Get Carded!

CD and CF cardsWith the newer and more powerful cameras shooting higher resolution images and often video, it pays to make sure you get the right type of media card for your camera.  Ever look at a card and wonder what all those number, letters and symbols mean?  I’ll give you a quick tutorial so you can be better informed and to make sure you get the right card for your camera.

When we are talking about media cards we are primarily talking about Compact Flash Cards (CF cards) or Secure Digital (SD Cards).  Compact Flash cards are the older type of technology and is slowly being replaced by SD cards.  But your camera takes one or the other so make sure you buy what you need.

Now with both of these type of cards there are two primary characteristics you need to be concerned with.  How fast the camera can write to the card in a big burst (the card’s speed) and how fast the card can accept data from the camera in a steady stream (the card’s class rating).  And they are important for different reasons.  When you are shooting still pictures, you are concerned with burst speed – a limited number of high-resolution pictures need to get off on the camera and onto the card fast so you can keep shooting.  So the higher the speed rating the better.  Of course you might not want the very fastest card available because your camera might not be able to write that fast and you would be wasting money for a faster card you can’t use.

Now video is different.  Video is lower resolution pictures in a steady stream (usually 30 a second!) so you need a card that can keep up with the steady stream of data.  And this is the Class or VPG rating of the card.  Normal video (less than high def) shot on a SD card would usually use a Class 10 card (a “10” inside of a circle. )  High-def video on an SD card needs even faster speeds and those are shown as UHS speed – a 1 or a 3 inside of a “U” shape. Compact Flash cards have the marking VPG for Video Performance Guarantee.  (see the picture – it’s confusing!)Reading an Media Card

Now you will also see on SD cards a normal SD card, and SDHC and a SCXC card.  These are all the same except for the minimum and maximum sizes of the card.  SD cards go no higher than 2 gigabytes; SDHC go to 32 gigabytes, and the SDXC start at 32 gigabytes and can theoretically go up to a 2 terabyte (!) card.

Lastly, the cameras we all use have different software and hardware build into them that can often limit the speed / size that a camera can use.  For example, the earliest Fuji S1 could only use up to a 2 gigabytes Compact Flash card.  Here are two charts showing recent Canon and Nikon models and what card they can use. (If your camera isn’t on the chart just search for it on the Internet)

A lot of information, right?  Well here’s a summary:

  • If you are shooting just still images (camera can’t shoot video / you don’t care about video) – ignore the class or VPG ratings and buy a card with a high burst speed but make sure it matches the speed that you camera can handle. (see charts or search on the Internet)  You don’t want to buy too much of a faster card because you’ll just be wasting money.  (fast cards are usually more expensive and that camera can’t write that fast).
  • If you are shooting under High-definition video along with still images, look for a SD card with a Class 10 speed rating as well as a burst speed that matches your camera’s still shooting speed.  If your camera uses CF cards, make sure it has the UDMA 7 marking.
  • If you are shooting High-Definition video or higher, make sure to get a UHS  class 3 SD card to be able to accept that huge amount of video information those cameras generate. If you have a Compact Flash card get a VPG of either 20 or 65.

SanDisk LogoI would especially like the thank SanDisk for providing permission to copy their excellent information and a couple of their flyers and brochures and their taking the time at a trade show this year to talk with me about the differences between cards.  We’ve always had good luck with the SanDisk cards and they are a good value for the money.

Hopefully this sheds a little light on the subject of media cards and the confusing markings on them.  If you have a question, give us a call at 800-241-9234 or leave a comment.

Wishing you a Super Fantastic Day,


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