Which Camera Memory Card Is Best?

Digital Camera FAQ: Basic Photography Questions

Q: I have an old Memory Stick memory card from an older camera that no longer works. I'm looking to select another camera, but I was hoping to save some money by reusing this memory card. However, it's difficult to find any cameras that will allow me to use the Memory Stick type of memory card. So it appears I'll also have to purchase a new type of memory card to go with my new digital camera. Which camera memory card type is best?

Several different types and brands of camera memory cards have been available throughout the history of digital cameras. Although each one had slightly different benefits and drawbacks, they had enough similarities that it perhaps was a little tricky to determine which type of memory cards are the best to use in your camera.

As digital cameras have evolved over the years, camera makers and the market of photographers have settled on two primary types of memory cards for use in digital cameras: Secure Digital and CompactFlash. Apologies for confirming the bad news you probably already know, but finding a new camera that contains a Memory Stick memory card slot is going to be nearly impossible.

Fortunately, memory cards are far less costly than they were a decade or more ago. So purchasing a new memory card -- even one with a large memory capacity -- is not going to cost a significant amount of money. Additionally, some retail stores will give you a memory card inside a camera kit, which may save you a bit of money, while also ensuring that you're receiving a memory card that's compatible with your camera.

History of Memory Cards

The six primary types of memory cards that have been available for digital cameras over the years are: CompactFlash (CF), Memory Stick (MS), MultiMedia Card (MMC), Secure Digital (SD), SmartMedia (SM), and xD-Picture Card (xD).

The majority of digital cameras will make use of SD memory cards, although some high end cameras may use the better performing (and more expensive) CF type of card. Some high end DSLR cameras even offer multiple memory card slots, perhaps one SD slot and one CF slot. This allows you to use the higher performing CF slot for a series of photos or videos where you need the additional performance level and the SD slot for times when you don't need high-end performance.

Keep in mind that SD cards come in different sizes, including mini SD and micro SD. Some digital cameras require one of these smaller SD card sizes, so understand what your camera requires before you waste money on the wrong size of memory card.

Because most digital cameras can only accept one type of memory card, I wouldn't worry about choosing a type of memory cards. Instead, choose a digital camera that has the features that will best meet your needs and then purchase a memory card that actually works with the camera. 

Specific Features of Memory Cards

If you're going to shoot a lot of video or photos in burst mode, try to select a memory card that has fast write times, for example. Look at the Class rating for any memory cards that you are considering. A Class 10 memory card is going to have the fastest performance times, but you'll also find Class 4 and Class 6 cards available. The Class rating is marked on the card inside a circle logo.

It's important that if you're going to shoot with large photo files, such as the RAW format, you make use of a fast memory card. The camera will need to empty its memory buffer quickly to be able to record additional photos, so a memory card with a fast write speed, such as Class 10, will allow that to happen.

Some companies, such as Eye-Fi, manufacture wireless memory cards, making it possible to transfer photos over a wireless network.

Find more answers to common camera questions on the camera FAQ page.