What memory cards do I need?

This is a frequently asked question. Like many such questions, it has some suggestions rather than one definitive answer. And those suggestions are:

  1. Buy brand name cards. Lexar and Sandisk are the main brands, and they are very good electronically. They have anti-aging mechanisms built in that some cheaper cards do not.
  2. Get a lot of them. Often, I would rather have two 8GB cards or even four 4GB cards than one 16GB card. This spreads your risk. Memory cards die, get lost, get stolen, and so on.
  3. Speed is less important unless you shoot sports (many repeated shots) or video. For video, the sustained throughput (the small 1-9 number surrounded by a circle) is very important. But if you do not shoot video or constant shutter mode shots such as in sports, speed only affects the read/write time from buffer to card and from card to computer, (not the quality) and you may well prefer a $30 “slow” card ran a $150 “Super Generation 6 Extra Extreme Screaming Speed Pus Pro” card.
  4. That said, I think everyone should have one very fast card – for when you shoot repeated large images.
  5. Do not open the camera when the LED at the back, that indicates “wait, I am writing to the card” turns off.
  6. Format your card every time you re-insert it into the camera – but only after you have copied all you images to the computer and made a backup.
  7. Use a CF/SD card reader for connecting to the computer. Many people find this more convenient than connecting the camera. The choice is yours, though.

I hope that is useful – and remember, shoot a lot and fill those cards, especially this season.

0 thoughts on “What memory cards do I need?

  1. Thanks! I did not know about anti-aging mechanisms. I wonder if Lexar and Sandisk could build one into my brain.

    But the image of a “… Speed Pus Pro” card is rather yucky.

    The corollary or implication of #6 is don’t format it in your computer even though it is capable of formatting FAT32 drives. Have the device that writes to the card do the formatting.

    In Thailand you have to watch out for counterfeit cards. I bought a Memory Stick that was labelled SanDisk. It didn’t fit in my camera! It was a fraction of a millimetre too thick. Examining the packaging I could see it wasn’t the same quality as a genuine card but in the store it was impossible to tell. I guess you don’t have that problem in Canada.

    Do you know if there is a technical reason why “professional” cameras use Compact Flash cards whereas consumer models have almost all moved to SD. I know SD cards are smaller so better for smaller-bodied cameras but is there a reason to keep the CF format alive?

  2. Typo.. ouch.. brings back John Lennon’s “I am the Walrus” lyric: “Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog’s eye”.

    You are very right about the formatting, that is exactly what I meant. Introducing more variables is not clever (who knows how your computer may format a card: FAT, FAT32, even Apple?) and the camera is also faster. Plus, the camera creates a directory or two, as well.

    Counterfeit cards are indeed inferior, and they do exist here too, though not as much as in Asia.

    Why CF cards? They are ahead of the curve and always get the biggest capacity and fastest speeds first. And for big cameras, size is not an issue. I love the CF format and regret its demise in the amateur market.

  3. One suggestion I read somewhere else is to have at least one card that is on your camera’s approved list for troubleshooting purposes.

    I’m glad you didn’t argue to never hook your camera directly to the computer. Other than wearing down the battery, I don’t see a big deal either way. Some seem to think the transfer is more reliable with a card reader. I’d rather trust my expensive camera than some cheap no-name card reader. That said, since I got my Lexar card reader, I mostly use it.

  4. Oh yes, there’s no “right or wrong” here. I use card readers since it is more convenient for me (faster, no running the battery down), but truly, either will do. Card readers tend to be faster. But not always.

    Any Lexar or Sandisk card will be a good reference, and it is indeed a good idae to havethat good reference.

  5. I wish the D90 supported CF cards. I’m drooling over the new 90MB/s CF card speed from sandisk although I don’t think I’d need one. They are expensive too ^_^”
    In my opinion, a reasonable speed for a DSLR camera memory card is around 22MB/s. When I take pictures I like to review them right away.
    For pros photog, I think it’s best to have fast memory cards. It’s essential that photogs can review their photos before moving on. You don’t want to miss an event just cause the picture you took was out of focus, or you wouldn’t want the ppl you just shot to go away because you are taking too long to review your photos etc.

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