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This is one of “those” questions we get at Photofocus every week. It’s not the kind of question I’d usually answer on the show because really, up til now, there’s no right answer. My postion on this has evolved over the years as the technology has improved and the card makers become more transparent. I will answer the question in a moment. First some background…
I’ve used every major brand of memory card. From Hoodman to Lexar to Sandisk to Kingston to Delkin etc. I’ve tested or used them all. After years, and yes I do mean literally years of testing, I now know the definitive answer. Ready?
The answer is – ANY OF THEM!
I haven’t found any card to be generally more reliable than the other. I’ve shot hour after hour with all the major brands. All of them are very good. Sometimes things fail. That’s life. Nothing is perfect. All manmade things have an MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure.) Everything eventually breaks. What happens is that when Joe Photographer has a problem with ______ brand memory card, Joe emails me and swears on a stack of Bibles that he’ll never use ______ brand again. Less than 15 minutes later, I’ll typically get an email from Sue Photographer that exclaims the same brand that Joe hates, saved her life and she’ll never use any other brand again!
And so it goes…
Just because you had a bad experience with one brand or another doesn’t mean there is a systemic problem. Really. It just doesn’t. It means that out of millions of cards that company made, you got a bad one because somebody somewhere made a mistake, or a part just failed, or some other malady befell you. There are always exceptions. There are times when brand X has a few problems at the plant and a week’s worth of cards are corrupt. Then brand Y has the same problem a few weeks later. But it doesn’t mean that everything _____ memory card company makes is bad. Switching brands may not even change your luck.
The truth is, many of these cards are made at the same place or at least using many of the same OEM components. Some cards DO work better in some cameras, but this is less true than it was a few years ago. Assuming you have a UDMA capable camera, any UDMA card (equally rated) is going to work roughly as well as any other. When there is a difference, you’d need very sophisticated testing equipment to spot it and as far as the actual shooting experience goes, you wouldn’t notice.
There are cards that are faster than others, but it usually isn’t important unless you’re shooting HD video.
With all the shooting I do – and I shoot every day and have since digital became real, combined with all the email I receive on this topic from people worldwide, I think I’d spot a pattern if there was one. And there isn’t. Ten years ago I might have been able to point to a few things to watch out for, but now there is general parity.
So buy the real expensive cards if it makes you feel better, but as long as you are buying a reasonably well-known brand, you’re much, much, much, more likely than not to have a good experience.
There are 1000 other things to fret over in photography. Take this one off the list. Buy any card that you can afford and that will do the job and comes from a reasonably well-known company, and forget it. Spend that extra worry time on finding good light!
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