How To Buy The Best Memory Card For Your Camera

memory card
The Best Memory Card // Photo by Tom Pumford on Unsplash

Memory cards are one of the essential tools in digital photography. As the home to the collection of your images, memory cards serve a vital purpose during both the shooting and post-production process of your work. A memory card is often referred to as an SD card, which stands for secure digital, and they come in various sizes, speeds, and brands.

When choosing a memory card for your digital camera, you will want to consider a few components such as the type of work you are shooting. Also, the volume of images you will create and the speed at which the files will be written onto your card.

Before you even consider starting the shooting process, you will need to purchase a memory card to hold your work within your camera.

How Does A Memory Card Work?

In this article, we will give you an in-depth guide to choosing the correct memory card. As there are 10 variations of options, with different speed classes as well as file capacity options, it is best to have a basic understanding of a memory card’s makeup before making a purchase. We will also give our five recommendations for cards that offer the most effective functions at various price points for your budget. Whether you are an amateur, intermediate or professional photographer – you will learn the necessary basics of secure digital memory cards.

Let’s talk about several ways you can determine which is the best memory card to buy for your digital camera.

What Kind of Work Will You Shoot?

The type of work you photograph will be one of the first factors to consider when choosing the proper memory card.

If you’re more of a social, hobby photographer such as someone who photographs family events or holidays.  You will consider buying a standard card with good speed and medium storage capacity. This is because you will most likely only be shooting a handful of photographs and directly transferring them to your computer afterward.

Now, if you’re in the professional realm of photography, a memory card directly corresponds to your ability to process your images on time. You will want to purchase a card with a fast speed that will quickly write your RAW images to the card without hesitation.

The quicker the speed of your card, the more you will be able to capture bursts of photos without a pause in between. In addition to speed, you will need a card with high storage capacity.

Depending on which format you shoot your images, you will most likely be using the JPEG or RAW image processing. RAW files are substantially larger than JPEG as they are not compressed within the camera and therefore will take up a large amount of space on your memory card.

To avoid having to change out a card during the shoot or losing data due to low storage space, you are best to purchase a card with the highest memory capacity.

Will You be Capturing Photography, Video or Both?

The final point to consider when purchasing the best memory card for your digital work is to determine if you will be using this memory card for photography, capturing videos or a combination of both.

When it comes to video work, different cards suit to various styles of video content. For example, if you are shooting standard quality video files, you could choose to use a normal SD card. Yet, as the quality of video increases, you will need to change the type of memory card.

For high-quality video files, choose an SDHC memory card. For files that require 4K video processing, you will need an SDXC or even an Ultra High-Speed option.

Raw Images

As with RAW image files, videos are going to take up substantial space on your memory card.

With this, it is best to recognize that you may not be able to hold both images. Additionally, you want to move picture files on one single SD card. A good trick to implement by dual photographers and videographers is to purchase two separate cards. You will often have various formats of work.

This means you would have one memory card dedicated to just photography files and another where you hold your video files.

While there are cards with high volumes of storage, such as a SDXC card with 2TB capacity option. These cards can become increasingly expensive for any type of creative. By choosing to purchase two fast, yet quality capacity cards – you can save money and create an organization with your files.

Types of Memory Cards

There are 10 different types of memory SD cards that you can choose from. 

  • SD (Secure Digital) Memory Cards: These are the most common type of memory card and used with digital cameras
  • SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) Memory Cards: These are a higher capacity version of SD cards that can hold up to 32GB of files.
  • SDXC (Secure Digital ‘Xtra Capacity) Memory Cards: These are the SD cards with the highest capacity and can hold up to 2 TB of files.
  • CompactFlash (CF) Memory Cards: Developed by Sandisk, they are now only found in advanced DSLRS and professional video cameras.
  • Micro SD Memory Cards:  Originally in mobile phones, these cards can now be found in GPS systems and small devices.
  • xD Picture Memory Cards: This is a Fujifilm format, used in Fuji and Olympus cameras.
  • Memory Stick Duo Memory Cards: Popularly used in Sony cameras
  • Multimedia Cards (MMC): Comparable to SD cards, but with lower transfer rates.
  • UHS-II: More expensive options of SDHC/SDXC cards with fast transfer rates designed for Raw files for HD movies.
  • CFast 2.0 Standard: Developed by Sandisk with write speeds of 350 MB/s.

The Speed of the Card

Speed of a memory card refers to how fast your files will transfer onto the card. They come in varying speeds including:

  • 2 MB/s
  • 4 MB/s
  • 6 MB/s
  • 10 MB/s
  • 30 MB/s
  • 60 MB/s
  • 90 MB/s

The speed you choose for your memory card is dependent on which types of files you will be creating. If you are taking pictures on a standard, simple camera or using the SD card to store some files.

The speed of your card is not a definitive factor. Yet, if you are creating professional images or writing high-quality video files, you will want the highest possible speed for your card.

Comprehensive Breakdown of the Speeds Available for Memory Cards

There are four types of speed classes that memory cards are categorized into – 2, 4, 6, and 10.

10 is the fastest, while 2 is the slowest. In relation to video recording, we can say that class 10 is suitable for full HD recording, classes 4 and 6 are meant for high-definition recording and class 2 is used for standard recording.

Additionally, there are also options for SD cards that are known as Ultra High Speed (UHS), with classes 1 and 3,  that are specifically used for professional use. These can only be used with cameras or video tools that support this format. The order of speed, therefore, is 2,4,6,10,1,3.

The Class of Your Memory Card

If you are capturing images on your digital camera, you should be fine with using a 4 or 6 class of memory card speed. But, if you are capturing RAW image files and creating HD video content, you will want to always choose a 10 class speed memory card. The best way to know the speed class of a memory card is to reference the packaging or even look at the card itself for the class symbol.

The Size of the Memory Card

Secure digital memory cards come in three different physical sizes; the standard SD cards, the miniSD cards and the microSD cards.

The majority of cameras available today will use the standard SD cards. Your device should come with instructions of what type of SD cards are suitable and compatible.

Additionally, SD cards can only fit into the slots that are specific to their design. For example, almost all current laptops will only support the size of standard SD cards.

As for the smaller sizes, miniSD cards were often used in the first prototypes of mobile phones. Even smaller options are the microSD cards are now the standard cards used in our present day cell phones and electronic devices such as IPads or tablets.

As our devices continue to change, you may notice that newer versions of laptops are being designed without SD card slot capabilities. In this case, you can choose to purchase an adapter to fit the SD card into your computer as well as adapters that can be used to fit a smaller mini or micro card into the format of a standard memory card.

The Capacity of the Memory Card

The final aspect of a memory card is the capacity at which it can hold your content. Capacity of a memory card is referred to as storage and aligns with how many image or video files you can have on your memory. There are three divisions of card capacities: SDSC, SDHC and SDXC.

SDSC stands for Standard Capacity and sizes from 1 MB to 2GB.

SDHC stands for High Capacity and has sizes from 2 GB to 32 GB.

SDXC stands for Extended Capacity and has a range from 32 GB to 2TB in size.

Formatting SD Card Options

To align all of the aspects of a memory card together, you will see that there is a correlated relationship between speed and capacity of your memory card.

If you are shooting in a standard format, you will choose a memory card with a normal speed and most likely a capacity around 2 GB. While on the other end, if you are using your memory card in a professional context, you will select the card with the fastest writing speed and an extended capacity of 32GB or higher.

Again, before purchasing a memory card – check which formats your device supports. Most devices will be able to use a standard capacity memory card, while only more intricate and technologically advance devices would suit an extended capacity card.

What Brands You Can Choose From

There are several options for brands that produce memory cards.

Some examples are Sandisk, Samsung, Kingston, Polaroid, Silicon Power, Transcend and Lexar. In order to determine which brand you should purchase from, you will need to use your new knowledge on speed, size and capacity.

The attributes of the card can let you know what you should purchase.

For every memory card there will be three elements you need to look for to determine the type, speed and capacity:

  • The type of card will be found in the center, denoted with the abbreviation that corresponds to the classification. For example, if you see SDHC – that means the card is a high capacity memory card.
  • The speed of the card will be found by locating the circled number. For example, a memory card with a circle four means that the card is in Class 4.
  • Lastly, the capacity represents a numerical value that is MB or GB. So, a memory card with 4GB means that there is four gigabytes of capacity.

5 Memory Cards You Can Buy Right Now

SanDisk Extreme PRO SDXC UHS-I

This Sandisk Extreme Pro option is an extra capacity memory card with a speed class of ultra high level The storage is great at 64 GB and has writing speeds of 95 MB/s. In all, this memory card suits professional photography or video use. The price point is also favorable at $60 for 2 cards.

You can purchase it on Amazon here.

Lexar Professional Class 10 UHS-II 2000X

The Lexar Professional Class card has a speed class of 300 MB/s and a capacity of 64 GB. It can capture high quality images and full HD video and includes a high speed file transfer. The price varies by capacity size with the 64 GB starting at around $160.

You can purchase it on Amazon here.

SanDisk Extreme PRO SD UHS-II

The SanDisk Extreme Pro is a high capacity card with writing speeds of 300 MB/s. With a 32 GB capacity, it is designed for professionals and to withstand extreme environments. The price point begins at around $50-60.

You can purchase it on Amazon here.

SanDisk Extreme

The SanDisk Extreme is a high quality card with a low price point. This card is high capacity with 32GB of storage and a level 10 speed class with writing capabilities of 90MB/s. It has a lock capability and is shockproof, temperature -proof, waterproof and x-ray proof. The card sells for only $15 for the 32GB version and $80 for the 256GB version.

You can purchase it on Amazon here.

SanDisk Extreme PRO CompactFlash

The final card is the SanDisk Extreme Pro Compact Flash with speeds up to 160 MB/s and a 32 GB capacity. The card is for fast workflow, burst shooting and is best for cinema quality video of 4K. The cost of the 32GB version starts at around $45.

You can purchase it on Amazon here.

How to Format Your Memory Card Using Your Digital Camera

Once you have purchased the best memory card for your digital camera, you can insert it into your camera to begin shooting.

In some cases, you may find that your memory card will need formatting. Some photographers choose to do this after every shoot, while some do it routinely a few times a year. You can format your card as many times as you want. Although, make sure that if you format your card you are going to erase all the data on it.

The main reason to format your memory card is due to the process of taking images from your DSLR and transferring them to your computer.

Once you have backed up your images on your computer and placed the memory card back into the camera, you may run the risk of having issues. In order to avoid this, consider reformatting your card often to free up all available space.

Instructions To Format Your Card

Here is how you can format your memory card within your digital camera.

On a Canon DSLR:

Step 1: Place Your Memory Card into the Camera

Step 2: Turn on the Camera

Step 3: Press the Menu Button

Step 4: Navigate to the Settings 1 Tab

Step 5: Select Format Card

Step 6: Press the Set Button to Show Card Data

Step 7: Press the OK Button to Reformat the Card

On a Nikon DSLR:

Step 1: Insert Memory Card into the Camera

Step 2: Turn on the Camera

Step 3: Press and hold both the Trash and MODE buttons down for 2 seconds

Step 4: Press and hold both the Trash and MODE buttons again to format the card

Step 5: Wait until the blinking “For” disappears

Step 6: You can also format the card using the menu – Press the Menu Button > Select Setup Menu > Press Format Memory Card > Click OK.

If you have a different brand of camera that is not Canon or Nikon, it is best to consult your manual for your card format options.

You can also format your card using your computer. Although, these techniques and processes differ based on your operating system. Whichever way you prefer to format, always remember to remove all valuable data and files onto your hard drive before beginning the format process.  

Understanding Your Memory Card

When choosing the best memory card for your digital camera, you need to make sure that you understand your needs as a photographer or videographer.

Although, it never hurts to have a high speed, large capacity memory card. The cost of such a device may not be practical if you are shooting more casual, social photography. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, when shooting in a professional setting – making the mistake of using a card that is too slow or has a small storage capacity can detrimentally affect the process and outcome of your images.

When purchasing a card remember to first consult the brand, body, and makeup of your digital camera.

You need to understand which types and format of memory cards are compatible with your device. Once you determine which card you can use, you will want to reference the speed and capacity that suits your workflow. When you have a higher speed, that means that your files will write on your card faster and the inverse is true for cards with lower speeds.

Handling Memory Cards

Additionally, a high capacity memory card will allow you to hold a range of photo and video files ranging. This ranges from RAW images to HD video content. A card with a low capacity will best suit for standard shooting and holding files that are a bit smaller.

Once, you have chosen the best card, you can insert it into your digital camera and begin shooting. Remember to take care of the card as they can easily break with improper handling.

This could further result in the potential loss of your images. Also, after shooting and transferring your images several times onto your device. Consider formatting your card to avoid duplicate images or ghost space taking up room and decreasing your overall capacity.

With these simple principles and guidelines – you can effectively purchase a memory card that is best for your digital shooting.

So, as you can see, there are several factors to consider when purchasing a memory card for your camera.

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