Lexar’s 512GB CFast 2.0 card: Our first take

Lexar's CFast card puts big storage in the palm of your hand

Lexar recently unveiled a new CFast 2.0 memory card in its Lexar Professional 3500x line with a huge 512GB capacity. The card easily breaks through CFast 2.0’s previous 256GB barrier and delivers impressive read speeds of up to 525MB per second, with write speeds of 445MB per second. Digital Trends tested out the new card and we can confidently state three things about it: it’s big, it’s fast, and you probably don’t need it.

Performance with a price to match

With 512GB of storage, this card is clearly designed for high-bandwidth professional imaging workflows. This includes RAW 4K video production, high-speed continuous still photography, and long time-lapse sequences. The card also carries a price tag that will reserve it squarely for such professional users: $1,700. Although, like most memory products, it can be found for less (B&H currently lists it at $1,300).

It’s big, it’s fast, and you probably don’t need it.

The high price really comes as no surprise, however. If you own or use a device that takes CFast memory, you are undoubtedly familiar with the cost of the format. Canon’s $6,000 EOS 1D X Mark II is the closest thing to a consumer camera that accepts CFast media (a requirement for users who want to maximize that camera’s advertised continuous shooting potential: 170 RAW files at 14 frames per second).

Naturally, this is the camera we chose to test the new card in – it was the only CFast 2.0 host device we could readily get our hands on. To say we were impressed is an understatement; the performance was so good it was hilarious. Not even Canon was prepared for cards like this when it built the 1D X Mark II: Even after hundreds of exposures, the shots remaining indicator stayed pegged at 1,999 – the most that can be displayed.

And that 170-shot maximum continuous burst? Try more like 370, which was how many photos we captured at 14 fps before the camera’s buffer filled up – over 26 seconds of full-speed shooting. The noise the camera made during this time was enough to attract the attention of employees and customers alike in the camera store where we conducted this test. We don’t know why anyone would need to shoot 14 fps for nearly 30 seconds straight, but we can confirm that doing so is a great way to put a smile on many a camera nerd’s face.

Who even needs a 512GB memory card?

Even in Canon’s flagship DSLR, a 512GB card doesn’t really make a lot of sense. There’s simply little need for that much capacity in such a camera, and 1D X Mark II owners are probably better off with a smaller card from Lexar’s 3500x series. The more reasonably sized 64GB CFast 2.0 card is also more realistically priced at $280 (or about $200 street). However, that doesn’t mean the 512GB version is without purpose. Lexar worked with Arri, the cinema camera manufacturer, to optimize this particular card for use in cameras like the Amira, which start at around $40,000. In these professional cinema environments, the move to 512GB is significant.

Lexar 512 GB CFast 2.0
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends
Daven Mathies/Digital Trends

“When shooting 200 fps on a high-end, production-level camera, it’s easy to fill up an entire 256GB card with content in just 17 minutes,” said Lexar’s product marketing director, Jennifer Lee, in a statement. Larger capacities therefore improve workflow efficiency, and Lexar’s 512GB card can cut the number of card swaps in half in these high-end situations.

Conclusion

This is the Ferrari of memory cards. And like a Ferrari, the 512GB CFast 2.0 is fast, expensive, and available to a few. Memory products often advance at a faster pace than their host devices, and this certainly seems to be the case here.

While it is Lexar’s 3500x series to first reach 512GB, the company said its faster 3600x CFast 2.0 cards would be available in the same capacity later this year. The 3600x cards offer the same 445MB-per-second write speed but boost read speed slightly, to 540MB per second. The 3500x series is now available in 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, 256GB and 512GB capacities, while the 3600x series comes in just 128GB and 256GB, for now.

In the end, what impressed us most about this card was its speed, not its size. There are smaller cards that offer the same performance, and most users are better off with these – they aren’t better per se, just more appropriate. However, for those who truly need the capacity, this is currently the only the option for a 512GB CFast 2.0 card.

Do you run a professional film production studio? Are you an Arri camera owner or operator? Do you want to cover every event at the next Olympics on your 1D X Mark II without having to switch cards? Then by all means, get this card. If not, then you don’t need it.

Highs

  • Huge capacity
  • Very fast
  • Includes Image Rescue software

Lows

  • Expensive
  • Few devices support it
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