Many of us spend big bucks on getting ourselves a nice camera, the process that often involves haggling for discounts and freebies. One of the most common freebies thrown into the purchase is a memory card, most likely a blue coloured one with a modest 8GB capacity. Nothing brings more joy than knowing you “scored” an 8GB card for free with your purchase of that neat new camera, but what you don’t realize is that this little freebie might be keeping you from realizing the full potential of your camera. Sometimes, you may have to wait long times between shots, or suffer through a slow burst rate despite the camera being capable of faster. The worst is shooting a video in HD and finding that it skips every few seconds. What we’re going to do in this guide is break down the specifics of Memory cards so that you can pick the right one for your camera and avoid these experiences.
Types of Memory Cards
As things stand today, we have three primary types of memory cards in the market, each of which cater to a specific demographic.They are as follows:
This is a tiny memory card that is designed to work with cellphone. This type of memory card is extremely small and thin like a wafer, designed to be so keeping in mind the kind of space constraints that happen to be prevalent in any mobile phone.
Secure Digital (or SD cards)
The Secure Digital card standard has come a long way, becoming one of the most commonly used form factors in today’s times. Since its introduction in 1999, the standard has gone through various revisions, evolving from SD to SDHC and now to SDXC. The difference between the three only happens to be the maximum capacity supported, with SDHC expanding the maximum capacity supported to 32GB and then, the SDXC standard increasing the maximum supported capacity to 2TB. This type of card is used in almost any device that accepts a memory card, such as laptops, many tablet, but most importantly, cameras. Almost every point and shoot camera takes SD cards (save for a few exceptions)
Compact Flash (CF Cards)
The Compact Flash card was the most popular format at one point, especially when Canon and Nikon chose to adopt this format for their flagship cameras. The CF card standard was originally based on the Parallel ATA transfer protocol, with an alternative CFast standard proposing the switch to Serial ATA method. However, most CF cards today are still based on the PATA. CF cards today support storage capacities up to 256GB. CF cards have traditionally been used in DSLR cameras, but nowadays, this design can be found only in the pro DSLRs.
The Speed Factor
All memory cards have a specific speed with which they can be written on to. This is pretty much the single most important spec on the card, even more important than the capacity of the card. If you’ve just taken a photo and are wondering why the camera isn’t ready to take another photo, it’s probably because the camera is still busy transferring the image that was just shot to the memory card. Cards currently use two different rating systems, which we are going to demystify for you so that you know exactly what you are getting.
The X System
Often, you will come across memory cards with a “133x” or “200x” or even a “1000x” rating. These numbers are absolutely great to look at and whoever thought of this marketing strategy was nothing but a pure evil genius. The amount of cards that have been sold based on this ratings will simply nuke your brains, and chances are, you too have fallen prey to this ploy. Ever wonder what does the “x” stand for?
It comes from the old (or ancient, whatever) days of the CDROM days, where one “X” stood for 150KB/second” data transfer rate. That, dear friends, is what the “X” on your memory card stands for. So a card with a 300X write speed is essentially 300x150 = 43.5MB/second (rating multiplied by 150 which then is divided by 1024 to yield the MB/second rate). Compact Flash cards are still being rated using the X system.
The Class System
This rating system has now become the standard for all microSD and SD cards in the market. It’s a little number imprinted on your SD or microSD card surrounded by a neat little circle. This number specifies the minimum write speed it must support, meaning that if it says Class 10, chances are it supports just that bare minimum, unless the card specifically says the maximum write speed.
The classes are rated as Class 2, 4, 6 and 10, but there is a new standard called UHS-1 (Ultra High Speed 1). The UHS-1 standard doubles the clock speed available to the Class 10 memory cards, allowing them to achieve write speeds of up to roughly 100 MB/second.
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