Photography Gear: Types Of SD Memory Cards

We write a lot on this blog about traveling in China and hope that what we write might inspire you to travel to China and see firsthand some of the places we write about. A lot of readers are enthusiastic travelers, so we decided to include articles on the blog about subjects that relate to travel, i.e. photography, travel gear, etc.

I recently decided to upgrade my camera from a Sony DSC H20 point and shoot to a Nikon D5100 DSLR. Since I needed an SD memory card for my new camera, I got out the two SD cards that I’ve had for several years for my video camera to see if they would work. One is a Transcend 16GB SDHC, class 6 card, and the other is a PNY Optima 8GB SDHC, class 4 card. I decided to do some research about what types of SD cards are available and see if I needed to upgrade.

After doing some online research, I learned that there are quite a few choices out there and that, although I can use these cards with my camera, I would benefit from buying a new SD card. You’ll see three acronyms designating different levels of capacity when you’re shopping for SD cards. These are: SDSC (Secure Digital Standard Capacity), SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) and SDHX (Secure Digital eXtended Capacity). According to the SD Association, an industry standard setting organization, SDSC cards come in capacities up to 2GB, SDHC cards come in capacities of 4 GB up to 32GB, and SDXC cards come in capacities of more than 32 GB up to 2 TB. There are three different form factors for cards: full, minSD, and microSD.

The speed of the card is important to video recording because video recording requires a “constant minimum write speed to ensure a smooth playback.” There are two types of speed marks on SD cards to indicate bus speed, the “Speed Class” mark and the “UHS Speed Class” mark. Speed Class marks are either 2, 4, 6, or 10, with 10 being the fastest. UHS (Ultra High Speed) Speed Class marks are either UHS-I or UHS-II, with UHS-II being the faster of the two. According to the SD Association, “the high performance enabled by a UHS-I host device can only be achieved with a UHS-I memory card.”

Additionally, there are “maximum” speed designations. “Higher maximum speeds, which indicate read/write speeds in megabytes per second, allow photographers to take more consecutive pictures in burst mode than lower maximum speeds allow… and enable faster data transfer to your computer. “ Maximum speed is something that card manufacturers print on the SD card label; it is not included in SD card standards.

Most importantly, you should consult the user’s manual for your device for information on the types of SD cards that you can use in your device. Page 67 of the user’s manual for my Nikon D5100 recommends memory cards from 1GB to 64 GB. It says that cards with speeds of class 6 or higher are recommended for recording video.  It also indicates that UHS-I speed cards are supported. You should check any card readers you plan to use with the card to make sure your card is supported.

There are also Eye-Fi Wi-Fi SD cards that allow you to wirelessly transfer your files from your camera to your computer, tablet, or smartphone via Wi-Fi.

Leading brands of SD cards include Kingston, Lexar, SanDisk, Sony and Transcend.

Although all of this can be a bit confusing, I hope this article has shed a little light on the choices you have. If you check with your user’s manual before making your choice, you should be in good shape.

If you have any tips to pass along about your experiences using SD Memory Cards in your cameras and other device please share them in a comment on this post.

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