This is largely going to depend on what your camera accepts. Make sure to check your manual. Or, if you’re making a purchase, check and see what kind it takes. These days though, most cameras take Secure Digital (SD) cards. I would suggest getting two. If one fails, you have a backup. Currently, I don’t use cards any larger than 32 MB. If your camera is 24 Megapixels or higher, bump that up to 64 MB cards. Otherwise, 32 MB will get it done for most things. If you’re shooting sports then that’s another reason to consider moving up to 64 MB.
There’s really no such thing as “better” when it comes to media cards. They either work or they don’t and since I’m going to be making recommendations here, it’s going to come down to how much you want to spend and how much space you need on the card.
I’m only listing Secure Digital (SD) cards as this is now the prevailing standard. My recommendations for CompactFlash (CF) cards are largely the same. Just click the link and drill down to the CF versions on the resulting page.
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My recommendations are unbiased as none of these companies pay me to recommend their products. I’ve taken the time to cut through what’s out there and made recommendations based on my experience. If I haven’t used it, I’ll state as such.
For the fastest speed (especially if you shoot video!) – This is THE choice for sports/action
SanDisk Extreme Pro Secure Digital (SD) Card – This is the exact card I use! – Lens Shark’s pick!
These write photo and video to your card at up to 90 MB/s and read from the card at up to 95 MB/s (aka 633X) – that’s FAST! SD cards have really matured over time and these things are now rock solid, trustworthy and capable of faithfully recording your images.
Slightly slower – the minimum to consider for sports/action
SanDisk Extreme PLUS Secure Digital (SD) Card
These write to your card at up to 60 MB/s and read from the card at up to 80 MB/s – not to shabby and most will opt for these.
Slower still – starting to get into the slower moving subjects territory
SanDisk Extreme Secure Digital (SD) Card
These write to your card and read from it at up to 45 MB/s – decent, but getting kinda iffy for action and video.
Just a tad slower still, but not horrible – great for portraits, landscapes…things you don’t need speed for
SanDisk Ultra Secure Digital (SD) Card
These read from your card at up to 40 MB/s, and write to it a bit slower – ok, but nothing to write home about.
Aren’t there other brands of media cards?
Yes. Would I use them? Personally, I only trust SanDisk and Lexar. And that’s mostly because a) they’re the only two I’ve used for years now with NO problems…and I’ve heard enough horror stories from other shooters to stay away from the lesser brands. They might be perfectly fine, but I’m not willing to miss irreplaceable moments to save a few bucks. Are you?
For my own use, these are what I’d buy of Lexar’s Secure Digital (SD) offerings. These are roughly comparable to the fastest ones I use above from SanDisk. If, for some reason, you prefer Lexar, but don’t need the fastest, click the links below anyhow and you’ll be able to find their slower models.
Lexar Professional Secure Digital Card
These read from your card at up to 90 MB/s, and write to it a bit slower – the best Lexar makes
You may also need…
Media Card Readers
Cards are useless if you can’t read them. Since it’s not recommended (and slow!) to transfer them via a USB cable to your computer, a card reader is a good thing to have. You can always use the cord method as a backup, but you want to get to viewing your photos. So grab a reader. Many computers these days such as the Apple iMac, their MacBook Pro and MacBook Air lines include SD card slots. So check your computer first.
Lexar Dual Slot USB 3.0 Reader Professional ($19.95)
This is the exact reader I use! – Lens Shark’s pick!
It reads Secure Digital (SD) as well as CompactFlash (CF) cards and transfers the data off the cards and onto your computer super fast if you have USB 3.0 ports. If you have an older version of USB it’ll still transfer, only slower.
Kingston USB 3.0 Memory Card Reader ($18.74)
This versatile reader is a good choice if you want to save a few bucks over the Lexar. Especially if you have multiple cards from various devices.
eSecure All-in-1 USB 2.0 Card Reader ($6.99)
It seems to read just about everything and it’s cheap. That’s about all I can say about it as I haven’t used it before. If you’re on a tight budget, this might be the one for you. It might also be great as a back up care reader. In fact, I’m ordering one. Keep in mind that it’s the slower USB 2.0 speed.