What Type Of Memory Should My Digital Camera Use?

Much has changed in the area of digital memory cards.

Just a couple years ago, the four top types of digital camera memory types were: Compact Flash, Memory Stick, Smartmedia, and Secure Digital (SD). I but them in pretty close to the order of popularity in listing them.

Digital memory cards were also much more expensive just a bit ago

Many digital cameras came with only an 8 megabyte memory card. Popular card memory sizes were 64 megabyte and 128 Meg. If you wanted a really large capacity memory card, a 512 megabyte card cost hundreds of dollars.

With prices like that, the type of memory card your digital camera used could be very important

With the cost of digital memory cards that high, you would want to be able to use them in all your digital cameras. If you had a camera that used compact flash, you might have wanted to choose a new digital camera that used compact flash memory. It was important because the large memory sizes back then could cost nearly as much as the camera.

Because the cost of digital memory cards has dropped so much, matching memory types between an older and a new digital camera is not an important factor anymore

Nowadays, you can purchase a 512 Mb memory card for much less than $50. Gigabyte cards sell for under $100. It is now practical to purchase several cards or a larger card for a new camera.

The file size of today’s digital cameras makes older cards not very useful

You simple cannot fit many digital photos from today’s high resolution digital cameras on a 64Mb or 128Mb memory card. That 8Mb memory card that came with your first digital camera will only hold 1 digital photo (uncompressed) or maybe 2 compressed digital photos from your 8 megapixel camera. Just not very useful.

Also, the types of memory cards used by digital cameras have changed

While the Sony Memory Stick is still supported by Sony, others have shifted in popularity. More cameras use Secure Digital (SD). A new digital memory format called xD or Olympus xD has replaced Smartmedia (which has pretty much disappeared). Compact flash, while not as popular with point-and-shoot digital cameras, is still the leading memory type for digital single lens reflex cameras.

There are some things you may wish to consider about the different formats

Two of the types of digital memory cards are proprietary. Sony invented the Memory Stick. Pretty much only Sony makes cameras that use Memory Stick. The xD format was created by Fuji and Olympus. Fuji and Olympus are the only companies that make cameras that use Olympus xD that I know of.

What does this mean

Well, only one company has to drop Memory Stick for it to disappear into oblivion. That is kind of what happened to Smartmedia. It is not really a problem now, but because the xD format was newer, many places that offered on-site digital printing did not support xD (even those using Fuji printers). Because Compact Flash and Secure Digital are less manufacturer specific, they do not rely on the support of one company.

This also creates one more advantage for Compact Flash and Secure Digital

The main memory manufacturers spend more research on Compact Flash and Secure Digital. This means these memory card formats receive more improvements. It is easier to find high capacity memory cards in Compact Flash and Secure Digital formats. Compact Flash regularly sees speed and capacity increases before it gets passed on to the other formats. They also are less expensive than xD or Memory Stick.

What brand memory card should I use?

Sandisk and Lexar are the leaders in this technology. Both provide very good warrantees on their memory products. My personal favorite are the Sandisk Ultra Extreme Series. Sandisk claims they are made more durable than normal cards and since I am a klutz, this is a good thing. The Ultra Extreme cards also come with data recovery software (you can sometimes save a mistakenly erased file with it) and a neat little carry case (I attach it to the zipper of my camera bag where it is handy). I think the extra strength these cards offer is worth the small percentage more they cost.


Just a note, some cameras still come with a built-in memory

This is just not useful anymore. You need to connect to your own computer to get digital photos off this type of memory. You cannot take your camera to a lab, they will not have the software to connect directly to your camera. I have also seen that it can be somewhat confusing to try and copy photos in camera to a regular memory card. Stay away from cameras that feature this type of memory (different from cache memory used to buffer photos while the camera is processing – cache is good). Do not let a salesman confuse you.

Much of the decision about memory type will be made when you choose the brand of digital camera you buy

Both of my brand recommendations (Nikon and Canon) use both Compact Flash and Secure Digital formats. Both use Secure Digital for point-and-shoot digital cameras and Compact Flash for digital single lens reflex cameras. I know many of the Canon EOS1 digital cameras support both Compact Flash and Secure Digital.

Do not let the type of memory decide your camera

Like I have stated above. Older memory cards probably will not have enough capacity for the new camera anyways. Memory cards are also more affordable now.

Next I’ll go through a few features that if you do not outright avoid digital cameras with them, you, at least, should not pay attention to these features in choosing a digital camera.

Features to avoid in digital cameras


About James Thoenes

James has spent most of his life involved in photography. He is now dedicated to producing portraits that his clients will treasure for the rest of their lives.