CompactFlash Media Test Results.

cfextiv.jpgWe’ve worked with an early adopter of the Sony HVR-Z7U to test 10 different compact flash cards currently available. The test results of Marshall Levy, of Maverick Productions, will answer the following questions: Do you need to spend the extra money to get the absolutely fastest media available? What does the extra money actually buy? What kind of errors will we have by starting and stopping recording to compact flash over 100 times?
These are the questions we answer right now.


I have always been someone to buy the latest and greatest equipment (or toys), and the recent release of the Sony HVR-Z7U was no exception. Having been filming on hard drives (and seldom tape) since 2005, I was eager to use the compact flash media and find out how it performed since this is the first time that a professional camera uses this media format for video purposes.

So, with all of the time that I don’t have, I figured I would do some testing with various media to determine what works best under certain conditions.

Here is a list of the media that I used. Some was purchased by myself, and some was donated by the manufacturers and/or direct resellers:


This is what they look like:


Delkin UDMA– 1394 Compact Flash card reader $70
PNY USB 2.0 Compact Flash Reader $53


1. Determine which card(s) were the most reliable with regards to filming (record/pause).
2. Test card sync with tape. How simultaneous is the actual recording.
3. Note dropouts, lockups, or other anomalies associated with data integrity
4. Test transfer speed of data from card to computer.


Recording/Pausing Comparisons with regard to sync


  1. Z7U outfitted with tape (Panasonic PQ63) and CF card
  2. Record over 30 minute duration, 100 stops/starts.
    Why 30min? – because the 8 GB cards can only handle that much time.
  3. Purpose – in many social events, several clips are recorded, above number is a good number for many scenarios (at least for me) as most events I’ll have about 600+ clips.
  4. Determine if the card/tape would actually start together, despite them being synced properly, as the lag time between both is handled differently.



  1. New test, not continuous from Test 01
  2. Z7U outfitted with tape (Panasonic PQ63) and CF card
  3. Recordation over 60 minute duration, 150 stops/starts.
    Why 30min? – because the 8 GB cards can only handle that much time.


A single conclusion is hard to determine, as crazy as that might seem. I initially wondered if I had bad cards or if something was wrong with the camera in that having a delay as much as what happened is quite surprising, particularly since the results were not consistent between tests.


Dropouts and Other Issues


The dropouts reminded me when using photo cameras in that if you use a card that can’t keep up with the writing throughput, the card can lock. The dropouts were a stuck, full frame. There was no pixelation or marring that would be expected on a dropped frame on tape that may be due to dust, dirty camera heads, etc. The A-Data Speedy card was the only card to lockup. It was tested four times, with it locking up once; based on four runs of 100 clips. 


Transfer Speed to Computer
There is a significant variation to the actual transfer speeds, as it can be determined by the computer, card, media reader, and transport method, such as direct from camera, USB, or FireWire, or input from the system itself. Due to the variation of cards and limited availability of readers, and the variation of the readers, systems, etc. that can take full advantage of the newest and fastest cards, some of this data may be slightly skewed; which should be expected. You can easily see that the times are quite varied (and even unreliable to some extent) when comparing the numerical data and what you use will yield different results.

What was tested: Transfer of data from card to computer
What was not tested: Transfer of data from computer to card

Results Based On: Transfer of 30 minutes of footage
Results Based On: CF Card Benchmarking

System Specs: Custom built tower, Dual-Core duo Xeon (5160) 3Ghz (12.1 equivalent), 4 GB ram,
3 TB of 10K rpm HD, internal CF, direct-connect 1394 from motherboard



Overall Conclusion
The primary reason why I wanted to test so many media cards was because the Sony Z7U is the first prosumer/professional camera that utilizes this format. And, unlike a tape method which has an accepted saturation in the market, there is such a significant variation of flash-based media that I wanted to test the reliability and speeds of as many variations as possible.

Sony has a very open-ended claim that states the camera will work with any 2 GB, 133x card. Simply put, it does stand true, and as long as the end user records to reliable media, there really shouldn’t be any major issues. The real variation tends to focus more on the transfer speed to the computer than anything else. Now the only question that remains is how big of a card do we want?

With 64 GB cards coming out mid/late 2008, just imagine… 4 hours of footage… what happens if there is a problem with the card?

© 2008 Marshall Levy, Maverick Productions 410.526.5520


As a reminder, we have plenty of media available in the TechThoughts Tech-STORE. Marshall makes a good point about the danger of entrusting all your video to a single piece of media. Tape has earned our respect over the decades (56 years now) with countless hours of perfect performance. Moreover, if there is a tape jam, we can physically repair the tape and recover almost everything from the tape except where we had to cut it.

Thusfar, data recovery tools have not demonstrated the ability to sense long video files, identify problematic header or end-of-file information and be able to rebuild that data so the video can be recovered. In due time this may indeed be possible. However, till then, camcorders that have the ability to simultaneously record on more than one piece of media (like on tape and flash media at the same time) will offer an incredible sense of security– especially for those corporate and event videographers who absolutely must get the shot the first (and often only) time.

Lastly, as Marshall continued to work with the compact flash media on a video shoot, he noted that the inconsistency of the process continued– especially with regard to file transfer to the computer. He says:

I filmed our annual filmfest Tuesday evening and transferred the footage to someone’s laptop – 25 minutes of footage, 33 clips, via the Sony 1394 interface, took 51 minutes.

It was ridiculous. The laptop was about 3-4 years old and was a considerably slow machine, but it was so aggravating watching how slow [the transfer] was.

Yes. The data (footage) was taking twice as long as real-time. This is over FireWire 400, which is capable of reading hard drives at over 30 MBps. Even digitizing HDV in real time is 3.6 MBps. To take twice as long means it was transferring at a lethargic 1.8 MBps. Something is clearly wrong.

Based on Marshall’s own FireWire tests which were with 30 minutes of footage, this file transfer shouldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes. Was it the 1394 interface on the older computer (some are limited to 100 Mbps, instead of 400 Mbps)? Was some conversion happening in the computer at the same time? Was half the computer’s processor on a coffee break? It’s really hard to say.

As with any new production paradigm there will be some hurdles to overcome in establishing a method that ensures the smoothest transfer of media. Perhaps we should consider a new laptop as a companion purchase to the new camcorder?


22 thoughts on “CompactFlash Media Test Results.

Add yours

  1. A question about the sync test: Does the card lag behind the tape or the tape lag behind the card?


  2. The card lagged behind the tape in each instance. I think a lot of this came down to the fact that it was faster for the camera to start back up to record whereas some cards seemed to struggle with closing out a session, and then beginning a new one. These tests were based on the camera sync being tied between tape and card, too.

  3. The transfer time from card to laptop clearly indicate a major problem that should not be happening. Even though this was done on a different computer than the ones used for the main testing, it makes me doubt the main results because if the tester cannot easily figure out why the data transfer is slow, then they probably can’t tell if their test bed is actually correctly optimized.

    Here are the things that should be looked at on the laptop:

    1. Anti-virus software. This should be uninstalled for all such tests. In particular, the Symantec/Norton anti-virus software WILL cause these kinds of problems because it inserts itself between every write operation and, because of bugs and extremely poor coding, can get into a state where these sorts of operations take three to five TIMES longer than normal.

    2. 1394 network settings. Many Windows computers are pre-set with the 1394 port configured for networking. It is seldom used for this. Disable the 1394 networking (in “My Network Places”).

    3. Some computers have major problems if they have more than one 1394 card. If you have 1394 on the motherboard AND a 1394 card, I would suggest temporarily removing or disabling the card. I’ll admit that this is an unlikely scenario in a laptop, but some people supplement the on-board 1394 with a PCMCIA 1394 card.

    4. In a similar vein, when doing this testing, do not connect the camera (if using an external 1394 card reader). I have seen quite a few computers that get “confused” when confronted with both a camera and a 1394 disk drive, which I assume a card reader would resemble. Also, after disconnecting the camera, re-boot the computer before doing the transfer. I know that this is very “1980s” but the sad fact is that even with modern computers and O/S, the hardware still doesn’t always reset properly until the computer is re-booted.

  4. The results for the actual test itself were very controlled. For instance, the system itself is used solely for editing and has no ‘fluff’ on it and all processes and such were parallel for each test. There were no unknown variables that could have affected any of the results, at least to the best of my knowledge and ability.

    By comparison, the note that was made regarding the slow transfer rate to the older laptop, I filmed an event and transferred the data to the system per client request. The only thing I know is that it’s a relatively slow system, 1.8, 1G ram, one hard drive, I’m guessing either 4200 or 5400rpm, and it had office running in the background, mcaffee doing its thing, and I haven’t a clue what else – it was horrendously slow, both the system as well as footage transfer.

  5. John, the note about the slow computer was separate from the test results. I thought that would be clear by the fact that Marshall has “signed off,” there was a horizontal line, and then my impressions and other thoughts were added on at the end.

    It was there that I related the additional tidbit about the slow transfer to illustrate that, as you yourself admit, computers are disparate, fickle things.

    Lastly, I think everyone is well aware of how “in the heat of battle” we just go with what’s working. I have no doubt that the client’s computer could be made to go faster but the request was probably to “copy the footage,” not “go in and change numerous system settings and reconfigure my laptop for faster FireWire throughput.”

    I’ve dealt with clients with buggy systems and, as tempting as it is to help, almost always, the best solution is to leave it alone. Try to make one little fix, and it throws off 5 other things. They get real angry, real fast, when you start screwing with their personal stuff. Suddenly, the one “tweak” that was made was “responsible” for all the mail being deleted, three new viruses, none of the video plays right, and now the computer won’t boot up.

    No. Best to leave it alone. Copy the footage. Change nothing. It takes as long as it takes.

    I’m sorry if that additional, non-test information made you doubt the actual test results because that shouldn’t be the case.

    Anthony Burokas.

  6. My thoughts after 3 weddings and a violin concert.
    On a lot of short clips when the bride is getting ready there are black digital squares for the 1st second or more a lot of times. These clips range from 3 seconds to 18 seconds, I shoot a lot of in-camera edits at the bride prep thats why the short clips. Some longer clips during photo session started off green then faded into video. I’ve tried a Trancend 16GB 133 and a Transcend 32GB 133 with same results. I have sent 2 good clips and 2 bad clips to Sony to look at. On long clips like ceremonies they are fine. The tape is always fine. Adobe can’t handle some of these bad clips which show up as red or green in the preview. If I play one the computer gets message “sorry a serious error has occurred that requires Adobe Premiere Pro to Shut down”
    which it does but saves my work. My friend John in Laurderdale has the same CF cards as me and he also get these on short clips. He says most last from 6 to 18 frames and Edius does play them without freezing up. The concert which was mostly long clips was fine except if you played a clip with Windows Media just to watch it, when the conductor moves his hand up and down real fast and the violin bows are moving real fast they are blury, shakey and even on the time line were the same. When I made a SD DVD and a HD DVD from the timeline they both were a great picture with no blurness. Just my experince so far. I copied 140 minutes from the Sony memory recording unit thru the firewire to a folder in 20 minutes. I tried the CF reader in my computer on 30 minutes and it took 12 minutes.

  7. No one has bothered to bring up the fact that more than likely what the underlying problem was is that the drive on the 3 to 4 year old laptop was VERY fragmented. As such it is going to take FOREVER to copy data to the system. If the customer had of used any kind of a defragmenting program “even the one that comes with windows as bad as it is” would have GREATLY improved performance without having to change any settings which is just something to keep in mind. I am an amateur at video but I am a computer geek :) Do not blame this on the CF cards as I agree with John Meyer comments as well. I would have also recommended installing Disk Keeper defragmentation software, especially if you are going to keep copying and deleting large video files which will definitely case bad fragmentation of your hard drive over time :)

  8. Regarding the Sony HVR-Z7U / S270, rolling shutter issue (cmos chips)has anyone had any experience shooting in wedding reception settings, where still flashes are continually firing in what is usually a low-light setting? Seems like an ideal situation to catch the half-black of a partially captured rolling shutter frame at 1/60 sec.

  9. thank you for that great test!

    i am using sandisk 16 GB extreme III cf cards and had about 2 to 4 dropouts. so it’s not possible for me to work that way. hope sony will launch the 16 GB cards soon.

    for capturing them to final cut i use the sandisk firewire extreme reader, connected thru firewire 800 (it’s faster than capturing from the CF card unit).

  10. Thanks for all of the above efforts on CF media types. I just unpacked my Z7U this moring and I had purchased my 8GB Sandisk Extreme II CF card over the weekend in hopes of plugging it in and capturing direct to CF. When I inserted the card, I recieved a “format error” on the small display. After reading the minamalist manual and searching various camera menus with no solution to be had, I read online that SONY required 133X compatible cards. So I exchaged my Extreme II card for an Extreme III card but I am still getting “format error” on the display! Any thoughts? Do I have a bad CF writer? Any feedback would be of assistance.

  11. I want to follow-up on my own post above since I can not delete the text. I was assuming the disc that shipped with my Z7U was a utility to install in my PC to handle the CF media was actually a PDF file with additional manuals for the CF recorder. I solved my own problem by ACTUALLY READING the manual and the troubleshooting guide. When I powered up the CF writer for the first time after inserting a fresh card I needed to press the STOP button, the card then goes through a short FORMAT and is ready to record. So far my Sandisk Extreme III 8GB card has not shown signs of dropouts.

  12. Magnetic – thanks for the update.

    These completely new paradigms of production will take some getting used to. In the beginning, we’ll all be reading the manual (RTFM) but, in a few years time, the process will be better and it will seem as easy as tape does today.

    Clemens- excellent point about the Firewire reader.


  13. Hello,

    We are a new tv production in the internet. I just wondering and would like to purchase the Sony HVR-Z7U HDV. I am very suprise about the price range from $3100 to $6400. Is anybody familiar with this item why the price are so much different? What do I get from the low price vs the high prices? At the same time how much different from recording to a HDV tape vs the campflash. Are the quality video similar?

    If anyone can help me with this item.

    Thank you very much


  14. Hey William,

    The price range is so broad because they can sell you the body without the lens, which will be around the $3k range. Whenever prices vary that much, there is always a catch. I was about to buy a z7 for around $3000, but found out it came without a lens and viewfinder. Hope this helps.


  15. I’ve got a Sony HVR-Z7U HD camera and have an 8 gig Sandisk Extreme 3 card i’m trying to use but the screen displays “Format Error” when i turn on the unit and that didn’t happen when i put in a Sony memory card. Why the difference and what do i do to get the ‘non sony’ media to work?

  16. I am buying a Z7 this week for shooting spot news at night in Orlando. Can anyone recommend a good shoulder mount for the Z7… Plus, I need a powerful Batt Light for night time shooting, but I don’t want to use a battery belt, does anyone have a suggestion. Thanks

  17. Just wondering, I have 2 * 32gb cards and it seems that if the files are longer than a few minutes final cut pro can’t import them. It keeps stuffing up and I need to click retry and it still doesn’t copy when I do the log and transfer in Final Cut. Anyone else had this problem? Its the 32gb transcend card type. 133x. Thanks.

  18. I want to buy a Sandisk 16GB 30mb/s. I don´t know the x number. do you know something about it? have you test it? because it is not in the your list of tested CF card. Pleas let me know, i don´t want to make a mistake.

    from Argentina

  19. I bought my Z7U and it arrived today, with the camera I purchased (among other things) a 16GB Kingston CF card for $94. I saw the Sandisk 16GB Extreme III’s are about $185 still but now have a $90 rebate through 9/30 (in the form of a prepaid $90 VISA card) at B&H Photo if anyone cares to check online — but the Kingston’s lower price lured me in It was 133x, large capacity and cheap, at least until the 32GB and larger flash cards come out.

    I’ve only shot a single clip so far and it seems fine with no artifacts, but I’ve not yet done any serious field work with it — I guess I’ll find out soon enough, huh?

    Based on what I read here, just running a CF workflow from the camera may not be advised? I suppose I could use a tape and a CF card, redundancy and archived copies are never a bad idea, but I’d prefer tapeless.

    Anyone running a straight tapeless CF card workflow here with little to no problems? I’d like to hear how it’s working for you.

    Triad 3 Media
    Kansas City, KS.

  20. Sorry for the newbie question!
    I’ve just added a Z7 to my Z1’s and FX1’s and I am very impressed with it.
    Just ordered a Transcend 16gb 300x CF to go with the supplied Sony 8gb card but it seems a lot of guys are using 133x cards.
    Question: If a DV or HDV datastream is 25mb/s how can it work successfully with 133x CF cards with data rates around 20mb/s?
    Have I missed something?

  21. I have made a point to only use 300x cards and thus far no issues. If you go on E-Bay, you can buy 16GB generic 300x cards (Samsung OEM) for only $60. They work flawlessly. As for 32GB or 64GB, these are available, but a lot more expensive. Cheapest on Ebay for 32GB is around $360. The first thing I did was to read the manual and jump on forums and I knew before I bought the cameras that they only take 133x and faster. HDV datastream is around 18Mb/s, but because of resolution it is almost identical to DV datasizes on tape. This is why 133x works. But it is close to the mark. Get fast cards and no issues.

  22. Quick question if this thread is still alive. Has anyone out there shot extensively in 24p with it? Does it have the checker issues that I hear the EX-1 has? Does it handle camera movement in 24p as well as the HVX-200? I have never shot HDV. When it first came out I heard horror stories about artifacting, drop outs, and color bleed. Are there still issues with these things or have they been fixed? Because if these issues I stayed away form HDV, and went directly to DVCPRO HD on P2. I’m at the point where I really need to be able to change lens so I’m giving it another look. Thanks for your help?

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