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How "Pro" are ProGrade Card Readers?


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ProGrade card readers seem to be a popular choice for cost-conscious filmmakers, but are they worthy of their ProGrade moniker? Or is “ConsumerGrade” a more appropriate title? 

Recently a colleague of mine recounted a story about his ProGrade card reader taking an unreasonably long time to transfer data once it got hot, so I thought I’d put together a little test to ascertain the validity of his claims.

282iD75D98F37C1C57DD.thumb.jpg.d36dd4e5e6be11de57a309e5ed8b8767.jpgThe ProGrade reader at my disposal. This particular model (PGRWCFXTASDANA) can read both CFexpress Type A and SD cards.

My initial predictions were that the Sony card reader would outperform the ProGrade one. After all, if you’re paying twice as much for something, it better be worth the extra cost!

283i429CB5973BC96281.thumb.jpg.f13663aad03774865a3aa1b9ffac997b.jpgThe Sony MRW-G2, also capable of reading CFexpress Type A and SD cards.

Simply holding the two card readers in your hand, you get the sense that the Sony card reader is solidly built. On the other hand, the ProGrade reader is made of flimsy plastic that creaks when you squeeze it.

I did 3 back-to-back transfers with each card reader using the same 160GB Sony CFexpress Type A card (holding 154 GB of video files) and the same USB-C to USB-C cable on the same MacBook Pro. Between the two sets of tests, I waited 15 minutes to let the CFexpress card cool down. Here are the test results:














I was initially shocked that the ProGrade was quicker on the first pass-through. However, the Sony was more consistent on subsequent transfers, whereas the ProGrade transfer times increased substantially as it got hotter.

So perhaps if you’re on a tight budget and you know your card reader will be used sparingly, the ProGrade could be a better option. But I think it’s also relevant to recount my most notable experience with a ProGrade card reader: This past year, I was working as a DIT on a television pilot in a remote area. The FX-9 kit we rented came with a ProGrade card reader that died halfway through the second day. Needless to say, it was extremely stressful—the camera crew had to ration cards while continuing to shoot as the producers scrambled to find a replacement card reader with no stores anywhere close to us.

And while every manufacturer occasionally produces a lemon, I think my anecdote combined with the above test data clearly demonstrates the difference in quality. With something as important as your data, your footage, basically the end product of all the money spent on the project you’re working on, is saving $60 on a card reader worth the risk?

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