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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.
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.
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.
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 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.