Which memory card for your DSLR?

The Sandisk Extreme Pro 64GB Class 10 280GB oer seciond SDXC card

Need for speed? That 280MB/sec rating may not be the number you are looking for.

When you think about your camera and your memory card needs, do you think bigger and faster is better? Wait a minute..not so fast. Some cameras cannot handle newer SDXC formats, some cameras cannot take advantage of the 128MB/sec read rates or faster, and sometimes smaller and slower win the day.

My example..I have and still use a Nikon D90. It works, takes great photos and works with all of my lenses so why not right?

Well the first thing to note is that I shoot in RAW format, meaning NEF files for the Nikon (Canon uses a CR2 format, Panasonic uses a generic RAW format) are going to be a different size as you get more megapixels. So my D90 takes RAW photos in about 10-11 megabytes per image. While my D7100 uses a 28 megabyte raw image. Your camera has a common raw file size average and you should know it.

Now…for my D90, I never use anything bigger than a 16GB SDHC card. Sure it will support a 32GB card but I get into a grey area I try to avoid.

If I have 28 GB worth of images on the card and it fails, I am going to be mad. However if I only have 7-10GB of photos on card, I will still be angry at the loss but it won’t be nearly as bad as with 32GB. See?

Now a word about speed. Most cards will put their fastest speeds on the card and that is usually the speed a device can READ from it. What you want are cards that sync up with your camera speed. If you shoot at 7 frames per second and have a 90MB/sec write speed on your card, you might be able to eek out a few more shots before your camera’s buffer for the number of images it can hold, runs out.

So..ignore that 250 MB/sec listing on the card and look up the write speed for that card. Odds are it is going to be less than the read speed for that card.

That’s a quick lesson. If you have questions, please let me know. Next time, the quickie lesson will be over picking lenses to take on a trip.

So you got a new DSLR for Christmas…now what?

It started with a trip to a local retail store to find a Christmas gift for my sister and I wound up helping an elderly man the ‘non-commissioned’ sales clerk was steering towards very high speed and high end memory for the brand new Nikon D3300 camera.

I saw his standing there, staring at a wall of memory cards, with a 64GB SDXC card that cost close to a hundred dollars. It’s throughput was around 95MB per second and it was a quality name brand and not some off the wall series of letters on a sticky piece of paper.


When his sales person walked off with the brand new Nikon D3300 in the box to get a lens he asked for with this package, I asked him about the card he was holding. He said it is what the sales clerk handed him and rather than tick off the sales person, I suggested that he go with something slower. I then explained the frames per second rate of the D3300 and how fast the camera writes data to the card.

The key is to have a media card that accepts data at a rate just faster than the write speed of the camera.

So a Nikon D3300 shoots at a maximum still photo frame rate of 5 frames per second. The average file size is a little over 20 megabytes (MB) for each raw format photo. So if your media card accepts data at say 30 MB per second, it will unload three photos while you have taken five. What this means is that the buffer (the amount of built in memory of the camera) will fill up and stop you from shooting at full speed.

And if I know anything about luck, that buffer usually fills up just a few frames before you get your money shot.

But how often are you going to be shooting that fast? This was a senior who was buying the camera for his wife. She likely would not turn on the full burst rate of the camera. And so I asked the man flat out, what was his wife interested in shooting images of. He said nature, birds, butterflies, and water scenes. That type of shooting lends itself to slower shots and limited straining of the camera’s buffer.

I recommended he put down the 64 GB 95 MB per second class 10 SDXC card and instead buy four (4) 16 gigabyte class 10, 30 MB per second cards.


Just so we can get the speed information down properly, a class 2 memory card records at roughly 2MB per second. This is good for H.264 video. Class 4 and class 6 are 4MB per second and 6MB per second respectively. The cards you want with modern DSLR cameras are class 10, or 10MB per second and faster, data transfer rates on the SDHC/SDXC cards.

There are some companies that complicate matters by saying that their cards are 133x or 200x when it comes to speed. Basically those numbers mean their data transfer rates; 100x = 16 MB per second, 160x = 24MB per second and so on….

So you only need a memory card that will keep up with your camera. Not EVERYONE needs a 280 MB per second SDXC card to shoot photos of your family’s sporting events.


The next thing to cover is when to use large cards versus smaller cards. If you have a new entry level camera, you will not need to have a large memory card. You should have a memory card that can hold 100 to 250 photos in your raw photo format for your camera.

Any more space than that can lead to a problem that may one day cause a problem for you

If you have one 64 GB SD card and it crashes on you, it takes all 64 GB of your images with it. If you use multiple cards and spread your photos out over the cards, the odds of a catastrophic failure ruining your memories, decrease. In a worst case scenario where a card crashes with your precious memories on it, you might be able to grab a few extra shots on the other cards and while it may not be the moment you want to remember, you will have some image of that time rather than lament about the one that got away.

Now…let’s talk about brands. Most major brands make good memory cards; Transcend, Samsung, Sandisk, PNY, Sony, Panasonic, Patriot, Lexar, and Verbatim are just a few of the names that come to mind. There are many, many more out there that are worth your time and investigation.

In short…unless you have experience with a DSLR, know what your camera’s specifications are, and maybe have a leaning towards one of the many brands, sizes, and speeds of memory cards, you will likely not need the fast, high capacity, cards. You need to know your camera, know what your needs are and how you intend to shoot. If you “spray” (meaning you shoot photos from your camera at the fastest frame rate your camera allows until the camera’s buffer is full) then yes…get faster cards. But most good photographers will tell you that you rarely need to spray any event. Three shots at one time is usually sufficient.

But we will cover that later.

Has the new camera bug got you?

Nikon has released two really nice high end camera for advanced hobbyists and professional users in recent weeks. These cameras start at price points that may leave some of us looking for part time jobs to earn the money necessary to buy one of these new video stressed camera systems, $2,999, $3,299, and $5,999 respectively.

These cameras have technology in them that are giant leaps away from what Nikon originally started out with. Remember the business mantra “play to your strengths?” Well Nikon is looking for a new strength in the video market as the D800, D800E and D4 are all capable of shooting 1080p HD video.

It’s clear that Sony is making a strong play for the micro 4/3’s market with its NEX-7 ILC offering. This camera has been voted by the editors of Popular Photography as its camera of the year for 2011. It’s not a DSLR but it’s pretty darn close. And it’s performance, as shown here on the Popular Photography site is really strong. It will only get stronger as the lens offerings for this camera improve.

So it’s clear that video is the next step for Nikon, but at 30 frames per second capture, it’s not going to blow the doors off of anything at this point. For the uninitiated, 30fps is the same speed that most local news video is shot at. High speed videograpy is shot as a much higher frame rate, maybe 1000fps or higher and it really makes a big difference in ultra-slow motion video ( as seen here ).

If Nikon decides to push videography harder, it will need to increase its frame rate. While 30fps is great for television, it doesn’t lend itself to creative videography. And that’s who is going to want a Nikon with video…those interested in breaking barriers and crossing over into the next medium type.

Should Nikon decides to go back to its photographic roots, it will die as Kodak is doing ever so slowly.

But with a 36.4 megapixel image, and 1080p HD video, the D800/D800E are good answers to photographers looking to cross that boundary. As someone who knows a thing or two about videography, but is by no means an expert, I would suggest to you that you look at a slow motion video shot at 1000fps to see what is possible.

Go start saving your pennies for the next big Nikon camera coming out around this time next year. Who knows..it may hit the 100 Megapixel mark. Then every photograph can be made into a billboard.

New Nikon D4 detailed look

I’ve been tied up for the past nine months and no I did not have a child but there are two new high end offerings from Nikon that I have put on my “if I win the Lottery” list.

Rather than talk about them here I am going to let the whatdigitalcamera.com review/overview speak for me. One of the key things about the D4 over the D3 models is the use of a new memory card type…the XQD. This is the replacement for aging compact flash format for digital recording.

But enough of what I think…here’s the overview from WhatDigitalCamera.com

Also…I am going to be changing the look of this site. If you have any ideas, please pass them along. Thanks!