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Does your camera need a fast SD card?

Posted on 22 Feb 2013 at 17:47

If you’re likely to spend more time taking photos of wildlife or sporting events, however, our results show that a high-speed card will help you to squeeze in more shots per second, giving you a better chance of capturing the perfect moment. After all, having spent hundreds or even thousands of pounds on a DSLR, it makes little sense to baulk at paying £60 for a memory card that enables you to get the best from it.

A final point that our results neatly illustrate is the benefit of choosing JPEG mode, rather than raw, for continuous shooting. Although shooting in this mode captures less fine tonal detail, this is more than offset by the ability to fire off a sustained string of shots at three or even four times the rate available in raw mode.

SD flavours

When you’re shopping for a new SD card, you’ll probably see multiple sizes on offer – the regular size, measuring 24 x 32mm, plus microSD models measuring only 11 x 15mm. You may possibly also spot the odd miniSD card, measuring 20 x 21.5mm, although this format is comparatively rare.

Do you need a fast SD card?

These smaller cards are intended for use in small devices, such as smartphones, but with the right adapter – which is sometimes provided free in the packaging – you can use one in a full-sized SD slot. The adapter is simply a plastic sleeve with contacts; electronically, all three formats are identical.

You may also notice that some cards are described specifically as SDHC or SDXC media. This is because the original SD standard, devised in 1999, only set out electronic specifications for cards with capacities up to 2GB. As larger capacities became commonplace, new standards were needed. SDHC, introduced in 2005, raised the maximum capacity to 32GB; in 2009, SDXC raised the limit further to 2TB.

Happily, the later standards maintain backwards compatibility with the earlier ones, so a device that supports SDXC will also work with SDHC and SD cards. As such, there’s no need to worry about which type of card you buy – unless you plan to use a very large card with hardware over three years old, which may predate the SDXC standard.

As you’d expect, the HC and XC standards apply to small-format cards just as they do to full-sized ones, so high-capacity microSD cards are referred to as microSDHC and microSDXC media.

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User comments


I'm not a photographer but I've always wanted to know the differences between all the SD card types, speeds etc and this article explains in really well. Thanks very much

By Chatan on 24 Feb 2013


Thanks for a good article with very useful info.

By cja4sun on 24 Feb 2013

MJPEG video

My wife uses a Panasonic FZ50 camera for her part-time videography. The camera records in MJPEG format in a QuickTime wrapper.

Class 4 cards are adequate for situations where there's little on-screen motion, but it stutters when she must pan. Class 10 cards eliminate that.

By RonJohn on 25 Feb 2013

Tablet/phone cards used for more than just media

"Many tablets and smartphones feature a microSD slot, enabling you to expand the internal storage – perhaps to accommodate a personal media library, or simply to download and install more apps.

Do you need a fast SD card? In this case, there’s often no need to splash out on fast media. A regular class 4 or 6 card that’s capable of recording HD video will also be fast enough to play it back."

This is fine if you're just using it for media files. However these days, many people supplement their tablet or phone's internal application memory flash drive space with external SD or microSD cards in order to install more applications into this space. In this case, using a slower card will delay the launch of any applications installed on that card. A faster card will give you faster app launch times. So depending on what you put on your external card, it can be worthwhile to opt for the faster card.

By storm311 on 25 Feb 2013

USB 3 Card Reader

What is the min. speed of the SD cards that will benefit from using an USB 3 reader (vs USB 2 reader)?

By Albert on 27 Feb 2013

how about MLC vs SLC?

I must say that your review, despite being 5 pages long misses the most important property of flash memory: namely, whether its NAND cells are single or multi-level cells.
Multi Level Cells are cheaper, but will severely (10-fold, give or take) reduce reliability of flash memory. Moreover the MLC’s have higher power consumption and smaller operating temperature range.
Most manufacturers somehow “forget” to mention whether their product is MLC or SLC. The only one indicator is the speed. The MLC NAND cells are always slower than SLC’s.
So, purchasing the SD cards with fastest transfer rates, will guarantee you the highest reliability as it will be manufactured using SLC technology.
For camera´s, the reliability does not matter so much, at worst, one will lose a picture or two, but if the purpose of SD card is storage expansion, then Single Level Cells are way to go.

By stasi47 on 28 Feb 2013

SD card size and speed querry

I have a 4gb class 2 SD card in my lumix camera and I recently purchased an 8gb class 10.
Why would the 4gb class 2 be faster? It is very noticeable when editing the pictures while still on the card.

By iggysmith on 16 May 2013

SD card size and speed querry

I have a 4gb class 2 SD card in my lumix camera and I recently purchased an 8gb class 10.
Why would the 4gb class 2 be faster? It is very noticeable when editing the pictures while still on the card.

By iggysmith on 16 May 2013

I have a Sony HX300 camera for which I purchased a Sandisk Extreme Pro 8GB 95MB/S CD card in order to speed up write times. After taking 10 frames the write time is the same as aslow class 2 card. Will you explain why please.

By HillClose on 25 Oct 2013

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For more details about purchasing this feature and/or images for editorial usage, please contact Jasmine Samra on


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