IV 266x = 24 seconds.

This test has been repeated several times. It consistently repeats at the said 24 seconds.

This is a further improvement of 12.5% faster write time over the Ultra III card (rated at 133x).


When I set the E-1 up to duplicate the test conditions of 15 months ago I mistakenly switched 'REC VIEW' to off. The best result I could achieve with the SanDisk Ultra II was 42 seconds - and I measured several attempts. After I realised this mistake and switched REC VIEW to ON 5 secs, the test time immediately dropped to 38 seconds - a straight duplication of earlier trials. So to get the maximum performance out of your E-1 with older cards please ensure REC VIEW is ON 5 SECS. For verisimilitude during the SanDisk Extreme III & IV tests I measured performance with REC VIEW set to both OFF and ON 5 SECS . The results were identical; there is no performance degradation with the higher speed cards when REC VIEW is set to OFF.

E-1 Firmware Ver1.4 has incorporated the following upgrade.

Just to remind us what Ver1.4 (October 2005) does:

The S-AF speed in low luminance conditions has been improved.

AF accuracy under fluorescent lighting has been improved.

Images shot with the E-300 (TIFF, RAW, SHQ) can be displayed normally.

New high speed CompactFlash cards are supported.


It seems each new generation of C/F card is significantly faster in read/write times. This leads to an increase in the speed you use the E-1 camera; quicker writes each shot and less time waiting for the buffer to clear when using burst. However, the received wisdom in late 2004 was that any forthcoming firmware upgrade would not achieve 'remarkable' improvements. Some opinion I've read quite recently rather suggests this still stands. Perhaps it depends on ones definition of 'remarkable' or significant. The evidence of my tests displays what I consider to be 'significant' improvements.

Using 133x CF cards increases read/write times significantly over first generation of 'fast' (66-80x) cards - a 30% speed increase. This is most welcome. Bearing in mind the previous opinion in 2004 that fixed the E-1 write speed to 36x, I think this latest improvement is 'remarkable'. It has nudged the E-1's internal processing write speed to the equivalent of almost 50x.

Using the latest generation 266x C/F cards a further 12.5% can be gained increasing the E-1's internal processing write speed to the equivalent of 56x which equates to an overall gain in read & write times of 55% over the 'fixed' internal speed of 36x. However it looks as though this gain is not perpetual; the law of diminishing returns applies here. I suspect the next generation increase might only provide a 5% increase because the limit of 'tuning' the processors is already reached. Be that as it may, when I bought my E-1 in 2004 it took 38 seconds to clear a full buffer of RAW images; this is now achieved in 24 seconds. That's a very welcome bonus.

More difficult to quantify is the speed of the reviewing facility. Although each time I test a new higher speed card I think it seems faster and the math says maybe it should be quicker, the crude timings I've done using all cards come up with identical times. From pressing the shutter to the image appearing on the screen - 4 seconds. Any wishful thinking I harboured has gone - blast!

Using the new Extreme IV card in the E-400 improves this already nimble little DSLR's performance. For completeness I've added the new C/F card timings to my review of the E-400. You can go straight to the E-400 write-up here.

If you have any observations please contact me here.


From www.komplett.co.uk; 2GB 140x Price £28 incl VAT P&P (04/07)

I have used many different brands of compact flash cards in my E-System cameras (4) and my C-5050 and have never experienced one that does not work - until this week. Recently a friend of mine (on my recommendation) bought a TwinMOS compact flash from KOMPLETT in the UK for his brand new E-1. It did not work in his camera, giving a CARD ERROR on the monitor. After a lot of persuation KOMPLETT did replace the card with another of the same brand with the same fault. Terry sent the second card to me to try. It has failed in every camera I have giving the same error. It is pretty obvious the card will not work in any Olympus camera.

So beware TwinMOS CF cards in your E-system machines. Do not buy them - they do not work.



Posted 13/Jan/2006 22:04. Amended 12/April/2007 Copyright © 2004/5/6/7 John Foster