The only thing special about this photo (10/14/08) of an old Chevy pickup truck is that it is the first of a thousand or so RAW images recorded beyond the 8GB mark on a 16GB compact flash card in a Canon 20D. Just before Amy and I flew to New Mexico for a few days, Amazon offered a Transcend 16GB CF card at a ridiculously low price. (It's twice as big, 3x as fast, and 4x cheaper than my trusty 8GB Lexar card.) The night before we left, I shot a few frames with it to verify that the Canon could see its full size and could write to it. Then I routinely erased the test frames by reformatting the card... and cut its size in half. The 20D saw it as an 8GB card; Windows saw it as an 8GB partition and 8GB of unallocated (and unallocatable) space. None of the partition managers I had or could download could restore its full size. After wasting a couple of hours trying to get the space back, I found the solution.

Actually, a couple of weeks ago, "whipartist" found the solution and posted it on flickr; all I did was spend too much time looking in the wrong places for a fix.

Seems that even though the Canon 20D can see larger media, the camera can only create partitions up to 8GB. Fine, so get into Windows and expand the partition or, failing that, delete it and recreate a new partition that uses the whole card. Simple, but no: the disk management utilities built into Windows XP Home cannot repartition USB-connected removeable media like CF cards.

Whipartist found a utility -- SP27213.EXE -- that can. Google that filename and download it from somewhere you trust. I'm not stashing it here on the off-chance that the copy I got was infected with something nasty. Just be careful where you get it and be careful when you run it.

The program is Hewlett-Packard's USB Disk Storage Format Tool v2.0.6. When you run it, be very sure to select your CF card (and not, oh, one of your terabyte USB drives) before turning it loose. The program will turn a terabyte of data on a big external disk into a terabyte of empty storage just as readily as it will reformat your CF card.

For use in a Canon 20D, select FAT32 as the file system. And supply an informative volume label like "EOS_DIGITAL". Hit "START." When the program finishes, put the card back in your camera, and voila, you have its full capacity available again. That's a little over 16,000,000,000 bytes, or 14.9GB.

But will a comparatively venerable Canon 20D write beyond 8GB? Only one way to be sure. In Taos for a long weekend, I shot like mad, trying out shots I thought were stupidly unlikely to work well. I experimented with bracketted exposures and with wild panoramas, tried hand-holding at bizarrely long exposure times, again and again and again, on the chance that one shot would be sharper than others (results to come). This was play; if none of these pictures came home with me, no client would care. I would be irked but not depressed. In a little less than 2 days, I was approaching the 8GB mark with 1,089 RAW frames "in the can." For a little while I shot with even more abandon, trying shots I really wouldn't care if I never saw again. I thought if the camera was going to balk it would be as it crossed the 8GB mark.

In Arroyo Seco north of Taos, the camera finally told me I had less than 8GB left, so I knew I was shooting on the second half of the card. I made a few more pictures of the old truck parked beside the Mercantile for good measure.

Then I put the 16GB card away and went back to slightly more temperate habits with my 8GB Lexar. I could go back to the 16GB card if needed, but as long as I was Out West, I thought I'd be better off using known-good storage.

After I got home, I charged around the house photographing the cats and the golden retriever, clicking madly to be sure I was using space well and truly into the second 8GB of the 16GB card.

So far, it seems to work perfectly! It's "only" a 133x card, but that's dramatically faster than my old 40x Lexar (which matters to me only when shooting panoramas in RAW mode; the buffer clears so quickly that I can generally treat it as unlimited, which is emphatically not the case with the Lexar). Just remember not to reformat it in anything but the latest Canons or you'll be back to using it as an 8GB card. That's fine: it's still fast, and 8GB is considerable room, but it's half what you can have if you format it in a camera made to use that much space or with the simple utility above. Thank you, HP.

More when I know more.

10/26: I almost filled it up with 2,188 RAW frames from New Mexico, a Halloween festival, and assorted "utility" photos. The camera reported 340 frames of estimated capacity remaining.

Instead of formatting the card in the camera, I selected "erase all' from the picture review menu. It took about 3 minutes to finish. I hoped that clearing the card that way would keep the 16GB format intact and leave me with that much empty space. Nope. After "erasing all," the card reports its capacity as 8GB. It apparently only cleared one 8GB partition. I used it to shoot some get acquanited frames with a wedding client this morning, and while it works fine, the card still shows me pictures from the unerased partition. (No, not that simple... Windows now shows a capacity of 14.9GB with 3.9GB used. I only used 682MB this morning. Disk manager shows a single 14.94GB partition.)

The camera reports 999 frames remaining, so this method a) clears some space but b) is no better than reformatting as far as storage space is concerned and c) has some funky aspects to it. So, nice try, but back to the computer for another reformat using the HP CF format utility. Voila. Success: Windows shows no changes to the partition strucutre, but the Canon 20D now shows 14.9GB available and no images on the card.)



:: back to the slow blog ::


                   © 2010, David Cortner