Tips For Buying Your Next Memory Card

So, you didn't ask for this, but I'm going to tell you everything I know about choosing your next memory card. When we're done, I'll offer some recommendations on cards I use everyday.

If you're a regular reader of photography blogs most of them will have some kind of list of essential items you need to keep in your camera bag. One of the items on that list will always be something like "extra memory cards."

As an aside, but also related to this subject, you will also come across articles which direct you to "grow up" and shoot RAW format.

Many, actually most professional photographers will claim that you can't be a real photographer if you shoot JPEG. 

I shoot JPEG. 

It's one of the great myths of digital photography that JPEG images are so inferior to RAW as to make them unsuitable for professional work.  So much so that it has been adopted as gospel by both photographers and editors alike. 

JPEG is different from RAW, that's for sure. Each format has advantages and disadvantages. But to automatically consider JPEG files unsuitable for professional work across the board is simply wrong. Anyone who claims this as their truth is not knowledgeable about how the compression in RAW and JPEG’s work and has not considered all the situations where JPEG file format is simply a better choice than RAW. But that’s for another time.

So far so good. 

Maybe you have a trip coming up and will remember the this list of photography essentials from a blog you've read. Or if you have "grown up" and have begun to shoot in RAW format you've noticed that the RAW files occupy three times as much space as the JPEG's did. One of the down sides of shooting RAW is that you must use either more or larger capacity memory cards than you do with JPEG. 

Armed with this new knowledge, you head down to the local big box store in search of a new memory card or two.

Let's not kid ourselves. You never thought that there might be too many options for you to easily decide upon, you just thought maybe there were different storage capacities. 8, 16, 32, maybe 64 GB. You assumed you'd stand at the counter (or in front of your computer) ready to make an easy and quick purchase.

But then, you’re about to choose your new memory card and you realize, too late, that there are many different kinds and types of memory cards. So many! More than you had imagined there would be! Am I wrong? Well luckily you're watching this video where I will help you be an expert or expert on the subject for the next time you go to a new card. 

A large volume or multiple smaller capacity?

This is the first question to ask yourself. Do you get a few smaller capacity cards or one large capacity card? Most articles I have read recommend that you get several smaller capacity cards. Losing a card or having a card get corrupted can hurt. If you have several smaller cards, you might avoid losing all the shots you've taken since your photos will be spread across several cards. 

However, if you're disorganized and have a tendency to lose things, it may be difficult for you to handle yourself with more than one card. Perhaps you should cross your fingers and work with a couple of cards with greater capacity.

Before leaving home ...

Look at the specifications of your camera to see what type of cards your camera supports. Your manual will tell you what maximum capacity and what the maximum speed your camera will accept. Not all cards are compatible with all cameras. Sometimes your new card will not be recognized by your camera. These cards can be expensive, so you need to make sure you are getting the right one. So don't waste your time or money. Before you buy, know what kind of cards are supported by your camera.

Now, let's talk about some basic information which will help you with selecting your next memory card. I'll try not to get into too many technicalities. 

What are the main features you should know when buying a memory card?

Let’s talk about the different types cards.

For prosumer digital cameras, most likely you need SD (Secure Digital) or SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) cards. Many professional cameras use CF cards - but we're going to skip right over those. Perhaps we'll talk about those in another video.

SDHC cards are the "improved" versions of the SD cards. In general, SDHC cards are newer and more capable of providing faster write and read speed and higher capacity than the earlier, SD Cards. That does not mean that there are no fast or good SD cards. A card's suitability for your situation will depend on the model of card and your camera's needs but, in general, you just need to know that an SDHC card is an improved version of an SD card.

Let’s talk about card capacity.

This is probably the feature that most folks have in mind when they go shopping for a new memory card. Once you have identified what the maximum capacity or size card is that your camera brand and model accepts, you know what the maximum capacity is that you need to be looking for. And like I said before, many photographers will recommended you have more than one card of a lower capacity rather than just one card with a large capacity. However, if you have decided to shoot in RAW or you have used smaller cards and have already decided you need to increase capacity, then you already have an approximate idea what the minimum and maximum size cards are that you need.

Now let’s talk about card speed.

The speed of a memory card refers to the speed of writing and reading information (i.e. your pictures and videos) to the card. It's very important that you seriously consider this if you often shoot stills in burst mode or if you shoot video because these are the situations where you'll need faster cards.

If your camera supports SDHC format it's also likely to work properly with SD, but remember that a card with slower performance can make your camera stall. That is, your camera may technically be able to shoot a high frame rate per second, but if your card is slow the performance of the camera will suffer and you will not be able to shoot at the camera's maximum frame rate.

On the other hand, if your camera supports SDHC but you're not going to shoot RAW in bursts or if HD video isn't a priority, you're better off keeping your money in order to invest in something else; a good SD card might be just fine for your needs.

Cards are marked on their packages as being of a certain class. Looking at a card's class helps you determine what you can expect performance-wise from a memory card. Here are the classes of different SDHC memory cards and their corresponding minimum transfer speeds at which they can read and write information.

A Class 2 SDHC card will write 2 MB per second minimum. A Class 4 card will write a minimum of 4 MB per second to the card. A Class 6 - 6 MB per second minimum and a Class 10 will write 10MB per second at its slowest speed.

If you are considering an SD card, note that the class numbers correspond to the maximum speed at which a card can read or write information. No reference is made to the minimum read/write speed as it is in the case of the SDHC cards. That's just something to be aware of. 

Let’s talk about card brands.

There are many brands on the market with very different prices. Unfortunately, it is almost always the case that the very cheap cards are rarely good. So try to focus on well-known brands and read the reviews for the cards on amazon to make sure what you're buying is really what you think. At the end of this video, I will suggest some options.

Caring for your memory cards.

You will have to replace your memory cards if you do not take care of them properly, so I leave a few quick tips that you get the best life possible with your cards :-)

Keep them protected in some kind of case. Not only will this help you avoid them getting scratched or dirty, it will help you keep them organized and prevent them from getting lost. 

I keep two Promaster Weatherproof memory card cases with me in my bags. The blue case is where I keep cards that are freshly formatted and ready to be used. The red case holds cards that have already been used and which need to be ingested to a computer or external hard drive. I picked these up at the local Academy Sporting Goods store, but you can find them on Amazon for about $20 each.

Be sure to eject the card properly once you've downloaded to the computer.

Do not delete photos directly from the camera as you reduce the lifetime of the card. It is preferable to delete all the photos at once after you successfully download the files to your computer.

Format the card in the camera - not in the computer.

And of course ... treat the card with care. Do not force it when inserting or removing it from the camera or in other devices.

An extra tip…

Do not get obsessed about cards. Capacities and speeds are constantly increasing every few months. If the price of the card you want seems like it’s too expensive, wait for a couple months to see if you can find it on sale or if the price comes down. If you can’t wait, or just don’t want to wait, then just buy the card but do not worry about being the last one to buy the card before a price drop or a feature improvement. I can assure you, no matter what you buy in tech, a newer, better, cheaper version is just around the corner. 


So what do I recommend?

If you want a good memory card, you can try these. Any of them will work fine as long as you need a SD.

Eye-Fi MobiPro SDHC 32GB (Class 10)

I love  Eye-Fi cards. The Eye-Fi MobiPro lets you connect your camera to your computer via Wi-Fi, even if your camera does not have the Wi-Fi function. If your camera does have WiFi, you will find the Eye-Fi works much better than the camera's built in wireless functionality and it brings more features to the camera to boot! Eye-Fi cards simply work and they eliminate the pain of manually importing photos to your computer. 

Delkin Devices & Sandisk 32GB (Class 10)

Across all my cameras, I use 32 GB SD cards except in my Vixia Mini X video cameras - I use SanDisk 64 GB SD cards in those. I could run the risk of losing everything in a shoot since I shoot JPEG and can pretty easily get several hours of constant shooting onto a single card. Part of me is just simply taking the chance since I've never had a card in a camera fail on me (knock on wood). However, the cautious part of me makes sure I am always shooting with two cameras. So if a card in one camera gets corrupted somehow, I at least have the shots on the other camera. 

To be a little more cautious, when I think of it, I will take a card out of my camera during a break in the shoot and back it up on a self-powered Western Digital My Passport Wireless hard drive, which has a memory card slot built in to the disk enclosure. This allows you to back up a memory card without needing a computer to act as a traffic cop for the image files. I used to use a HyperDrive iPad Hard Drive for the same purpose, but the Western Digital My Passport Wireless is multifunctional - it acts as a regular external hard drive and connects to my iPhone or iPad via WiFi as well - and it copies the files off the SD card faster than the HyperDrive does. When I travel, I take two of the Western Digital My Passport Wireless hard drives and I copy all the photos from the day's shoot onto both drives for redundancy.   

So, when it comes to brands, while I have tried several, I have consistently used Delkin Devices and SanDisk memory cards for well over a decade now with literally not a single data failure. Because of their physically fragile nature, an SD or SDHC card is likely to wear down eventually. By this I mean it is likely to physically break after a certain amount of time depending on how you treat them. As is the case with all my gear, I don't purposely treat my gear badly, but I certainly don't go out of my way to treat it like it's irreplaceable either. And the SD cards are usually a victim of normal wear and tear on shoots.  

Many photographers will gasp, but I have some cards that are over 7 years old that are still in my regular rotation. The CF Cards are practically indestructible. The SD & SDHC cards, not so much. But if you treat them well, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to get several years of use out of a brand-name card. 

I hope these basic tips help you when going to buy your next memory card. I wish I knew all this when I was starting out. If for no other reason, I could have saved some money and used it to build in some redundancy into my storage or to get a few more burritos.