A Guide to SD Cards for Video

SD Cards 101 - A Guide to SD Cards

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 to look for. In this article, I will give an overview of SD cards for video and how to efficiently use 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. Their goal is 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:

SD card 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. A high write speed means a card is less likely to encounter video recording failures.

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. The upgrade is worth it as these cards are built with the latest cameras in mind. They should be more than enough for your needs. For example, 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 sold at retail stores like Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS often have slower write speeds than those sold at stores specializing in tech-related products like Best Buy. Often times these cards won’t have the write speeds on them. This is a red flag. Cards like these are okay for point-and-shoot consumer cameras. They aren’t suitable as SD cards for video use. 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 frequently. This is a good practice as the files on these cards are worth your career. Having a fresh card for each shoot also means your file names will start sequentially, for example: 0001.mp4, 0002.mp4, and so on.

Format new SD cards in-camera before using them for the first time

It is a good practice to format new SD cards before using it for the first time. This ensures that the card is cleared and ready, and can be written to by your camera. 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 recovery software if you need to recover files from a formatted card. It is possible to recover footage from a formatted card, however, if you used that card after the format, it won’t work. It is nearly impossible to recover files from a card that was formatted and then used afterwards to record footage.

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 in situations where you run out of space on your card and start deleting individual files. However, this doesn’t actually delete the file; it simply lets the camera know to overwrite that file with the next photo you take. This process leads some people to believe that you are putting unnecessary stress on your SD card when doing this.

The theory is that cameras write files to the card in sequential order with each file taking up its specific amount of space. Each time you hit “record,” a new file with its own size gets added to the end of the sequence. By deleting, the card is going out of its normal 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. Never worry about your SD cards getting bent or exposed to water once you close it.

With this case, you’ll also have a system to help you manage your cards. Backed-up cards can be stored with the label-side showing. Non-backed-up cards can be stored with the label-side hidden.


Pelican 0915 SD Memory Card Case

Pelican 0915 SD Memory Card Case

Buy on Amazon.com


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 and have had zero write failures and 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, and ensures uninterrupted HD and 4K video recording. These 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)

SanDisk Extreme Pro SDXC UHS-I Memory Card

Buy on Amazon.com


Final Thoughts

SD cards are small in size but an integral part to shooting video efficiently. You now have a good idea of what to look for and how to use SD cards for video. If you have any other questions or tips that could help others, please leave a comment below!


Valerie is a freelance filmmaker, video editor, and photographer based in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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