In Part I of this three-part series I covered a few tips for helping to avoid memory card data loss. In this article, I will continue the discussion by covering memory card quality, card testing and memory card size.
1. Use high quality memory cards. Any company can produce a defective memory card from time to time, but to improve your overall odds, I’d recommend choosing memory cards that have an excellent track record. How do you determine which brands and specific card models are reputable? I generally purchase cards from companies who manufacture their own memory cards, and I also check consumer ratings for specific cards on some of the large online retailers, such as Amazon.com and B&H Photo. Forums, newsgroups and podcasts like the Photofocus Podcast are also good sources for memory card recommendations because working pros who use the products day in and day out will often give their opinions based on first-hand experience.
You can always purchase a new card reader that is optimized to write considerably faster in conjunction with some types of memory cards. However, if the card writes too slowly in camera for your needs, that’s when a return may be necessary. Also keep in mind that like most car manufacturers, most memory card brands have a range of different cards in their lineup. Lower-cost cards will generally be slower, and they are aimed at average consumers. Higher-cost cards are designed more for pros and prosumers. These cards will generally be faster, they will often use higher quality flash memory, they will usually go through more rigorous testing, and in some cases, pro-level cards will be designed for use in extreme environments. The takeaway here is not to just buy a card based on the name on the label or the price tag.
2. Test your cards for quality and speed. Regardless of the cards you choose, I would test them thoroughly in any camera you plan to use them in, and within the retailer’s return period. I would also select a retailer with a return policy that allows memory card returns even if the card is not defective. This is primarily because even if the card functions properly, it may write data much slower than you expected (either in-camera or when downloading to a computer).
To help reduce the chances of “buyer’s remorse,” you can find speed tests online that indicate how some particular camera models perform with specific cards in-camera and with specific card readers. You may be surprised at the differences in write speeds between cameras tested with the same exact card. The CF/SD Performance Database on robgalbraith.com is the best source I’ve found for this information.
3. Consider using lower-capacity cards instead of high-capacity cards. This is basically the “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” tip and it essentially means that using more than one card on a project will offer some added protection from memory card image loss. If you are shooting video with a DSLR or compact camera, you may find that an 8 GB or 16 GB is the lowest capacity you will consider due to the large file sizes that video can consume. A few real-world tests will help you determine the best card sizes for your needs and budget. Also keep in mind that some cameras will not write more than 2 GB of data onto a single card. The higher-capacity cards will often function in these cameras, but they just won’t write to the card’s full capacity. And I should also add that you never, ever, want to just have one memory card with you-always bring more than you think you will need.
In Part III, I’ll share more tips on this topic, and I’ll also recommend an easy way to help you “double check” yourself to help make sure you’ve downloaded the data on your cards before you put them back into your camera.