As we move forward in the digital space, technology manufacturers are listening to the desires of the independent multimedia creative. Not only are they increasing optics, low-light sensitivity and adding WiFi capabilities, but they're also including high-quality HD and 4K video recording into DSLRs and compact cameras. This video functionality is allowing photographers to experiment with a new modality while still using familiar tools such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4 or Sony's new pocket-sized Alpha a7S.
While there's built-in comfort with the equipment mechanics when using traditional still camera bodies for video shooting, one needs practice and a few new tools. One particularly important, and perhaps overlooked, tool is the memory card. Of course, photographers understand the necessity for high write speeds so the card buffer can be quickly written and cleared when shooting in burst mode, but for shooters looking to enter the video field, you'll need cards with quick sustained capture speeds.
Professional DSLRs like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800 have both CompactFlash and SD card slots. While CF cards have traditionally had the upper hand in terms of storage size, SD cards have caught up while also providing weatherproofing. But some pros still prefer to use CF cards as their primary card due to their physical size, which makes them easier to maneuver with gloves while in the field. CF cards and SD cards have different specifications and guidelines for denoting quick capture speeds, and differentiating between them will help you choose the card most compatible for your camera and your shooting preferences.
One way to quickly note the difference between CF card speeds is to look for the VPG (Video Performance Guarantee) profile specification. The CompactFlash Association first created this guideline in 2011 to ensure that cards would be compatible with professional video capture requirements and that consumers could identify this ability easily. Cards with a VPG-20 profile are capable of a sustained capture speed of up to 20 MB/s, suitable for 1080p HD video recording without dropped frames. Since this initial profile announcement, an additional VPG-65 profile has been added, with a 65 MB/s sustained speed guideline that's optimized for 4K capture. In terms of CF cards, photographers interested in multitasking the card for still use will want to look for cards with quick write speeds and the most updated Ultra Direct Mode Access, currently, UDMA 7, at 167 MB/s.
The Extreme Pro CompactFlash from SanDisk is available in 16 GB to 256 GB storage sizes. With a VPG-65 spec, the card supports 4K recording and includes write speeds between 140 and 150 MB/s. The Extreme CompactFlash by SanDisk ranges in storage sizes from 16 GB to 128 GB. With a VPG-20 profile, it's best suited for 1080p HD video recording. A 60 MB/s write speed ensures quick still photo work. Each SanDisk CF card is UDMA 7-enabled, coated in RTV silicone for shock and vibration protection, and can operate in temperatures from -13° F to 185° F. Each card has a limited lifetime warranty. sandisk.com
Lexar's Professional 1066x CompactFlash card utilizes UDMA 7 technology and provides a VPG-65 profile for quality 4K recording, and is available in 16 GB to 128 GB storage sizes. The Professional 800x CompactFlash provides the same UDMA 7 technology with a VPG-20 profile for 1080p full HD shooting and is available in 8 GB to 256 GB storage sizes. Both card purchases include Image Rescue software to recover corrupt files, as well as a limited warranty. lexar.com
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Transcend's Ultimate 1000x CompactFlash card is useful for HD video shooting with a VPG-20 profile and UDMA 7 technology. The 16 GB storage size provides a 70 MB/s write speed, while the 32 to 128 GB sizes have a 120 MB/s write speed. The Premium 800x UDMA CompactFlash cards also use UDMA 7 technology with a VPG-20 profile, but have a slightly slower write speed of 60 MB/s and offer larger storage sizes of 64 GB to 256 GB. Each card has a built-in Error Correcting Code to aid in finding and correcting any problems with transfers, operate in -13° F to 185° F temperatures and come with a limited lifetime warranty. www.transcend-info.com
The slim, ultraportable SD card is the main memory card for mirrorless cameras like the Panasonic GH4 and Sony a7 series, and a second memory option for DSLRs. There are different types of SD cards, as well as different ratings to look at, depending on your desired video quality. SDHC cards have a 32 GB storage max. This is okay for many cameras that have a time limit on video shooting and may even be preferable so you can spread out your footage among cards in case a card is corrupt. SDXC cards have a 2 TB storage max.
The SD Association created the Speed Class rating system to identify the baseline capabilities available for video recording applicable to SD, SDHC and SDXC cards—Speed Class ratings 2, 4, 6 or 10. Class 10 is considered the industry standard for reliable full 1080p HD video recording. Class 4 and 6 can be used for lower-resolution HD, and Class 2 should be reserved for SD or still images only.
In November 2013, the SD Association announced a new label and symbol to designate 4K recording capabilities, UHS (Ultra High Speed) Speed Classes U1 and U3. The U1 Speed Class requires a 10 MB/s minimum write speed, which is needed for full HD video. U3 has a 30 MB/s write speed, which is needed for 4K video. UHS U1 and U3 Speed Classes are available on SDHC UHS-I/UHS-II and SDXC UHS-I/UHS-II cards.
The SanDisk Extreme PRO SDHC/SDXC UHS-II is touted as the "world's fastest" card. U3-rated, it has a sustained write speed of 30 MB/s for cinema-quality 4K footage, as well as 3D and 1080p HD video. Still photo write speed is 250 MB/s, with card storage capacity at 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB. The Extreme PRO SDHC/SDXC UHS-I has a U1 rating for full 1080p HD shooting. With a quick write speed of 90 MB/s and storage capacities from 8 GB to 64 GB, it also includes the built-in Error Correction Code to enhance endurance and reliability. The Extreme PLUS SDHC/SDXC UHS-I has a class 10/U1 rating with a write speed of 60 MB/s. It also includes the built-in Error Correction Code for storage sizes 8 GB to 128 GB. The Extreme SDHC/SDXC UHS-I has a class 10/U1 rating with a 45 MB/s write speed. The majority of SanDisk cards are shockproof, X-ray proof, waterproof and function at temperatures of -13° F to 185° F. All have a limited lifetime warranty. sandisk.com
Lexar offers several high-quality cards for video. The Professional 600x SDXC/SDHC UHS-I is rated Class 10 and U1 for full 1080p HD recording. With a 45 MB/s write speed, it's available in 16 GB to 128 GB storage capacities. The Professional 400x SDXC UHS-I is class 10/U1-rated with a write speed of 20 MB/s. Both cards include a free Image Rescue Software download that will help recover photos and videos if the card is erased or corrupted, and a limited lifetime warranty. lexar.com
Transcend provides a wide range of high-speed SD cards. The SDXC/SDHC UHS-I U3 (R95, W85 MB/s) provides a Class 10/U3 sustained write speed for cinema-quality 4K video, as well as a write speed of 85 MB/s. It's available in 32 GB and 64 GB capacities. The SDXC/SDHC UHS-I U3 (R95, W60 MB/s) gives the same quick Class 10/U3 sustained write speeds, with a slightly slower 60 MB/s write speed, but an increase in storage capacity to 64 GB and 128 GB. The SDXC Class 10 UHS-I 600x (Ultimate) is rated Class 10/U1 for full 1080p HD video shooting with up to a 60 MB/s write speed depending on the capacity. The SDHC Class 10 UHS-I 600x (Ultimate) has a write speed of up to 40 MB/s depending on the capacity. All Transcend cards include built-in error correcting code and RecoveRx software to prevent media loss. www.transcend-info.com
Each company uses slightly different technology, part of the reason why there needed to be regulated speed requirement labels. Hoodman is one manufacturer that's known for its particularly rugged product design. Specifically, Hoodman uses "Chip on Board" technology that miniaturizes the components, allowing for one singular circuit board instead of multiple boards with multiple joints. Reducing joints reduces possibilities for card failure. Hoodman adds a stainless-steel plate to the front for durability, and the RAW Steel Ultra High Speed UHS-I SDHC/SDXC card uses this technology. With a Class 10/U1 rating, it captures full 1080p HD video with a write speed of 60 MB/s. Waterproof and functional at temperatures of -13° F to 185° F, it comes with a lifetime warranty. Cards are available in storage sizes ranging from 8 GB to 64 GB. hoodmanusa.com
Kingston offers high-speed SD cards for video. The SDHC/SDXC UHS-I U3 has the U3 rating for 4K video capture, as well as full HD and 3D shooting. Write speed is 80 MB/s with 16 GB to 64 GB storage capacities. The Class 10 UHS-I Ultimate SDHC/SDXC can handle 1080p HD shooting with a 45 MB/s write speed. Storage capacities range from 16 to 128 GB. Both cards have lifetime warranties and free tech support. kingston.com