Tips & Tricks: Memory Cards - Which Size & Brand to Use

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So, you bought a shiny new DSLR and you need a memory card. Which one should you choose? There are 2GB cards. There are 64GB cards. There are Wintec cards. There are SanDisk cards. There are so many options. So how do you wade through all of those cards and find the right one for you?

This Card Is Worth $1000 (Give or Take)

That is, you could potentially have an entire wedding/commercial/interview/whatever on a single SD card these days if you’re shooting on a DSLR. Think about it. EVERYTHING you’ve shot comes down to the files on that tiny card and if you’re not careful, all of your hard work, your client’s trust in you and your paycheck could go down the drain. Scary, isn’t it? So how do we choose the right card to keep those files safe? Let’s start with size.

Does Memory Card Size Really Matter?

I think everyone who shoots video with DSLRs can agree that 8GB cards are as small as you want to go. In fact, these days I only shoot with my 8GB card if it’s the last card in my case. It’s just too small to do much good. I typically carry around (4) 16GB cards and a 32GB and that has been enough to get me through a day of shooting with my Canon 6D using standard compression.
The current arguments on card size go something like this: “If you use a lot of small cards, you’ll lose less footage if one corrupts but you risk losing a card physically since there are so many of them” and “If you use a large card and it corrupts, you lose all of your footage but otherwise you know the card is physically safe because it won’t leave the camera.”
To me, the “physically safe” part of the equation is somewhat irrelevant. When I’m finished shooting a card, I lock the card and put it inside of a watertight, unbreakable card case which goes straight back into it’s spot in my gear bag. If I have time when I’m on location, I’ll even do a double back up of the footage.
As far as corruption goes, if you want to be safe about it, go with several 16GB cards. I find that when shooting your average interview, 16GB is just right (one interview per 16GB card). It’ll give you about 22 minutes of record time with the Canon 6D. For DSLRs, unless you’re shooting a feature, those card sizes will get you by just fine and you don’t have to worry about card corruption as much.
How often does card corruption happen you ask? First let’s get to brands.

Memory Card Brands – The Good & Bad

By far the most popular brand chosen by professionals is SanDisk. They are, for the most part, the most expensive, too. Does this mean they’re the highest quality? Maybe. But there are a lot of brands to choose from. Currently, I use 5 brands of memory cards: SanDisk, Transcend, Sony, HP and WINTEC. All of these cards are class 10 cards (which actually doesn’t mean much). If you use a slower card (under, say, 25Mb/s), it may still work, but you’re upping your chances that something will go wrong when the data is being written, causing corruption. Generally speaking, you should buy cards that are around 45Mb/s.
The brands I use are all over the map. Some are expensive and some, like WINTEC, are dirt cheap. So what’s the difference? I suppose it’s possible that SanDisk, for instance, has a better warranty and quality control than WINTEC, but regardless, all of the cards I use work. For me, it’s about reviews and read/write speed. If a card is getting 3 out of 5 because a lot of users experienced failure, forget about it. If a card receives 1,000 reviews and only a few people received a dead card, that’s okay. Why is that okay? Because we’re dealing with technology and it’s known to occasionally fail. It happens. Sad but true. SanDisk generally has a faster read/write speed than some of the less expensive cards, too.
Card corruption doesn’t happen often, but you’re probably less likely to get a bad card if you go with a trusted name like SanDisk. I would highly recommend getting a high end name if you plan on getting a large 64GB or 128GB card. That would not be the time to try out Acme’s new brand of chinese made memory cards.

Conclusion

-When shooting video with DSLRs, get multiple 16GB cards – they’re a good balance between shooting time and file corruption safety.
-Get a watertight hard case for your memory cards if you don’t have one already. Because keeping your cards physically safe is as important as keeping the files intact and vise versa.
-Always buy class 10 cards with a 45Mb/s read/write speed (give or take). Slower cards may not write files correctly, causing corruption.
-Buy the trusted brands like SanDisk or read reviews (B&H, Adorama, Amazon) to determine suitable alternatives.
-The larger the card you get, the more crucial it will be for you to get a trusted brand.

JoshMcDarris

Josh is an independent DP, editor and motion graphics designer in Austin, TX. You can read more about him and check out his work at joshmcdarris.com

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