Lexar XQD memory cards

Last October I wrote a long article about memory card choices for the D850 and my decision to stick with Lexar despite uncertainties regarding future production. At that time most sizes of Lexar XQD cards were being listed as ‘out of stock’ by all the major retailers such as WEX and Park Cameras here in the UK. The situation was similar in the in the US with B&H and Adorama. However, for some reason, the 64GB capacity I was looking for was still available via Amazon and, presumably because of the fact that the Lexar brand had just been sold, at greatly reduced cost. It was obvious that those stocks wouldn’t last so I took advantage of the situation and purchased eight of them. Despite the financial outlay, which was a bitter pill to swallow, I’m certainly glad I made the decision, because the general situation with XQD card supply since then has been a bit of a roller coaster ride, which is why I thought that a quick update was in order.

When Micron announced in June 2017 that the Lexar division of the company was being closed it was a sad day as there was no information regarding what would happen. It later transpired that both the Lexar brand and associated manufacturing rights had been sold to a Chinese company called Longsys. Whilst that was good news there was still a lot of unanswered questions regarding the Lexar products that they would bring into their range, how they would market them and, most importantly, when they’d be back on the shelves. The company issued a couple of statements to confirm that the purchase provided assurance to Lexar customers that that the solutions and support would continue, but didn’t clarify their position or future intentions.

So what’s happened since then?

Well at the end of October, a couple of weeks or so after I wrote my previous article, Lexar did confirm (via a tweet to Nikon Rumours) that they would be continuing to produce XQD cards and would be fulfilling B&H’s inventory within a few weeks. I was away most of November, but in early December I noticed that the situation with Lexar card supply was no different and, to make matters worse in respect of XQD cards, the Sony alternatives were also out of stock. In fact there was a period of time when you simply could not purchase an XQD card from anywhere!

In the interim period it was confirmed that there was actually a large stock of Lexar cards sitting in a warehouse, presumably from previous Micron manufacture, that required rebranding before they could be distributed. I guess this happened as stock drifted back onto the shelves at the end of the year, particularly in the US. But, no sooner had stock arrived it was being sold, such that by early January you could only purchase the 128GB or, if you really hunted around, the 32GB versions. The most popular 64GB capacity was no longer available. As far as I’m aware that was about the last time you could purchase Lexar XQD cards in the UK. The situation in the US was not much better with one day Adorama having some stock whilst B&H didn’t have any, and then a couple of days later the situation reversing itself with Adorama selling out and B&H confirming that they’d had a delivery.

It didn’t last long though, because in mid February B&H sent notification to all their customers who had existing pre-orders for the popular 64GB capacity card that it was now officially discontinued by the manufacturer and that all outstanding orders were being cancelled.

As far as I’m aware, there has been no further information from Longsys regarding future manufacture of the XQD card format, as a result of which most suppliers have removed the product line from their websites and catalogue listings.

There was a glimmer of hope that there would be another manufacturer to compete with Sony when former Lexar employees in the US founded a new company called ProGrade. The company’s 'mission statement’ confirmed their intention to focus on the development and marketing of both memory cards and card readers that would provide superior performance, quality and reliability. Whilst they confirmed that that they would be starting with CFast and SD, it was assumed that XQD would follow.

However, it’s recently been confirmed that they will not be venturing into the XQD market as they want to concentrate their efforts on working with the industry to produce an alternative format that would have the potential of replacing both XQD and CFast. Furthermore, production of the XQD format requires a licensing agreement from Sony, which they were not pursuing. If you want to know a bit more about ProGrade here’s a link to their website.

Personally I’m not surprised. Why would Sony want to issue an XQD format production license to a new company that, on paper, has the credentials to seriously compete with the current card manufacturers? Obviously I don’t know how Micron originally secured an XQD licence or how that issue was dealt with when the Lexar business was sold to Longsys, but I’d wager that the licence wasn’t transferrable.

So, from an XQD point of view, it’s now Sony or Sony. They control market supply and prices.

Do I regret my decision to stick with Lexar? No, definitely not. I have eight matched cards, which is probably more than adequate for my needs. I also have the Lexar modular card reader workflow system that I wrote about in my previous article, which (touch wood) is working perfectly and, as long as I don’t have a problem with the XQD reader, will continue to fulfil my requirements.

The future though is another matter and whilst today the situation with XQD card manufacture and supply is very topical as Nikon have adopted the format for all their new high-end cameras, I’m sure that they will be very aware of the problems and thinking about alternatives. Interestingly that leads me onto the final bit of information that I was going to include in this update, which is in respect of the very latest statement from ProGrade confirming that they will be strongly promoting the CFexpress Type B form factor as the successor to XQD. From what I understand this format allows existing cameras that utilise XQD cards to be upgraded to operate with the new CFexpress Type B cards via a firmware update if the camera manufacturer chooses to make the format available. As well as the option of backward compatibility with XQD cameras, the new format supports a protocol known as NVMe (Non Volatile Memory express) which provides more than twice the interface speed of XQD.

Do we really need another faster format? Probably not, but that’s the trouble with current technology - it continues to improve, and you can’t blame manufacturers for always wanting to be at the forefront of development. But, as a consumer, we have to keep reinvesting in equipment if we want to take advantage of what is available. That’s a choice we have to make, but in respect of memory cards it’s infuriating when you’ve just dumped £100’s worth of old CF cards for the new XQD design only to find that its life may be limited!

Tony - 'tickspics'
Monday, 19th March 2018

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