Looking for a Christmas gift for a photographer? Let’s start with the smallest, flash memory cards. These are the small (in some cases, postage-stamp-sized) items which are inserted into the camera and on which the camera saves the pictures you take. The most commonly used is the SD card, but there also are Compact Flash (CF) cards (the largest, although not big by any definition) and Memory Sticks (Sony’s fave).
They come in a variety of capacities – gigabytes, or GB – denoted by a big number on the card’s face. I’m using two Panasonic brand SD cards here to illustrate a couple of points to look for.
First, capacity. You’ll note one card in the picture says 16GB while the other says 32GB. Sizes range from 2GB up to 64GB (the latter still a rare bird), and there are even larger capacity cards, but those are best left to the professionals for the time being as their prices are hard to swallow. The most common capacity is 4GB. The larger the capacity, the more pictures or minutes of video the card will hold. For average use – snap-shooting – 4GB is just fine. For those who do lots of picture-taking, you may want to consider 8GB or 16GB. Those who shoot in “RAW” format will definitely need higher capacity cards. If the card is going to be used for capturing video, whether in a camcorder or still camera, then a larger capacity is best; that’s when you can consider 16GB or 32GB as being a necessity.
Second, speed. In smaller print on the card’s face you’ll see a number inside what looks like an incomplete circle (it’s a stylized “C” for class). There are three speeds you’ll need to watch for: 4, 6 and 10. These are like speed limit signs; the bigger the number, the faster the card. Cards carrying the 4 are just fine for most picture-taking situations. You’ll need a “faster” card if you shoot lots, especially RAW. Camera manufacturers will say in their spec sheets what speed they recommend. Generally, if the camera shoots video, you’ll need a minimum speed class of 6, otherwise the card won’t be able to keep up with the amount of data the camera is producing. A class 10 card should keep up with just about anything thrown at it, but it may be overkill.
Third, price. The greater the capacity, the higher the price. The faster the card, the higher the price. In our illustration here, the 16GB card is less expensive than the 32GB card for two reasons – it’s a Class 4 card with 16GB capacity versus 10 and 32GB.
When buying cards, stick with brand names – SanDisk and Lexar are just two – and avoid “dodgy” deals. There are scam artists out there who will dishonestly repackage lower capacity cards, putting new labels on them bearing bigger numbers. If the deal looks to good to be true, it probably is. Go to a reputable dealer.