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Insights & Thoughts

Storage Debate: Why Small Capacity Cards are Better Than Large Capacity Cards

By Anthony Thurston on July 21st 2013


Is it better to use multiple CF/SD cards and constantly switch them out or is it better to use one large card and save time. This is of course a personal preference thing, but if you ask me its much better to use multiple small cards. The reason is simple, if you have all your data on one card and something happens to the card (lost, broken, corrupt, etc) then you lose everything you have done since your last import.

On the flip side, if you use multiple cards and are constantly switching them out then if one card has issues you still have most of your data on other cards. This is true for both photo and video work, and is especially true for cameras with only one card slot.

I personally use multiple 8GB PixelFlash 533x CF cards with my 7D. It allows me to still take plenty of pictures or video, but gives me that added benefit of not having all my data in one place. These cards are cheap, which worried me at first, but are great performers. I highly recommend them, you can find them on Amazon where they also come in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB.

What are your thoughts? Which method do you use? Let us know in a comment below.


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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ricardo Gomez Photography

    “These cards are cheap….” That one phrase says it all.

    Then I would use multiple, smaller cards. But like anything in electronics, you get what you pay for. And quality costs. That’s one of the reasons why people buy Apple products. They lasts. I know people squeezing out that last bit of life out of their 7-year old Macbooks! LOL!

    I’ve been in I.T. for years and during that time, I vaguely remember one memory card going bad. One. And it was a user who was known to destroy equipment. Because she’s so damn careless. We always used quality memory. Take into account.. I’ve installed HUNDREDS of computers…

    I just looked up to see if I could find data on this.. And I found an article on a website where a camera was dropped off a pier and someone found it 4 years later. Pulled out the memory card, cleaned it, put it in their computer, recovered the images. No problem.

    So really? Corruption?

    I use a Lexar Professional 600X 32GB card as my primary which probably has 50,000 writes to it in a year. I am totally confident about it. I have a cheaper 16GB card just in case the sky falls… Hopefully in a year, I’ll have a camera that has dual CF slots and then I’ll use two cards. Only because it’s CHEAP insurance. Two Lexar Professional 32GB 600X CF cards are like $140. And if you’re a pro getting paid $10,000 for a gig, it’s just stupid not to take advantage of the second memory slot. How many people on SLRLounge making that kind of bank? Probably not many :-(

    If you go cheap and treat your gear and hobby/profession that way, then that’s what you’ll get in return.

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  2. Bob Yutzy

    CF card removal over and over can bend the pins in the camera! I wish someone warned me of that before the pins in my Canon 7D bent. One of the pieces of advice even said to push harder on the card if it doesn’t seem to seat correctly. BAD advice! Never force or push. I was able to mostly straighten the pins and can at least get one CF card to now work – but all of my other CF cards won’t work. I now always download pix with the included cable – a pain, but safety first.

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  3. HiKlass Photography

    I bring 5 16gb cards and 2 8gb cards and swap out when I’m over half way. I always worry about corrupted cards but am shooting the Sandisk Extremes. So far, my only problem was when formatting on the PC instead of in camera. Now, in camera I no longer have the issues as before.

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  7. Koray Ustuner

    I use 128 GB CF and SD card same time in backup mode. So I feel I’m in secure and also not worring about changing cards.

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  8. Barry

    I shoot video on my 5Dmkii and 7D cameras. As such I fill cards faster than just shooting stills. I have and use 6 32GB and 2 16GB Sandisk Extreme Pro cards. Bigger cards are better for video. I carry lots and switch before they reach half capacity for the reasons of corruption and loss as stated above. I do believe however that you are more likely to lose cards and possible run the risk of formatting a current days card by switching on the fly. This is why I never format in the field (I format cards before the next days shoot after backing up to 2 drives). The answer is to be well organized, number your cards and back up at every opportunity.

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  9. curtis

    I use a couple of 16gig cards. One for raw one for jpegs. Thought I’never need more until right in the middle of a shoot in Arches national park and I filled up one of the cards. It was a mile strenuous hike back to the car. Now I’m going with 32 gigs. My jpeg card is back to the raw card and the raw card is back up for the jpeg card.

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  10. Stuart

    Personal preference is exactly true. Benefits to both approaches. But I follow the multiple smaller disks…especially when I’m scuba diving. I use a high quality 8GB card each day I’m diving. At the end of the day, I download the images I took that day to another storage device and put the card away in a protected space and prep my Nikon D-700 for the next day’s dives. When traveling home, the used cards go with another person in my party and the downloaded images go with me.

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  11. Michael

    Ever since switching to the 5D III, I use 2 high capacity 64gb cards, I never switch them out on wedding day

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  12. Lonja

    i have a humble d60, single slot, and 10 mb raw files, i always carry at least 5 x 8gb sd cards, and a couple smaller backup cards. i fit about 700 raw shots on each card, and download after every shoot.

    (recently did some video work and had a pc constantly downloading data from cards to free up the others)

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  13. Joel

    Good replies BUT, would love to hear from the media makers regarding reliability of cards at varying capacities – e.g. is a 64GB CF Sandisk Extreme Pro less, or more reliable than its 32GB or 16GB siblings? If they’re truly equal in reliability tests, THEN we can discuss if spreading an event over multiple cards makes sense.

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  14. Henrique

    I guess it’s more likely that I lose the multiple 8GB cards than the data getting corrupted… Personaly, bigger cards are less risky than switching small ones. The bigger cards also assure me that they will only be taken off the camera at home.

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    • Anthony T.

      Right, but what happens if it corrupts in camera? I see your point, but my point is that something could still go wrong and all your eggs are in one basket. So if you are on a paid gig and your card craps out you are in trouble…

      Is that super likely to happen, not really, but it is possible and if it happens even once that is too much.

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  15. Mark G

    I have my D7000 set to mirrored mode, so both cards record the same image. That way, if a card has an issue, I have a backup so nothing is lost. For safety, I use a smaller 8GB card along with a 16GB card. When I fill up the 8, I swap it out for another 8 and leave the 16 in all the time. I’ve never run out of space, although I have a spare set of 8GB cards just in case.

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  16. Ihab Mokayed

    I agree with Anthony about using smaller multiple 8GB/16GB, and since I got my 5D Mark III I always shoot and let it save the footage on both the cards since I can use two at the same time!

    I’m always worried about this thing, even though I’ve never experienced losing any of my footage!

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  17. Kevin Stoohs

    I lean towards the larger format cards 32GB or larger. I’m shooting with a D-600 and the larger files require more space. I don’t want to ever run in to a scenario where space won’t allow me to capture or miss a shot. I agree with Aaron’s previous post, I use Sandisk Extreme cards also and haven’t run into a problem to date. They are what they say they are “Extreme-ly” fast download speeds so backing up frequently is easy. I’m very happy with the 32GB size cards but the smaller cards have a purpose also. If you have a client who needs files sent to them or requests a digital back-up, 8GB or smaller is an easy way to dump the selects on. I have a MacbookPro Retina, so CD’s and DVD’s are a thing of the past! The smaller cards are reusable unlike CD/DVDs and I just bill my client for the cost.

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  18. Myer Bornstein

    Since my camera are 24 and 36 MP I use 16 and 32 G cards because of the file size. When I had a 12 MP camera I use 8 and 16 MP cards. I also download after every shoot

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  19. Tyler Rippel

    I agree to some extent, but think it’s less of an issue with cameras like the 5D MK III and others with 2 card slots. I feel better about not having the physical loss or theft of a card when it’s still in the camera vs. taking them out and switching often. I shoot raw to CF and medium JPEG to SD card, so I have a backup capable of 16×24 prints for every image on a separate card. Of course the camera could be stolen, but you can’t prevent everything.

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    • Anthony T.

      I agree, much less of an issue now that more and more cameras are coming with dual card slots. But for those with single card slots this is much more important.

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  20. Bob Mulholland

    I shoot fun runs every weekend so I don’t have time to change memory cards. I shoot dual slot to avoid corruption. I take about 1,000 photos per hour so stopping isn’t an option. Also, since I do the color runs where they throw colored cornstarch into the air it’s a bad idea to open anything on your camera in a cloud of airborne cornstarch. So, basically, the answer to this question is “it depends.” It depends on the speed of shooting, the environment, and how important the photos are.

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  21. Eric Paré

    I have been shooting with a 64gb sd card for nearly a year now (a good SanDisk Extreme Pro of course), and this is just perfect. Fast, reliable, and allows for long days of shooting without worrying about switching cards.

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  22. Christopher Deckard

    I use two 32GB cards in my 5D3 all the time with it set to write RAW to both cards. That way if I do have corruption on the SD card (primarily use SD for importing), then I have the CF as a backup.

    I have 8 32GB Transcend class 10 SD cards and 8 32GB Transcend 400x CF cards. They all have worked perfectly.

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    • Ed V

      Ditto here. I shoot with a 5D3 and I have CF with raw and SD with jpg copies. I could also do both on the same card but that fills up too fast. I use 32 gig cards and believe me, at a busy wedding you WILL fill them up and I cant afford to keep switching out constantly with low storage cards.

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    • Aaron Pozzer

      Ed, what kinda coked out, speed freak weddings are you shooting that you can’t afford to spare 3 seconds to change memory cards? Put a few in your pocket so you don’t have to go back to your bag. If I see I’m getting low I pull one out and hold it in my teeth do it’s ready to go. Switch it out and keep on shooting…didn’t miss a thing.

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  23. Juan Kis

    Yes, I read the same thing years ago, when I used to use 4Gb cards and Bambi Cantrell at the WPPI said “I will never use a card bigger than 1GB”, she was taling about the same safety reason.

    We shot RAW now, and we shot way more than years ago. I don’t want to have a 36 exposure roll anymore ;-), may be a 2000 exposure in a memory is too much (32Gb shooting Medium RAW in a 5DMKII), may be 16GB is the right size. I don’t know is very personal.
    Thank you for sharing!

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  24. Aaron Best

    I prefer to use a big SD card. But it is a Sandisk extreme one, so I don’t need to worry as much about data getting corrupt etc… (as before I have lost 8gb of photos on a cheap class 4 SD) Because the extreme ones are waterproof, shockproof, X-ray proof and fast (at 45 mb/s). They are expensive SD cards but I think it is worth having one that can withstand a little abuse. As far as loss goes, the SD card only ever comes out of the camera to upload images to my computer (as I’ve never filled it (16GB) ) so it’s unlikely I will misplace it, (unlike if I was using multiple smaller SDs).

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    • Aaron Best

      Also I think it is best to always take the data off the SD card at the end of the day and put it on your computer or a backup hard-drive. because then you’re less lightly to lose lots of data if your card goes wrong or gets lost.

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