Your Opinions on Memory Cards

I need to buy some new Compact Flash cards and would love to know your opinion on the following questions. For a point of reference, I use a Cannon 5DIV and plan on going on some exciting trips next year such as to Africa, Europe and Alaska.

  1. What size CF card do you prefer - 32, 64, 128 - and why?

  2. My camera will record on both CF and SD cards at the same time although I have never used an SD card. When going on a once in a lifetime trip, would you recommend saving photos to both types of memory or not?

  3. Do you bring enough memory cards so that you never have to reuse the same card on a trip? Or if the photos are backed up onto a laptop and an external hard drive, would you reuse the same memory cards?

I know that people will have different points of view on these questions, and there is no right answer, but your responses will help me to determine what is best for me. Thanks for your help!


I now use only SD cards but some of my experiences may be helpful anyway. So:

  1. It does not really matter much to me, but I find that 64MB tends to be the best compromise with respect to cost, flexibility and storage capacity.

  2. I have never had a card fail on me, neither a CF (when I used them) nor an SD. I only use SanDisk and Kingston, for no better reason that since they have never failed me I trust the brands. Having said that, if you can have redundancy then I would go for it.

  3. I NEVER re-format my memory cards until I’m back home and have the raw files in at least two physically separate hard drives - three is better. When I travel I usually download every evening the raw files from that day on to a removable hard drive via my laptop, and do some preliminary organization, captioning, etc. in a CaptureOne session. But I leave the originals in the card. Of your three questions, I think that this is the most critical one. Call me paranoid - you can never have enough backup!

I hope this helps.


1 Like

I forgot to add re. question 3. I never remove the cards from the camera when I download while traveling. I do it via the USB cable. Just make sure that you have a battery with plenty of juice. I worry about those tiny contacts in the cards and camera - call me paranoid…

1 Like

Here’s our take:

  1. We prefer 32’s. Even doing a lot of shooting and capturing both RAW and large JPEG’s, we seldom fill one in a day. Of course, we never shoot video. Friends who do so are always scratching around for larger cards.

  2. We couldn’t switch to SD cards fast enough. We used CF cards for years, the best we could buy. And all I can say is that it was a good thing they came with recovery software. We had some notable failures. For that reason too, we relish our current bodies (all Nikon D7200’s) because we can save to two SD cards simultaneously. As for trips of a lifetime, you bet it’s a good idea to shoot backups. And consider security. Back in the days of film a friend had a lengthy assignment for Smithsonian on the Amazon. The night he got back to town he walked to a restaurant and was out of his room an hour. And someone broke in and took all his camera gear along with over 400 rolls he’d shot in 3 months on the river. Today he keeps at least 2 sets of cards in separate locations, Fedexing dupes home to himself at every opportunity.

  3. We carry plenty of cards, but each evening we sit down and copy to the hard discs on our laptops, then onto a portable drive. Meanwhile we keep the chips and don’t reuse them until the trip is over and we’ve confirmed “backup” in each location. SD cards are relatively cheap, especially when weighed against the comparative cost of losing and having to reshoot a set of images.

For me the card capacity can depend on what I’m shooting. Since I do lots of bird photography, sometimes 10+ FPS, even a 32GB card can fill up pretty quickly. My preference is either 32 or 64GB.

You say you never used SD cards. I originally used CF, and I still have them but no longer use them. When I switched from Olympus E series to Canon (7D mk II) which uses both, I initially used CF because the tiny size of the SD intimidated me at first, but I got used to them. My Olympus EM1 uses only SD, dual slots, so I now only use SD in both Olympus and Canon.

These days memory is so cheap that it’s easy to keep plenty on hand. If it’s a once in a lifetime trip, a dedicated card might be wise, but I’ve never done it. I almost always review my images on the laptop the evening after a shoot while reading directly from the card, and I will only delete the obvious trash files from the disk before transferring. And I NEVER DELETE FROM CARD unless absolutely necessary. My daily volume for a bird shoot like Bosque del Apache is about 1,000 RAW per day at the most, so a 64GB card is plenty, and I always keep an empty spare with me. Good thing is with your camera the dual slots allow different options for backups, as well as allowing more capacity.

Best of luck on your upcoming adventures.

Carol: I’m in the same situation as you are having both SD and CF card capacity in the camera. Being a bird photographer, some locations (particularly on the first day when excitement tends to prevail), I have filled a 64 GB card.
I usually use 64 or 128. I use both the SD and CF slots and write to both in the camera. If I’m in a position to have a laptop along, I’ll back everything up to two external hard drives every night (they’re super cheap memory). I’ll keep the SD cards as they fill as an independent third source, but I reformat my CF card every morning.

I have had a failure of a CF card a number of years ago, but was able to extract the images using recovery software.

Note that if you’re using high speed bursts, you want both cards to be high speed. If you;re shooting landscape, I’d buy the slowest cards still available and save your money.

Alberto, Hank, Bill & Dennis - Thanks so much for your responses. You have given me a lot to think about.

We use 32 GB CF and have not filled them yet. That said we have 16 GB SD cards in the slots and use them for overflow if needed. Each night we upload images to our laptop and also an external drive so we have two copies of our images. We the reformat the cards in camera and keep shooting the next day. We have never had a card fail (knock wood) and always have used SanDisk . Since we have never had an issue we stay with them. Regarding long term reliability I usually get new cards when we get new camera bodies, probably about every 4 years. I think reformatting the cards in camera helps ensure the card’s longevity.

I like the CF cards better than the SD due to the size. handling them is much easier for my larger and older hands.

Hope this helps.

Regarding the Canon 5d IV, I just did some research on speed because I’m going to Bosque del Apache for the first time and plan on buying a fast card. The highest rated CF card is faster than the highest rated SD card (around 100 mb/sec), so that is what I plan to buy. For normal landscape photography, it probably doesn’t matter which you use. For non bird photography, I keep a 128 CF in the camera as well as a 64 SD card. Every evening I copy the SD card to my laptop and also make a copy to a portable external drive. Then I put it back in the camera and format both cards. So, I never take the CF card out of camera. The reason is I had a CF card fail because the pins in it got bent and it wouldn’t fit back in the camera. Who knows if repeatedly taking the CF card in and out of camera bent the pins, but SD cards don’t have this potential problem.

1 Like

I do a lot of birds-in-flight, with bursts of 4-8 shots common.
The D850 eats up memory quickly with 46MP and 10 frames a second.
The cost is ridiculous, but I got a couple 256 GB XQD cards, and also the available warranty. each one holds about 2500 images. Do I worry about losing a card full of good images?
But I figure the larger cards will be taken out of the camera and changed less frequently, so there is less chance for disaster.
I usually back everything up x2 every evening, when travelling and shooting a lot.