If you're a Mac user that has made the jump to OS X, you may be frustrated by the lack of full support for FireWire CompactFlash card readers in Apple's latest operating system. Though two popular FireWire-connected readers - the Lexar Media FireWire CF Digital Film Reader and Microtech FireWire CameraMate - have sort of worked since OS X 10.0 was released, it has been with troublesome limitations.
Microtech FireWire CameraMate (left);
Lexar Firewire CF Digital Film Reader (right)
Specifically, either the CompactFlash card remounts immediately after it's dragged to the Eject icon in the Dock, making it impossible to properly remove the card from the system or, once the card is properly ejected, the system won't recognize and mount another card until either the reader is unplugged or the computer is restarted. These problems, while not deal-stoppers, have relegated my Lexar and Microtech FireWire readers to use with Mac OS 9 and Windows XP machines only.
Lexar's Business Segment General Manager Jim Gustke notes that an OS X solution is being developed for their FireWire reader, which they source from Taiwanese electronics firm Datafab. What the solution will be, and when it will be released, has not been set.
Update, May 18: Based on a smattering of feedback since this article was first published, it appears Lexar Media tech support may be informing customers that no OS X fix is planned for the company's FireWire reader. In a phone interview earlier this week, Jim Gustke confirmed what I'd been told by other company officials several months earlier: that an OS X solution is being developed and will be released when it's ready. Those unwilling to wait for Lexar's solution may wish to check out the revised firmware FireWire CameraMate, which continues to work well under OS X here.
Firmware fixes OS X incompatibility
Meanwhile, SCM Microsystems has begun shipping the Microtech FireWire CameraMate with revised firmware that solves mounting/unmounting problems with the reader under OS X and, as an added bonus, the firmware change to the Oxford 900 bridge component inside enables the FireWire CameraMate to function properly without the installation of an additional driver under Mac OS 9.1 - 9.2.2.
Until now, OS 9 users have had to install the reader's included driver from FWB Software, a driver that insists on taking over control of all FireWire devices it supports, to ensure that CompactFlash cards would unmount properly. Now, OS 9.1 - 9.2.2 computers will no longer require the FWB driver. Macs running OS 8.6 to OS 9.0.4 will still require the driver, but will now be able to configure it to only take over control of driver-less devices, including the CameraMate.
In testing here, utilizing CompactFlash cards from Delkin, Lexar, Microtech, Ridata, SimpleTech, Transcend and the IBM 1GB Microdrive, the revised-firmware CameraMate worked without a hitch under OS 9.2.2 and OS X 10.1.4 (Microtech recommends OS X 10.1 or later, though the revised-firmware reader will apparently function in OS X versions back to 10.0). Cards now mount and unmount as expected on the Mac, with only one minor quibble to note: on two occasions, a card that was left in the reader when booting back and forth from OS X to OS 9 would not appear in the desktop until it was removed and reinserted. That is the extent of the difficulties I've experienced with the revised firmware CameraMate after several days of heavy use.
The firmware change is not supposed to affect compatibility or functionality under Windows, and doesn't seem to. The FireWire CameraMate appears to work as seamlessly with my Windows XP desktop as it has before.
FireWire CameraMates shipped to resellers in about the past two weeks have already been flashed with the revised firmware. Unfortunately, there's no way to determine at a glance whether a reader sitting on a store shelf is of the revised firmware variety, though connecting it to an OS X Mac and looking for odd mounting/unmounting behaviour will quickly reveal its firmware status.
Obtaining the firmware update
Owners of older firmware FireWire CameraMates can have their reader updated by SCM Microsystems free of charge, by shipping affected units to the company's Guilford, CT location. Upon request, a revised firmware CameraMate will be shipped to the customer even before the customer's reader has landed in Guilford, a process called cross-shipping. Organizations with a stack of FireWire CameraMates, access to a Windows PC with a bus-powered FireWire port and some technical savvy can request the Windows-only firmware update utility and perform the upgrade themselves.
The firmware update process begins by contacting Microtech tech support at +1 800-666-9689. More information on the FireWire CameraMate and Macs may be found at the Microtech Interactive Support Site, in documents 414 and 1206. To access these documents, enter the document number into the Goto FAQ Answer ID# field at left on the main page of the Microtech support site.