CFexpress has finally come into its own and multiple companies are now producing a wide variety of capacities at a range of prices. But with so many choices, which one should you buy?
Updated 10/12/2023: With the onset of USB 4.0 and CFexpress 4.0, a lot has changed. The guide below includes both new 4.0 cards as well as the older 2.0 cards, but the new peak read and write sections have been re-tested using a USB 4.0 reader — the same one for all, the ProGrade Digital Type-B single Slot reader. The reason for this is twofold. One, it allows older cards to perform better when connected to a host computer than before simply because of more bandwidth. Two, there is only one CFexpress 4.0 card reader available on the market at the time of publication, and this is it.
Unfortunately, our sustained transfer speed test, which is performed on a PC, could not be updated to USB 4.0 as none of PetaPixel‘s test computers currently are equipped with USB 4.0. We will re-test and update as soon as we are able. For now, that section has been removed.
Finally, the photo burst section has also been adjusted. We have updated our methodology and tested every card at 20 frames per second using the Canon EOS R5’s electronic shutter. Luckily, sustained burst gives us back a lot of the information we lost by removing the sustained transfer test mentioned above.
We hope this guide is now more useful to readers looking at picking up a card that is best for their use cases. We will continue to update this guide as we are able.
CFexpress Type B is, right now, the most common “next generation” memory card format and has all but totally won out over the SD Association’s flawed SD Express format despite its lofty promises. While CFexpress Type A is also coming into its own, only Sony is using the format in its mirrorless cameras and at the time of publication, only three companies are producing that card format.
When more are available, this guide will grow to include CFexpress Type A as well but, for now, the two options from ProGrade Digital and Sony perform basically identically. PetaPixel has not received Delkin’s option to test.
Every other camera company besides Sony that has updated to the latest and greatest memory card format is using Type B, and as such there are a lot more options in the marketplace.
But all that performance comes at a literal cost: CFexpress Type B cards can get pretty expensive. To save you the wallet-ache of making a bad decision, we’ve created a rigorous multi-stage test to put CFexpress cards through the wringer and help you make the best buying decisions.
Below is a list of all the CFexpress Type B cards included in our testing:
- ProGrade Digital Gold (Old version, new version has not arrived for testing)
- ProGrade Digital Cobalt
- ProGrade Digital Cobalt (CFe 4.0)
- Angelbird AV PRO
- Delkin Devices Black Series
- Sony TOUGH
- Exascend Nitro
- Pro Master Pro Velocity Cine
- OWC Atlas Pro (CFe 4.0)
- OWC Atlas Ultra (CFe 4.0)
- Lexar Silver Series
- Lexar Diamond Series
- Nexstorage B1 Pro
- Pergear Ultra
- SanDisk Pro Cine
PetaPixel will update these results periodically as we obtain more cards, so make sure to bookmark this story and check back when you’re ready to make a purchase.
To evaluate which cards performed best, we subjected each to a series of tests. In the case where a card manufacturer also supplies a card reader, we used paired those products together. If a company did not provide PetaPixel with a reader, tests were performed on the ProGrade Digital CFexpress Type B and SD UHS-II dual card reader.
First, we tested the cards with Blackmagic Speed Test to get numbers for the average peak read and write speeds that can be expected when loading and unloading data to a computer. We then filled the cards at more than three-quarters of each of their capacities and tested the speed again to make sure that adding data to the cards does not affect performance. These tests provide us with a baseline level of performance to expect.
The second is especially relevant for photographers. We tested how many seconds we could fire a Canon R5 at maximum framerate and resolution before we hit the limits of the buffer. This means we asked the camera to record both RAW and the highest quality JPEG and do so firing at the maximum 20 frames per second with the electronic shutter.
Disk Speed Tests
In this test, higher is better. As expected, CFexpress 4.0 cards ran away with the best speeds, but the OWC Atlas series, especially the Ultra, performed the best. ProGrade Digital’s new card was the most consistent between read and write performance.
The older CFexpress 2.0 cards were much closer, but standouts include the ProGrade Cobalt card, Delkin’s Black series, and Lexar’s Diamond series.
Burst Photo Test
The Canon EOS R5 can capture 20 frames per second in both JPEG and RAW when using the electronic shutter. Since it’s a 45-megapixel sensor, that’s a lot of data to hammer a card with. For the most part, every card in our test performed similarly.
While there are some outliers, basically every card is able to go for about the same length of time. Given the consistency here despite the various promised write speeds of every card, the results indicates that the physical hardware of the R5 is being stretched to the limit here. That’s great news for photographers as it evens the playing field and lets them search for the best deals rather than go with a specific brand or card line.
Of note, PetaPixel did notice that a few cards took longer to recover than others. Namely, the ProGrade Digital Gold, Acer, Pro Master Pro Velocity Cine, and Pergear Ultra were slightly slower to fully clear the buffer than the other cards, meaning that a photographer in the field won’t be ready to fire another full burst quite as soon as they would be if they used any other tested card.
Finally, as PetaPixel has noted before, CFexpress 4.0 doesn’t do anything when used on cameras that don’t have the hardware to take advantage of it. At the time of publication, that’s all of them. The benefits of CFexpress 4.0 are seen strictly when working with computers — at least for now.
Insights, Takeaways, and Recommendations
Before the ProGrade USB 4.0 reader, we weren’t coming close to seeing the promised speeds printed on the sides of the memory cards in practice, but we certainly are now. No longer bandwidth limited by USB 3.2, the cards are showing their true colors, and they’re gorgeous.
Note: While this section’s information is no longer presented in the charts above, it is still relevant and thus we have kept it here for reference, as the information is still accurate.
Let’s get to the good news: every card we tested worked to our satisfaction when it comes to recording high-resolution video data. Every card, regardless of the speeds promised, was able to ingest 8K RAW video footage until the camera overheated, which means it’s highly unlikely that anyone would run into any issues with the cards when shooting in the field — the camera will fail before the card does.
Even if a card doesn’t even come close to the promised peak read or write speeds seen on the side of the box (which none of them did, by the way), it doesn’t matter. For video, Acer, which promised the least when it comes to read and write speeds, performed identically to Angelbird which promised the most.
A majority of the cards we tested were able to sustain more than 400 MB/s transfer speeds, with only ProGrade Digital’s Gold series and Acer falling below that threshold. The only two cards we tested that has the Compact Flash Association’s VPG400 certification — which requires 400 MB/s sustained speeds — were Lexar’s Diamond and Exascend’s Nitro cards, although despite this they aren’t the ones holding the highest sustained transfer speeds: that goes to Prograde’s Cobalt line and Sony’s TOUGH cards. So while AngelBird promises some seriously high sustained speeds on its website and in marketing materials, we weren’t able to replicate them using industry-standard software.
That said, there may be a reason for that. Angelbird is extremely nitpicky about which cards are designed for which cameras which could mean that it does have some kind of special tuning to work with cameras better than with computer software. This seems like a stretch, but we have no way to tell.
For the most part, these cards were all pretty consistent in their performance during our benchmarking with the exception of Acer and Atlas Pro, both of which were a lot more frenetic in how much they jumped from high speeds to low speeds during testing, which gives us pause recommending either for video workflows.
As mentioned, it seems as though that, outside of a few outliers, most CFexpress memory cards are coming up against the limitations of camera hardware. While ProGrade’s older CFexpress 2.0 cards and Acer’s card provided us with about a second less time with the shutter held down and SanDisk’s gave us just shy of a tenth of a second more, basically every other card hovered in the same region.
We can’t explain why, but SanDisk’s Pro Cine card repeatedly cleared just slightly faster than every other card on this list, so it wasn’t a fluke in testing. As of now, we’re content to give the company top honors here, even if the brand’s name has suffered greatly in the past few months.
If you’re not interested in giving SanDisk/Western Digital your money, there are obviously a ton of other options that will serve just fine.
The Best Options
It’s hard to go wrong these days, and almost every card we tested will serve photographers and videographers well. There are, of course, standout performers.
Obviously, when it comes to pure speed, the CFexpress 4.0 cards are runaway winners. That only matters if you care about workflow speeds (your camera doesn’t know the difference), but if that’s important to you, it’s hard to argue with how much better the new specification is.
If you’re not ready to jump to CFexpress 4.0, I don’t blame you and there are still great options. The best performer goes to Delkin’s Black Series and Lexar’s Diamond series, with the latter edging the former out just slightly.
Of all the available cards, if capacity is your biggest concern, Angelbird is probably the best bet since it currently is the only brand to offer a whopping 4TB in a single card. It’s not taking top honors anywhere else, but its performance is good enough that photographers and filmmakers will unlikely notice when out in the field.
The Best Value CFexpress Type B Card in 2023
Before we get to our best overall pick, it is important to consider that not everyone is going to need the best-performing memory card in order to be happy. Often, the best card is the one that balances good enough performance with a low asking price.
This one is tough, though, because it depends on what is important to you. Pergear’s card makes an argument for itself based purely on capacity. While it’s not the best at anything, it’s certainly not the worst either, and it’s really hard to argue with the $359 price for 1TB capacity.
But, if you don’t need 1TB capacity, Lexar’s Silver card is probably the best bang for your buck. It’s slightly less expensive on a per-gigabyte basis than Pergear’s card and there are no downsides in our testing (Pergear’s card was a bit slow to recover after a photo burst while Lexar’s was not). The Diamond series card is more performant, but the Silver is good enough for current hardware.
Always check on the warranty details before making an expensive purchase like a CFexpress card to make sure you feel comfortable relying on it to hold your photos and videos.
PetaPixel’s Best Value Choice: Lexar Silver Series Type B memory card.
The Best CFexpress Type B Card in 2023
When it comes to pure speed, your dollar be damned, go with OWC’s Atlas Ultra cards. The company no longer makes CFexpress 2.0 cards, so your only option will be to pony up for the ridiculously fast CFexpress 4.0 versions, but your camera will perform at its best and your workflow once you’re back at your desk will be far faster — just make sure you pick up a card reader that can actually handle the bandwidth requirements.
PetaPixel’s Best Overall Choice: OWC Atlas Ultra (CFe 4.0) Type B memory card.