By Joe Farace
I said it last year in Professional Photographer magazine and it’s worth repeating now: All CompactFlash cards are not the same. With high capacity CompactFlash cards at rock-bottom prices, some photographers just buy whatever’s cheapest to capture their precious images. But just as choosing the correct film for an assignment was important in traditional photography, choosing the right memory card is critical for digital capture. Here’s why: They’re not all the same speed.
Lexar’s new Professional UDMA memory cards utilize the Ultra Direct Memory Access protocol that is twice as fast as the previous disk drive standard for computers. The UDMA memory card is just part of the puzzle, you also need to add some other pieces, starting with a FireWire 800 interface (See sidebar: “FireWire 800; 799 times better than FireWire”) and a UDMA-enabled device, such as Lexar's Professional FireWire 800 Reader. When used with a UDMA-enabled device, Lexar Professional UDMA cards deliver a 125-percent performance improvement over previous generation 133x CompactFlash cards. UDMA cards improve a pro’s digital imaging workflow by reducing the time needed to capture and download those images to a computer.
Lexar’s Professional UDMA memory cards are speed-rated at 300x and are capable of a minimum sustained write speed of 45MB per second. Like other products in the Lexar Professional line, the 300x cards come with a limited lifetime warranty, free technical support, and a suite of software that includes a full version of Corel Paint Shop Pro X, Lexar Image Rescue 3, and Lexar Backup n Sync software. The UDMA memory cards are available in capacities of 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB and are priced at $59.99, $119.99, and $199.95 respectively.
For my tests, I used a Canon EOS 1D Mark II to simultaneously capture RAW plus Large JPEG files, giving the camera the largest possible amount of data to write to the memory card. When I last performed this test on Lexar’s 2GB 133X Professional CompactFlash card it took two seconds for the information to write to the card in a Canon EOS 30D. (See my story “The CompactFlash Card Speedway” from Professional Photographer Web Exclusives, May 2006.) An 8GB Lexar Professional UDMA memory card did it in 1.3 seconds. Several UDMA-enabled digital camera backs and digital SLRs are expected to be announced later this year, and write performance with these new cameras should be nearly instantaneous.
Photographers often think their memory card’s speed and performance only make an impact on digital capture when the card is in their camera, but speed-rated cards impact workflow when reading and writing data with a card reader. At PMA in March, Lexar introduced two new Pro quality card readers including an upgrade to Lexar's existing stackable model that allows for concurrent download of information from multiple flash memory cards inserted into multiple readers that don’t add to their desktop footprint.
The Professional UDMA FireWire 800 Reader is compatible with all CompactFlash (Type I and Type II) and microdrives (if anyone is still using microdrives). It ships with one-meter and 18-centimeter FireWire 800 cables. The 18-cm cable is convenient when two or more readers are daisy-chained or when the reader is used with a laptop. Lexar anticipates that when using the new card reader and 300x Professional UDMA cards you should be able cut the time spent downloading image files in half. The reader is also compatible with original FireWire computers when using an optional FireWire 800-to-400 cable. The Professional UDMA FireWire 800 Reader has a suggested retail price of $79.99 and requires Windows XP or later or Mac OS 10.2.8 or higher.
Using a Lexar 8GB Professional UDMA memory card with a mix of 50 RAW and JPEG images, the UDMA FireWire 800 Reader card readers transferred the files to my G4 PowerBook’s hard drive in fifteen seconds; Lexar’s standard FireWire reader took 45 seconds with the same card. In all my tests, the UDMA card and reader saved 67 percent of the time normally taken to download image files. Like the original Lexar card reader the UDMA FireWire 800 Reader can be daisy chained with other card readers so you can download three or more UDMA cards in same time it would to transfer data from a standard card in a standard FireWire card reader.
In all the testing done for this story, I attempted to reproduce what you could normally expect in real world usage; your mileage may vary. Nevertheless, the performance gains achieved with a Lexar 8GB Professional UDMA memory card with a Professional UDMA FireWire 800 Reader are real and measurable and gives pros back some administrative time that can more profitably used on other projects.