It’s been a long road, but the SD memory card format has been the victor, taking its rightful place as the king of the hill as the memory card of choice for most camera manufacturers. Over 90% of the digital camera market is now powered by SDHC or SDXC cards, with the remainder using mostly MicroSD (a smaller variant of SD card that can be used in SD card readers with an adapter).
When you’re picking up a new digital camera from Future Shop, or you’ve decided to heed the advice I keep giving (two is one and one is none) to give yourself some breathing room with backup accessories, you’re going to be faced with a few choices. Here’s a how-to on what to buy.
More megapixels is better, right? Sure, unless you’re an anemic 2GB card. We used to be able to get by with 24 exposures per roll (if you have to ask what a roll is, please get off my lawn), but the idea of having only 408 pictures on a 2GB card in a 14MP camera is a scary thought. Why? Because we’ve adapted to the idea that digital photography is forgiving and we should take more pictures. Here’s what the spread looks like if you’re shooting in JPEG.
JPEGs are great for space conservation, but if you’re looking to take more memorable shots with more flexibility to edit after the fact, you’re going to want to shoot RAW. Mid-to-high-end cameras can shoot RAW; it’s an uncompressed format that bypasses all of the camera’s internal processing. That’s good, because despite the fact that your camera has an incredibly advanced processor, your computer paired up with RAW editing software is even better. Here’s what the RAW spread looks like.
As you can see, if you’re shooting higher quality, the situation becomes even more grim. The answer: you need more storage!
My rule of thumb is that I’d sooner go with two smaller cards than one bigger one (as I said above, two is one and one is none, so a single point of failure can ruin your trip/wedding/event/etc). Right now I’m using 2 16GB cards, but after upgrading to a new Sony A33 earlier this year I’m going to making the shift to a 32GB card.
A good rule of thumb is to take a look at your photo collection. Your events can generally be broken out by day. Take a look at a day where you took a lot of photos and count them up. Find a size using the chart above that will give you enough space for that, and get two; now you’re ready for anything.
Memory card speed: it’s the one thing you don’t think about until it’s too late; you set your camera to drive mode and you start firing to capture that really cool sports moment when… you get an error message: BUFFERING, PLEASE WAIT.
Well, that’s not good. Why is it happening?
With slower memory cards, your camera shoots pictures and begins to write them to the card right away. When the card (let’s say a Class 4 or Class 6) can’t keep up, the shots build up in the camera’s buffer. As that buffer fills, there’s nowhere for more shots to go, so the camera stops shooting as the buffer empties. The end result: you miss the shot.
That’s because Class 4 and Class 6 Memory cards use a “Normal Bus I/F”. Think of it like a street, where the maximum speed is 12.5MB/s. When you step up to a Class 10 card, you double your speed up to 25MB/s, so the pictures get delivered to your card faster. Faster writes = less buffering = you get the shot.
This one’s pretty simple: if you’re using your camera to capture memories (so you’re shooting a LOT to get that right moment) or you’re using a drive mode to bursts of pictures all in one go, a Class 10 is worth the investment.
If you’re using your camera for capturing HD movies or you’re putting an SD card into a video camera, the two issues above become really important: HD video is BIG, and needs to be moved to the card FAST. Here’s what movie stats look like with H.264 video.
You’ll want to check your manual for your specific device, but as always, bigger and faster is better.
So that’s a primer on how to buy the right SD card for your camera. Happy shooting!
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