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Does your camera need a fast SD card?

Posted on 22 Feb 2013 at 17:47

In case it isn’t obvious, the HC and XC suffixes stand for “high capacity” and “extended capacity”. But do you know what “SD” stands for? It’s short for “Secure Digital” media – a reference to the fact that the format has a built-in DRM system. This can be used to “lock” files on the card so that they can only be accessed with a specific key – making it possible, for example, to distribute movies and music on an SD card, which can be played by an authorised player.

In practice, though, SD has never been widely used as a distribution medium in this way, having instead established itself as a way of storing your own personal data.

Cards for tablets and smartphones

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. The only advantage of a faster card for media is that syncing with your PC will be quicker. If you frequently transfer big movie files or folders full of music back and forth, an upgrade could be well worth the price.

It’s a similar story when it comes to apps. A fast microSD card will make games and utilities load more quickly, but in many cases the difference won’t be noticeable. Of the top ten Android apps in the Google Play store at the time of writing, the largest was Disney’s Where’s My Water, weighing in at 48MB (most are much smaller). Even the slowest SD card in our tests would be able to load this entire game into memory in around three seconds. Unless apps grow considerably in size in the near future, there isn’t much need for superfast media.

There’s one specific scenario in which we’d recommend looking for a fast card, and that’s if you’re using an SD card to expand the storage of an Ultrabook or MacBook Air. SD flash memory is a fraction of the speed of conventional hard disks and SSDs, so if you try to use a slow card for general-purpose data storage, you’re likely to find the experience infuriatingly sluggish.

Author: Darien Graham-Smith

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User comments

Thanks

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

Enjoyed

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 pictures@dennis.co.uk

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