Smart guide to memory cards
From the different speed ratings to the various formats, here's what you need to know about memory cards for cameras.
Memory cards play a crucial role in recording and storing your precious memories. Though your snapper may have some built-in memory, it won't be enough — you'll also need larger memory cards if you're looking at shooting high-resolution images and full-HD videos. In our guide, we'll tell you what you need to know when handling these cards, the various formats available, and some handy tips to ensure that all your shots make it to your computer in one piece.
Three things you should know about memory cards
Cameras are usually compatible with just one memory-card format. MicroSD cards are starting to appear in ultracompacts, due to their small size. Regular compact cameras, entry-level dSLRs and interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) usually use the normal Secure Digital (SD) cards. Midrange dSLRs normally use CompactFlash (CF) cards, while professional models have the capability to record images on two cards, with one as a backup.
SD card speed-class rating
The speed and class of the card determine how it reads and writes data. The slowest cards usually start from Class 2, while the fastest models are Class 10. If you're shooting standard-sized images with the occasional video, Class 2 to 6 cards should suffice. However, if you're going to be shooting high-resolution RAW images or full-HD movies, it is recommended that you use Class 6 to 10 cards from a reputable brand. Naturally, the faster you go, the more expensive the card.
CF card-speed rating
Midrange to high-end dSLR cameras and ILCs usually come with fast image processors that require high-speed cards (from 25MBps to 322 MBps) to optimise shooting performance, such as extending video-capture times, reducing shot-to-shot times and maintaining high continuous shooting capabilities in burst mode.
Different card formats explained
Secure Digital (SD) cards
SD cards are the standard memory format used by almost every regular compact camera. Even some dSLRs are using it as a secondary, backup card format for more advanced applications. There are also improved versions of the format — the higher-capacity SDHC (high capacity) and SDXC (extended capacity) cards are for more advanced compacts and dSLRs. These cards are available in different speed-class ratings (between Class 2 to Class 10), which determine how fast they read and write data from your camera.
Used in: compact cameras, dSLRs and ILCs.
Camera manufacturers are adopting the microSD card as the card of choice for their ultrathin compact cameras, as it is one of the smallest card formats available. Some microSD cards come bundled with an external adapter, which transforms it into an SD card for use with regular compacts. Like SD cards, these smaller versions also come with class ratings.
Used in: ultrathin compact cameras, smartphones.
CompactFlash (CF) cards
(Credit: SanDisk; Panasonic)
First produced by SanDisk, the CF card is the big brother to the SD card, being more than twice the size of the latter. Some users feel that these cards are easier to handle, and less likely to be misplaced due to their size. CF cards tend to be able to feature higher speeds than SD cards, which is why it's more commonly used in midrange to professional-series dSLRs. The speed ratings of these CF cards are usually indicated by the amount of data that's being transferred per second, or megabytes per second (MBps).
Used in: entry-level, midrange and professional-series dSLRs.
The XQD card is a relatively new format, which was recently announced by the Compact Flash Association. It was designed to be a high-performance card, providing faster speeds and higher storage. Sporting a fast (125MBps or higher) transfer speed, the XQD is currently meant for use in professional-series dSLRs, such as the Nikon D4, and could allow a user to shoot at up to 100 frames continuously in the RAW format.
Used in: professional-series dSLRs.
(Credit: Eye-Fi; Toshiba)
Wi-Fi-enabled cards, such as Eye-Fi's Mobile X2 8GB SD card, allow shutterbugs to transfer images and video content wirelessly to a PC or compatible external device. Using the Selective Share option, users can select media and upload instantly to 29 social-networking sites, such as Flickr, Facebook and Twitter, wirelessly. Another example is Toshiba's FlashAir Wireless LAN SD card.
Used in: compact cameras, dSLRS and ILCs.
Other card formats
(Credit: Olympus; Sony)
Some cameras use proprietary card formats, such as Sony's Memory Stick/Memory Stick Pro Duo, and Olympus' xD-Picture Cards. These memory cards are generally more expensive than SD or CF cards of the same storage capacity, and are not supported on all devices. Fortunately, most of these cameras now support dual card formats, usually with the SD memory as the second option. We'd advise buying SD cards for additional storage, given their more affordable prices and the variety of devices that support them.
Back it up
You should always remember to save your images to multiple locations, such as your hard disk, an online service or other external devices.
Format your card
Before use, always format your card in the camera. This function deletes data and creates new folders to prevent database errors while shooting.
If you accidentally delete an important image, stop shooting and use the supplied software to recover the image. If not, send it to a data-recovery specialist.
More cards vs. higher capacity
If you want to save the hassle of bringing multiple cards on holiday, buy a high-capacity card. But if it is an important assignment, use multiple cards to ensure that if you do lose a memory card, at least you don't lose all of your images.
Protect your investment
If you have a single card, use the supplied plastic holder to prevent impact damage when storing it. If you have multiple cards, use a neoprene case to organise them better, so you'll know which cards are used or unused.
Via CNET Asia