Choosing A SD Card – Is Paying Extra Worth IT?

Choosing A SD Card

With so many different brands of SD memory cards on the market, how do you choose the right one for professional use? Surely all memory cards are the same?

Well no. Just like the days of tape, there are vast differences between different models and brands. Just some of these differentiators include:

  • Size
  • Speed
  • Waterproof
  • Shock proof/vibration proof
  • X-Ray Proof
  • Temperature tolerance
  • Price

Size/Speed

This is one of the most obvious things. Cards have got larger and faster in recent years. Class 6 cards have been superseded by Class 10 and UHS-I cards. Whereas 35 mbps transfer speeds were the standard a few years ago there are now cards such as the Sandisk Extreme that promise 90mbps+ transfer speeds.

What speed do you require? Can you live with a cheaper slower card. If your device only accesses the card via the USB bus then you may be limited as to how fast your can read and write anyway.

I tend to buy the fastest cards I can. It generally means quicker transfer times and faster all round usage. It also gives you more overhead in your general operation. For a small price premium you get peace of mind. However be warned you may pay a significant premium for the latest “cutting edge” cards. Sheer speed isn’t the be all and end all if your device doesn’t demand it.

Waterproof

Not a consideration for most people you’d think? Well back in the summer a seal on a Go-Pro I was using failed mid shoot in a river. The camera was ruined, totally saturated as was the card (a Sandisk Extreme). However once the card had dried out I was able to recover all of the footage barring the last shot (which had corrupted when the camera failed). How come? Well the Sandisk Extreme cards are waterproof. So despite being submerged in river water not only did the card keep my data intact but the card was went back into service afterwards. How cool is that? If I hadn’t used a waterproof card, chances are the footage would have been trashed!

Which brings me to another point about waterproof cards. As they are waterproof they won’t suffer from any water ingress or condensation. It’s peace of mind to know that for a small premium over budget cards your data is safe.

Shock/Vibration Proof

This tells you just how tough your card is. I have heard of people dropping SD cards only for them to shatter. Is £5 saved on the purchase price worth it when your precious footage is suddenly in a million pieces on the hard concrete floor on which you just dropped your card?

X-Ray resistance

You may find your camerabag needs to be x-rayed at the airport. Would you prefer to have a card tested against this?

Temperature

You may not be shooting in an extreme enviroment but certain professional video cameras can get “toasty” if operated for long periods. Ever ejected media from your camera after a long shoot and found it to be hot? I have and prefer the peace of mind of knowing my SD card is well within specification when in the cameras warm belly rather than leaving it to chance.

Price

SD cards have fallen in price hugely. A good quality 32gb card costs half as much as the equivalent three years ago. 32gb cards can be picked up for under £20 from a “big name” manufacturer. BUT such a card lacks many of the features listed above. It’s simply a memory card and in my opinion is unsuitable for anything other than amateur use. As a professional you should never be buying memory cards based on price. Instead you should buy on features. Is the card, fast enough, large enough and rugged enough for your use? Put it this way, how would you feel about saving £5 when you are looking at a card that has just lost all your data?

The elephant in the room – Forgeries.

Buy your cards from a reputable seller, not from unscrupulous individuals on auction sites. Unfortunately there are many forgeries out there. In one recent case the forged cards looked identical to the real thing but it turned out that factory rejects had made their way onto the market. Be wary and only use the most reputable sellers. In the UK, Sandisk sell direct via Amazon which gives you peace of mind that your cards will be 100% genuine.

What we use

At Media2u we only use 2 brands of card. ATP and Sandisk.

The ATP Promax cards are toughened cards that we buy from MxM Express in Australia. Don’t worry that they are in Oz, they’ve consistently managed to ship stuff to me quicker than the standard service from one UK supplier.

The ATP cards are reliable, fast and do everything we ask of them. The only downside to them is their lack of general availability in the UK. Just order them from MxM like we do. Indicative pricing is around £50 for a 32gb card (this is approx and subject to change). Check MxM’s site for more info.

Sandisk Extreme

The other card we use (and this is readily available in the UK) is the Sandisk Extreme Pro. These are approx £52 at the time of writing. However Sandisk also offer a cheaper standard “Extreme” version which is around half the price which we also use. These cards are just as tough, but slightly slower. In practice, shooting with the likes of the Sony EX1 and Go Pro, it’s hard to tell the difference. If you were shooting RAW using the latest DSLR’s, you would definitely want the Extreme Pro though.

Conclusion

It may seem obvious but you get what you pay for. More money not only buys you a faster card, but something that is more rugged and can stand up to harsh conditions. SD cards unfairly have a bad reputation for being fragile but I can assure you that the ATP and Sandisk cards are very rugged.

The price difference between a budget 32gb card and the standard 32gb Sandisk Extreme is around £8 on a popular retailers site at the moment. That extra £8 may be the difference between your footage being safe or you losing it in the event of a mishap. Does that seem worth it to you?