Memory Cards | 31 Days of Photo Tips

Extreme cf 32gb If your camera came with a memory card, it’s probably one with a relatively small capacity. Luckily, memory cards aren’t terribly expensive. The most common kind now are SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) cards although some of the bigger dSLRs still use CF (Compact Flash). The two things you’ll want to consider when purchasing a card are size and speed. The size of a card, similar to the size of a hard drive, refers to the amount of space it has to store photos – 2GB, 4GB on up. The speed is how quickly it will record or write those files to the card. A faster card generally means you can take photos faster.

BUT, the size and speed you need with both depend on what you’re shooting and what you’re shooting with.

A point-and-shoot camera that’s shooting still images in JPG format (if you don’t know anything about file formats, you’re shooting in JPG) doesn’t need a terribly large or fast card. You’ll need more space and a higher speed if you’re shooting in RAW, shooting sports or other shots in rapid succession, shooting video or using a high end dSLR.

To give you a rough sense of size, a 2GB card will hold about 450 photos from a 10 megapixel camera and a 4GB will hold about 880. With a 12 megapixel camera, your files will be bigger, so estimate about 340 and 670.

Before you rush out and buy the absolute biggest card you can find (which definitely has its appeal – you can take tons and tons of photos before having to download them), consider this: cards can fail. And they do, sometimes for no apparent reason. When a card fails, you can lose all the images that you’ve stored on there. It can be beneficial in the long run to have multiple cards in smaller sizes – keeping your eggs in separate baskets, if you will. This is why I like to shoot with 8GB and 16GB cards with my 24 megapixel camera, even though I could fit way more images and have to switch cards less often with a 64GB card.

The two brands I recommend are SanDisk and Kingston. Which is not to say that there aren’t other brands that work just fine, those are just the two I feel most comfortable with. They both use different terminology for describing the speed of their cards and even those differ between SD cards and CF cards (classes and/or terms like Extreme, Extreme Pro, Elite, etc.). In the interest of brevity, I recommend viewing the SanDisk and Kingston websites to get an overview of what they offer, and then heading to Amazon, B&H Photo or Adorama to purchase.

If you’re particularly interested in speed performance, you can check out Rob Galbraith’s Performance Database. Select your camera in the drop down and view the results of the speed tests.

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