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Timings & File Sizes

To be honest I wouldn't expect a $4,000 digital SLR (no matter how many pixels it has) to take four seconds to power up. That may not seem like a lot of time but if you're in a "money shot" situation it may be just too long. Compare that to the Nikon D100: instant, Fujifilm S2 Pro: instant, Canon EOS-1Ds: 1.2 sec and Canon EOS-10D: 2.3 sec. The second major problem is when the camera is asked to output anything other than a fourteen megapixel RAW file, downsampling the image or converting it to JPEG takes a lot of processing power, and thus a lot more time. Firmware used for these tests was version 4.2.2.

Timing Notes: All times calculated as an average of three operations. Unless otherwise stated all timings were made on a 4500 x 3000 Quality III JPEG image (approx. 2,200 KB) or 4500 x 3000 Raw image (approx. 13,000 KB).

The media used for these tests were:

  • 512 MB Lexar Pro 24x Type I Compact Flash card
  • 512 MB Viking Type I Compact Flash card
  • 1 GB IBM Microdrive Type II Compact Flash card
Action Details Time, seconds
(Lexar)
Time, seconds
(Viking)
Time, seconds
(Microdrive)
Power: Off to On *1   4.4 4.6 5.4
Power: On to Off *2   <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Record: Image mode *3 JPEG 1.8 1.8 1.8
Record: Image mode*3 RAW 1.6 1.6 1.6
Play: Image to Image   <0.5 <0.5 <0.5
Play: Change image mode   <0.5 <0.5 <0.5
Play: Magnify image   <0.5 <0.5 <0.5

*1 Although the photographic side of the camera (auto focus, metering, viewfinder display) come on almost instantly you can't take a shot until the digital side of the camera is ready. This timing was taken from the instant the power switch was turned to on to the instant a shot was taken (by holding down the shutter release from power on).
*2 Occasionally and without reason (no images buffered to be written) power off of the digital side of the camera could take up to four seconds.
*3 Some of this time appears to be taken up by the actual power up of the LCD / backlight which seem to 'fade in'. The DCS-14n appears to cache image mode thumbnails in its own RAM buffer, thus timing for playback can vary by approximately 0.5 seconds depending on whether the camera has the thumbnail cached or not.


Continuous drive mode

To test continuous mode the camera had the following settings: Manual Focus, Manual Exposure (1/250s, F4.5), ISO 160. No matter what image output format the shooting rate was always 1.6 fps (+/- 0.05 fps). With this in mind we tested maximum number of frames in a single burst, how long after that burst before you could take one more frame and how long a full write took. Results are divided by the Compact Flash card used.

The media used for these tests were:

  • 512 MB Lexar Pro 24x Type I Compact Flash card
  • 512 MB Viking Type I Compact Flash card
  • 1 GB IBM Microdrive Type II Compact Flash card

512 MB Lexar Pro 24x Type I CF card

Image type Frames in a burst Next shot, secs Full write, secs
14 MP RAW 7 10.2 31.4
6 MP RAW 7 10.6 22.6
3 MP RAW 8 9.4 16.7
14 MP JPEG 5 11.6 37.6
6 MP JPEG 7 13.1 52.8
3 MP JPEG 7 10.6 32.6

512 MB Viking Type I CF card

Image type Frames in a burst Next shot, secs Full write, secs
14 MP RAW 7 12.3 41.1
6 MP RAW 7 11.8 27.9
3 MP RAW 8 9.5 17.2
14 MP JPEG 4 12.3 31.6
6 MP JPEG 6 12.5 44.7
3 MP JPEG 7 10.8 38.7

1 GB IBM Microdrive Type II CF card

Image type Frames in a burst Next shot, secs Full write, secs
14 MP RAW 7 10.9 24.6
6 MP RAW 7 12.0 25.3
3 MP RAW 8 9.8 16.2
14 MP JPEG 5 13.8 39.6
6 MP JPEG 7 14.4 55.1
3 MP JPEG 7 12.3 37.4

The first surprise was that the DCS-14n shot consistently at 1.6 fps, that's 0.1 fps slower than the specified rate, not a huge difference but a difference all the same. It's clear from the results here (and below) that the biggest bottleneck is when the camera has to process those fourteen million pixels into anything other than a straight fourteen megapixel RAW file. Smaller RAW files don't write very much quicker than full size, and JPEG's are simply a lot of work for the DSC-14n. This is not a camera for sports photographers.


File Flush Timing

Timings shown below are the time taken for the camera to process and "flush" the image out to the storage media. The DSC-14n continues to process images in the buffer and write data out to the storage media in parallel to you composing (and taking) the next shot. The timings below represent a combination of processing and write speed as the 14n appears to do the two in parallel. Each card was Quick Formatted before testing. Timer was started as soon as the storage compartment light came on (the instant the exposure has finished) and stopped when this light went off.

The media used for these tests were:

  • 512 MB Lexar Pro 24x Type I Compact Flash card
  • 512 MB Viking Type I Compact Flash card
  • 1 GB IBM Microdrive Type II Compact Flash card
Store Time, secs
(Lexar)
Time, secs
(Viking)
Time, secs
(Microdrive)
Approx. *1
File size
Approx. *1 512 MB card
4500 x 3000 RAW 7.6 9.3 8.2 13,000 KB 27
3000 x 2000 RAW 8.6 9.7 9.6 7,600 KB 42
4500 x 3000 RAW+J 12.5 12.8 12.9 17,446 KB 18
4500 x 3000 JPEG III 12.0 12.5 13.2 4,400 KB 66
3000 x 2000 JPEG III 11.2 11.3 12.5 2,400 KB 148
2250 x 1500 JPEG III 8.8 8.9 10.1 1,400 KB 255

*1 This is a total for the combination of RAW+JPEG. Size and capacity at ISO 100, higher ISO's would lead to more noise and hence larger image files.

It's clear that the DCS-14n takes a big hit creating JPEG's and resizing RAW images and thus this has an impact on the overall processing / write time. There's no getting away from the fact that fourteen megapixels generates seriously large files. However as is proved here with the Lexar Pro 24x card (not their fastest card) you can still get acceptable write times shooting full resolution RAW images, however you're not going to get many on a 512 MB card. If you intend to shoot RAW you really need several Microdrives or one or two of the upcoming 3 GB cards. Shooting JPEG you have to be ready for the additional write time.

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