Media Card Speed

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Today’s Question: I want to buy some larger media cards for my camera. I wonder whether I should get the fastest card available or save money and get something a little slower. I mostly shoot landscape and wildlife photography.

Tim’s Quick Answer: While it is certainly “safe” (though more expensive) to opt for the fastest media cards available, you’ll also want to consider the performance of your camera and how important you feel it is to maximize download speeds to your computer.

More Detail: For many photographers choosing the fastest available media cards won’t provide any real advantage for their workflow. Only those photographers with a need to capture or download a large number of photos quickly will faster cards provide a performance benefit.

The first thing to consider is write speed at the time of capture. The actual write speed of the media card only becomes a factor when you fill up the buffer on the camera. When you capture photos they are initially stored in a memory buffer in the camera, and then written out to the media card. If the buffer never gets full, you aren’t taxing the ability of your camera to write images to the media card.

Of course, if you do fill the buffer on the camera on a regular basis, the fastest card available can make the difference between getting a shot and missing the shot. So, if you ever have the experience where you capture a burst of images and then the camera won’t let you capture new photos until the buffer is cleared, a faster card will likely help. You will also, however, want to check the write speed of the camera, as there won’t be any real benefit in terms of capture if you have a card that is faster than your camera.

Note that if you capture video with your camera you will also want to be sure that any cards you purchase support the requirements for capturing video. This is especially important for cameras that support 4K video resolution.

The second consideration is download time. A faster card may enable faster downloads, so you don’t need to wait as long for your photos to download to your computer. Of course, you also need to take into account the capabilities of your computer, such as the card reader and data port speeds.

So, if downloading quickly is important to you, you’ll want to not only opt for a fast card, but also make sure you have a card reader and data port (such as a USB 3.0 port). For example, the Lexar Professional USB 3.0 reader (http://amzn.to/2vAP7vO) connected to a USB 3.0 port should ensure optimal download speeds with a high-speed media card.

Because media card prices continue to be very competitive, I do think it is a reasonable strategy to simply purchase the fastest cards available. But you can also choose a card based on your own priorities, and based on the performance capabilities of your camera and other tools in your workflow.