The solid state technology used in today’s camera media is pretty smart, so why don’t we make use of that?
When you bring your car to the garage, the first thing they’ll do is hook up a laptop to its computers. They don’t even bother looking at the dashboard warning lights - they get straight to the matter. So why do we treat our storage, which is arguably just as smart as your car, differently?
An example: Disk Utilities’ First Aid is nice to have, but will only look at the file system. It’s unaware of any underlying issues beyond the veil of the file system. It will repair no physical issues and only correct logical errors in the partition’s lookup table. The only way out of trouble is a format, and then it’s down to crossed fingers.
This behavior is ingrained into our collective minds and stems from the time of HDDs - dumb mechanical hard drives with no additional features besides S.M.A.R.T (insert link).
How different is today’s storage? Like night and day.
Thanks to the advent of NAND flash memory, storage devices are micro-computers in their own right. Every camera card has a controller that manages whatever happens on the device, down to the lowest level possible: each NAND “cell” is about 5 μm^2 - not far off from the smallest size that Newtonian physics will allow for. The camera sends data to the controller, and the controller decides where and how the data is cached and stored. But that controller can also interact with its host - your computer, although this is not the standard we’re used to.
With shared storage like a NAS, we expect a nice dashboard and all kinds of telemetry on performance out of the box. Why don’t we expect that from our camera media? Why do we think of camera media as dumb devices that we ditch when the second one starts acting up? Because it’s hard.
With a NAS, it’s easy — it’s a Linux installation combined with a RAID controller, perfectly suited to serve you a web page with some nice stats. But flash memory only has firmware, so you’ll need very specific software to be able to communicate and digest any useful information.
Firmware can serve that same wealth of information that’s useful for you, the end user. But as firmware tends to be quite vendor-specific, without a driver and app from that vendor, exposing all of that goodness is another matter. As hardware manufacturers are also known for not being that great at doing software, these apps quickly bog down your system. As there is no standard for talking to firmware, your system could end up riddled with vendor-specific apps that you’ll rarely use.
That’s the type of friction we like to fix, and we’re starting that journey with ProGrade.
ProGrade is one of those vendors that goes the extra mile by adding useful parts to their firmware, and it’s why we decided to add to Hedge the technology that’s needed to talk to their firmware. By making it part of your offloading workflow, there’s no need to go hunting for apps or having to manage drivers. As a result, Hedge can expose card-specific functionality, like sanitization of ProGrade media.
Sanitizing a card, or Secure Erase as it’s also known, is a process with multiple benefits:
Firstly, it’s important to know that not all cards are created equal. Whilst many claim blistering speeds, performance over time can and will degrade. That’s where the sanitization of cards comes into play. Not all camera media supports secure erase; some vendors, like ProGrade, make this clear on the card and reader with the <refresh pro R logo> on the label. Hedge will automatically query the card and offer the Sanitize option if supported.
The most obvious benefit is well known: sanitizing a card will truly erase what is stored on a card. Instead of just flipping the partition table (akin to the Parashoot [LINK] process), a secure erase truly overwrites all sectors of a card. Not only the cache but also the persistent storage, whether they have or don’t have data on it, making it impossible for a third party to gain access to your data. If you’re shooting sensitive data, don’t rely on erasing your card in the OS or in-camera.
Keep one thing in mind: if you’re going to use this function, take note it can’t be reversed. Any data that was stored on the card will not be able to be recovered. The flip side of that is, of course, when media or cards are going back to the rental house, your data will not be accessible to anyone else.
The second benefit is less known, but much more important - sanitizing a card not only wipes the data but also resets it to the factory-new state of the card. It will be as new. By overwriting all sectors of a card with zeroes, any new data written to the card will be grouped, and defragmentation won’t get in the way. This increases the write speed, prevents frames from dropping, and speeds up offloading the cards, too - it will take the controller less seek commands to retrieve all the data that is requested from the card. You’ll also be doing your colleague or the rental house a favor as you’ll be passing a camera card that’s as close factory fresh… minus any marker sticky labels or marker scrawl from the shoot.
It takes two to tango
To be able to communicate with your media directly, you don’t only need a card with firmware enabling such comms, but also a card reader that plays along. The reader needs to understand how to pass messages between the host computer and the camera media, without being in the way or obscuring anything.
This is why it helps to go for a single preferred brand of both media and card readers - that way, you get the most out of your media. You can bet on it that a reader of the same brand as your media will perform better than a generic reader, as both have been tested thoroughly together, for the best possible performance. When it comes to exposing additional functionality like Secure Erase, it’s a requirement. For ProGrade cards, this feature is automatically enabled for memory cards that have the R present on the label:
Integrations are just as much about the way in as it is about the way out, and ProGrade is our first way-in integration. It’s available for both Windows and macOS in Hedge 23.1.