How to Choose the Best Memory Cards for your Camera

When you are just starting out with your first DSLR, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out exactly what you need to successfully shoot your photo sessions. Today we’re looking at memory cards, and how to choose the ones that will suit you the best. Every photographer should have more than one memory card on hand at all times – especially if all you have is the one that came with your camera. Here’s how to pick out your back-ups, deciding on format, size, and brand.

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Types of memory card

Firstly, let’s look at the types of card that are available. There are, generally speaking, only two to choose from. These are SD cards and CF cards. You most likely don’t need much help on deciding which to go for. The reason for this is that most camera manufacturers will make the decision for you. The SD format is the most dominant in the market, with the majority of cameras only having slots suitable for these. Where you do have a CF slot, you most likely have a CF slot as well.

Incidentally, which one should you choose if you have the choice of either? The CF card is easier to handle and keep on hand because it is larger, so less easy to lose. It is also quicker. However, it is also easier to damage. If you bend the pins while putting it into the camera slot, or you get dust blocking the sockets, you might not be able to use the card any more. It can cost a lot to get it fixed, and if you don’t, you will lose whatever was on the card. Generally speaking, most experts agree that SD cards are the better option, particularly as faster options are continually being developed.

 

Types of SD card

Yes, it does continue getting more complicated! There are four types of SD cards out there for you to choose from. These are SDSC (standard capacity), SDHC (high capacity), SDXC (extended capacity), and SDIO, which has input and output options as well as data storage. The SDIO format is not used often anymore, as the USB interfaces you find in most modern DSLRs make it obsolete.

You can also get them in three sizes – mini, micro, and original. Mini cards have largely been replaced with micro cards now, so you only need to worry about original and micro. You can find adapters to put micro cards into original card slots. Why should you go for micro, then? They are more compatible with different smart devices. If you want to take your SD card out of your camera and put it into your phone, for example, micro would be best. If that doesn’t concern you at all, you can still with the original size. Again, you may find that your camera manufacturer has adopted micro slots for the model of DSLR you own, in which case the decision has been made for you.

You can also find SD cards with Wi-Fi capabilities. These are only necessary if you have the ability to upload images to the internet from your camera. If you don’t mind not doing that, there’s no need to think about this format.

So, which of the four types should you choose? We have already ruled out SDIO. Out of the remaining options, it’s all about how much data you want to store at once. SDSC cards can hold up to 2GB, which is a very small amount if you are shooting in RAW formats. SDHC cards can hold between 2GB and 32GB, which will be more comfortable for the average photographer. If you shoot very long events, take thousands of photographs in one sitting, or use an even larger file size such as digital medium format, then SDXC will be better. These cards can hold between 32GB and 2TB.

As a safe precautionary, some photographers will use lots of smaller memory cards vs. one big memory card during important shoots such as weddings. This way if one of them gets damaged, lost, or corrupts (see here how you can recover deleted photos from corrupted memory cards) you will still have all of your other memory cards in case you aren’t able to recover them, this way you won’t lose ALL of your images from the big day.

As you can see, choosing a card is all about what kind of photography you do. If you just take the odd snap of your family now and then, an original sized SDSC card will work fine. If you cover fashion weeks, running from show to show and uploading photos to the cloud in-between, with no time to pause from 8am to 11pm, then you might consider getting an original or micro SDXC card with Wi-Fi capabilities.

 

Getting technical

There is one other thing to consider, but this is really only relevant if you are right up at the technical side of things. If you need to have a high-performance camera, then you should think about reading and writing speeds as well.

The camera has a writing speed, and the SD card has one too. If the SD card speed is around the same as the camera speed, everything will work smoothly. If the SD card speed is higher, it will stick work fast, but you will not be using the whole capacity of the card. If the camera speed is higher, then you will find yourself limited by what the card can manage.

High speed cards work best when you are shooting video or a high frame rate of individual shots. Be aware that the speed also affects reading, or the rate at which you can display images on the back of the camera. A slower card won’t be able to process and display images as quickly.

Speed is rated in megabytes per second or MB/s. This demonstrates the maximum amount of megabytes that could be written to or read from the memory card. Some older CF cards will be rated with a multiplier, such as 1000x.

Basically, if you are looking for the ability to shoot frames as quickly as possible, a fast SD card is necessary, with as many MB/s as possible. If it doesn’t matter so much to you, you can save money with a lower speed rating.

 

Have you struggled with different memory cards? Has this information turned on a lightbulb for why your camera is slower than expected? Let us know how you get on in the comments.

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About Rhiannon D'Averc
Rhiannon D'Averc is a portrait photographer at PCI Studio which is based in Tonbridge, Kent. She has experience in areas such as teen shoots,maternity, fashion, beauty, and portraiture. She also holds a degree in Photography from the University of Hertfordshire.
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