ProGrade had announced their brand new CF Express Type A Memory cards for Sony cameras and we just received them alongside the company’s CF Express Type A card reader. These new cards are less expensive than the Sony version (although still from being “inexpensive”) and at the moment only come in 160GB flavor.
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CF Express Type A
Just over a year ago, Sony introduced a new type of memory card into the world – the CF Express Type-A. This new type of card is closer in form factor to the common SD cards (slightly smaller and thicker, mind you the two are not compatible) but when it comes to the internal technology and architecture it is much more akin to the more mature and significantly faster (and physically larger) CF Express Type B which is used by several other manufacturers.
Why did Sony make this new type of card, especially when a much faster and mature format was already available on the market? If you ask Sony the reason was technical. CF Express Type B cards are too big to fit into Sony’s small camera bodies (two of them at least according to Sony) and so Sony decided to make a smaller card that will still support the same PCI Express interface and NVM Express protocol (although with only one lane hence slower mode).
Until today Sony was the only manufacturer to produce CF Express Type A cards. This has now changed with the introduction of the first 3’rd party cards from ProGrade, hopefully with more brands to join in the not too distant future, helping to reduce prices.
ProGrade CFexpress Type A Cobalt
It took over a year but ProGrade was finally able to break Sony’s monopoly in the CF Express Type A market and came up with its own version.
Specs-wise the ProGrade cards seem to be identical to the Sony cards – they have the same fast read speed of 800MB/s and 700MB/s write (more than twice that of the fastest UHS-II SD cards) and at the moment they only come in 160GB capacities (again like the Sony, although Sony also has an 80GB version).
The new card also supports VPG 400 performance or sustained write speeds of at least 400MB/s (this is similar to the V standard for SD cards where V60 equals a minimum sustained throughput of 60MB/s and V90 equals 90MB/s).
Who needs CFexpress Type A
As Sony A1 users we can say that the answer is a bit complicated. We shall start with video on the only two mirrorless cameras that currently support the CF Express Type A format (the upcoming A7 IV should also be compatible according to some leaks).
For most video recording modes, CF Express Type A is not necessary, and V90 SD cards and even V60 in some modes might be enough. This is true even to some 4K 120p modes and the 8K mode on the A1. There are a few exceptions though – shooting 4K 120p in XAVC S-I (intra-frame) using the S&Q Mode on the A7S III and XAVC S-I HD and XAVC S-I 4K in S&Q 120 or 240 fps on the A1.
Stills are different. On the A7S III you can shoot as fast as you want but on the 50MP A1 with its 30fps, there is a huge difference between UHS-II SD cards and CF Express Type A and we have actually been using Sony’s CF Express Type A card for stills since we got our A1 and without it, the camera is simply crippled.
ProGrade CFexpress Type A
A product that was already on the market (without too much attention we have to admit) was ProGrade’s CFexpress Type A & UHS-II SDXC Dual-Slot USB 3.2 Gen 2 Card Reader. This reader supports not only CFexpress Type A but also UHS-II SDXC cards
Unlike CFexpress Type A cards, there are a small number of 3’rd party readers and we will be looking at a few of them and try to compare them to the original Sony reader later this year.
Pricing and availability
If capacity and performance are the same, price is currently the only “card” (pun intended) ProGrade has over Sony. The new ProGrade 160GB CFexpress Type A Cobalt cards currently sell for $330 compared to $400 for the Sony original cards. The ProGrade’s CFexpress Type-A Card Reader sells for $80, both are available right now.
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