When it comes to choosing a memory card for your devices, it can be as simple as picking the card with the largest storage capacity for your photos, videos, and files. Or it can be as complicated as deciding which card allows you to write data the fastest for 4K video and offers durability for challenging environments.
Let’s take a look at the most important factors to consider before you buy your next memory card, whether it is an SD card, microSD card, or any other type of card.
Memory Card Type
First, you need to decide what kind of memory card your device takes.
Phones accept microSD. You may also see microSDHC and microSDXC. These differences relate to the maximum storage provided. Be sure to understand what your device supports, as some older devices may not accept newer card types such as microSDHC or microSDXC.
Cameras accept standard SD cards, which are larger in dimension than microSD cards. Similar to the microSD variants, SD cards also come in SDHC (high storage capacity up to 32 GB) and SDXC (much higher capacity at up to 2 TB) While you can use a microSD card that is inserted into a standard SD card reader to be inserted into a memory card reader, it isn’t common practice. Some cameras also take compact flash cards (CF cards), but these types of cards are not as popular as SD cards. However, many professional photographers regard CF cards as being more durable than SD cards. Another memory card format that is not as mainstream in use is the XQD card format.
Tablet devices usually accept the same type of microSD cards that phones do too.
This will probably be the first thing that is advertised or displayed when looking for a memory card and a spec that most people look at first. Only you will truly know what kind of storage capacity you need, depending on the number of files you want to store or anticipate creating.
If you like having lots of songs on your phone, tablet or mp3 player, a memory card that offers 32 GB or 64 GB of storage should be ample for most people. That can work out to about 5,000 to 10,000 songs if each song file is around 6 MB.
If your goal is to take a lot of videos, then you should look at a memory card with a capacity of 64 GB, 128 GB, 256 GB, or even 512 GB. If you are taking standard definition video (Full HD), you can get away with a 128 GB card. If you plan on recording lots of 4K video, or even 6K or 8K video, then you want to aim for a 256 GB or 512 GB card.
For photos, aim for a 32 GB or 64 GB memory card. If your phone takes raw photos, or you take pictures at the highest resolution, stick to 64 GB or higher.
Memory Card Speed
Paying attention to the memory card speed is crucial if you plan on recording video or taking lots of burst shot photos. For taking photos and saving general data, the speed of the card doesn’t matter as much. However, for video, the speed of the card determines how quickly your phone or camera can write data to the card. When you start taking 4K, 6K, or 8K video, you need a fast card to write the large amounts of data that are being recorded. Here are common speed class ratings for SD cards.
For standard storage use, cards are rated as:
- Class 2 – Has a minimum write speed of 2 MB per second – Slowest (saving data for backup purposes)
- Class 4 – Has a minimum write speed of 4 MB per second
- Class 6 – Has a minimum write speed of 6 MB per second
- Class 8 – Has a minimum write speed of 8 MB per second
- Class 10 – Has a minimum write speed of 10 MB per second -Faster (saving 1080P / Full HD Video)
For high-performance devices, they require UHS cards (Ultra High Speed cards):
- UHS-1 – Has a minimum write speed of 10 MB per second
- UHS-2 – Has a minimum write speed of 30 MB per second
For high-performance video devices, look for a memory card with a V class speed rating:
- V Class 6 – Has a minimum write speed of 6 MB per second
- V Class 10 – Has a minimum write speed of 10 MB per second
- V Class 30 – Has a minimum write speed of 30 MB per second
- V Class 60 – Has a minimum write speed of 60 MB per second (Suitable for 4K or higher video resolutions)
- V Class 90 – Has a minimum write speed of 90 MB per second (Suitable for 4K or higher video resolutions)
Memory Card Build & Durability
If your memory card mostly lives in your device without being removed, any type of SD card will work. However, if you plan on switching out your memory cards often, or switching them out in outdoor environments that will subject the cards to rain, dust, mud, xrays, etc., you should look for a study and rugged card rating for those type of environments. Sony, for example, has a line of cards named Sony Tough High Performance for extreme environments.
Memory Card Extras
Some memory card manufacturers will bundle recovery software on the memory card in the event you experience any dreaded data loss. Of course, the use of this type of software does not guarantee that your files can be recovered either partially or fully. Always ensure you make regular backups and handle your cards in an appropriate manner and environment.
So, Which Card Should You Buy?
It’s hard to go wrong with brands like Sony, Lexar, SanDisk, Samsung, Kingston, etc. Just ensure that you buy a memory card that your devices accept. Some older devices may not be able to recognize or read a memory card with a higher capacity than the device can read. Also, be sure to choose a memory card that will allow you to record photos and videos as quickly as possible if you plan on using a professional or semi-professional camera or video camera.
I personally use the SanDisk Extreme Pro line of memory cards for my Sony A7iii.
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Good luck on your next purchase!