Digital Camera Memory Tips

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How Large a Memory Card Do You Need?

Several factors affect decisions about memory card capacity. First, of course, is how much shooting you do. If you don't take many pictures, then you don't need a high-capacity card.

There are other factors, though. One key consideration is your camera's resolution. The higher the resolution, the fewer the number of picture files that will fit on any given memory card. All other things being equal, an 8 MP camera will produce much larger files than a 5 MP camera.

For example, a 6 MP camera, with an average file size of 3.60 MB (JPEG Fine setting) can save about 140 images to a 512 MB CF card. A 4 MP model, using the same setting, and with an average file size of 2.44 MB, can write about 210 image files to the same capacity card.

Another factor is the file type you shoot and the degree of compression (JPEG only). If you shoot TIFF files, you'll need large capacity cards, because TIFF files are huge. On the other hand, if you shoot at your camera's minimum resolution and save the files as JPEG's with maximum compression, you'll be able to save huge numbers of files.

For example, shooting at VGA resolution (640 x 480) and using maximum JPEG compression, the 4 MP camera above can store over 3,000 image files on a 512 MB card.

Finally, under some circumstances, your ability to download files can affect your decision. For example, if you shoot a lot of pictures when you travel, and you travel a fair amount, larger capacity cards make sense.


Sony's Memory Stick

Sony manufactures several outstanding digital cameras. And they also manufacture their own memory device: the digital camera Memory Stick.

The latest versions of Sony's Memory Stick are Memory Stick Pro and Memory Stick Pro Duo. The Duo is the smaller of the two, being slightly thinner and 40 percent shorter. Like other media, Memory Sticks come in various capacities – in this case, up to 2 GB.

A drawback to Sony's Memory Stick is that other manufacturers' cameras won't accept them. Changing camera lines would also mean replacing your memory cards.

Another potential disadvantage is that, while CF and SD cards are now commonly available in drugstores and souvenir shops, memory Sticks aren't. If you should be away from home and need a new or replacement card, it may take some work to find one.


Compact Flash Cards

One of the most common digital camera memory devices is the Compact Flash (CF) memory card. CF cards are one of the older designs, but continue to serve as the workhorse card in advanced and high-end digital SLR's. They're not a good choice for compact digital camera's because of their relatively large size.

There are two types of CF card: Type I and Type II. Type II cards are 5 mm thick, while Type I cards are only 3.3 mm thick. When you're buying memory for your camera, be sure you get the correct size. (Most current models accommodate both.)

Compact Flash memory cards are available in various capacities. You can still find a few older cards that hold a mere 8 MB, but cards smaller than 256 MB are now less common. Capacities of up to 8 GB can be purchased for under $300. A new Compact Flash standard - called “CF+” – promises capacities of up to 137 GB.

CF cards are also available in varying data transfer rates. How fast data can be written to a card becomes important when working with large files – such as from 8 or 10 MP cameras – or when shooting in “burst” mode – firing several frames per second.


Digital Camera Memory

Some digital cameras come with built-in memory. Built-in memory is usually just a small amount and insufficient for any but the most occasional photographer.

Most camera memory is stored in devices that use what's called “flash memory.” Flash memory is a type of erasable read-only memory that requires no moving parts, and is commonly found in all sorts of computing devices, cell phones and other electronics.

There are a number of different flash memory cards, including Compact Flash, Memory Stick, MultiMedia Card (MMC), Secure Dgital (SD)SmartMedia and xD (extreme Digital). Different camera manufacturers use different cards in various camera models. Only MMC and SD cards are interchangeable.


Making Memory Choices

One type of camera memory card that was once fairly popular is the SmartMedia card. About the same size as a CF card, but much thinner, SmartMedia cards were used in a number of different camera models – notably from Olympus and Fuji. However, neither manufacturer uses this format any longer. One problem was that capacity topped out at 128 MB – creating an issue as camera resolution continued to climb.

SmartMedia cards are still manufactured and available, although now mostly from online sources.

No one can say which media may thrive and which may fail, but it is worth considering when choosing a digital camera. Currently, CF cards and SD cards appear to have the most secure future.

digital camera memory card

xD – Extremely Small

Olympus and Fuji have developed their own ultra-compact digital camera memory card. It's called the xD card, and “xD” stands for “eXtreme Digital.”

xD cards are particularly notable for their size. Even smaller than SD cards, these tiny cards are barely larger than a penny, but have a theoretical capacity of up to 8 GB. (Currently, 1 GB is the largest capacity available.)

Two types of xD card are available: Type M and Type H. Type H cards are slightly faster writing data from your camera, and also offer special picture effects that can be used with some models of Olympus camera.

The same caveats that apply to Memory Stick media apply here. They limit camera choice and aren't as readily available as CF or SD cards.


Secure Digital – Tiny Champ

The Secure Digital memory card is the preferred memory device for compact digital cameras. They're small (about the size of a postage stamp), high capacity (up to 8 GB) and offer special security features.

At about the size of the average man's thumbnail, Secure Digital (SD) cards are a natural for ultra-compact cameras, where every millimeter counts. But it's the security features built into the SD card that make it so versatile.

SD cards can be “partitioned,” and copyrighted material can be safely stored on the protected section of the card, while the balance of the card can be used as flash memory.

Another security feature – one that will mean more to consumers – is that SD cards have a “write-protect” switch. This tiny lever slides into position to prevent data from being erased or over-written on a card. If you've ever taken multiple memory cards on vacation, you can imagine how useful this feature can be. Just slide the lever when a card is full, and you'll know it's off-limits until you get home and download the contents.

Another popular memory card, the MMC (MultiMedia Card) can be used interchangably with SD cards in many cameras. The two types of card are very similar, except that MMC cards lack SD cards' security features.


Non-flash Memory for Digital Cameras

A different kind of digital camera memory used by mid-range and high-end digital cameras, including many d-SLR's, is the Microdrive.

“Microdrive” is a trademarked name (belonging to IBM and Hitachi) that describes tiny hard drives built into a Compact Flash Type II housing – about 1-3/8” x 1-5/8”, and just 5 mm thick! Other companies manufacture similar products, but only a few have licensed the name “Microdrive.” Seagate's “Photo Hard Drive,” for example, is the same type of product with the same applications.

These tiny hard drives are available in capacities up to 8GB,and prices have been falling. Some professional photographers prefer them for the way the handle and store data.

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