Secure Digital cards, or “SD cards,” are what you will need to record video on your camera. There are many different brands and types of SD cards on the market today, but not everyone knows the differences and what are important features to have when shooting video. In this article, I will give an overview of SD cards and how to efficiently use and manage them.
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A Brief History of the SD Card
The SD card was developed by the non-profit organization, the SD Card Association, which was formed by SanDisk, Panasonic, and Toshiba in 2000 in order to set standards for manufacturers of SD cards and ensure compliance with their standards. All of the logos and markings on cards that are compliant with the SD Card Association’s standards bear their trademarked logos:
What to look for when buying an SD card for video
Look for the SDXC logo
Secure Digital eXtended Capacity (SDXC) format was developed in 2009 and features faster write speeds for cameras recording in Full HD and 4K resolution. The SDXC format is the ideal format for shooting video. In 2016, Version 5 of the SDXC format was released which can handle up to 8K resolution footage!
A write speed of at least 30 MB/second
An SD card’s write speed tells you how fast data can be written to a card and read from a card. The higher the write speed, the faster the card is, and less likely that you will encounter video recording failures and corrupted files.
Recording Full HD video requires a minimum write speed of at least 30 MB/second, however, SD cards with higher write speeds are fairly inexpensive and safer as they are usually built with the latest cameras in mind, so they should be more than enough for your needs. The card that I use has a write speed of 90 MB/second.
Why NOT to buy SD cards from just any store
The SD cards available and sold at regular retail stores like Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS often have slower write speeds than those sold at stores specializing in tech-related products like B&H or Best Buy. Often times if you look at the label on these cards, they won’t have the write speeds on them – this is a red flag and you should avoid using unmarked cards as they are probably not fast enough to record high quality video footage.
Best practices for formatting & backing up SD cards
Format your SD cards after every shoot
Getting into the habit of formatting your SD cards after every shoot will force you to back up your cards to a hard drive after every shoot. This habit will come in handy if you end up doing videography as a profession and the files on these cards are worth your career. Having a fresh, formatted card for each shoot also means your file names will start sequentially, for example: 0001.MP4, 0002.MP4, 0003.MP4 and so on.
Format new SD cards in-camera before using them for the first time
It is not necessary to format a new SD card before using it in the camera for the first time, but it is good practice to. This ensures that the card is cleared and ready, and can be written to by your camera, something that is good to know before you are out shooting. I like to think of it as acclimatizing the card to your camera, the same way you would get a new goldfish acclimatized to a new tank by leaving the fish in its plastic bag in the tank before setting it loose.
Recovering files from a formatted SD card
Some SD cards come with access to recovery software in the event that you need to recover files from a formatted SD card. I know people who have used this type of software to successfully recover footage from a formatted card, however, in those cases, the card was not used again after being formatted and didn’t have data re-written over it.
To reiterate: it is nearly impossible to recover files from a card that was formatted and then used afterwards to record footage.
The lesson: Get into the habit of backing up your SD cards to a hard drive after every shoot!
Avoid deleting single files from your camera
This tip is just a personal tip that is not proven or backed by any authority.
We’ve all been there: you are reviewing your shots and see a shot that no other living person on Earth should ever see, and you compulsively delete that one file from the camera. How this differs from formatting the card is that it doesn’t actually delete the file; it simply lets the camera know to overwrite that file.
The argument against this is that because cameras write files to the card in sequential order and each file takes up a certain amount of space on the card while adding on to the last file each time, the camera is going out of sequence to overwrite the “deleted” file with a new file of a different file size. In theory, this could create gaps or idiosyncrasies in the card memory that reduces its efficiency and storage capacity over time.
Again, this is all just theory and not proven, but it is something that I avoid doing with my cards.
A simple SD card management system
An accessory that I always recommend to people is the Pelican SD Memory Card Case. This case holds 12 SD cards, but its best features are its hard polycarbonate shell and water resistant seal. I don’t have to worry about my SD cards getting bent or exposed to water once I close it and put it in my camera bag.
With this case, I have a system to help me know which cards are already backed up and ready to use, and which cards still need to be backed up. If a card is backed up on my hard drive and ready to use, I store it with the label-side showing, and if a card still needs to be backed up, I store it with the label-side hidden.
Pelican 0915 SD Memory Card Case
My SD card: The SanDisk Extreme Pro SDXC UHS-I Memory Card
I’ve been using the SanDisk Extreme Pro 64GB SDXC UHS-I Memory Card for over a year now with my Sony A7s camera and have had zero write failures and zero corrupted files. This card has a read speed of up to 95 MB/second, and a write speed of up to 90 MB/second. It is also rated by the SD Card Association specifically for video use with a Video Speed Class 30 which ensures uninterrupted Full HD and 4K video recording. The Extreme Pro cards are also designed to withstand extreme environments and are shockproof, temperature-proof, waterproof and X-ray proof.
SanDisk Extreme Pro SDXC UHS-I Memory Card (64 GB)
SD cards are small in size but an integral part to shooting video efficiently. You should now have a good idea of what to look for when buying one, and also how to efficiently use and manage them. If you have any other questions or tips that could help others, please leave a comment below!