A photographer’s guide to memory cards

So everybody is a photographer nowadays. Thanks to this beautiful generation’s digital revolution, everyone pretty much walks around with a pro-grade camera (or close to it) in their back pocket. Yes, regular, old-school film cameras still exist and are quite popular, but there is absolutely no contest when it comes to their digital counterparts. Whether you just want to see a preview of your image right after you take it, or the time and money you get back NOT-developing all those rolls of film. These are just a few of the benefits of a DSLR but, in order to enjoy these perks, we have to understand the importance of memory cards.

What is the best memory card for DSLR cameras?

If you are close to buying a brand new DSLR, or even a more basic digital camera, it’s important that you understand memory cards. It would really suck spending all your tip money on a new piece of equipment for your kit, only to find out that it doesn’t fit.  Well a memory card is no different. By using a memory card that is less adequate for your camera, you lose quality, and you gain some serious buffing time as you’re uploading your photos.

The most common questions about memory cards are usually “What brand do I choose?” or “What will suit my camera best?” Well, hold your horses, I’m getting to that. First, let’s see how they work.

Speed Class


SD cards come with different write speed specifications. The faster it is, the quicker the file will be created. For anyone with a modern camera, it is very important to get the fastest card that you can afford.

If you got a DSLR with super high megapixel count, slower cards will prevent you from shooting in burst mode. And if you need to capture a sports scene, that could mean a lost opportunity. But, the it gets even worse when it comes to videos. If you try to shoot at full capability of your camera with a memory card that is too slow, you can end up skipping frames or even ending up with a completely unusable video file. Always consult your DSLR’s manual to see the minimum recommended requirements for SD card speed.

Memory cards come in 3 different speed class types:

Speed Class:

This is the oldest speed standard for SD cards. Denoted as C symbol it goes up in increments of 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10. Respectively they represent the minimum write speed of the card in megabytes. If your camera is pre-2009, you will need to look for one of these cards. But, most people should have newer cameras and C speed class would be way to slow for them.

Ultra-High-Speed Class (UHS)

In 2009 the SD association introduced a new standard for SD cards. UHS is meant to keep up with modern camera file sizes. When you shoot RAW format with 40-megapixel camera, 10MB/s write speed would not come anywhere close to tolerable. With UHS you get 2 new speed ratings. 1, which has minimum write speed of 10 MB/s and 3 – 30MB/s.

Video Speed Class

The advancement of digital camera technology happened so quickly, the SD association had to add another speed class. For those of you shooting above 4k, virtual reality or 360 videos, the new video speed class is advised. It is capable of incredible speeds and should cover even the most demanding tasks. Even live streaming.

  • V6 – Minimum Sustained Speed is 6MB/s
  • V10 – Minimum Sustained Speed is10MB/s
  • V30 – Minimum Sustained Speed is 30MB/s
  • V60 – Minimum Sustained Speed is 60MB/s
  • V90 – Minimum Sustained Speed is 90MB/s

Given that most camera manufacturers are phasing these out, it is not worth going into too much detail with them.

SD and Compact Flash Memory Cards iSolated on White Background.

CF Memory cards

First introduced in 1994, it has been a standard memory card format for professional photographers. Faster and more reliable than SD cards, it still commonly seen even today. Well, of course it has received a few upgrades since the early 90’s.

XQD Memory Cards

When it entered the market in 2010 XQD cards got popular real fast. In fact, the reason CF cards are getting phased out is because CompactFlash associated decided to develop XQD cards. Much smaller than the CF cards and with superior build and quality to SD cards, it is no brainer that it is the new standard.

With the original N series capable of reaching speeds of 80MB/s and 125MB/s, and the current G-series speeds of 350MB/s and 400MB/s. No wonder that Nikon made these as their standard cards. Nikon D4, D4S, D5, D850 and D500 no longer support SD or CF cards and instead have either single or dual slots for XQD.

These are currently the fastest and most reliable cards on the market. But, their price tag reflects that. If you are not shooting a lot of 4k videos and/or photos, you are not a professional photographer. I would advise sticking with SD cards if possible.

Digital camera with memory card on laptop preparing to transfer photos

Conclusion

With so many different cards on the market, even with all the knowledge it can be hard to make a choice. Try and stick with known and reliable brands such as:  SanDisk, Lexar, Kingston, Toshiba or Sony. They have the best quality products, and with their warranties, you will be covered even if something ever does go wrong. God forbid.

One final word, NEVER buy memory cards from anyone but a licensed retailer. Apps like Offer-up, LetGo, and Ebay have made it very easy to scam people using memory cards.. I ordered a few 512 GB memory cards from an app called Wish, and although they looked very similar to SanDisk, it was fake. Make sure you are buying from a well known and trusted retailer.

 
 
 

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