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Which Memory Card Should I Buy?

“I’ve just bought a Canon EOS 400D and have been using an old 256MB Compact Flash memory card with it but it’s not big enough for me – what size and type should I buy?” – Samantha.

It’s amazing how affordable memory has become in the last few years. I remember just a couple of years back paying $1 per megabyte (and more) when I got my DSLR. These days by comparison memory is cheap!

There are a couple of factors that I generally consider when buying a memory card for my camera – Size and Speed. Let me briefly tackle each.

Size

The temptation with prices as they currently are is to simply rush out and buy the card with the most memory. These days this can mean you could well come back with an 8 gig card. However unless you’re going to be taking some long trips without the ability to download your shots while away this might be overkill. Here are a few considerations when it comes to capacity of memory cards:

  • Type of Photography – what is the type of photography that you’ll be using your camera for? Are you going to be doing sports photography where you’ll be shooting in burst mode and will take hundreds of photos in quick succession? Or will you use it for Macro work and take a handful of shots slowly each session?
  • How Long Between Downloading to Your Computer? – obviously if you’re not going to be able to download images regularly then there’s a case to be made for a larger capacity card. For example on my recent month long trip to the US I only transferred images once a week but was shooting a lot each day – so having a larger card was quite handy.
  • Image Format – do you shoot in JPEG or RAW (or both)? RAW takes up more room on your card than JPEG – for example with your camera you’ll fit over 400 shots on a 2GB card if using JPEG but just under 200 if shooting in RAW. Shoot in both JPEG and RAW and you’ll be lucky to fit on 100.
  • One Card or Multiple Cards? – while the quality of cards made by most main manufacturers is generally great, one thing to keep in mind is that occasionally cards do malfunction. This happened to me 12 months ago on a weekend away where I only took one large card with me. The result was that I lost the full weekend’s worth of shots. It struck me at that time that if I’d spread my shots over two smaller cards that I wouldn’t have lost everything. 8GB is pretty impressive – but two or three 2GB cards might be a safer bet.
  • Camera/File Size – Your 400D has a fairly sizable megapixel output (10.2 Megapixels). Shooting at full resolution, this will fill up a card faster than a 5 or 6 megapixel point and shoot camera (and slower than a 12 megapixel camera). So the camera you’re using and the resolution that you’d going to be shooting at are well worth considering.

My personal choice for card size at present is 2GB for my DSLR and 1GB for my point and shoot (which I use less). However for longer trips I do take an 8GB card.

Speed

Not all 2 gigabyte memory cards are equal and another factor that you might wish to consider is the speed at which they are able to be written to and read from. For example, SanDisk (the manufacturer that I generally use) produce a range of cards including their Extreme range. Their Extreme III card will write at 20 megabytes per second and their Extreme IV cards will write at 40 megabytes a second.

This means that technically the IV card will read and write twice as fast – however on a camera like your 400D you’ll not really notice any difference when taking shots as it doesn’t take shots fast enough to make any difference. It’s only really Pros shooting lots of images very quickly in burst mode on higher level cameras that will need the extra speed.

The other factor with speed is download speed when you’re putting images onto your computer. Faster cards can technically do this faster – however unless you’re using a FireWire cable for the transfer instead of USB it’s not really going to be a factor between the Extreme III and Extreme IV cards.

I personally use SanDisk Extreme III and SanDisk Extreme IV cards – but have never really noticed any difference between them.

Brand

There’s probably a bit of personal preference and price point comparison that comes into play here. My personal preference has been for SanDisk over the years but I have also used “Lexar Media Professional Cards also and have rarely had problems (except for that fateful weekend – when the card was replaced as it was still under guarantee).

I personally would avoid using no name brands that go around and tend to stick to the main players.

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Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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