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Lexar announces ActiveMemory CompactFlash, card readers  
Monday, September 27, 2004 | by Rob Galbraith

Lexar today has announced the ActiveMemory System, a new technology to be built into Lexar CompactFlash cards that allows for the storing of photographer- and camera-specific settings on the card, as well as stackable, high-performance USB 2.0 and FireWire Professional CompactFlash Readers that support ActiveMemory commands.

A Lexar press release also notes that an upcoming release of Camera Bits Photo Mechanic will be the first program able to set, change and read ActiveMemory settings.

Lexar Pro Series CompactFlash cards with ActiveMemory

At the centre of today’s announcements is a few kilobytes of protected data storage in upcoming Lexar AMS Professional Series CompactFlash cards. The protected data storage area resides outside the standard data storage area that contains the card's file system and picture files. Called ActiveMemory, the settings in this area are stored in an encrypted XML format. The settings aren’t deleted even when the card is reformatted; only the application or device that creates a particular group of settings can modify or delete those settings.

Lexar envisions a multitude of uses for ActiveMemory, including:

  • As a way to store camera settings for easy reconfiguring of one camera for different shooting situations, each of which might require altering a number of custom settings, processing parameters, white balance, exposure and more. In this way, one could create individual settings groups for outdoor daylight, indoor artificial light, night time long exposures with mirror lock-up enabled and so on.

  • The storing of camera settings for easy set up of a pool of cameras with the identical configuration, as is often necessary when a group of shooters is covering a large event like the Superbowl.

  • Storing the photographer’s name and other information destined for the photo’s metadata. Software written to read ActiveMemory entries on the card could automatically move the appropriate ActiveMemory information into the IPTC fields of each photo as they’re copied off the card.

For the ActiveMemory System to be useful, it obviously requires both camera makers and software developers to create their products with the technology in mind. It’s clear from Lexar’s press release that no digital SLR manufacturers are prepared to publicly announce their intention to support it as yet, so ActiveMemory’s promise to streamline the setup of cameras may not be realized soon.

ActiveMemory in the upcoming Photo Mechanic 4.5

pm4.5.0.1beta_screen_2.jpgThe next major revision of Photo Mechanic for Mac and Windows, however, will be ActiveMemory-savvy. The combination of an ActiveMemory Lexar Pro Series CompactFlash card, the upcoming Photo Mechanic 4.5 and Lexar’s new card readers (discussed next) will enable a photographer or group of photographers to slide their cards into a stack of readers and have Photo Mechanic manage the remainder of the copying process from there.

Version 4.5 of the photo browsing software will automatically transfer the photos from up to 4 cards simultaneously, optionally intepreting the ActiveMemory settings and placing the relevant information into IPTC data fields in each photo.

In this way, a group of photographers shooting with a cabinet full of digital SLR cameras and a bag full of CompactFlash cards could, as long as their own cards contained their name in ActiveMemory, allow Photo Mechanic to automatically place that name in the IPTC Photographer field during copying, since it would read their name from ActiveMemory on their cards. Regardless of in what order the cards were fed to the readers, or who was piloting the computer at the time, this basic bit of information should be entered correctly.

The screenshot below shows some of the controls that are being added to Photo Mechanic's Ingest Disks dialog in the upcoming v4.5, including a new Use Active Memory IPTC Stationery radio button, the Save, Load and Store buttons for managing ActiveMemory settings and [AM] appended to the end of the ActiveMemory-enabled source disk's name. This screenshot and the one above are from an early beta version, so the interface could change between now and when the software ships.

Ingests Disks dialog in the upcoming Photo Mechanic 4.5

FireWire, USB 2.0 Professional Series CompactFlash Readers

Lexar has also unveiled two new pro-focused card readers. Called the Professional CompactFlash Readers, USB 2.0 and FireWire versions have been announced, each of which will support ActiveMemory commands. This will allow applications like Photo Mechanic to read and write ActiveMemory settings.

Lexar Professional CompactFlash Readers

In addition, the readers should also function as quick transporters of photos from comparably-quick CompactFlash cards, regardless of whether they’re ActiveMemory-enabled.

Lexar has done more than toss ActiveMemory support into existing readers. They’ve set out to design both USB 2.0 and FireWire readers that fit the needs of serious and professional photographers. Especially those that handle a lot of files across multiple CompactFlash cards each day. In addition to ActiveMemory support, the Professional Series CompactFlash Readers incorporate the following features:

  • The USB 2.0 version is stackable; the FireWire version is both stackable and can be daisy-chained. Multiple FireWire readers can be clipped together, one on top of the other, with 1 FireWire cable linking a reader to the computer and short FireWire cables linking the readers to each other. An external hub is required to perform the same multi-reader trick with the USB 2.0 version, though the readers clip together in a similar fashion to the FireWire version.

  • The readers are promised to operate at speeds in excess of 10MB/second in both read and write operations, presumably with CompactFlash cards capable of this level of throughput.

  • The reader case is made from a combination of hard plastic and grippy rubber, similar in texture and appearance to an up-market digital SLR.

  • The card slot has a flap to minimize the amount of dust that enters the reader. The flap incorporates status lights that indicate reader activity.

  • The firmware in both readers is user-upgradeable.

Lexar Professional CompactFlash Readers stacked together (Photo by Mike Sturk)

Rear view of FireWire version (Photo by Mike Sturk)

Lexar AMS Professional CompactFlash cards, the Professional CompactFlash Readers and Camera Bits Photo Mechanic 4.5 are expected to ship in the fourth quarter of 2004.

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