This is article #5 in the DSLR Video Weekly series.  If you’d like the whole thing in one shot, check out the book Creating DSLR Video: From Snapshots to Great Shots.

Once you get the hang of video, be sure to monetize it by becoming a contributor to Adobe Stock.

When you start shooting DSLR video, two facts will become clear. Memory cards are the fuel for your engine, and your engine runs hot. Essentially, when shooting video, you are capturing between 24 and 60 still images each second. Although these aren’t high-resolution, raw files, the file sizes do add up quickly. So, be sure to keep in mind that your storage will run out quicker in the video world.

How Many Cards

The number or cards you need is really a matter of personal choice. Typically, a DSLR video camera consumes about 5.5 MB a second, which means 330 MB each minute or about 1 GB every three minutes. If you are covering a long event (such as a 90-minute performance), you’d want a 32 GB card. It’s a little different than shooting stills, isn’t it?

Using the preceding ratio, you should have a good idea of how much storage to buy. The key here is to learn restraint. Don’t just roll all the time. Choose to shoot video when your subjects or scenes look good (even going so far as to practice a shot). Remember to stop the camera from time to time. If you’re traveling on vacation, you may want to bring a laptop and a portable hard drive so you can off-load cards and back up your data.

Although the CompactFlash format took the early lead in both speed and capacity, Secure Digital cards have caught up in most cases with the newer high-capacity formatted cards (SDHC). Image courtesy Lexar.

Choosing a Format

The format your camera records will often be chosen for you. Some cameras support multiple card slots (even types), but most will give you only one option. The most common formats in use are CompactFlash (CF) and Secure Digital (SD) cards:

  • CompactFlash cards. The CF format is a mainstay for professional digital photographers. These cards tend to be the most robust and sturdy, and less prone to accidental damage. Originally, CF cards were also significantly faster than early SD memory cards. When comparing costs per gigabyte, CF cards are typically more expensive than SD cards. CF cards tend to be offered in higher capacities with faster transfer speeds than SD cards.
  • Secure Digital cards. SD cards are most common in consumer electronic devices—in everything from music players and photo frames to GPS units. Also, they are increasingly becoming common in DSLR cameras. It’s important to choose the new Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) format because of its higher capacity and transfer speeds that are fast enough for recording video. Make sure your card reader is rated for using SDHC cards because many older card readers are not.

Tip: Two Camera Slots? Some camera manufacturers offer a CF and an SD slot. In this case you can often choose to route your video to one slot and stills to the other. This makes organizing your footage a bit easier.

If your DSLR uses CF cards, make sure they carry a UDMA rating so they’re fast enough to handle video.

Demystifying Card Speeds

Recording video on your DSLR requires that data constantly be written to storage. This means you’ll need fast storage that can keep up with the data rate of your DSLR camera. If your memory cards are inferior, the video may stutter (called dropping frames). In many cases a second-rate card can lead to video that doesn’t record at all.

Unfortunately, manufacturers (and marketers) make the whole process entirely confusing. You’ll find all sorts of creative language used to make memory cards sound faster than a rocket and more reliable than your dog. Such jargon can really get confusing when you’re shopping for storage that’s fast enough for video files.

In the simplest terms, you’ll want to choose a fast card. But what do the different card speeds really mean? For video, you’ll want a card that’s at least 133x. Usually though, you’ll want cards rated at 300x or faster. Faster cards mean faster transfers to your computer and are less likely to cause a camera to overheat.

Another easy way to tell which cards to use is how they’re labeled. For CF cards, look for a UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access) rating. When choosing an SDHC card, look for Class 10 or higher.

Join us each Saturday for the next installment of this weekly series.

Once you get the hang of video, be sure to monetize it by becoming a contributor to Adobe Stock.