Are These Memory Cards Really Worth It? We Review the OWC’s Atlas Memory Card Line

Are These Memory Cards Really Worth It? We Review the OWC’s Atlas Memory Card Line

OWC’s Atlas line of memory products, which includes SDXC, CFexpress Type A and B models, and high-performance readers, isn’t cheap. However, they promise leading performance and integration with their Innergize card management system. But can users really make use of all that performance? In this review, I’ll take a look at the ecosystem and test out all the features.

While you can purchase standalone cards in different form factors and performance levels, I’ll be taking a look at the latest announcements they made a few weeks ago at NAB: the Atlas Pro CFexpress Type A and Atlas CFexpress Type B card reader

The rest of the lineup includes Type B and SDXC cards. The Ultra line, which sits above the Pro level of cards, offers even higher performance ratings with both the SDXC and CFexpress Type B doing up to 2x write speeds. These higher minimum writes can make a major difference for high frame rate video and certain codec settings. For more information, check out OWC’s website, which has a thorough compatibility guide for each card, showing speeds and a wide range of recent models of camera.

OWC Atlas Pro Type A Card

As a shooter in the Sony ecosystem, I was excited to see a Type A version of OWC’s cards become available. Type A, while not as fast as Type B, can still offer a huge performance jump over SDXC. Many Sony cameras, including my a7R V and the FX3, support either Type A or SDXC—choosing the faster Type A often means better support for heavier frame rates or codecs, along with improved buffer clearing.

OWC provided a 480 GB model of the Atlas Pro for testing, but a 960 GB model is also available. These cards only differ in capacity, sharing the same speed ratings.

The Atlas Pro Type A supports CFexpress 4.0 and is fully compatible with existing devices that use the CFexpress 2.0 standard. This means you can easily slot the card into cameras like the FX3, FX6, a1, a7S III, and a9 III, along with using the latest readers that support even faster transfer speeds.

The card is built to a high standard, with a durable metal casing. OWC rates it for impact, bend, shock, ESD, UV, and x-ray resistance, backed by a 3-year warranty. While destructive testing wasn’t in the plans for this review, I can say that it feels significantly more durable than SDXC cards, with their thin plastic bodies. You’ll still want to store your card safely, but the build really matches the price.

The speed also matches the price: this card is blazing fast when reading and writing. OWC rates it for a max write of 1,700 MB/s, along with a minimum sustained write of 400 MB/s (an important figure for video applications). The card is VPG200 certified, an important designation that some Sony cameras will require for unlocking certain modes, frame rates, or codecs.

When out shooting, the benefits of any Type A card are clear: far faster write speeds compared to SDXC means your buffer lasts longer and clears faster, while video shooters can use the heaviest codecs or frame rates.

For example, on my a7R V, shooting in lossless compressed RAW, the buffer with an SDXC card lasts for about 50 to 60 shots and might take around 15 seconds to clear. With a Type A card, the buffer is bottomless, clearing essentially as soon as I let off the shutter.

Photographers with Sony’s faster cameras will notice even more of a difference. Cameras like the a1 and a9 III, with their speedy burst rates, put even more strain on the sustained write speeds of the card, as so much of the time is spent clearing the buffer. Tests put good Type A cards at around 5x the speed of good SDXC cards, which can make a huge difference between being ready for the next burst of action or missing it.

Both OWC’s marketing materials and my review keep mentioning only Sony gear, but Sony is pretty much the only camera brand that went with the Type A standard, compared to the bigger Type B. There’s a tradeoff here, with Type A cards being limited to lower theoretical speeds than the Type B cards with more lanes. In exchange, however, you get same-slot compatibility with SD cards, allowing you to choose between speed and price per GB.

In practice, you’ll find that many readers are specifically built for Type B cards. OWC’s own reader is no exception. Fortunately, OWC includes a Type A to Type B converter in the box for this memory card, letting you use it with a Type B reader easily.

OWC Atlas CFexpress Card Reader

Just like how the Atlas Pro pushes towards the newest standards, the Atlas Reader also integrates the newest developments: USB 4 and matching support for CFexpress 4.0. Altogether, this means the card is a match for both the fastest cards on the market, as well as the fastest connection standards around.

This bus-powered reader is small, sleek, and matches Apple’s design language, with rounded corners and an aluminum body (OWC’s got a long history within the Mac accessory ecosystem). It’s a fanless design that manages to remain much cooler than some other CFexpress readers I’ve tested, perhaps thanks to the greater thermal mass and surface area for radiating heat.

I think OWC made a smart choice with the connection standards. USB 4 offers a massive leap over USB 3 and even 3.2 readers, while remaining backward compatible—that’s important, as USB 4 hosts are less common, with most photographers' gear probably having support via recent Apple Silicon Macs.

In testing, I was getting transfers at over 1,500 MB/s from my Type A card, while OWC found a 4x speedup relative to USB 3.2 readers when using a Type B card.

Rounding out the ecosystem, OWC’s Innergize software is designed to support their cards with health tracking, “sanitization” to help preserve the performance of the actual flash memory, and card firmware updates. This free software is available for both Windows and Mac and supports all of OWC’s memory cards and a wide range of their readers. While the Type A card is still too new to see any health impact, tracking this important statistic is very welcome, as how “worn out” other cards are can be very tough to track.

Overall, the Atlas memory card ecosystem is a very good option for a range of photographers and videographers. Sony shooters who demand the top performance will be excited to see such a competitively priced option for Type A cards, particularly in these higher capacities. While I can’t make a blanket recommendation of Type A, as photographers who aren’t often filling their buffer won’t notice the performance difference in the field, the Atlas line still has compelling SDXC options that also offer access to the Innergize software. If you are a high speed shooter, the Atlas Pro Type Card is an excellent choice. It’s available now in 480 GB and 960 GB capacities. If you’re looking for a CFexpress reader that can match the amazing speeds of the formfactor, the Atlas reader is also a great choice. At just $99, it’s a small cost to make sure you’re getting the most from your cards at ingest, along with having a degree of future proofing, thanks to the smart connection choices. The Atlas CFexpress reader is also available now.

What I Liked

  • Flawless performance and reliability
  • Matched or exceeded all rated specs
  • No extra costs for accessories (Type A to B converter, fast quality cable for reader)
  • Very competitive price compared to other Type A cards with similar performance

What Could Be Improved

  • Type A cards are only worth the premium for certain shooters
  • Older host devices may not take full advantage of the speed of the Atlas reader
Alex Coleman's picture

Alex Coleman is a travel and landscape photographer. He teaches workshops in the American Southwest, with an emphasis on blending the artistic and technical sides of photography.

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