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Friday, June 1, 2007

How to Choose a Digital Camera Memory Card

Choosing Memory Cards For Digital Cameras Can Be Tough. Arm Yourself With Valuable Information.

Selecting Memory Cards
Comparison Shopping

In addition to their form factor, or physical configuration, memory cards are categorized by their capacity and operating speed. The benefit of a large-capacity card is obvious: it holds more images than a smaller card. The benefit of a high-speed card is that, under the right conditions, you can record and play back large image files faster. There are other limiting factors, however. Each individual camera will work with a memory card based upon the camera’s internal components and firmware, so be aware that the figures you see touted by memory card manufacturers might not be the same for your camera. Still, the specs give you a good idea for the relative performance of one card versus another.


Popular synonyms for capacity are “size” and “density,” but no matter how you say it, it’s a measurement of the space where image files are stored and is expressed using the same increments used for computer DRAM memory—megabytes and gigabytes. Measurement of operating speed is a bit less comprehensible, however. The two speed-related specifications that determine how fast the data is handled are the sustained sequential write speed and sustained sequential read speed.


The memory card that came with your camera is too small. In fact, some camera makers don’t supply any card at all, even with consumer-level products. Any accessory that the manufacturer puts in the box with the camera cuts directly into their bottom-line profit, so it’s natural for them to be penny-pinching. Plus, the retailer wants the opportunity to sell you a bigger card when you buy your camera. What capacity card should you buy? It all depends on your camera, your shooting habits and your wallet. If you shoot with a digital SLR, you’ll want more than one card, of course, and probably higher capacity as well—which brings up an interesting question.

Is it better to have one 4 GB card or two 2 GB cards? We asked John Omvik, director of professional product marketing for Lexar Media. “There are two schools of thought,” he says. “Some people prefer large-capacity cards so they don’t have to stop shooting to change media. Others like to use smaller cards because they feel like they’re not putting all of their eggs in the same basket.”

Memory cards require reasonable care, but they’re tougher than you may think. It’s not a good idea to carry a handful of them loose in your pocket—keep them in a case and be careful not to expose the electrical contacts to any foreign substances. Beyond that, they don’t require special treatment. There have been various reports about memory cards surviving all sorts of extreme tortures. Those stories are entertaining, but shouldn’t encourage you to abuse the media.

Despite their durability, memory cards face one major hazard: being lost. Buy a card case. Even if you don’t need to worry too much about the data being corrupted, it’s just plain common sense to keep the cards in a case so they’re easier to find. Hakuba, Lowepro and Tamrac make some very functional cases, just to name a few. Also, when you go to the local camera shop to have digital prints made, copy your image files to a CD and leave the memory card at home. If the CD gets lost, you’re out a quarter. If you lose the memory card, you could be out $50 or more.


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