Preparing for what will be a slightly delayed arrival of my Canon EOS R5, I picked up a new ProGrade Digital CFexpress Type B card and dropped my friends at ProGrade Digital a line to ask about this new type of card, and they were kind enough to send me a few more cards to test, so today I’m going to share my findings along with a little more information as to why this new format is so exciting! I also picked up one of their Thunderbolt 3 Single-Slot Card Readers, and a USB 3.2 Gen 2.0 Dual-Slot Card Reader, which I have also compared and will report on shortly.
Let’s first touch on the difference between Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2 Gen 2.0, as this feeds into at least part of the reason for getting both card readers. Thunderbolt 3 can transfer data at speeds up to 40 Gbps, and can also run displays as well as other peripheral devices. This is what I have in my iMac Pro and my 13 inch MacBook Pro, which was the first model to include four USB-C ports, which is shared by the Thunderbolt 3 standard.
There has been a lot of confusion over what was initially called USB 3.1 Gen 1 and Gen 2. These have now been renamed, but the confusing elements have, unfortunately, not really been removed. USB 3.1 Gen 1 is now USB 3.2 Gen 1 with a transfer speed of up to 5 Gbps, and USB 3.1 Gen 2 is now USB 3.2 Gen 2 with a transfer speed of up to 10 Gbps. There is also now a USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 which was originally just USB 3.2, and that has transfer speeds of up to 20 Gbps. They are all about to be succeeded by USB 4, and hopefully, the standard will start to settle down with regards to silly confusing naming, but I’m not overly confident that this will happen given the recent track record.
What we have to test though will show you the practical differences between the 40 Gbps Thunderbolt 3 card reader and the 10 Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 2 reader. On paper, the Thunderbolt 3 reader is 4 times faster, but in practical terms, Thunderbolt 3 far exceeds the speed of the cards, but they are faster than USB 3.2 Gen 2, so although there is a difference, they are both lightning-fast, and both will leave the old standards such as USB 2.0 standing. With the faster cards, both of these readers are even significantly faster than the original USB 3.0 which is now generally referred to as USB 3.1 Gen 1.
Occasionally people turn up on my workshops and tell me that their image transfer process takes a number of hours, or sometimes the entire evening on heavy wildlife trips. If you are spending this much time transferring images I definitely recommend getting an up to date card reader, and can’t recommend the ProGrade readers highly enough.
My decision to get both readers was based mostly on travel logistics. At my desk, I’m more than happy to use the larger Thunderbolt 3 Single Slot CFexpress card reader, which by the way, with the addition of software drivers also doubles as an XQD card reader, but I don’t have any XQD cards to test so we won’t go into that. This card reader though is around 9.8 x 9.8 cm, which gives it an area of 96 cm2. That is almost double the area of the 7 x 7 cm CFexpress and SD UHS-II dual card reader at 49 cm2.
When packing a little extra is not an issue I may pack the Thunderbolt 3 reader as well, to enable me to import two cards simultaneously, but I think for overseas travel I will probably just leave the larger reader on my desk at home and take just the smaller reader. Anyway, let’s look at some figures so that you can see just how well these cards and the respective readers perform.
I ran a series of tests using Black Magic Design’s Disk Speed Test application and noted the speeds captured after a couple of cycles had run on both the Write and Read speeds. If you’ve ever used this software you’ll know that there can be a lot of variance between tests, even with the same card in the same card reader, so these aren’t absolute fastest speeds, and they also don’t simulate writing photographs or video to the card. What these figures do is give you an idea of how fast these cards are compared to each other, using the two card readers.
As you can see, the more expensive Cobalt card has much faster write speeds than even ProGrade Digitals own Gold cards, hence the price point. It’s pretty amazing that they have achieved write speeds of around 1300 MB/s and read speeds of coming up to 1450 MB/s. During the tests, there were spikes much higher than these figures as well. The Cobalt card that I tested was a 325GB card, and they also have a 650GB card which I will pick up as soon as the slightly faster-updated version hits the Japan Amazon store.
The Gold cards also have very similar read speeds, but just under half the write speeds, at between 500 and 580 MB/s. I also included my fastest SDXC card to put these speeds into context. The cards that I’ve been using for the last few years with my EOS R are also a ProGrade Digital. The main two cards that stayed in both of my cameras was a 128 and a 256 GB Cobalt SDXC v90 card. These are slightly slower than the newest version available, as ProGrade seems to constantly tweak their products to squeeze out as much performance as possible, so seeing a jump in speed on the same card is not uncommon.
Here is a photo of both the CFexpress Type B card and my slightly outdated SDXC card, so that you can see the difference in size. Note that the Type B designation of this particular CFexpress card refers to its size, not the quality or speed. Type B cards are 38.5 x 29.8 x 3.8 mm. There is a smaller Type A card which is 20 x 28 x 2.8 mm and a larger Type C card which measures 54 x 74 x 4.8 mm. The Canon EOR R5 only takes the Type B CFexpress card, and the second slot is for SDXC cards, so be careful when you are buying your new CFexpress card for the R5. There are already some Type A cards in the wild, although Type C are a little more difficult to come by at this point.
In case you want to see the exact numbers that I jotted down for each card, here is a table of my results. As you’d expect, the Thunderbolt 3 card reader is quite a lot faster than the USB 3.2 Gen 2 reader, which keeps all of the cards under its maximum logical transfer speed of 10 Gbps. Keep in mind that the USB standard speeds are quoted in Gbps which is Gigabits per second, but the Disk Speed Test results are spat out in Megabytes per second. If we convert Thunderbolt 3’s 40 Gigabits per second to Gigabyte per second, we’re looking at around 5 Gigabytes per second. Likewise, the 10 Gigabits per second for USB 3.2 Gen 2 becomes 1.25 Gigabytes per second or 1250 Megabytes per second, so it would be physically impossible for the USB 3.2 Gen 2 card reader to transfer data at the speeds we saw with the Thunderbolt 3 reader.
Thunderbolt 3 Reader
USB 3.1 Gen 2 Reader
CFexpress 325GB Cobalt
CFexpress 512GB Gold
CFexpress 1TB Gold
SDXC v90 128GB
And for good measure, I’ll also share the Black Magic Design Disk Speed Test results for the CFexpress cards merged together into a single image.
What Does This Mean?
So, to think through what this means in terms of using the EOS R5 with these new CFexpress cards, I checked Canon’s data transfer speeds to see if I could identify any possible areas of concern, so let’s touch on a few of the key points here.
The most demanding format to write in looks to be 8K DCI video in Raw mode which requires a transfer rate of approximately 2600 Mbps, or 325 MB/s, and that is below the minimum write speed that I saw with both the Cobalt and Gold CFexpress cards from ProGrade Digital. Canon also has an area stating that for 8K Raw video you’ll need a CFexpress card with write speeds over 400 MB/s and for ALL-I you’ll need over 200 MB/s. What this tells us is that both the Cobalt and Gold cards from ProGrade Digital should be up to the task of shooting 8K Raw video, but as I haven’t actually tried this yet, I won’t be able to say for sure until I get my R5.
As far as I can see this also poses no issues at all for the high frame rate shooting possible with the R5, but the faster the write speed of the card, the more quickly we should be able to clear our buffer and be ready to continue shooting. Canon are claiming that the Raw buffer size is 66 images on a UHS-I SD card and 88 images on UHS-II SD cards, and they don’t say anything about the buffer size when using CFexpress cards, so my guess is that it’s probably going to be such a high number that filling the buffer will be a very rare occurrence, and probably not something that I want to do using my own camera in my tests, but I will try to do as much as possible and report back as soon as I get my EOS R5.
Unfortunately, I heard from the store that I ordered my R5 from and they are not able to get me mine today, which is the day of release. There is also a statement on the Canon website here in Japan apologizing for not being able to fulfill all orders on the day of release. It would seem that the EOS R5 is already exceeding Canon’s expectations, and I’m disappointed not to be able to get my review underway on the day of release as well. Hopefully, it won’t be many days into August before I get mine, and I’ll report on my findings as soon as I am able to.
As I say, I’ll also update you on how the ProGrade Digital cards fair in the R5, but I am honestly expecting them to work pretty much flawlessly. The only thing that I have on my radar to look out for is the possibility of the camera overheating when shooting 8K video, and this is being put down to the CFexpress cards themselves overheating. I read that when these cards overheat they thermal throttle down to 200 MB/s, which would mean that if you are in a situation where the camera or card does overheat, you would need to switch from 8K Raw video to ALL-I. Personally, I generally shoot in ALL-I anyway, so this is not something that I am really concerned about at this point.
Although I’m looking forward to shooting some 8K video, it’s the still photography specs like the frame-rate and resolution of the R5 that have me salivating over this camera, and the high video specs are really just a bonus. I do see me shooting more video with the R5 than ever before though, simply because the quality will probably be out of this world, but I’ll update you on this in due course as well.
Before we finish I would like to add that I am really excited about these quantum leaps we’re seeing in the technology that are enabling manufacturers to do so much more. I honestly did not expect Canon to come out with a camera the size of the R5 with such high frame-rates at such high resolution, but I also was not aware of the CFexpress standard until I placed my order for the R5 and looked into the type of memory cards it used. I knew as soon as I saw the specs that it could not be SDXC, so was highly interested in this new form factor, and so far have been blown away by all that I’ve seen. Most of this, of course, has been driven by ProGrade Digital, so a hearty thank you goes back to them for the work they do in helping to push the industry and ultimately our creative potential forward.
Support the Podcast and Blog
OK, so we’ll start to wrap this up for now. If you are preparing for the arrival of your Canon EOS R5 and you still need to place an order for a CFexpress memory card, please do consider the ProGrade Digital range. I believe these are the best cards on the market now and can recommend them without any concerns at all. If you want to support my efforts too, please use my affiliate links if you buy from Amazon.com or B&H Photo.
As I mentioned, I did buy one of my new CFexpress cards and the Thunderbolt card reader myself, but the good folks at ProGrade Digital sent me the rest of this gear to test, and although I thank them for that, this does not in any way alter how I report my findings to you. As always with my reviews, I will also let you know if I find any shortcomings with products that I test, regardless of how I obtain the product.
Please use these links to support the Podcast and blog! If I don’t have the size that you want to buy listed, click through with these links anyway as I generally still get credit for the purchase that way.
Today we’re going to take a look at an amazing new brand of memory cards and card readers from ProGrade Digital. I’ve been very impressed with them, and I’m sure you will be too!
ProGrade Digital contacted me many months ago now, to see if I would like to try their new line of high-quality memory cards, and as I wrote my reply, I realized that they did not make Compact Flash cards. At the time, Compact Flash was my preferred memory card type, but as we’ll see, this was based on old information and a lack of understanding of current technology on my part. Either way though, at the time I thought that there were no products available that I use, so we put the conversation on the back-burner for a while.
Then, I decided it was time to get my first mirrorless camera, and bought the EOS R, and with that using the SDXC format memory cards, it was the perfect chance to evaluate ProGrade Digital’s cards, so I jumped on the phone to them and had a few types of cards sent over to Japan for me to test. In the spirit of full disclosure you should know that I kept the two cards and workflow reader that I was sent, but I’d also like you to know that I have since bought a third card from Amazon.co.jp and I’m actually using that as my main card now, so I’ve voted with my dollars, or yen, as the case may be.
ProGrade Digital SDXC Cards
So, let’s take a look at these cards, and how they stood up to my tests. Testing memory cards must be broken into a number of areas, as no one aspect can truly help us to evaluate a card. The main areas that I am concerned with are read and write speeds, the card’s ability to store my images fast enough to not slow down my camera, and reliability. The first two are relatively easy to test, and we’ll get to these results in a moment, but first let me talk about reliability and how I tested this.
In my opinion, the only way to test the reliability of a memory card is to use it, day in, day out, in the field. This is the reason that you haven’t seen a review of these cards until now, despite me taking delivery of them in December 2018. I needed to use the cards in the field, to ensure that they weren’t going to break on me. In my 19 years of shooting digital, I’ve actually had very few issues with cards. I attribute this partly to the fact that I always use the Erase All Images function in my camera before formatting the card, again, in the camera. I also never delete images from the card in the camera and then continue shooting. I sometimes delete the last photo or two that I shot, but I never go back through the card looking for images that I can delete. In my opinion, this is just asking for trouble.
I actually did have problems with images getting corrupted when I first started shooting digital in 2000, and someone at Canon told me that deleting images randomly from the card and then continuing to shoot with it can cause problems, so I’ve just not done it since. It’s hard to say of course if it’s because of these things that I have had so few issues, but I can’t imagine it’s hurt in any way either.
I did have a Sandisk card develop a fault a couple of years ago, and it turns out that the card had literally become defective and needed to be replaced, but that was the only time that this happened to me in 19 years, so I have a pretty good track record. I should mention though, that I have mainly used Sandisk and Lexar cards, with a couple of Transcend cards thrown in for good measure.
Compared to 19 years of shooting, I do have a relatively short frame of reference to draw from for this review, but I used a 256GB ProGrade Digital UHS-II, U3, CLASS 10, V90 card for all three of my Japan winter tours, shooting a total of 16,000 images, and so far I have not had any problems with them.
One new thing that I have been doing on the advice of the ProGrade Digital team, is to perform a Low-Level Format, by turning on the checkbox on the Format screen on my camera whenever I format the cards.
So, at this point in time, I have no concerns about the reliability of these cards. They’ve securely saved 16,000 of my images over the last few months, and I see no reason why they won’t continue to do so moving forward.
Read/Write Speed Tests
I have to admit, when it comes to speed testing these memory cards, I initially completely missed the verbiage on the ProGrade Digital website that adds important information about the cards. The speed written on the face of the cards is apparently only the Read speed. The Write speed is different. Sometimes different to the point that you really wish the manufacturers of these cards would print on the card along with the much higher Read speed.
For example, the V90 SDXC cards that I have are rated at 250 MB/s read speed, and 200 MB/s write speed. That’s not a huge difference, and my tests actually showed that the write speed was much higher at 238 MB/s so the difference is minimal.
The V60 SDXC cards though have a much larger difference, with their read speeds up to 200 MB/s, but their write speeds are only supposed to be up to 80 MB/s. Again, in my tests, the write speed was higher at 98 MB/s and the read speed was spot on at 200.2 MB/s.
Anyway, I grabbed all of my latest model cards and did some comparisons pitching my new ProGrade Digital cards against my latest Sandisk Compact Flash cards and a new Transcend SDXC card that I use in my Zoom H6 digital recorder. I have also seen people shooting digital cameras with the small MicroSD cards in the adapter, and although this works, it’s generally going to slow down the camera, so I included a Sandisk Ultra MicroSDXC card and a Transcend MicroSDHC card for comparison.
I was pleasantly surprised by these results. For many years I’ve considered SD cards to be much slower than Compact Flash cards, and for a while I believe that was true, but as you can see from these results, the read speeds of the ProGrade Digital cards are much faster than my latest Sandisk Compact Flash cards, although I believe that as of April 2019, at 160MB/s, the Extreme Pro cards that I tested are Sandisk’s fastest Compact Flash cards.
And for good measure, here is a merged screenshot of the test results for each card, so that you can check out the other data if that’s of interest to you. Personally I don’t really understand the other numbers. The sequential read/write speeds are all that I’m interested in.
Thinking about it, if I’d known that these V90 SDXC cards were so much faster than my Compact Flash cards, I actually should have started using them in the SD slot of my 5Ds Rs when ProGrade Digital first contacted me. I was never really concerned about the speed of my Sandisk cards, but that’s because I thought I was using the fastest cards available. If I’d been using these faster ProGrade Digital SDXC cards the painfully slow frame rate of my 5Ds R might have improved a little. It’s hard to say now, as I’ve actually already sold them both.
Ability to Keep Up!
The other important aspect with regards to the speed of a memory card is its ability to keep up with the camera. I have traveled with people that complain that their cameras are not even close to the frames per second that they are supposed to be capable of, and there are sometimes reasons for this other than the speed of the card. For example, depending on your camera’s settings, the frame rate can drop if, like me, you tell the camera not to release the shutter unless it’s pretty sure that the image is in focus.
Often times though, when I check the cards of people that are unhappy with the speed of their camera, and its ability to empty a full buffer, they are using cheap and often very slow memory cards.
Of course, price is always a factor, and this is why ProGrade Digital offers their V90 and V60 versions of their SDXC cards. The 256GB V90 card has a price tag of $380, compared to just $140 for the same sized card in the V60 form factor. If the lower price is attractive, you just need to ask yourself if the performance gains are necessary for your shooting workflow, and the ability of the card to save your images and empty your buffer is a big part of this.
So, I did a relatively crude but useful test, by simply setting my camera in manual focus, with a fast shutter of 1/500 of a second, so that didn’t slow anything down, and just mashed down on the shutter until the buffer was full while taking a few readings I noticed for example that if I did bursts of around 10 to 15 frames the buffer took around four times longer to empty on the V60 card compared to the V90 card, but when I tried completely filling the buffer the difference was much less.
It took 10 seconds to empty a full buffer of 31 images on the V90 card, and around 12.5seconds on the V60 card, so if you think about how many times you are likely to fill your buffer completely, and how often waiting an extra 2.5 second for that buffer to completely empty is going to mess up your workflow, I don’t imagine the difference is going to be much of a problem.
I also transfered the test images to my computer and looked at the EXIF data to count how many frames per second I was getting. With the V90 cards I was getting a continuous 8 frames per second, which is the maximum frame rate for my EOS R, so that’s great! The V60 card gave me 8 frames per second sometimes and 7 frames per second other times, so we can average this out to 7.5frames per second, and that is still very respectable for a card that is 37% the cost of its big brother. Again, when thinking which one is for you, just ask yourself if that 0.5 second difference is really going to kill you in the field.
Same Price Worldwide!
But, being a complete hypocrite, I have never been able to get over my Mum’s advice of “If you’re gonna ‘ave one, ‘ave a big one”, so when it came to buying myself another ProGrade Digital SDXC card, I of course went for the 256GB V90 card, but you know what? There is another incredibly cool reason that I did that.
As a company, ProGrade Digital have decided to break the mold, and offer their cards at pretty much the same price in all countries that you can buy them from, and because they have no prices to protect from country to country, you can also simply buy them direct from the ProGrade Digital online store, and have them shipped to you. Of course, if you live in the US this doesn’t affect you in any other way than you can be happy that ProGrade are a cool company. If you live outside of the US though, this really is a breath of fresh air.
Historically the other memory card companies have and still do charge way more for their cards outside of the US. For example, my Sandisk 256GB Extreme Pro compact flash card is currently for sale for $340 at amazon.com and B&H. That same card on Amazon here in Japan costs $452! It’s actually been a while since I checked, and that difference seems less than before, so I think the big guys are taking a leaf out of ProGrade book, or maybe ProGrade has them running scared. Either way, this is a huge step in the right direction, and I hope that many other companies start to follow suit.
From what I hear from the ProGrade team, in addition to Amazon in the US, you can now buy their products from Amazon in Mexico, Canada, 27 countries in Europe, Japan, Australia, and they are currently in the process of launching in India and the UAE.
Before we wrap up this episode though, I have to tell you about what ProGrade Digital are calling their Workflow Readers. These are memory card readers that are absolutely amazing! I have used many card readers over the years, and some have been good, some not so good, but the ProGrade card reader blows them all out of the water.
The main reason I love this card reader is because it’s fast! Of course, I used it for all of the tests that we’ve done, but when I got to the hotel each evening during my recent winter tours, it literally only took a few minutes to transfer hundreds of images to my external SSD. Keeping in mind though, that I am using USB 3.1 Gen 2 connectivity on both my 13″ MacBook Pro and my iMac Pro, and that is much faster than USB 3.0, and my drive being a super fast Samsung X5 Solid State Drive makes a difference too, but transfer speeds are always only as fast as the weakest component, so having everything at the latest and greatest really helps me to appreciate the speed that this all provides.
The other thing that I love about the ProGrade Digital Workflow Reader that I have is that it has both a Compact Flash and SD card slot, and get this; you can transfer images from both slots at a time and the transfer speed doesn’t drop when you do that. I ran a test with two different speed test applications open, one running a test on my Sandisk CF card, and the other running a test one of my ProGrade Digital cards, and when I stopped one, the other didn’t change its speed at all. They just kept steaming along without batting an eyelid, and that is impressive.
These workflow readers come in a number of configurations, so although I got the Compact Flash and SD card version, you can also get readers with dual MicroSD card slots, a CFast and SD slot, dual SD slots, and a single slot CFX card reader. Now that I’ve sold both of my Canon 5Ds R bodies and bought a second EOS R, I no longer own a camera that uses Compact Flash cards, so I’ll be getting a dual SD card reader the next time I place an order with Amazon Japan, and that will enable me to download images from two cards at the same time. When using software like Capture One Pro that can actually handle simultaneous imports, especially when it doesn’t slow the transfer down at all, this can be a huge time saver.
Check Out ProGrade Digital Products
Check out these card or Workflow Readers on your local Amazon store or on the ProGrade Digital website. They’re compact, incredibly fast, and even come with a little metal strip that you can attach to something and then clip the reader to it with the built-in magnet if you like. A great product to support an amazing line of memory cards from this wonderful new forward-thinking company.
That reminds me, I didn’t even mention that ProGrade are creating CFExpress, Micro SDXC and CFast cards in addition to the SDXC cards that I am now using. And when you consider that regular compact flash cards are now on their way out, I can understand their business decision to concentrate on these new technologies.
So, we’ll wrap it up there for this episode. Do check out ProGrade Digital’s products when you are in the market for a new memory card or reader. They’ve completely impressed me with their speed and quality, so I recommend their products with a massive thumbs-up.
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