Technology Explained

10 Things To Know About Digital Camera Memory Cards

Bakari Chavanu 26-03-2010

Over the past ten years of the digital photography revolution, digital camera memory cards have become increasingly more affordable and larger. They are the film of digital photography, but thankfully a lot less expensive.


So what is the least you should know about digital camera memory cards? Here are my recommendations.

1. Types of Cards

There are three broad and popular types of memory cards for digital cameras:  CompactFlash (CS), Secure Digital (SD), and SmartMedia (SM). There are other variations of these cards, but the important thing to know, of course, is which type of card your digital camera uses.

For consumer cameras, only one type of card can be used, while a few of the top of the line professional DSLR cameras might allow for using both Compact and SM cards at the same time. It’s probably best to stick to reputable memory card makers, which include Sandisk, Fuji, Lexa, Delkin, Viking, and Kingston.

digital camera memory card tips

2. Memory Capacity

Since most digital cameras on the market today start at 8 megapixels and higher, I recommend that your memory cards be at least 2 gigabytes or larger. A 2 GB SD card, for example, on my 12 megapixel Canon Powershot G9 can hold about 380 large JPEG size photos, but if I choose to shoot RAW format photos, that 2 GB card can only hold about 117 photos. If you on plan on shooting RAW photos with a 8+ megapixel camera, definitely use 4-8GB memory cards. The 256MB card that might have come with your new camera will not be large enough for most typical shoots.


digital camera memory cards tips

After you insert your memory card into your camera, take a photo and then check the data on the camera’s LCD screen to see how many images your card can hold based on the shooting mode (JPEG, RAW, TIFF, or Movie) that you’re shooting. Also check the file size of the photo to how large each file might be on average.


3. Number of Shots

The type of shooting you do can impact how many images your memory card can hold. Your camera may tell you that the card can hold 380 images, but depending on the exposure settings and resolution sizes for each image taken, the file sizes can vary, though not significantly.


4. Keep a Backup

Always keep a spare backup digital camera memory card. If your camera included a rudimentary small size memory card, tuck that card away in your camera bag and keep it solely as a backup. If you’re using a 35mm camera with a nice size shoulder strap, you can purchase a small card holder attachment for your backup card. Thus if for any reason you fill up your main card(s) or forget to put your memory card back into your camera, you have the backup card with at all times. When you use that backup card, immediately put it back where you carry it for future use.


5. Format Your Cards

You should always format your memory cards on your camera. Never erase them on your computer. Erasing a few photos at a time on your memory card is okay, but you frequently to reformat your card, especially after you have shot and exported a large number of photos to your computer.

6. Card Capacity

Avoid filling your card up to its capacity. If your card can hold 380 JPEG photos, you might want only shoot up to 350 images. Filling a card to its capacity might cause the card to get corrupted How to Recover Data From a Corrupt Memory Card or USB Drive Your broken SD card or USB flash drive stored important files or backups you must restore? We'll show you how to recover data from a dead memory stick. Read More .


7. Card Speed

If you’re concerned about the speed of your digital card, you will want to check out its transfer rate. Cards can record images at rates of 4x, 10x, 40x, etc. Professional DSLR cameras need faster capture rates than compact cards. See here for some information 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a MicroSD Card Buying MicroSD cards may seem simple, but here are a few critical mistakes to avoid if you don't want to regret your purchase. Read More about memory card speeds.

8. Single Card vs. Many

If you’re shooting a wedding or important travel photos where you only have one opportunity to capture images, avoid using large 8-16GB cards to hold all your photos. Memory cards can and do fail. If you put all your eggs into one basket, so to speak, you might end up losing all your photos.

If you’re in the field, it’s a good idea to have a portable memory card reader and capture device that you can use to copy your cards to. Personally, I don’t like deleting images from my memory cards until I have them backed up at least twice. And even then, I might not reformat/erase images on the cards until my next photo shoot.



9. Removing Cards

Of course you should never remove a card from a camera while it’s writing images to it. It’s best to turn off your camera and then pull out the card from its slot. With smaller SD cards, you also notice if there is outside damage being done to the card when it is inserted and removed from the camera.

10. Card Holder

If you have several cards for high level shooting, you should not only keep them secure in a memory card holder, but you should also label them with your name and phone number, and even number them for when you’re shooting important events in which you might need to frequently change cards.


Though in the last eight or so years that I have been shooting with digital cameras, I have never personally had a card fail on me, but cards do get corrupted. But when that happens, try not to panic.

Let us know your experiences with digital camera memory cards. Have you had a card fail on you? Do you tend to shoot with large size cards or do you prefer shooting with several mid-size cards? Let us know your recommendations.

Related topics: Computer Memory, Digital Camera, Photography.

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  1. lynn
    July 24, 2017 at 10:27 pm

    I have a great Olympus camedia c-2100 that has one 128mb sm card with it. I would like to find a reader that will work with windows 8, and at least another card.
    128mb seems kind of pitiful at this point, but I don't know if there is anything bigger, since it seems that this is a nearly obsolete thing. Too bad because the camera is great.
    Anyway, my question is about whether it is possible to get an adapter for something bigger, or whether there is any new anything that will be able to upgrade that, or should I just settle for buying another sm card (and reader) on ebay?
    Thanks for any advice you have.

  2. Jim Spilman
    March 7, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    Thank you very much - this article was most helpful....

  3. Shirley walsh
    September 15, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    My rebel will not format my new 64 GB card. It says install new card or format. What's going on?

  4. Wesley Webb
    September 5, 2016 at 9:26 am

    I have used alot of ad cards and for some reason 8gb we cards keep messing up on my Android device why is that they keep getting damaged?

  5. Wesley Webb
    September 5, 2016 at 9:24 am

    I have used alot of ad cards and for some reason 8gb we cards keep messing up on my Android device why is that?

  6. Anonymous
    April 6, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    good job.this helps

  7. james
    April 6, 2010 at 1:18 am

    Very Informative article. I was looking for some detailed information about memory cards and got this article. a well presented article.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      April 7, 2015 at 5:26 pm

      James, thanks for your feedback. It's good to know when an article is helpful.

  8. Bakari
    April 2, 2010 at 8:29 am

    The articles really isn’t about the speed of cards, but on other hand if you are shooting multiple shot RAW photos, a fast card can make a difference. As for your “bit of crap” remark: look, I‘m not trying to sell anyone anything. I'm just passing along my experience, bits of knowledge and understanding. I don't claim to know everything. You don’t have to buy what I say. It’s a free site, with free information! So why not just be a part of the discussion? Why start off so rude?

  9. tobylane
    April 2, 2010 at 7:15 am

    Quite a bit of crap here.

    All that matters is that you think that in a year you will still never fill the card you want to buy in a whole day of shooting. The peak speed numbers they give only really matter if you shoot in raw at 10+MB, in which case you are an expert and know that all this article is wrong. Peak speed is for lots of close shots together, normal speed writing doesnt matter.

    • TobyLane is a troll
      June 1, 2010 at 2:34 am

      Toby, go crawl back under the rock you came from.

  10. Doc
    March 28, 2010 at 10:12 am

    A major one (in the picture, but you failed to mention as a "major type") is Sony's Memory Stick; the picture also omits Micro SD, which is becoming the most common type of SD card.

    "...but you frequently to reformat your card..." You shouldn't reformat your card unless it needs it, as an unnecessary read-write cycle will reduce the life of the card. Using Windows' "Check Disk for Errors" will cause less wear on the card. "Feeling a card to its capacity might cause the card to get corrupted." False. It is only as safe as the file system (typically FAT32) and the device writing to it. The biggest risk is losing the last photo you have taken because of insufficient space, or using it in a device with lousy file-system software.