Just about every compact digital camera now uses Secure Digital (SD) memory cards to store their images. High end compact cameras that I have recently used such as the Samsung NX200, Fujifilm X100 and the Fujifilm X-Pro1 are no different. Even the brand new, 36 megapixel Nikon D800 (B&H – amazon.com – Adorama) even uses an SD card for storing images.
People will often purchase the latest high performance camera only to use the cheapest, slowest memory cards in them (yes, I have been guilty of that in the past). Today’s SD cards vary greatly with respect to read/write performance and they can range anywhere from 5 MB/s and more than 100 MB/s. That means, more than ever, it’s important to choose the right SD card for your intended purpose.
One thing all of the above cameras have in common – their RAW files are large. In the case of the Nikon D800, even a compressed 14 bit RAW file (NEF) is about 45 MB in size (uncompressed files are a whopping 75 MB). If you are trigger happy, it will take a LONG time to empty your camera’s buffer if you use a slow memory card, which will negatively impact your shooting.
Another thing to consider is that most cameras (even the ones above) are capable of High Definition video which usually results in large files being written to your SD card. The last thing you want when creating a video is to use a slow memory card as it will again negatively impact clearing the buffer and hence, your ability to properly use your camera’s video function.
A number of people have written to me asking what I mean by using a “fast memory card” – specifically, the UHS-I SD cards that I have mentioned in my camera reviews?
A UHS-I SD memory card (Class 10) supports the Ultra High Speed Class 1 specification. It’s suitable for SDXC/SDHC compatible devices and when used, is capable of attaining data transfer speeds of up to 104 MB/s (dependent on the manufacturer’s specification of the card itself). It is ideal for high speed consecutive shooting and smooth, full high definition video recording.
This post is not meant to be a technical paper or an explanation of this standard – what I wanted to say is that when you use these UHS-I memory cards with today’s high performance cameras, you will definitely notice a substantial increase in read/write performance over slower, non UHS-I cards.
Case in point: on my Nikon D800, I shot ten (10) consecutive compressed RAW files (for about 450 MB of data to be written). A normal Class 10 SD card took 50.1 seconds to empty the buffer. When I shot 10 compressed RAW files using a UHS-I SD card, it took 24.2 seconds – less than half of the time. Of course, a UHS-I card costs more, but isn’t worth it if you have a high performance camera that writes large files? BTW, I have also observed greatly reduced write times with my Fujifilm X100 and X-Pro1 cameras when using an UHS-I SD card.
There are many manufacturers of these SD cards out there – I only use reputable brands, which for me are:
Of course, there are others, but these are the ones I have personally tested (and use). As well, the performance of each UHS-I card will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
So, to get the most out of your new camera, make sure you have the fastest card you can afford. It will make a huge (positive) difference to your camera’s performance – not to forget, will greatly lower your frustration level!
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