Since Sony introduced the A7S III and its CFexpress Type A TOUGH Memory Cards in July 2020 it has been the only manufacturer to produce these types of cards which are smaller, although somewhat thicker compared to SD cards and significantly faster.
Recently we became one of the first to receive a sample of the newly released ProGrade CFexpress Type A Cobalt cards for review which are the first third party cards of this type and we are going to put them to the test against the Sony cards using our Sony A1 camera in both stills and video modes to see how well they perform.
One note before we start. ProGrade also sent us their CFexpress Type A card reader which we shall use for the computer transfer portion of this review. We do plan to release an extensive review looking at the performance of different CFexpress Type A card readers from different manufacturers so please stay tuned for that.
The Sony TOUGH and ProGrade Cobalt CFexpress Type A Cards in the Sony A1
Unlike the A7SIII which has no limitations on stills shooting with SD cards, the A1 can only unleash its full high-speed potential in stills via CFexpress Type A (in ideal conditions with a limited number of native Sony lenses using electronic shutter).
We used our Sony 20mm f/1.8 lens with a 1/2000 shutter speed in MF mode with electronic shutter, High+ drive mode (30fps) shooting compressed RAW files, and got over 30 fps (closer to 32fps) with both cards although the Sony was not as consistent as the ProGrade on repeated testings and on occision missed a few shots (we “only” got 25fps).
To our surprise, our fastest SD card – the Prograde SD UHS-II 128GB Card V90 card (rated for a maximum of 250MB/s Write and 300 MB/s Read Speed) also got over 30fps – at least for a short fast burst (under the same conditions).
Buffer clearing was a different story with the SD card and while both CFexpress Type A cards were super quick to clear the buffer, the SD lagged far behind, making it far less adequate for fast stills shooting on the A1.
Both the A1 and the A7S III can shoot in almost any type of video format and setting using either V60 or V90 cards.
On our A1 there are only two types of S&Q settings where you must use a CFexpress Type A cards and these are both XAVC S-I 4K 120p and 1080p 240p. Trying to shoot in both these modes using even our fastest V90 card resulted in the following massage:
Computer file transfer
We are not going to spend too much time here on testing read and write speed using a card reader as we will have a lengthy separate review for that. But we did do a quick read test with the Prograde CFexpress Type A & SD Memory Card Reader and we got the following results for all 3 cards (transferring a 20GB folder to a computer with a fast NVME drive):
- Sony CFexpress Type A TOUGH – 487MB/s.
- ProGrade CFexpress Type A Cobalt – 520MB/s.
- Prograde SD UHS-II 128GB Card V90 – 290MB/s.
The ProGrade CFexpress Type A Cobalt (left) and Prograde SD UHS-II 128GB Card
So, as you have seen, in terms of performance the ProGrade is a little more consistent than the original Sony card but for the most part, they seem to perform very much identically in our tests. While they didn’t seem to have an edge over a fast SD card in short fast bursts of stills in our test, they both cleared the buffer much faster.
Both are also well built with some metal parts for extra durability and heat dissipation and both are made in Taiwan and are equally capable of shooting very high frame rates in S&Q video modes.
We can’t really comment about the long-term reliability of both cards but that is a factor you always need to consider, especially when buying these expensive memory cards.
A clear winner, but still pricey
As for pricing the new CFexpress Type A Cobalt sells for $330 for a 160GB card while the Sony 160GB CFexpress Type A TOUGH card sells for just under $400. The Prograde SD UHS-II 128GB Card V90 we used in this review as well sells for $140.
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