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Friday, October 26, 2018

What’s the Big Deal About Dual Storage Card Slots for Cameras?

If you paid any attention to the launch of Canon and Nikon’s first full frame mirrorless cameras—the EOS R, Z6, and Z7— you’d have noticed that some people were pretty unhappy that they only came with a single card slot—an SD slot for the Canon and an XQD slot for the Nikons—instead of dual storage card slots. So, let’s find out what the big deal was.

Professional and Prosumer Cameras Traditionally Come With Two Card Slots

Canon and Nikon have traditionally included dual card slots in their prosumer and professional offerings. Typically, it was one SD card slot and one CF or other faster card slot but, as SD card speeds have picked up, that’s changed a bit. Sony’s top-end mirrorless cameras all use dual regular SD card slots.

You can use dual slots in a few ways:

  • You can shoot RAW files to one card and JPEGs to another. That way, you have all the data, but you also have smaller photos you can quickly process on the go.
  • You can shoot RAW files to both cards, giving you a perfect backup should anything happen to one card. This is the most popular use.
  • You can shoot first to one card and then to the next which gives you more storage space. Since SD card prices have dropped, this is nowhere near as popular. Now, if people want more storage, they go with bigger cards.

Shooting to dual card slots, however, has never been without its downsides. Since the camera had to write to two cards at the same time (and one was often slower), it could slow down the speed at which your camera could take multiple photos. It was wedding and landscape photographers for whom data integrity was more important than burst speed that used them; sports or wildlife photographers often couldn’t.

Nikon has seemingly addressed this with the Z6 and Z7: they’ve used a single XQD slot which is a faster standard than SD cards. This means the cameras can—at least theoretically for now—shoot faster bursts for longer and higher definition (and bit-depth) video. Canon’s decision to go with a single SD card slot is a little more questionable and was probably just motivated by wanting to save space inside their smaller camera body.

Is Having Only One Card Slot That Unsafe?

All the uproar is predicated on two things:

  • That lots of people relied on dual card slots.
  • That a single card slot is that much more unsafe than two.

I suspect Canon and Nikon did their research and found that the vast majority of people buying their top end cameras weren’t using dual card slots, or at least weren’t relying on them. The amateur photography market dwarfs the professional market.

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