As I prepare for the Summer Olympics in Rio, I am more interested in the true usability of the camera and the workflow advantages using the new CFast memory cards.
Canon was nice enough to get me a prerelease version of the upcoming Canon 1DX Mark II so that I could try it for myself and determine the best workflow for my upcoming crazy fast deadlines in Rio.
With my many years at Lexar, I guess I learned more about memory cards and readers than most people would ever want to know. But this gives me a unique understanding of the technology and how the cards perform both in camera and in readers. And, like most of my other camera tests, I do not focus on statistics and charts, instead I am more concerned with how this new camera works in the hands of a working photographer.
When I photographed my first Olympic Games, I had a 12 hour deadline to get images back to the US, but now that 12 hour deadline has decreased to mere minutes. For this reason, workflow is absolutely key for me. So, with this in mind, I set out to test CFast and CF cards in the Canon 1DX Mark II to determine the best possible scenario for me at the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.
When first getting the camera, I started by testing it with different memory cards. Here are the results of my tests:
SHOOTING ONLY RAW FILES
For this test, I was using the new Lexar Professional 3500x CFast card and a Lexar Professional 1066x CompactFlash card.
CFast only RAW test
I started by testing the Canon 1DX Mark II with just a CFast card in the second slot. Since I rarely ever shoot in JPEG mode, I skipped that step and went straight to the more memory intensive RAW setting.
I set the camera to it's fastest burst mode and fired off more than 800 full RAW photos before the camera slowed down. and even then, it was a slight hiccup while still firing off rapid bursts. Honestly, my finger got tired doing this test. This is a crazy amount of shots and is it not very likely that I would ever want to shoot this many shots in succession. But it is a testament to the technology that this could be achieved.
CFast and CompactFlash RAW test
I then added a Lexar 1066x Professional CompactFlash card and set the camera to record full RAW images to both cards. To me this is the most important test, because when shooting important jobs (regardless of whether it is a mitzvah, wedding or the Olympics), I like recording to two cards. Even though I have never lost an image, I do this to make darned sure that I get my photos. It is good peace of mind. Staying in burst mode, I hit the shutter release and fired off 81 full RAW photos before the buffer filled and the camera slowed down. The reason for this performance degradation is, when writing the images to the two cards, the camera has to default to the slowest card. In this case, the 1066x CF card was holding back the 3500x CFast card from it's full potential. So...then comes the burning question. Do I write to two cards at the Olympics with a more limited buffer clearing? And the answer is "yes". It is rare that I would ever shoot more than 80 images in one sequence, and as I already mentioned, I want to know that my photos are in more than one place.
I know many people who shoot RAW+JPEG, but I never do this. I want to shoot RAW to get the very best photos I can, and if I ever need to convert the RAW files to JPEG, I can do this very quickly in Photo Mechanic. The other reason I don't shoot in both formats at one time is, it actually slows down the buffer clearing significantly. Why? Because the camera needs to process the same image twice, once for RAW and once for JPEG.
But, for the sake of testing, I decided to shoot RAW+JPEG to see how the Canon 1DX Mark II handled this situation.
CFast only RAW+JPEG test
Like the previous tests, I held down the shutter release button and did not let go. The camera fired off photos at a blistering rate, pouring the images to the CFast card until it hit 106 photos. At this point, the camera slowed down and it took about 3 seconds for the red light to go off (signifying that the camera was done writing to the card. Not only was this a big difference from shooting 800 RAW files, but the camera could not fire off a bunch more photos until the buffer was cleared.
CFast and CompactFlash RAW+JPEG test
Knowing what I do about the camera technology, I figured that this test would be the slowest possible scenario for the Canon 1DX Mark II. This test was writing two different formats to two different cards, with one being the slower CompactFlash. Testing the same way as before, I was able to capture 51 photos before the buffer filled. And then I had to wait about 12 seconds for the buffer to clear. In normal everyday activity, 12 seconds is not a big deal. But if I am missing 12 seconds of action at the Olympics, this is a very big deal!
All this might lead you to wonder if there is any advantage of shooting to CFast over the CompactFlash cards that we have come to know and love for all these years. Trust me, there is an advantage when it comes to download speeds.
Remember, the CF cards are limited to 160 Megabytes per second whereas the new CFast cards are capable of reading 540 Megabytes per second.
Download Speed Test (CFast vs. CF)
To test the speed difference between both cards, I used my Macbook Pro (2012) which has an internal solid state drive (SSD) and Lexar card readers. I also chose to use CameraBits Photo Mechanic to download the photos. I did this because it is exactly what I plan to use in Rio.
I filled both the CFast and CF memory cards with the exact same 63GB of RAW photos from the new Canon DSLR.
CFast download speeds
My first test was using the Lexar CR2 CFast card reader connected to my MacBook Pro using the USB 3.0 port. And then my second test was downloading the same amount of data using the Thunderbolt port. Here are the results:
USB 3.0 download: 6 minutes and 7 seconds
Thunderbolt download: 4 minutes and 58 seconds
CF download speeds
USB 3.0 download: 10 minutes and 23 seconds
Essentially, the CF card took about twice as long to download as the faster CFast card.
Downloading more than one card at a time
Just for the fun of it, I split the 63GB across two CFast cards and two CF cards (approx 31.5GB per card), and downloaded from two cards at one time to see how that would fare. The results were:
2 CFast cards using the Lexar CFast reader (using Thunderbolt) - 4 minutes and 36 seconds
2 CF cards using the Lexar CF reader (using USB 3.0) - 6 minutes and 48 seconds
REAL WORLD TESTING
After doing all the technical tests, I took the Canon 1DX Mark II into the field to do some real world testing. I shot an entire NHL game with the camera, using the Canon 70-200mm lens (when shooting at ice level, through the hole in the plexiglass) and the Canon 100-400mm lens (when shooting from up in the stands). None of the photos were taken using strobes, and therefore required high ISO and fast shutter speeds to capture the action. My goal was to simulate my photography environment at the upcoming Olympics.
Here are photos from the shoot:
The focus tracking was very fast, and was able to track the athletes even though they were coming straight at me at a fast rate of speed.
For this photo, I had moved the focus point from the center to a higher point. It appears that the focus is more accurate at other points (not just the center point) than on the previous model.
All of the photos were taken using Auto White Balance and needed little to no adjustments when processing the images.
I liked this shot, but felt that it needed to be cropped tighter.
Here is the tighter crop.
This VERY tight crop shows you the level of detail captured by the Canon 1DX Mark II (at ISO 1600).
In total, I shot 57.3GB of photos, all in full RAW format. Using my Mac Pro desktop machine, I was able to download all the photos onto my external hard drive in 6 minutes and 20 seconds using the Lexar 3500x CFast card, Lexar CFast reader and the Lexar HR2 Hub.
After having the Canon 1DX Mark II in my hands for the last month, I can tell you that this is the next step forward in the 1 Series of cameras for Canon. It has tons of new features, including 4K video, integrated GPS, more focal points, and a ton more that you can read about in other reviews. But for me, it is about quality and speed, and this camera delivers that.
If you have read through all of this, and made it to the very end here, you have probably determined that CFast is a helpful new card format. Yes, there are some drawbacks, since most of you probably do not own these new cards yet, and they are not cheap. You may have to invest in a new set of memory cards for your collection. But they do offer other advantages over CF, other than just speed, in that there are no pins that can easily be bent.
Based on all of this testing, here is what I have determined to be the best scenario for my shooting in Rio De Janeiro. I am going to shoot to both the CFast card and CF cards, for redundancy reasons. I am willing to limit my burst shots in favor of having peace of mind knowing the images are being stored in two places. When shooting at the NHL game, there was not one time when I had to wait for the buffer to clear. I will then eject and download all of my photos from the CFast cards, leaving the high capacity CF cards in the camera as backup only.
Yikes - this has to be one of the geekiest blogs I have ever written. For those of you who are not technical, and saw this as a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo, please accept my apologies. :)
Three months from now I will be in Rio for the Summer Olympics and putting the Canon 1DX Mark II and all of this to good use!
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