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Bill Frakes’ Need For Speed – the Nikon D4S and XQD Advantage

Nebraska Project
Operating at Peak Performance: Bill Frakes, a Nikon D4S and an XQD Card

When your throughput for motion and photo stills production is as intense as it is for Professional Photographer Bill Frakes, there’s no patience for file processing bottlenecks. Sports Illustrated photographer and founder of the production company Straw Hat Visuals, Frakes has relied on the XQD memory cards since October 2012.

Nikon DSLR at Peak Performance

The XQD media card format was designed to be the successor to the CompactFlash card. Nikon has adopted this format for its flagship DSLR series, the D4 and the D4S. The card is able to take advantage of capture and processing speed power of these two professional cameras. As a note, both cameras also work with the CompactFlash© (Type I, compliant with UDMA).


Frakes labels the XQD a gold standard.

“These cards are always working, and always working exactly the way I want them to. The speed is incredible; I virtually never buffer out.” For a photographer who owns more than 50 XQD cards, that’s an excellent reference. “XQD cards allow high-end DSLRs to operate at a peak performance. I do not have to worry when operating in the most intense situations—whether shooting rapid-fire work that involves sending a massive capture stream of RAW to the card, or when I am shooting non-stop video.”

“Many of my shoots occur in extreme environments—rain, humidity, dirt and sand, temps that range from below freezing to easily above 100-degrees Fahrenheit. The cards take a lot of physical handling as they are shuffled in and out of a camera, into a card reader or laptop, tossed into a case, quickly passed into a runner’s hand and more.”

Assignments take Bill Frakes to many different environments, where reliability of the equipment is paramount. In this scene, Frakes captures time lapse footage with his Nikon gear for his Nebraska Project.

Assignments take Bill Frakes to many different environments, where reliability of the equipment is paramount. In this scene, Frakes captures timelapse footage with his Nikon gear for his Nebraska Project.

The Case for XQD Memory Cards in Nikon D4S/D4 DSLRs

This card addresses two requirements of the photographer who needs constant high throughput. One, incredibly fast read/write speeds (Sony’s G series delivers read/write speed of 400/350 MB/s). Two, a high capacity storage limit (projected maximum storage capacity is greater than 2 TB).

Stats for the card (when inserted into the Nikon D4S) measure capture rate of 11 NEF files per second. The D4S can work to utmost potential—recording up to 67 uncompressed NEF images, or more than 200 JPEG images, in a single continuous burst. “Cards are in and out of my cameras on a regular basis. As simple as it may sound, the size and more rigid construction material make them easier for me to handle.”

News: High Pressure, Immediate Need

Having worked in every U.S. state and more than 138 countries, Frakes shares more about why the XQD works for him. First, let’s outline one of his immediate deadline assignments, such as the Associated Press coverage of President Obama’s homage to Selma and Bloody Sunday. To work for this news source a photographer has to ‘file fast.’

While on the move, he covered the event from many vantages. For some scenarios Frakes can enlist the camera’s wireless transfer to send files to the news desk. Not possible that day (the closest a laptop could be was approximately one-half mile away and out of Wi-Fi® range), a runner was used to get files to the editor ASAP.

XQD vs CF Card Speed Comparison - see for yourself the superior speed of the Nikon D4S and XQD cards.

XQD vs CF Card Speed Comparison – see for yourself the superior speed of the Nikon D4S and XQD cards.

“We worked old school with a ‘sneaker net’ to move cards to the editor by foot. There is a deadline every second and it’s important to constantly get new photographs moving.” Frakes would shoot, pull the card, hand it off, then immediately load another XQD. “I can acquire huge bursts of images quickly. Equally important, it allows the camera to be ready to fire immediately.”

Sports: Speed is King for sports, be it a March Madness fast break or the Kentucky Derby. That goes for memory cards too. Make that 30 XQD cards placed within Nikon D4s cameras placed at Churchill Downs.

Photographer Bill Frakes on assignment.

Photographer Bill Frakes on assignment.

Covering the Derby for Sports Illustrated last year, Frakes orchestrated a complex rigging with 35 cameras facing a large portion of the mile and a quarter track. For an event with duration close to a mere two minutes, and subjects galloping by at speeds in excess of 40mph, every millisecond counts.

“My cameras are actually only in positions able to capture the horses for about 40 seconds of the race, and only one camera has the horses in view for more than a few seconds,” he notes. “Post-race, all cards are removed, immediately uploaded to computers for onsite editing, then rapid transmission to SI.com in Atlanta and New York. No traffic jams permissible either on upload or download.”

Capture, Capacity and the Crane: At the other end of the shoot spectrum, Frakes comments about personal work. A native of Nebraska, the photographer smiles when reliving a glorious afternoon-into-evening spent photographing the sandhill crane migration near Grand Island, Nebraska.
Nikon - At the heart of the image
Working to build upon his media-intense undertaking, The Nebraska Project, he reveals, “I was caught up in the beauty of the place and the moment. I shot nearly 19,000 RAW frames in just a few hours, showcasing the cranes bathed in light. Even though extreme speed was not needed, I still relied on the XQD. I like knowing that when I want to go incredibly fast I can.”

With cards in and out of his cameras day in and day out, Frakes knows the value of the XQD. To get the shot he’s willing to risk life and limb. Wouldn’t it be a shame if a little memory card couldn’t stand up to man’s pursuit to fulfill his passion?

About The Contributor

Bill-Frakes-bio-headshot

Bill Frakes

Bill Frakes is a Sports Illustrated photographer based in Florida. His production company, Straw Hat Visuals, produces content that is cross-purposed across multiple platforms reaching maximum viewers. Bill has worked in all 50 states and in more than 138 countries for a wide variety of editorial and advertising clients, including Apple, Nike, Manfrotto, Coca Cola, Champion, Isleworth, Stryker, IBM, Nikon, Kodak, and Reebok. He directs music videos and television ads. Editorially his work has appeared in virtually every major general interest publication in the world. His still photographs and short documentary films have been featured on hundreds of websites as well as on most major television networks. To see more of Bill's work, be sure to check out his websites: www.billfrakes.com, www.nebraskaproject.com and www.strawhatvisuals.com.


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  • Gearsau

    I still will not purchase a D4 / DS body because of the stupid card system.

  • nikonian

    I love the xqd on my camera. Too bad both slots aren’t it. Smaller, much faster transfer, no bent reader pins, no corrupted cards, no cards that are bent from being pocketed. I have hated cf for years and am glad nikon is phasing that format out. Like Frackes said they are also easier to grip with gloves on and do better on the cold. I plan on getting the xqd d5 over the summer.

    The only people who i know are upset about the switch to xqd, either already have a huge investment in cf cards or are too married to their current workflow. The complaint of carrying two different cards isn’t legitimate because you have to carry two different batteries…