A layman’s guide to memory cards

Our professional photographer's recommended gear: fast memory cards

If you’re new to photography you might understandably have a few questions about some of the basic equipment everyone needs, like memory cards.

There are a number of things you need to consider when purchasing a memory card, and in our latest layman’s guide to fundamental gear we answer some of the common questions about speed, capacity and more.

Our professional photographer's recommended gear: memory card back-up

What types are there?

The vast majority of digital cameras use either CompactFlash or SecureDigital memory cards. Older cameras may have a maximum capacity for CompactFlash cards of, say, 32GB. The same holds true with SecureDigital.

However, even fairly old cameras that take SD cards are usually compatible with SDHC (SD High Capacity) cards, which boosts the maximum available capacity from 4GB to 32GB.

Newer cameras can usually accept SDXC (SD eXtended Capacity) cards, which have a theoretical 2TB maximum capacity limit. (256GB is the highest capacity available.)

SEE MORE: Best memory cards for cameras – 9 top models tested and rated

Our professional photographer's recommended gear: fast memory cards

What capacity do I need?

Larger capacities naturally enable more shots to be captured without the need to swap the card in the camera. They 
are particularly useful if you shoot in raw+JPEG quality mode, or for shooting video. Currently, cards of between 16GB and 64GB in capacity offer the best value for money.

How fast are they?

Faster cards are most useful for clearing the camera’s memory buffer as quickly as possible, especially when shooting sequences of images in continuous drive mode, with raw or raw+JPEG quality settings.

The latest CF UDMA cards or SDHC/XC UHS-1 cards offer the fastest write speeds with relatively new cameras that can take full advantage of their high-speed data buses.

With SDHC/XC cards, you’ll also need at least Class 6 or preferably Class 10 cards to ensure the sustained write speed is fast enough for continuous HD video capture.

What about read speeds?

Read speeds are often faster than write speeds, which can be helpful if you have a large number of high-capacity image or video files to download to a computer.

However, in order to take full advantage of the latest high-speed cards, you’ll need 
to use a USB 3.0-enabled computer and card reader.


10 things photographers can do to stop wasting pictures
15 common photography questions from beginners (and how to solve them)
Metering mode cheat sheet: how they work and when to use them
3 exposure techniques every beginner must know – and when you should use them