Q. Thanks to your awesome digital camera buying guide, I've finally picked up a great DSLR. But when I was shopping for memory cards, I kept seeing all these letters and numbers that I didn't understand. What's the best memory card for my camera? Could you help me sort through them so I know which ones to buy?
-Scott, from Wilmington, DE, listens to my national radio show on WILM 1450 AM.
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Before you can start on your photographic journey, you need memory cards. Many people think buying a memory card is all about storage size, but the other numbers are just as important. They represent how long it takes for an image file to be created on the card.
You'll see everything from Class 6 to 50x to UHS-I. What do all of these letters and numbers really mean?
First, you have to check your camera's manual to find out what memory card type it supports. Cameras usually use either Secure Digital or CompactFlash memory cards for storage.
SD cards have speed classes. The bigger the class, the faster the card can transfer images and video. You'll see Class 2, 4, 6 and 10. There's a Class UHS-I, as well, but that's only compatible with a few gadgets.
Class 4 or 6 should be just fine for most shooters. Those are good for high-res images and some HD video recording. If you're going to be recording a lot of video, stick with Class 6 or 10 for smoother transfer.
Of course, you should always check your camera's manual before you buy anything. The manufacturer might recommend a specific speed. Your camera might even support UHS-I - which could be worth the investment for future proofing.
CompactFlash cards don't have classes. Instead, you'll see numbers like 50x, 133x, 266x, 300x and 600x. To find out the speed, you take the number and multiply it by 150KB per second. So, 133X would be about 20 megabytes per second transfer speed.
Stick with 266x as your minimum speed. It works well for most situations.
One important thing to know is if the number is the read speed or write speed. Read speeds measure how long it takes to open a file on the drive. Write speed is more important, since it measures how fast the card can save new files.
Most CompactFlash makers will use the memory card's read speed as a rating. Since write speed is usually slower, this is a little deceptive. Make sure you know how the manufacturer labels its cards before you buy.
When you're shopping for tech, you might run into all sorts of confusing abbreviations. Here are three more things to watch out for.