SD Cards and How to Choose Them

sd cards sample

When you buy a camera, you need memory.  And while most cameras use SD cards, choosing them can be confusing and frustrating.  Luckily I’m here to give you a few pointers.

SD Cards:  Things to Consider

1. Size

SD cards come in different sizes, from a humble 512 MB to a whopping 128 GB.  But in many circumstances, shelling out major cash for a 128 GB card can be downright overkill.  Even my 64 GB card seems a bit overkill at times – even though I shoot JPEG + RAW files, I never seem to come close to my 1000+ image capacity.

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The Toshiba FlashAir has 8 GB and built-in wireless LAN, giving certain cameras wifi.  

With that in mind, most cameras can get by comfortably on an 8 GB card.  A 16 GB card is a decent improvement, and 32 GB is a bit extreme.  Go higher than 32 GB if you plan to travel and can’t unload your card onto a computer during your trip.  For most other purposes – day trips, photo shoots, relatively small memory cards can see you through.

2. Class/Speed

Class and speed are two very important things to consider when shopping for SD cards, because while seemingly insignificant, they can affect your output in various ways.

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A Sony card with a high write speed.  

Write Speed is how fast the memory card can write your photos or video to it.  This is usually expressed by an amount of MB per second.  A slow card might write anywhere between 4-15 MB per second.  A fast card writes faster – usually around 40 MB per second, or even 90 MB/s.

Read Speed is how fast the camera recalls your images, like when you load them onto a computer.  For just about any given card, this speed is faster than write speed.  While this may not seem like a big factor, it can hinder productivity in situations where a card must be quickly unloaded and used again.  For the longest time I used a large card with a slow read speed, thinking it would never catch up to me.  When I found myself in the middle of a photo shoot with a full memory card – and no way to continue, short of putting those files onto my computer right then and there – I had to pay my model extra while we took a break so I could upload those photos.

Class is a term used in SD cards to generally quantify the performance of a card – Class 2 is the lowest or slowest card, while Class 10 is high-performance.  There is a second kind of class called UHS-1, or Ultra High Speed 1, which is faster than a class 2 or 4 regular SD card.

3. Other Designations

Other designations usually get jumbled together with “SD” in the description of a card – for instance, SDHC and SDXC.  Thes acronyms stand for SD High Capacity and SD Extended Capacity.

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SDXC cards won’t work in all devices, especially older models.  Check your manuals to see what cards can be used with your camera.

In general, choosing SD cards is never really easy, and even though these tips can save you some time, different cards fit different situations, equipment, and habits.  Always save yourself some of the hassle by asking salespeople at local stores.  Skip the big chains and go small, because you’ll get better service and a specialist’s opinion from the mom-and-pop joints.

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