Thank You EU and USB Standards Committee

With the EU basically mandating the use of USB-C as a connector and the USB standards body imposing no consistent or required labeling, we’re now at the point where that USB-C connector EU is mandating may be trying to do any of the following:

  • USB 2, 480Mb/s (Hi-Speed, e.g. new iPhone!)
  • USB 3.0, 5Gb/s
  • USB 3.1, 5Gb/s
  • USB 3.1 Gen 2, 10Gb/s (SuperSpeed)
  • USB 3.2 Gen 1, 5Gb/s
  • USB 3.2 Gen 2x2, 10Gb/s (absolutely requires different cable)
  • and get ready for USB4, 40Gb/s (which drops the space between USB and the number!)

What’s supported at each end is important, so you can have a new iPhone talking to a new Mac where the iPhone is throttling the connection speed! Also, while cameras state that they support USB 3.2 (of any variation), the electronics in the camera don’t produce data at the max speed of the connection.

On top of this, we have USB PD (Power Delivery) up to 240 watts, now at standards version 3.0, plus Thunderbolt standards, which is now at version 4, all of which use the same USB-C connector.

Here’s the rub: I have about seven different variations of “USB-C” cables now, and virtually none of them are labeled with what they support other than a couple of ones with Thunderbolt markings. Even that’s ambiguous, and sometimes I have to figure out if the sole lightning symbol on the cable is for Thunderbolt 2, 3, or 4.

Technically, there is a labeling standard (SS5, SS10, SS20, 20, 40, 3, 4, numbers along with the USB or Thunderbolt icon). But hardly anyone complies with the labeling, and note the confusion with 20, which could mean USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 or USB4. Moreover, we need USB PD labeling on the connector, as well (e.g. 15, 60, 240 watts). EU's new directive starting in December 2024 may or may not help with the labeling: packages require a label, but the cables themselves apparently don’t. 

One can almost make an entire IT career out of just knowing (and having a supply of) all the various different cables and solving users’ problems by simply plugging in the right one. Add in understanding Wi-Fi routers, which has as many behind-the-covers differences, and yes, you have a complete career IT ;~).

Nikon has been supplying basically USB-3.0 to USB-2 cables with their cameras on the mistaken assumption that your computer is still antiquated and the camera is newer ;~). The Zf at least supplies a USB-C to USB-C cable (appears to be 30W max). 

If you’re having connection issues, either for communication or power, it’s probably almost always going to come down to having the right cable. 

Some advice: if you're on a Mac, Apple decided to move straight to USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 with the M1/M2/M3 machines (there are still a couple of exceptions, such as the front USB-C ports on the Studio M2 Max model being only USB 3.2 Gen 2x2, and the recently annoucned base 14” MacBook Pro M3 being only Thunderbolt 3). You now really need to be paying attention to the external SSD drives and card readers you add: they should be USB4 to get maximum performance. 

You should also be using USB4/Thunderbolt 4 cables that are rated to 240 watts Power Delivery. Fortunately, there's a good source for that, and they're marked with Thunderbolt level, max MGps, and USB PD maximum wattage: OWC

Yes, it makes a difference. The latest ProGrade CFexpress card reader is USB4 (mislabeled USB 4.0 in their marketing literature ;~). Their older CFexpress card reader is USB 3.2 Gen 2x2, which tends to work at 5Gb/s speeds on most devices I've used it on. Technically, our fastest current CFexpress cards can transfer at something just above 10Gb/s, so if ingest speed is important, you need to stay current and get the newer reader if your computer supports USB4. 

Casual enthusiasts taking only a few images at a time probably don't have to stay near the front edge of tech as we sports and event photographers do. However, tech progression is relentless. You need a plan to keep all your gear relatively current or else you fall into gaps that become a big pain to deal with, as you end up having to replace everything. There was a post recently from someone who bought a Nikon Z7 II, for instance (a three year old camera!), but their computer was over a decade old and the software they used was also no longer updated for current OS versions. In essence, the purchase of the camera forced them to deal with everything they owned all at once. 

Europe’s USB-C requirements that come fully into effect at the end of next year will be another one of those things that forces everyone to deal with a large portion of their gear at once. 

See you at the cable store...

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