Memory Cards - Get what you pay for!

Memory Cards – Get what you pay for!


sdcfextiv-16gb45.jpgHave you ever had a memory card fail on you? You’ve spent some time photographing an occassion, you’ve done your best and you’re excited about getting the images onto your screen and checking them out. You plug in your memory card and import your photos only to find half of them corrupt! or, even worse there are NO images on the memory card!

I asked the guys over at to help me out with a test that I wanted to run – we took two memory cards, a more expensive “well known” brand and a more budget “lesser known” branded CF card and ran them up in real world conditions along side each other to see how they performed.

First, I took the aData card along with me to a night at the Jazz Cafe to photograph a soul singer for Blues&Soul magazine. I wanted to get the job done and couldn’t afford to have any issues, so I figured that with this new card I’d have no trouble. I popped the card into my camera before the gig and formatted it a couple of times, took a few shots and formatted it again. I photographed the gig, checking my display from time to time to see that the images were recording OK and that my focus was as on as a 3″ screen will tell me. Arriving home, I imported the images into Lightroom from the new memory card that I was using and this is what I found…


You can see above that the selected image is missing some information. This is sometimes caused by the card not being able to take all the data that you’re pushing to it from your camera and spitting some onto the floor (basically) This most likely happened when I reeled off a whole lot of shots during one very active part of their performance and the card just wasn’t up to the task.

There's Lemons...So, let’s compare the two cards that I was shooting with; The card that caused the failure above was an aData “speedy” 16GB card, It is priced as a budget card at £49.55 and every other time that I’ve used it since this incident it has performed just fine, but I will not use it “when it matters” I shoot with a Canon 5DMk2 and I pretty much always shoot in full resolution RAW a lot of the time in burst mode, so that’s around 3 – 4 images per second (more like 2 -3 in RAW) at about 23MB per file, so a good solid amount of data charging through your camera and onto the CF card. The other card that I was using for this little speed test was the SanDisk Extreme IV 16GB. It’s rated at “45MBps” I used the SanDisk last night when photographing an American R&B singer, Ginuwine, a fast paced concert full of squealing teenagers, and am very happy to report that the SanDisk happily stood and delivered.

I ran basic “full load” test with my 5DMk2 whereby I placed the camera into burst mode in the RAW setting and held the shutter release down until the card could take no more, the aData lasted a whole 12 images while the SanDisk ate it up and kept going and going and.. going! If you want to know how fast your card is or how many images you will fit on it, there’s a handy table over here

This little test doens’t mean that if you’ve purchased an aData card that you’ve got a lemon, it just means that if you use a cheap memory card when it matters, there is more chance that something will go horribly wrong! It is true, you do get what you pay for…

Luckily on this occassion, I didn’t like any images form my  CF card failure inducing burst during Nate’s performance, so no bother.

One other aspect of this test that you should take into account is that with bigger memory cards coming down in price, you’re going to buy them and put more images on the one card, or if you will “more eggs in one basket” I will always only shoot one concert (three songs, no flash!) and then upload, and format my cards.

Big thanks to the guys at DigitalRev for helping us out with the testing for this mini review.

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Sime (aka #gtvone) is the customer support manager for dPS, and lead blogger in our Cameras and Gear Blog. He's a Melbourne based photographer, and please feel free to follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Some Older Comments

  • Scott August 4, 2010 02:44 am

    My Sony has two card slots, one for an SDHC and one for a Sony Pro card. I've only used Sandisk cards for the SDHC slot, and I've had a major problem with them in cold weather. Anything below 28F, or thereabouts, and the camera indicates "no memory card available". The pro card works fine, so it's not the camera, and I just switch over until I can warm the camera up, but it is aggravating.

    Anyone else ever run into this problem?

  • Petr Bohacek October 31, 2009 01:53 am

    I had similar problem with white areas in pictures with my Sandisk Extreme III 8GB card and I think it's a problem of lightroom cause the image was displayed properly in another viewer. I'm shooting RAW.

  • Tom October 28, 2009 04:55 am

    I use 2 AData 8GB and 1 16 GB CF cards with a Nikon D300, and have never had a failure in 30,000 images. I know it's possible with any card; I have had a failure with a cheapo SD card with another camera, but it wasn't AData. Given that, I'd still rather use 2-3 8GB cards than the one 16GB card just to cut the risk.

    I also do notice a difference in write speed, which to me is what makes a more expensive card worth it. You have to pay attention to the specs when you're buying the card. Compare write speed if you're counting on your card to keep up with you in burst shooting AND clearing out your camera's cache between bursts. Pay attention to read speed if you care more about the time it takes to transfer the images to your PC after you shoot.

    One poster mentioned 'I never check images in the field' as if it's a badge of honor, or that only beginners would check their images while they're shooting. For photographers who need those images for their livelihood, checking the images as you go (when you can) is additional insurance and is a SMART thing to do, not a sign of a insecure beginner. Anyone who places blind faith in their equipment without doublechecking it once in awhile is setting themselves up for a surprise.

  • pictureperfect October 27, 2009 09:18 pm

    I've used different cards for a number of years now, and fortunately none of them have failed (I know I've just jinxed myself now). I normally use Sandisk and Kingston, though I have an HP that work just fine as well.

    When in doubt, I'd say always go with the proven products, especially in critical applications when speed/reliability is a factor.

    As for formatting, I believe that it's a good idea from time to time to format a card to get rid of any potential data anomalies that may be lurking and affect your new data. I have had floppy disks that would not read for my old Sony Mavica FD73 digital camera (remember those?), and once I formatted the disk, it would work just fine.

  • Kudos October 27, 2009 01:30 pm

    In the last 7 years, I've only had one SD card fail on me... an aData 1Gb. As far as I'm concerned, the first failure is the card's last. Ditched it immediately. Cannot risk such a failure again (especially after the monumental data loss from the first occasion). Won't buy aData gain. Kingston/Sandisk/PNY cards have always worked reliably for me.

  • Alex flav October 27, 2009 10:36 am

    Sorry, this just sounds like a Sandisk PR release.

  • Robert Melnyk October 27, 2009 01:49 am

    Primarly Lexar...

  • Jon Mainwaring October 25, 2009 07:16 pm

    As a professional wedding photographer reliability of memory cards is key to me!
    Some great comments here and I do agree that brand names aren't always the best. My own answer is to use two cameras for essential shots then if one card does fail I still (should!) have the image.

  • joshua baskerville October 25, 2009 09:30 am

    ive heard of an aData failing too

  • G Dan Mitchell October 24, 2009 06:16 am

    One bit of advice for extending the life of your card is... avoid physical damage to the card and, more important, the pins in the camera that are inserted into the card when you put it in. I've heard of a number of people whose "card failure" was actually due to bending a pin in the camera or their card reader. It is quite east to do this with CF ("compact flash") cards.

    And of course, if you bend the pin in the camera you are probably looking at sending your camera away for some costly repairs.

  • starrpoint October 24, 2009 05:58 am

    Very interesting.
    Thank you for posting your results.

    This is something I think it is work trying when you get a new card.
    I would like to see something on how long you can expect the card to last, ea. just how much wear and tear, uploading, eraseing formatting,etc. you can expect the card to take.

  • G Dan Mitchell October 23, 2009 11:39 pm

    "There's a reason people buy BMW's over Chevy's too. If you're a casual shooter it MAY not matter much, but if your livliehood depends on getting the shots and eeking out every last second of write speed matters, why go cheap?"


    But buying less expensive but identically spec'ed memory gains you literally NOTHING over buying more expensive memory with the same specs. You don't "get the shots" any better and your camera does work one iota faster.

    This is equivalent to buying the BMW over the Chevy not because it might actually make a difference but rather because you like to spend more money for the same thing. You THINK you MUST be getting a "faster" or otherwise "better" card because you spent more money on it...

    ... but you aren't.

    For the record, I'm not a "casual shooter."

  • LensArtwork October 23, 2009 11:28 pm

    There's a reason people buy BMW's over Chevy's too. If you're a casual shooter it MAY not matter much, but if your livliehood depends on getting the shots and eeking out every last second of write speed matters, why go cheap?

    I do agree with an above point about getting 2-3 smaller capacity cards instead of one large one. You just never know, and if one card decides to take a dump that day then you'll have backups at hand.

  • Anthony Petty October 23, 2009 10:49 pm

    The Canon T1i (500D) requires class 6 SD cards. It says that right in the manual - in several places. I don't know about the 50D though.

  • Dave October 23, 2009 12:33 pm

    I've been using San Disk cards exclusively for a long time and have never had any problems. In looking at my Canon 50D Manual, I don't even see where it says how fast the camera speed is. It talks about frames per second bur nowhere can I find a camere write or record speed. I even looked on the Canon website and did not see it there. Does anyone know where to get that info? Maybe I have been buying faster cards than I need.

  • G Dan Mitchell October 23, 2009 10:22 am

    Ahem... I'll try to keep the reply short...

    "Dan Michell - your myths are not myths at all, especially the speed one. Speed definitey matters. If you have ever shot a DSLR it matters..."

    I shoot nothing but DSLRs - not a single "little point and shoot" camera in my bag. Card speed beyond that required by the camera specs makes no difference in burst mode shooting - the limits become those of the camera itself at that point. Do a bit of checking and you can verify this. (If you get a card that is slower than manufacture specs that is a different story - and I did not recommend that.)

    "I want to call BS on you myth of crap cards being labled as expensive ones..."

    There are numerous news and investigate stories on this, some within the past year. Search is your friend...

    "As for reliability, the $80+ cards are hardly commodity items. Maybe the $10 ones you pick up in walmart are, but that's why we don't buy those..."

    I didn't recommend Wal-Mart, though for all I know their cards are fine. Re-read what I did recommend. I stand by the commodity item description. It is essentially the same as computer memory in this regard.

    "For the original blog author - I can't believe you would ever consider reusing a card that had failed even once..."

    I concur with you on this, unless the failure can be definitively traced to something other than the card itself. I once had a "card failure" that turned out to actually be a strange software incompatibility with a firewire device attached to my computer. It is a long story I won't recount here.


  • Sue Cantan October 23, 2009 06:41 am

    No-one has mentioned this, but I understand my camera (Nikon D50) will not take a memory card bigger than 2GB so I have to carry quite a large number of cards. I use a variety of different brands and haven't noticed any difference between them. Once I have deleted the card I always format it- heard somewhere that it was a good idea and now do it as force of habit.

  • Sime October 23, 2009 03:27 am

    You best go back and read again, gerdez....

    "This little test doesn’t mean that if you’ve purchased an aData card that you’ve got a lemon"

    I had the lemons because I was making my friend Susan's lemon cake, and they worked well, color wise, with my new wall tiles - what d'ya think?

  • gerdez October 23, 2009 03:19 am

    You say "...that if you’ve purchased an aData card that you’ve got a lemon...", yet you insert your own photo of lemons and an adata CF card. I find that a little sarcastic.

  • G Dan Mitchell October 23, 2009 01:38 am

    Best practice regarding formatting is to always "erase" the card after use by reformatting it in the camera.

    There is a logical flaw (or two, or three...) in some of the notions about correlations between brand name and card reliability. If we accept the idea that we "don't know if" the generic card is built to the same standards as the name brand card, it is not necessarily the case that this means that the generic card is not of very high quality. And basically all cards are categorized (or rejected) according to the same standard of read/write speed and reliability - a 166x card is a 166x card whether it comes from the most expensive company or a less expensive one.

    As you point out, even the "limited" lifetime of cards (which is an predicted percentage failure rate after a certain period time, and not a hard life span) is far beyond that which most cards will be subjected to. While some might get a card and continue to use it for years and years, that is pretty uncommon - and even more uncommon among the folks who might be most concerned about card reliability. For them, cards are often used for a shorter period of time - largely because these folks tend to move to newer bodies every few years, and the larger bodies almost invariably require the storage of larger image files... so we move from 1GB to 2GB to 4GB... to 16GB... and beyond cards. While I have older cards still (even some 512 MB cards!) I almost never use any of them. My primary cards are relatively new 16 GB cards.

    I noticed in a post following my earlier one that someone mentioned needing a faster card for burst mode shooting. Again, as long as your card meets (or slightly exceeds, if you are paranoid... :-) the camera manufacturer's specification for card speed there is no advantage to buying a faster card here. Getting a card that is, say, twice as fast as a card that meets the minimum spec will not result in any faster burst mode on your camera. The camera is limited mostly by physical design issues and the camera's ability to process and move the data becomes the limiting factor here, not the card speed.

    Save yourself some money. Buy properly spec'ed cards from generic brands sold by reliable vendors. You'll have reliable cards and perhaps a bit more money left over to invest in more significant things.


  • Michael Daniels October 23, 2009 12:45 am

    I'm writing this from memory so I don't have references. You should trust me but verify what I say is true. As you should with all things.

    Although it is possible that budget and premium brands come from the same assembly line we don't know what quality specifications get delivered as budget and which ones get delivered as premium. In chip manufacturing the same line will yield all varieties of quality and speed. The manufactures test them and categorize them based on their failure rate and speed.

    It is important to remember that these cards have a limited lifetime. On a solid state card each time a write is done there is a tiny destructive process that etches the bits into the cards memory. Granted that lifetime is millions of writes, but still it is limited. The cards have an algorithm that spreads the writes across the memory so that no just one spot wears out while other areas stay pristine.

    Formating the card after each use helps align the memory so that there isn't any fragmentation. Fragmentation is when the file is not written in a contiguous stream, but is divided up into pieces that fit. This, in theory, should keep the card running at maximum speed. Personally I think these cards are so fast that fragmentation is not a real issue. You'd likely get the same effect if you erased the entire card a file at a time. In addition these cards don't work like a traditional hard drive where seeking other places in the memory involve moving a bunch of parts around. It just jumps to where it needs to go.

    There is a difference between a low level format and just format. Format just removes all references to the files that are stored. A low level format goes through the entire card and overwrites the memory. This would shorten the life of the card, but again it would take a lot of work to do this enough times to wear the card out.

  • Jeff Plum October 23, 2009 12:14 am

    I swear by SanDisk. 50,000 images captured and still going strong.

  • D Traver Adolphus October 23, 2009 12:10 am

    It's not conclusive because correlation is not the same as causation.

    I have to agree with G. Dan Mitchell: There is no reasonable evidence that cost and reliability are related. Write speeds certainly would be an issue, if your card is capable of less than your camera. However, unless your card is as least as fast as your camera during a RAW burst, you'll be writing to it from the buffer anyway--it will be writing at max speed. Beyond that, it's irrelevant how much data you're "pushing" at it. It's maxed out. Any write error is much more likely a camera buffer problem than a card problem.

    Also, there is indeed rather a lot of counterfeiting going on. There are both counterfeit brand name cards; and off-brand cards with misleading labels (write speed, capacity, et c.).

    Do I recall reading that there are only a few companies actually producing the physical flash memory? Sony guts...

  • Nate Finch October 22, 2009 11:53 pm

    Dan Michell - your myths are not myths at all, especially the speed one. Speed definitey matters. If you have ever shot a DSLR it matters. Sure, you little point and shoot doesn't really care, but it also doesn't take compact flash cards. Shoot burst mode or even just several quick shots and you'll see the difference. Once you max out the camera's built in cache you are at the mercy of the card's speed. My wife and I have identical cameras - canon 40Ds. She got a 133x card and I got a 266x card. Mine cost more than double hers, but when she maxes out the camera, it can't take pictures for about 60 seconds. Mine is done in less than half that. 60 seconds is a damn lon. Time to wait when you're in a fast paced environment. Not only that, but a faster card means you can actually take more pictures in burst mode. It can be the difference between 12 pictures in RAW and 18. In JPEG it can be difference between 20 and unlimited.

    I want to call BS on you myth of crap cards being labled as expensive ones. That will never happen if you buy from a reputable dealer. Sure, if you pay 20% of the price on a Chinese site, you are likely to get scammed. I also don't believe that no brand cards are made at the same place as the branded cards. Unless you have sow proof for your conspiracy theories, I'm going to believe we would have heard of it before now.

    As for reliability, the $80+ cards are hardly commodity items. Maybe the $10 ones you pick up in walmart are, but that's why we don't buy those. There is definitely a lot of room for differences in quality when you are talking millions of bits of electonics in a tiny package.

    For the original blog author - I can't believe you would ever consider reusing a card that had failed even once. Burst mode should never caused dropped images. I've shot tens of thousands of pictures on a single SanDisk card and never had a single one corrupted. I would replace and return if possible and card that failed even once. My wife has a Kingston card she has uses just as much, also with no failures. Buy a decent card and yes, you get what you pay for.

  • Sime October 22, 2009 10:57 pm

    Hi Ariana, It's really up to you - I like to format my card after I've used it. My wife uses her card till she's somewhere beautiful and realises that her memory card is full :-)

    Some people are for the format, some are against.

    I don't know if either for or against has been scientifically proven to be better, but I will look into it.


  • Ariana Murphy October 22, 2009 10:51 pm

    I'm a newbie, and don't have enough experience to comment on memory card performance. However, I noted that the writer indicated that he reformatted his card after each fill-and-download. Is this standard practice? I haven't come across this before.


    - Ariana

  • Sime October 22, 2009 09:49 pm

    Hi Sid - Sorry... I think this article needed some more time spent, it was "in brief" and as such is missing good linking paragraphs..(eeek!) Using the cards for standard stuff, a shot here, a shot there.. I had no issues

    This might help to explain what I mean...

    I'm a music photographer, and sometimes I shoot on burst... When I shoot in burst mode, the card needs to handle the data output of the camera up until the camera says "stop" The aData "speed rating" is "speedy" It failed, so it was either not speedy enough, or there was an issue... It happened again when I shot "at high speed" but didn't fail when it was used in a "one shot here, one shot there" kind of way.

    Tony - I used RTools and Sandisk recovery on the card - Didn't get my images back... Was a weird issue, I agree.

    sbunting108 -- Touch wood! (I wish I could say the same) I've used Sandisk, Kingston, Jessops, Transcend and others I can't recall right now and have at some stage had an issue with most of them - aside of the Sandisk cards.. I even have a Sandisk that I put a dent in during a gig and it still works 100% ha!

  • sbunting108 October 22, 2009 09:40 pm

    failed sorry

  • sbunting108 October 22, 2009 09:38 pm

    I too feel similar to Mitchell I have always bought cheaper memeory cards and not once have they fsiled on me and if one does after 10 years of photography I will put it down to chance!

  • Tony October 22, 2009 09:05 pm

    I am not an expert on data storage, but I have been using computers for well over twenty years now and something just doesn't sit right with me about that image that is "partly missing some information". I have lost data files before - and NEVER, not once has just PART of the image or file gone missing. From my understanding of how the FAT tables work, this isn't really a possibility using standard operating system capabilities. (You could, however use data recovery tools to get PART of an image back.) But if the card is failing - the WHOLE file would appear to be gone (to the operating system).

    What I think happened here is exactly what you implied - the card was not able to handle the write speed. But that doesn't mean the card is bad - or that you're data is at risk of being lost on it. It simply means your camera will stop taking pictures when it's buffer fills up.

  • Sid October 22, 2009 08:18 pm

    Sime, it seems you've said:

    "every other time that I’ve used it since this incident it has performed just fine".

    But then respond to lobsterclause with:

    "On each occasion, under my shooting circumstances, the cheap card let me down, how’s that not conclusive??"

    It sounds inconclusive because you say the issue only happened once in the article itself.

    If it has happened every time, you might want to change the article to say that.

    For what it's worth, I have 'cheap' and brand name cards, aside from a speed difference in my oldest cards, I've not had any issues with any cards.
    I normally buy brand name anyway, as they come with a warranty, and I'm a sucker for that, just in case it fails. :)


  • Sime October 22, 2009 08:00 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Graham. It's fair to say that for this review if I had only ever used the two cards and made those assumption, that it would indeed be a bit of a flawed opinion. I've used so many different types of CF cards since 91 - But I just used two as an example in this post.. I hope that helps to clear it up - I should have pointed that out.

    It is so true, you don't really think about the chances of your CF card failing you before it's tooo late! Have you experienced failure? Who else has experienced failure?

  • Graham October 22, 2009 04:55 pm

    "On each occasion, under my shooting circumstances, the cheap card let me down, how’s that not conclusive??"

    I don't think lobsterclause was disputing that you had problems with the cheap card, but it's quite a big jump to compare two cards, find out that one was a dud, and then imply that it's representative of all memory cards out there.

    Thanks for bringing the subject of memory card reliability up though. It's a critical thing that most people don't think about till it all goes badly wrong.

  • G Dan Mitchell October 22, 2009 03:02 pm

    Whoa! I really have to differ with you on the conclusion that expensive brand name cards are going to work better than less-expensive generics, much less that the generic card is likely to lose data in the way you illustrate.

    There are some common myths about CF and other memory cards that are worth deflating:

    Myth #1 - Buy a name brand in order to get a more reliable card. Not really. There have been some investigative stories about this and several interesting things turned up. Many of the generic cards are actually produced in the same factories as the brand name cards, one would assume by the very same crews. In addition, there is apparently some trade in bogus brand name cards... so a card with the expensive logo on it may not always actually be from that company.

    Myth #2 - Less expensive cards fail more often. There is little or no evidence that this is actually the case. These days memory cards are pretty much low-cost, commodity items and for the most part they are all of fine quality. I know that any individual report can be dismissed as being anecdotal, but I've used many, many cards ranging from MB to multi-GB sizes... and the only failure I've ever had was from a brand name card!

    Myth #3 - Get a faster card to make your camera run faster. In reality there is no advantage to getting a card that is faster than your camera's specifications call for, at least not in terms of the camera operation. Other factors will limit write speed (as one example) such that you won't see any advantage from the faster card. (If you have a very fast card reader there is some chance that your data might download a bit faster from the card to the computer but a) the difference would usually be trivial and b) in many cases there will still be no difference.

    My policy has, for the past few years, to buy cards spec'ed at or just above the camera manufacturers specifications, to generally shop price, to buy almost exclusively non-big-name brands, and to purchase from a vendor that I trust. I'm not a casual shooter. I have not had a single experience that would cause me to change my mind about this.


  • Hans Ning October 22, 2009 12:36 pm

    I used to use a Kingston 8gb class 6 SD card, and also bought a cheapo generic 16gb class 6 SD card off ebay. Then I bought the Sandisk ones when they had the crazy stock up and save special. Man, what a world of difference in speed.

    The Kingstons were slow, and the generic chinese brand is even slower. It couldn't eve keep up with 1 fps in JPG on a D90. Ridiculous.

    The Sandisk, however, can shoot forever on JPG on 4 fps, with no problems whatsoever.

    You get what you pay for.

  • Wolverine October 22, 2009 10:27 am

    LEXAR UDMA 300x

    nuf said!

  • Sime October 22, 2009 09:29 am

    "lobsterclause Says: This test is hardly conclusive."

    On each occasion, under my shooting circumstances, the cheap card let me down, how's that not conclusive??

    Buy cheap cards - Don't expect "the best"


  • lobsterclause October 22, 2009 07:56 am

    This test is hardly conclusive.

  • brad. October 22, 2009 07:42 am

    I pretty much use SanDisk cards exclusively. I shot a wedding this weekend, 1800+ RAWs over two SanDisk CF cards (one extreme III 4gb and one extreme IV 8gb) and only had one garbled image.

    However, a couple months back I had some problems with my camera not writing to the same 4gb card. About one out of every 10-15 shots came out as color blocks or half exposures. It was then I purchased the 8gb extreme IV but still had the same problem writing to the new card. Turns out my old D70 had a failing circuit board running between the sensor and card.

    I had the camera repaired and have since shot about 4-5 thousand snaps with only the one garbled pic from the wedding. So during your trouble-shooting be aware that the CF cards may not always be to blame when you start to see image writing problems.

  • JP October 22, 2009 07:02 am

    Sandisk Extreme 16 and 8GB 60mb/sec cards FTW

  • Ryan October 22, 2009 06:51 am

    Another trick I always stick with for memory cards is to buy more small ones rather than 1 or 2 big ones. That way if one card fails I only lose 10-15% of my pictures rather than 50 -`100%. It is easy and cheap to get a little card booklet that will store 7 or 8 cards and fill it with 2-4gb cards. Just make sure not to accidentally grab a full card when you need a new one!