I typically go out with about 100gb of CF cards ready to use (a 32gb, 3x 16gb, 3x 8gb) some standard speeds, some UDMA, a mix of Sandisk and Lexar. I also go out with a 250gb HD card reader. The purpose of the HD is for backup, and in some cases, simply because we need to re-use the cards.
If we shoot in studio or on location we tend to have at least one, usually two Macbook Pro’s available with a bunch of Lacie External HD as backup drives. On the recent review shoot of the PhaseOne P40+ we shot about 160gb in 3-4 hours, excluding the data from the video feeds.
The actual usage speeds of the various brands and models of CF and SD cards is well documented by guys like Rob Galbraith and more or less proves that a faster card tends to benefit you in hard and fast shooting conditions, where the buffer needs to clear faster and you need to get shooting again, but for this review, we are more interested in the download speeds of the various card reader options.
How did we test?
Essentially we hooked up the card readers to a 17″ Macbook Pro, and dumped the same files from a 16gb UDMA and non-UDMA Compact Flash Card. The UDMA card was a Lexar Professional 300x 16gb and the non-UDMA was a Sandisk Ultra 30MB/s 16gb Compact Flash Card. It wasn’t a super scientific research, but for real world usage, I think it does give us a pretty decent idea of what typical usage would be like.
We did the downloads on a clean system, so conditions for downloads would be “perfect” and every download was started under the same conditions. We ran a browser (active Java script), Photoshop (inactive) and the Finder. Did a complete download twice, and took the best time.
There are some benefits other than pure download speed, but we will handle these below:
The benefits of the various units
As you can see, except for the MicroDia reader, there is not a lot of difference between the various solutions when downloading. And even then, 2minutes over 16gb is not a whole lot. There are, however, a few important things to keep in mind.
Unlike the Express Card slot, and FireWire, USB2 speeds tend to change dependant on whether you are working through the main USB port or a “hub”-port on your computer. They also tend to slow down if the computer is busy. USB2 uses more System Resources than the Express Card slot or FireWire. So if your computer is busy rendering previews while downloading images, then USB2 might not be your best bet (we have slowed down a 16gb download to over 26minutes)
That said: If you have more than one model/type of camera, the multi-card readers available in USB2 is a better bet (I have to be able to read a microSD, SD and CF from the various bodies)
FireWire readers tend to be stackable, so a few readers can be daisy-chained together for simultaneous download… something you can’t do with USB (you can do simultaneous downloads, but not on the same port)
The ExpressCard slot readers are small and compact, and doesn’t require any extra cables, but then again… almost everything else needs a USB cable, so sharing cables is not really that big an issue.
Review by Sean Nel
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