The High Cost of Flash Memory

The High Cost of Flash Memory


Amidst the excitement at both PMA and CES this year about new mega-gigged flash memory cards like the 32 -gig SDHC (HC stands for “high capacity,” but it’s the same size as a typical SD card) from Panasonic, manufacturers have remained quiet about just how much they might charge for this ultra-compact yet massively storage capability. Until now. SanDisk has announced its own “Ultra III” 32-gig SDHC card, due out in April, with a suggested price tag of $350. Panasonic currently charges $299 for its 16-gig card, and rumors were that the 32-gig, due out in May or June, might hit the market at $500 or more, but that may change now that SanDisk has fired its shot across the bow.

In a year when the most sophisticated point-and-shoots ever created are hitting the market at MSRP’s of $150 or even less, will the public really be willing to pay over double that for an accessory item they still barely understand? At PMA last week, vendors were trying hard to talk up the value of all flash formats. SanDisk’s Ben Sy says that flash memory cards are getting better at performing in extreme temperatures and conditions, like when someone accidently puts one through the washer. “It’ll still be O.K., just let it dry!” he says. “These cards last.”

“People are still a little scared about cards,” says Mike Schmidt, President of the Hoodman Corporation, which makes Compact Flash cards.

(The company’s 16-gig goes for $529.) “But they’ll get used to the reliability and the convenience of being able to shoot all day long without having to change cards or carry around computers or portable hard-drives.”

Pro photographers especially, manufacturers say, are willing to pay big for big memory. Pro’s typically shoot in “RAW” format (a large digital file for each image that’s easy to manipulate in Photoshop). They can get about 140 images on a 2-gig card, but pro’s typically shoot around 500 shots a day, so they are the most likely to understand the benefits of using just one card. Now that many consumers are investigating flash memory high-definition camcorders, they may also want a card that’ll at least last them through the school play. Early adopters of the gigantic-gig cards will undoubtedly pay the most for such conveniences. If recent history is any indication, the price tag on gigantic memory will likely shrink dramatically within a year or two, right about when 64-gig cards are making their debut.