ProGrade Iridium CFexpress Type A 4.0 Cards: Futureproof Performance?

ProGrade Iridium CFexpress Type A 4.0 Cards: Futureproof Performance?

CFexpress Type A has been a bit of a niche card format compared to the bigger Type B cards. Mostly used in Sony cameras, Type A cards haven’t seen as wide availability or as high specs. However, ProGrade has just launched their Iridium line of Type A cards, which promise to take performance into the next generation.

The Cards

ProGrade produces both a 480 GB and 960 GB capacity card. While they both feature similar read performance, sustained write speeds are faster on the 960 GB model. Otherwise, they’re identical: compatible with current Type A cameras, with the same design, form factor, and interconnect type.

At the heart of the card, the Gen 4 PCIe interconnect helps the card deliver some of the fastest performance out there for a Type A card. It’s so fast, in fact, that cameras haven’t caught up yet. Even the newest generations of cameras won’t be able to capitalize on the speed (assuming they’re Gen 2 or Gen 3). However, to be clear, these cards are fully backward compatible and will work excellently with current Type A cameras. In testing, I used the a7R V, a1, and FX cameras, and I had zero issues with any scenario.

This abundance of speed doesn’t go to waste just because cameras haven’t caught up yet. When paired with an equally capable reader, the card can read at up to 1,800 MB/s in real-world applications, allowing for blazing fast transfers and a 2x speedup versus less-capable Type A cards.

For ingesting 8K or 4K video, this can make a huge difference when working in the field or on a tight turnaround. Furthermore, with the 4.0 standard already being established, these cards are “future proof” to an extent, as they should be compatible with new cameras when they launch with faster internal interfaces.

As mentioned, the 960 GB model does have a faster sustained write speed, coming in at around 1,450 MB/s, while the 480 GB is capable of a still-impressive 800 MB/s. Burst writes were crazy fast too, with BlackMagic Disk Speed Test showing over 2,300 MB/s.

As would be expected given these excellent sustained writes, both capacities feature a Video Performance Guarantee (VPG) rating, albeit at the lower VPG200, rather than VPG400 level. The VPG200 rating ensures that the cards are capable of writing at a minimum speed of 200 MB/s, and given that VPG400 still only requires a 400 MB/s minimum, I’m surprised to see it absent. While I’m not aware of this locking out any features on current Sony bodies, it is something to be aware of, as camera firmware can read the VPG flag on cards.

Other key specifications include a very nice three-year warranty, thermal throttling to protect the card, laser-etched serial numbering to help protect against counterfeits or supply chain issues, and an expansive range of operating and storage temperatures.

The Reader

To truly get the most from these cards, you’ll need an equally capable reader (and even host device). ProGrade makes a dedicated Type A reader that’s a natural match for these cards: the PG09.6 USB 4.0 reader. As you might guess from the name, the highlight of the reader is USB 4.0 compatibility, enabling offloads at 5 GB/s (although again, this level of performance isn’t available in current cards, making it another case of future-proofing).

With currently available cards, you’ll instead be able to max out the card's read speed. I was seeing the full 1,800 MB/s of read from these cards with a real-world load of raw files and 4K videos when writing to my MacBook Pro’s SSD.

The interface on this card is also cross- or backward-compatible with Thunderbolt 4, Thunderbolt 3, and CFexpress 2.0 Type A cards, along with the slower and older flavors of USB-C standards. Stepping back to slower interfaces, however, could constrain performance if the card, connection, or host have a “weak link.” The most common mistake here would be using a sub-standard USB-C cable, which could drop everything back to USB 2.0 speeds.

Just like the top-end interfaces, the rest of the reader is built to a professional level, with a durable build and a comprehensive two-year warranty. There’s even a really nice touch in the form of a magnetic baseplate and metal “sticker” allowing you to mount the reader to a laptop, cart, or other setup in the field. Since the magnet is in the reader, you don’t need to Velcro or tape the reader to a surface, as long as it’s already ferrous.

Included with the reader is a great quality, 2.6' USB 4 cable—this is basically what you’ll always want to keep paired with this reader to ensure no cable mixups. It’s marked as a 240 W and 40 Gbps cable, so while short, it can also serve as a highly capable USB-C cable for anything else in your setup, in a pinch.

ProGrade also hasn’t left out the latest trend in digital recording media: an accompanying application. This app, Refresh Pro, is designed to “refresh” the card by manually triggering some low-level cleaning via the flash controller. Essentially, by manually choosing when to perform this maintenance task, you can ensure the card is running at peak performance when actually shooting with it.

With Refresh Pro, I’ve not been able to put enough wear on the cards for it to matter, but I don’t doubt the claims. Flash memory genuinely does collect “cruft,” and this more deliberate cleaning process can ensure the best performance from the flash.

Combined, the Iridium line of memory cards and the USB 4.0 reader are a great duo for Sony photographers looking for the best performance. Whether it’s shooting 8K video or taking advantage of the crazy high frame rates on the a1 and a9 III, modern cameras are capable of producing huge volumes of data. The large capacities and class-leading read speeds of these cards make storing and moving all that data a little easier.

Between the price, form factor, and ancillary requirements like a host with a fast-enough interface and drive, these cards aren’t going to be for everyone. Instead, Sony shooters who want the highest performance now, and in the foreseeable future, will want to consider these cards. The ProGrade Digital CFexpress 4.0 Type A cards are available now from B&H, along with the matching USB 4.0 Type A reader.

What I Liked

  • Excellent performance in all scenarios
  • Strong warranty support
  • Good choices for connections and standards to ensure some degree of "future-proofing"
  • Magnetic reader attachment is a really clever solution

What Could Be Improved

  • No VPG400 support isn't an issue today, but may be missed in the future
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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