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Untangle The Memory Card Conundrum

Sandisk 4GB Memory SDHC Are all digital memory card made the same?  Right?  Costco has a sale this week so if it fits my camera I should just grab it right? 

This is a question I get all the time from people getting into photography.  The answer, no.  All memory cards are not made equal and as far as which memory card is best of you really depends on your cameras make and model. 

This can be a bit confusing I know as there are dozens of types, brands and other specs of memory listed for all these cards.  Confused yet? Well don’t be, it’s not that confusing when break it down.  Let’s take a look at the basics.


CF (CompactFlash)   Transcend CompactFlash 8GB Memory CardCF cards have speed rating in terms of 32x, 100x, 600x with the higher the number being the fastest. There is also a designation of Type I and Type II but Type II seems to be dying out. A newer type card has what is called UDMA incorporated that makes the cards much faster. Here is a link to my personal favorite that I use in my camera. Just make sure your camera can take advantage of UDMA, many of the older models do not have UDMA built in. Here is a link to my favorite basic CF card
SD (Secure Digital)
  Older cards with a maximum of 2GB. Basically avoid these for anything other than MP3 players and the like. 
SDHC (Secure Digital High-Capacity)   Transcend SDHC Security Digital High Capacity 4GB Memory Card Newer cards with a maximum of 32GB. This is where it’s at for SD cards. They have a speed class rating of 2, 4 or 6 with 6 being the fastest. Each class rating is the speed in MB/s that the card can write data to the media. If your camera uses this type of media here is a link to a list of cards at Amazon
(Secure Digital Extended Capacity)
Newest standard with a maximum of 2TB. This is a brand new standard and is yet to fully catch on. Also the prices are sky high and not worth it unless you’re a pro with no budget and demand the highest speeds.
Memory Stick PRO Duo   Dandisk Memory Card 8GB This is a Sony specific media card and is used in the Alpha line of DSLR cameras.
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At the end of the day, the fastest CF and SDHC are the way to go for most DSLR cameras.  Why get the fastest card you can afford?  Quite simply because they are not that much more expensive (they are within a few dollars usually) and they allow your camera to not be slowed down by the media (not to mention faster upload speeds when you want to copy the photos back up to your PC or MAC).

Another good rule to live by with any memory card is don’t buy one massive 32GB card and call it good.  It’s better to buy a few smaller 4-8GB cards and swap them out as you fill them up.  This way if you happen to be on vacation with a camera full of all your precious memories and oops…  you take a spill and dunk your camera into the water.  Ouch!  There goes all those memories. 

Granted the camera can be replaced but nothing is going to get those pictures back.  But if you had split your pictures across a few smaller cards, you would have some of your pictures safe back at the hotel room.  This is a technique that many pros use when on assignment and can’t afford to lose an entire assignments worth of pictures.

I’m sure I might have left out a thing or two so feel free to drop a comment with questions or feedback below!


About the Author:
Although the usual hangout for sharing his photography is, you will also find brickmonkey as an occasional groovyContributor here @ for photography tips and tricks.

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3 Responses to Untangle The Memory Card Conundrum

  1. tone6060 March 24, 2010 at 8:06 pm #

    What do you reccomend? compact flash or SD cards? are they the same speed overall?

    • BrickMonkey March 24, 2010 at 11:09 pm #

      What camera do you have? Each camera has a dedicated memory slot that will with (most likely) either SD or CF. Both have fast cards available. Most of the pro DSLRs use CF and a few even come with both slots.


      • shockersh March 25, 2010 at 10:43 am #

        Aye – You really don’t have a choice when you buy a camera. It’s either one or the other.

        One thing you SHOULD keep an eye on is the SPEED of the memory card. I only buy SanDisk ULTRA or EXTREME because of the speed of the cards. I think it’s 15meg read/write vs. 30megs read/write. Yeah, you can goto FRYS and buy a 16gig memory card but it’s so slow you can’t use it anywhere. I fell for that one time and bought it for my HD Video Carema (canon). I put it in and it said: Sorry, to slow…. Had to return it and get a faster memory card.

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