Memory Cards – Light the Corners of My Mind
Written by Rob Mynard
Photos by Rob Mynard
Whoever said that one of the keys to happiness was a bad memory probably wasn’t a photographer. Memory cards are one of those things that beginning photographers put in their cameras and then don’t think much more about until the day it either runs out or it fails. As you sink deeper into the photography fold the fear of running out of space or losing all your photos rises, almost to the point of an obsessive nightmare. When wedding photographers sit around a campfire in a spooky woodland, the scariest story is always the one about the memory card failure.
If your camera was a head, and the lens a single cold staring eye, then the memory would be like the memory – makes sense yeah? – and just like people memories, some memory cards are more reliable than others. At CameraPro we carry mostly Sandisk memory cards as they have a proven track record of quality and reliability backed by a manufacturers life-time guarantee.
So what type of memory card is best for you?
Memory cards come in a wide variety of sizes but most modern cameras will use one of 5 main sizes – MicroSD, SD, CF, CFast and XQD and the size you will need will generally be based on the camera you own. Some higher end cameras will give you the option of two different cards in your camera or to choose the camera fitted to accept the card type you prefer, but in general, the most common card type for digital cameras today would be the SD card.
Next cards are broken into the capacity of the card, with our most common cards ranging at 16gb, 32gb and 64gb, but with higher and lower capacity cards also available. The capacity of the card determines the number of images you are able to shoot before filling the card and while it might seem obvious that you should just buy the biggest card and fire away with gay abandon, safe in the knowledge that you’ve got plenty of space, there are a couple of conflicting points of view on this. Some photographers prefer to shoot on a bunch of smaller cards to minimise the risk of having a card fail and losing a whole shoot while others prefer the larger card preferring the risk of card failure over their own ability to loose a card or miss a shot while changing cards.
The pros and cons of each style are –
Multiple small cards
Pros – A corrupt card will only affect a small part of your shoot.
- Helps you consider each shot if you know that space is limited.
Cons – More cards means it’s easier to loose one.
- Missing a moment due to a full card.
– It could be dangerous to your cards and your camera having to swap cards in a damp or dusty environment.
– More wear and tear on the components of both your card and camera.
– More cards to keep a track of when dumping your images down to your computer.
Fewer Cards with Larger Capacities
Pros – Less risk of losing a card as you need fewer and keep a card in your camera longer.
- Less chance of missing an important shot while you change cards.
- Fewer cards to keep track of when dumping down.
- Reduced chance of damage to the camera or card due to frequent changing.
- Larger cards are usually cheaper (on a per GB basis)
Cons – More images on a single card, in the case of a card failure you risk losing more, or all, of a shoot. This is the proverbial “all your eggs in one basket” but can be alleviated somewhat if your camera has the option to shoot to two cards at a time, this way you always have a back-up.
The next thing to consider is the speed of your card. This is measured “write speed” - the speed that your camera can write the files to the card and “read speed” – the speed that your computer can read the files from the card.
Write speed becomes important to photographers when shooting multiple images in a short amount of time, for example a sports photographer might shoot a burst of shots as a player heads towards the goal so that later they can go back through them and select the perfect moment or stitch a series of shots together to show a sequence of movement. Your camera has a small amount of internal memory for temporarily storing your images and once filled the camera may freeze while it dumps the images to your card. For example lets say your camera can shoot 10fps (frames per second) and your buffer can hold 10 photos, holding your finger on the fire button will fill your buffer after only 1 second. Unfortunately the memory card you’ve got in your camera can only write 5 photos every second… Now imagine that some kind of sports player is running towards the business end of a sports field, you lock focus and squeeze the trigger shooting 10fps as your player weaves in and out of the opposing team. At the 1 second mark your camera has taken 10 shots and 5 of those have been written to the card, 2 seconds in and you’ve taken 20 shots but 10 have written to the card but theres now 10 shots left in the buffer so the camera stops shooting until it clears. To clear the 10 shots will take 2 seconds and its in those 2 seconds that the player scores the greatest goal of his life… You missed the shot, loose your job with the local sports section of the paper and end up destitute, living out of your car, taking portraits of people in dark alleys just to make enough money to feed your growing army of stray dogs… All for the want of a faster card…
Read speed affects how long it will take to empty a card onto your computer and in most situations is not a noticeable concern. You can plug your card into your computer, hit transfer and go make a coffee at you leisure, when you come back 20 minutes later your card has finished dumping and you can sit down to look through your pics, sipping on your lovely coffee… But I shoot weddings. Between my partner and I we can come home Saturday night with 4 to 8 cards full of images. It’s midnight, I am not going to sleep until everything is backed up and if each card is going to take 20 minutes to dump then Sunday morning is going to be a bad time for me. Fast cards means more sleep… I like to sleep…
So thats it, nice and simple, how many photos do I need my card to hold and how fast do I need my card to work. The staff at CameraPro are always available to offer advice on the card that would suit you best passed on your shooting requirements.
Next time we’ll look at caring for your memory cards and what you can do if the unthinkable happens…