Aug 21, 2023

It's Worth Upgrading! We Review the Exascend Catalyst 128 GB UHS

Never having used the Exascend brand before, when given the opportunity to review them, I leaped at the chance. Would they match the high standards I hoped for?

Historically, I always waited for the special deals that come around once or twice a year to buy memory cards. Then, I chose another well-known brand because I considered them a safe option. Even so, I have had a few of those cards fail over the years. Two of them split apart, and on a couple of my working cards, the lock switch has come loose, resulting in the cards becoming locked unwantedly. Would the Exascend Catalyst 128 GB UHS-II SDXC Card be better than those?

I had been planning to buy some (Ultra High-Speed) UHS-II cards since upgrading my camera to an OM-1. The camera shoots 120 fps raw frames, and the SD cards used could not cope without grinding to a halt while it wrote data to the card. My interest in wildlife photography is growing, so when capturing bird behaviors, it's a performance level I will occasionally use. So, I needed a memory card to match.

Exascend cards come in a neat cardboard box. I was pleased to see did not have any metallic finish typeface, something that prevents recycling where I live. Inside was a slide-in plastic tray (I would have preferred cardboard) that held a large, good-quality protective plastic case for storing the card.

The card's construction was solid. Its label's white-on-black typeface gave the storage size and the read and write speeds were clear to read even without my glasses. In comparison, another brand has red on black, which I find difficult to see, especially in low light.

The locking switch is white too. It has a firm action with a pronounced click when it switches between the lock and unlock positions. I tried the button dozens of times, and it didn't become sloppy. This means that it cannot easily be activated when putting it in the camera, as has happened with my existing cards.

The label on the Exascend SDXC card has various icons that describe the card's performance.

II refers to it being UHS-II, which is faster and more reliable than UHS-I SDXC. SDXC means Secure Digital eXtended Capacity. The U3 refers to its Speed Class and its minimum write speed of 30 MB/s. Most SD cards today are U3, and the Exascend's write speed is well above that at 280 MB/s. The C10 logo is also a class rating, and it refers to a minimum speed of 10 MB/s. Again, most full-size SD cards are C10.

The card's V90 rating refers to the video speed, with the lower V30 being suitable for 4K recording. That means it can handle 8K video, with its minimum write speeds guaranteed not to drop below 90 MB/s. It's a card very much aimed at the demands of cinematographers. Another format of their memory cards, the Exascend 1TB Archon CFexpress Type B, is certified for use by RED.

Probably the most important information for photographers is the capacity and read and write speed readings. This card shows it has a capacity of 128 GB. Its maximum read speed is 300 MB/s, and its write speed is 280 MB/s. To compare, UHS-I cards typically have a read speed of 90-170 MB/s.

On the box, there is a thermometer icon that shows it can be used in temperatures as low as -13 °F (-25 °C) and up to 185 °F (85 °C), a wider range even than even my OM-1.

These cards are also water x-ray-proof, plus dust-, impact-, and magnet-resistant. I ran one under a tap for a minute, and it still worked. These are the perfect cards for shooting in extreme environments.

The rear of the card looks different from the UHS-I cards, as it has an extra row of terminals. It is important to check that your camera is compatible with this type of card before purchasing. The card may still work in cameras with lower bus speeds, but you won't get the full advantage of the card's speed.

It's not a problem I’ve experienced, but I’ve heard reports from other photographers that they have had issues with a different brand's UHS-II cards being too tight in the camera's card slot and getting stuck. This was not a problem with the Exascend that slipped nicely into the camera, locked in place, and then released again with no issues.

The difference between the performance of this and the UHS-I cards I own was significant. My OM-1 camera will buffer 90 frames, and this is pretty much the limit of the number of images I will get using High-Speed Sequential (120 raw fps) with a UHS-I card. I then must then wait for around 50 seconds before those 90 frames are written to the card.

In comparison, with the EXASCEND UHS-II card, the camera writes several frames while the camera is shooting, so I was ending up with over 100 frames before the camera was slowed down by the camera's internal memory being full. Furthermore, the buffer was emptied and the images were written to the card in well under 10 seconds.

With the silent sequential setting on the camera, I was shooting at about 20 fps with continuous autofocus, and the buffer didn't fill up until I had shot 143 raw frames.

After running several hundred high-speed frames through the card, I removed it to check the temperature, and it was around room temperature. Continuously uploading and downloading photos to it on my computer resulted in no discernible change in temperature, either.

When I set out to review this product, I wondered whether I would find enough words to write about it. But the more I delved into it, the more I was impressed when I compared it to other brands.

These are excellent-quality cards, exceedingly fast, and very well-made. They do the job that you would expect from UHS-II. Moreover, the build quality is robust and superior to the other brands I previously used.

There are advantages and disadvantages to working with cards of the size I chose. Firstly, you will get more than double the number of frames that you will with a 64 GB card. It holds 5,483 raw files or 8,292 large superfine JPEGs from my OM-1. So, there are fewer card changes to do if any, a definite advantage when shooting a wedding or working in harsh conditions. That does mean you do have all your eggs in one basket, which is why I like to write images to the two memory slots on my camera.

One thing that is growingly important to many photographers is that Exascend is a Taiwanese company, and their manufacturing is carried out there. From a human rights perspective, Taiwan is rated as one of the freest Asian countries for political rights and civil liberties.

There are two small improvements I would like to see. Firstly, there is nowhere on the label to write on the cards; I like to number mine, although this may be unnecessary considering the capacity of the card. Secondly, as mentioned earlier, it would be environmentally better if the tray in the box were made from recyclable cardboard and not plastic.

These are not cheap at $159, but you get what you pay for. Other known brands are in the same price range, and some are cheaper, but the build quality is not the same. For me, the extra quality is worth the investment. Indeed, there are some budget UHS-II cards out there, but I am suspicious about their construction, and I wouldn't trust those at a wedding shoot.

Like any new equipment I've tested, I haven't been able to test this over time. However, it comes with a generous five-year warranty. It performed well after running around 4,000 shots through it, repeatedly flicking the lock switch back and forth, and giving it a soaking.

There have only been a couple of things I have reviewed that have persuaded me to change from using one brand to another. Now that I have tried them and recognize their superior build compared to what I think is the most popular brand, I know I will buy these cards from now on.

Exascend produces a range of different high-quality memory cards and other products that you can see here.

Earning a living as a photographer, website developer, and writer and Based in the North East of England, much of Ivor's work is training others; helping people become better photographers. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being through photography. In 2023 he became a brand ambassador for the OM System

I think that specific card speed is overkill for stills for most scenarios. An option, from the same line, albeit a little slower, is their $49 128gb 280/100. Real world use, I don't think you'll notice difference.

You are right Eddie, in many circumstances those will be a superb option too. For single-frame or low burst-rate shooting, those would be ideal. I guess it partly depends on the demands of the shoot, the capabilities of the camera, and the budget. I suspect that in a few years time, camera technology will have moved on again and higher-performance cards will become more widely needed, especially for video. Thanks for the great comment.

Great review. Curious how it works long term. I’ve had a lot of high end cards corrupt throughout my career.

Thank you. I'll be sure to shout here if they give up. They look really promising though.