Technical Tuesday: ‘Transforming’ a SONY Alpha a850 or a900 in to a Speed Machine


I LOVE my SONY Alpha a850 but one of the criticisms I have with my SONY Alpha a850 is, from time to time, the Alpha a850 becomes a very slow beast.
You know what I mean, hitting the memory buffer after a mere 12 frames of shooting in rapid fire in RAW format.

This would be followed by the annoyance of waiting and watching the red ‘writing’ LED on the back right side of the camera as the data was written to Compact Flash card.   And at 25 megs plus per image, it can take a while to update the card.    Now I was thinking that the issue with this lack of speed was the fault of my camera, but I was very wrong and here is why.

I Photograph some very important people (Families, Brides and Grooms) and I needed to use the finest most reliable and latest spec cards currently on the market.  Many of these cards that I use are the biggest names in the Compact Flash Card Industry.  Many of the Cards had names like Extreme, or Ultra or Elite, and they all performed flawlessly.   Now, I am a frugal photographer and I try to keep my expenses down with each assignment, but I will not skimp on my Compact Flash Cards except in price.    Yes I seen the UDMA cards on the rack at the camera shop but was forced to take a card of a lesser price because I am cheap.    I was purchasing three replacement cards a month ago and came across a sale on some UDMA cards and so I took a gamble and purchased them.    I was assured by the sames person that I made a smart decision on my card purchase.

Several Saturdays ago, while I was shooting a Wedding and using a well known Brand Compact Flash Card, at a critical point during the ceremony, my SONY Alpha a850 stalled while the Compact Flash card was being written to.   Yes I did get some buffer space free to continue shooting, but now my camera was very slow.   With my card at 90 percent full, I pulled a new card out of my bag, a brand new card from Hoodman, the ones that I purchased to replace a bunch of older Compact Flash Cards.

Without looking at the details on the card, I powered up my camera and commenced shooting the rest of the ceremony.   It was not till the end of the recessional that I realized that my camera did not slow down or stop to write the memory.  Then Panic set in and I immediately started to check the stored images on the Compact Flash Card.   First, each image came right up on the display with any hesitation.  And I was able to scroll through the images without waiting to the card to catch up.  The Hoodman card a UDMA 8GB RAW Compact Flash Card is their state-of-the-art UDMA Class 6 external storage device that boasts a transfer rate of 675X, or 100MB per second write speed.

I had only purchased three of the cards at the time because I was trying to save money.  But all I will say, my SONY Alpha a850 was reborn.   I used the Hoodman cards during portions of the Wedding Reception that I needed speed and needed to have the card keep up with me.   My camera was keeping pace with me, as long as I was using the Hoodman Compact Flash Cards.

Back at the studio on Sunday Morning, I commence with the transferring the images from the Compact Flash Drives to Apple Mac Production Computer.   Using my Fire Wire Reader, I realized that the Hoodman Cards were dumping images to the computer much faster.  Infact, what normally would take 3 minutes for an 8gb card to dump was taking only 45 seconds with the Hoodman Compact Flash Card.

I was sold, I now plan to replace the rest of my inventory of Compact Flash Cards with the Newer UDMA cards that are on the market.

So you ask, what makes these cards so much better and faster?   Well thank you for asking.

The original Compact Flash technology utilizes ATA external interface technology. This is the method the Compact Flash controller chip communicates to the camera or other device in which it is used.
ATA interface was originally developed for hard drive technology. ATA technology originally utilized PIO (Programmed Input/Output) protocols which supported speeds up to 25MB/s, but to achieve higher speeds UDMA protocol was developed and added to the ATA spec. UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access) transfers data from one storage device to memory to another device without using the CPU. Because UDMA is freeing up the usage of the processor, UDMA tends to be faster than PIO mode.
Early Compact Flash cards and cameras do not support the newer UDMA Compact Flash Cards.   It’s only been within the last few years, camera and Compact Flash manufacturers introduced products that support UDMA.  Most of these are higher priced products developed for the professional photography market.

Are there other companies that also have the UDMA protocol in their cards?   Yes and many of these cards are as good as the Hoodman in speed and reliability.  They include Delkin Devices, Lexar Professional, and SanDisk Extreme Pro,

Now another item that will affect your speed is the speed of the Compact Flash Card and the Price.  Speeds range from 200X to 675X but with the speed increase so too will the price.   But if you want your SONY Alpha a850, a900 or even your SONY Alpha a700 to perform faster in those critical moments, then you must be willing to pony up the extra cash.

Now there are other newer brands of Compact Flash Drives that are hitting the market that boasts 400X speed at very reasonable prices.  But be aware, some of these cards may not work in your camera.   I plan in the future to test these cards and report on them as well.   But so to be fair with these companies, they include:  TOPRAM Technology, A-Data, ProSpec, and WINTEC.

My advice is to check with the manufacturers and see if their UDMA Compact Flash Cards is supported on your SONY Camera.   But be warned, once you used one of these cards, you will want to through out your old cards.

For more information on Hoodman UDMA Cards go to their site:  HOODMAN

For more information on Delkin Devices UDMA Cards, go to their site:   Delkin Devices

For more information on SanDisk Extreme Pro Cards, go to their site:  SanDisk Extreme Pro

For more information on Lexar Professional Cards, go to their site:   Lexar Professional Cards

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~ by pthomaslambert on July 6, 2010.

One Response to “Technical Tuesday: ‘Transforming’ a SONY Alpha a850 or a900 in to a Speed Machine”

  1. thanks for the info. the 900 at 5fps can get a bit bogged down as well. will try them out

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