Filmmaking 101: What Are The Best Memory Cards for Shooting Video?

image credit - B&H

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

When shopping for the best memory cards to shoot your project with, don’t fall into the trap of merely considering price alone in your equation. The calculation of size vs. price can be tempting, and lets face it, the larger ones can get pretty expensive. But it may be worth it in the long run to spend more to get more performance. But there’s a lot more to choosing the best memory card.

Memory cards are a lot like film canisters were back in the day. The faster the film speed, the larger they are, the more expensive they can be. But you can also pay more based on the brand name and quality. Does it make a difference? Well, yes.  The quality of the film used often dictated how well it could grab the light and how fast it could absorb it.  The higher the number the faster the film was able to gobble up light. But that also meant that the grainier it would be. And cheaper films would be far grainier as they tried to keep up with speed.

image credit – B&H

With Memory cards, you may not have that issue, but there’s something else at play. Quality of the memory card magnetic sectors. The cheaper the card, the less reliable it could be. Often, third party companies purchase rejected memory cards and offer them at a cheaper price. A cheaper card could be just as fast, but it may not last as long and could most likely fail at an inopportune moment. So, as always, you get what you pay for.

Now that the quality issue is out of the way, let’s talk speed, and that is usually referred to with Class. Before ultra high definition came around, SD cards usually had a class rating of 4,6,10. The higher the class, the faster it could read and write. Class 10, for example, had a floor of 10 mb/s. When you’re writing video, you want at least a class 10.

But then 4K came along and users needed a faster rating for faster read/write speeds. Those the U rating was invented.  U, or UHS cards use a higher speed data bus.  UHS-I, for instance, is the equivalent of class 10, therefore a U-1 card could write  at a minimum of 10MB/s., while U-3 cards are no slower than 30MB/S. And now we have UHS-II.

You’ll may also notice a UDMA rating, which measures the data transfer speed through an ATA controller. Again, higher is better, with a max UDMA rating of 7 for a maximum transfer rate of 167 MB/S.

And now we have a rating  called V class, which is for Video speed. V Class was designed to read and write cards that are used to write the tremendous amounts of data required by 8K, 4K, and 360° video. The highest ratings of which is V90 for a minimum sustained speed of 90MB/S. Note. I said “sustained speeds” not achievable speeds. See, when a card says it can write at 90MB/s and read at 160 MB/s, that’s more marketing than a valid benchmark. Rated numbers that you read on the card, also depicted as an “x” speed, are what’s called the “maximum achievable speeds.” This is how fast the card was clocked writing during benchmark testing. It isn’t necessarily the sustained speed, or the average speed the card takes to read and write over the entire course of the operation.

Why go through all this? Well, because if you’re shooting 4K Raw, and you know you should, then you need write speeds of at least 75MB/s for it to keep up without dropping frames, and in choosing cards, you want the fastest ratings you can get. Even though they are benchmarked for maximum achievable, you can do a quick calculation and know what the actual sustained speed is.  Make sense?

Now what are the best ones on the market? Generally, I like to stay with the main brand names, with SanDisk and Lexar leading the way. But with the recent news that Lexar was exiting the memory card game altogether, that leaves SanDisk as the once and future king. But Sony is also out there, making some of the largest and fastest high performing cards on the market. And they have what Nikon users need – the XQD format.

Other card options are Delkin Devices, Transcend, Angelbird and even Hoodman, the makers of video hoods for your external monitors and LCD camera screens.

What cards you need greatly depend on what camera you have. Users of a Canon 5D Mk. III, for instance, need compact flash cards, while lower end Canon Rebel T7i use SD cards. Some, like the Canon 5D Mk. IV, use a combination of both. Gotta GoPro? You’re using a much smaller SD card known as MicroSD.

Then there’s the higher and cameras which use the CFast 2 standard. Larger and faster than Compact Flash, and really designed with the Cinema Camera user in mind. But there’s also the removable SSD cards for cinema cameras and external recording drives. And, well, if you have your eyes on a RED, you pretty much have only one option, and that’s to go with RED’s own proprietary REDMag. And that’s a whole other story.

At the end of the day stick with the main brands when you’re just starting out.  You’ll end up paying a bit more, but the peace of mind is well worth it. Then, when you’re feeling adventurous, you can listen to the conversations on the internet and try the third party brands, which promise faster speeds. And they’re, especially handy when you’re using Magic Lantern for pushing your aging camera a little further.

Oh, and one other thing. Be on the guard for counterfeits. When shopping for a great deal, the temptation is to head over to eBay to get it. Auction sites are a good place to get used equipment bargains, but they’re also breeding grounds for counterfeit SD cards and batteries. Stick to established companies like Amazon or B&H, Adorama. Etc. Even your local brick and mortar can be a safe bet.

Hat Tip – B&H



About James DeRuvo 801 Articles
Editor in Chief at doddleNEWS. James has been a writer and editor at doddleNEWS for nearly a decade. As a producer/director/writer James won a Telly Award in 2005 for his Short Film "Searching for Inspiration. James is a recovering talk show producer from KABC in Los Angeles, and a weekly guest on the Digital Production Buzz with Larry Jordan.

1 Comment

  1. Another thing to consider is not getting a card that is too fast for your camera. Unless you have a brand new camera, yours may not be capable of even using a super fast card.

    Some cameras can only use SD/SDHC and not SDXC so beware.

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