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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

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A memory card collects the data of any scene that you photograph. You may find that the type of memory card comes down to your camera manufacturer.

CF (Compact Flash), SD (SanDisc) and MicroSD cards are the most common among DSLRs, mirrorless and other specialist cameras.

A pile of different size and type memory cards on a white background Memory Cards

Choosing a memory card will depend on your camera. You do have the choice over the size of the card and its speed.

The bigger the size, the more photographs you can take. This is a great way to save more, but a great way to lose or damage them all too.

The speed relates to how fast the card can deal with the data. A faster card is more expensive, but it will allow you to use continuous or burst modes.

Compact Flash (CF)

CF and SD cards are the two most common memory cards found in the digital photographic world. These are the largest and offer the largest capacity.

They are used in many mid to larger sized digital cameras and digital SLRs, and might be replaced with CF cards in the future.

Some DSLRs already have the capacity to house and fully utilise both systems.

A SanDisk Extreme Pro 64gb Compact Flash memory card.Secure Digital (SD)

SD cards are being used more and more in compact digital cameras and other portable electronics due to their small size.

Laptops even have a small opening specifically for these memory cards. They are a safe bet for manufacturer support in case something goes wrong.

They even have a tab on the side of the memory card that protects your images when depressed.

A SanDisk Extreme Pro 32gb Compact Flash memory card.

MicroSecure Digital

This memory card is 60% smaller than its bigger brother. They were designed for smaller cameras and devices such as Go Pros and cell phones.

Smaller memory cards have a higher chance to be lost. They will work as an SD card when accompanied by an adapter.

A SanDisk Micro Secure Digital SD 128gb memory card.

Size Matters

At the time of this article (March 2018), these are the highest capacities for these memory card systems:

  • CF = 512 GB (was 256 until 7 months ago)
  • SD = 512 GB
  • MicroSD = 400 GB

Speed Does Too!

At the time of this article, these are the fastest memory card systems:

  • CF = 125.5 (read/write)
  • SD = 300MB/s (read/write)
  • MicroSD = 100 MB/s (read/write)

As you can see, the SD card is already outstripping the CF equivalent, leaving it almost in last place.

How Many Photos Go on a Memory Card?

To answer this question properly, we need to look at the two different shooting settings and how they affect the file size.

The two are jpeg and raw. These are of the same scene, yet they differ greatly as you shall find out.

A SanDisk Extreme micro sd adaptor and 128gb micro sd memory card.

JPEG Vs. Raw Vs. DNG

JPEG compression is used in a number of image file formats. JPEG/Exif is the most common image format used by digital cameras and other photographic image capture devices.

These images are ‘compressed’ and only keep the data actually photographed in the scene. This is why they don’t offer much play in post-processing.

A raw (note the lower case spelling) image contains all the raw data of the scene you’re capturing.

These are a lot bigger than JPEG files, and therefore, give you room to change exposure values and white balance using post-processing software.

A DNG is a digital Negative, and for all intents and purposes, it is the same as a raw file. My Canon 7D shoots in JPEG and/or raw, but my Ricoh GRII uses DNG.

Overhead still life photography shot of a camera, notebook, pen, coffee cup and memory card

Size Difference

There is a considerable size difference between the two file types.

Forget, for now, the other reasons why raws and JPEGs are different and imagine your camera creates files with 3000×2000.

It doesn’t matter if they’re raw or JPEG, they’ve the same dimensions. So, they will have to, when opened, have the same weight in megapixels.

The difference is that the JPEGs can be compressed, so they take less space than a RAW, depending on the detail of each image taken.

For a practical example let’s look at some images I took recently. Because I did not have much space left on a 16GB memory card I had on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera I was using, I chose to use JPEGs for some images, after having shot RAW for the first pictures. The images are different but are from the same session and I tried to use the same framing, and situation, so we’ve similar files.

Now, although they both have the same size in pixels (3840×5760) the RAW file uses 26.6MB space when on the memory card, while the JPEG uses only 5.12MB.

This means that I can place almost 5 JPEGs in the space a RAW occupies.

So, if a raw file takes 26.6 MB of space, it can fit in the memory cards as follows:

  • 32 gb = 1,203 photographs
  • 64 gb = 2,406 photographs
  • 128 gb = 4,812 photographs
  • 256 gb = 9,624 photographs

A JPEG file is almost too much to count at 5.12 mb each:

  • 32 gb = 6,250 photographs
  • 64 gb = 12,500 photographs
  • 128 gb = 25,000 photographs
  • 256 gb = 50,000 photographs

*remember that this digital aspect is 1,024 bytes = 1mb and 1,024 mb is 1 gb*

Image of a camera and memory cards on a white background.

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera.

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You could be just a few days away from finally understanding how to use your camera to take great photos!

Thanks again for reading our articles!

Craig Hull

Craig is a photographer currently based in Budapest. His favourite photographic areas are street and documentary photography. Show him a darkroom and he'll be happy there for days. As long as there are music and snacks. Find him at craighullphotography.co.uk and Instagram/craighullphoto

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