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Memory Cards in Digital Cameras Explained

Updated on January 11, 2016
VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne is mother of five who loves a bargain. She extensively researches the products she reviews to help other families.

Memory Upgrade is Easy

Here is a step guide for adding memory to your digital camera. Upgrading memory is quick and easy but understanding the different types of memory is more confusing. Some types of memory may not be compatible with your camera, especially if it is more than a couple of years old. In this Hub, I explain:

  1. How to find your memory, take it out and put a new one in.
  2. How to buy the right kind of memory card for your camera.
  3. What are the different types of memory available?
  4. Advantages and disadvantages of high capacity memory card.
  5. How to transfer pictures and videos to your computer.
  6. How to protect your memory cards and make sure they keep performing at top speed.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Different Memory Card Types

Type of Memory Card
SD (Secure Digital)
Most common memory card in digital cameras
Easy to find and inexpensive.
Most common kind used.
SDHC (high capacity Secure Digital)
Faster than SD card and compatable with most digital cameras but not all older ones.
Faster and holds more pictures than SD card.
Older cameras may not be able to use.
SDXC (Secure Digital super capacity)
Latest generation of Secure Digital cards can have 32 to 64 Gigabites of data and is set to go up to 2 Terabites
Fastest and biggest capacity
Only latest devices can use them.
Micro or Mini SD and SDHD
Used for phones, portable media players and satellite navagators.
Often needs an adapter to put into a card reader. Adapter should come with card.
Compact Flash
Used by professional quality Digital SLR cameras. Two types: Type 1 and 2.
Stronger, sturdier and can handle temperatures from -25C to 85C. Uses Ultra Direct Memoroy Access (UDMA) for higher transfer rates. High performance cards are 3 times faster.
Large card.
XD Memory Card
Used by Olympus and Fujifilm for a while. They are available in up to 2 GB but most cards are smaller.
M+ type card may not support sound on all devices, cards are expensive and don't have very high capacity
Memory Stick
Sony propriatary card which has a variety of forms and capacities and transfer rates. Sony also uses SD

Digital Camera Memory

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Compact Flash, SDHD, XD card, Micro SD with adapterPut Micro SD into adapter.  It should click in tightly.Digital card in card reader. Inexpensive card readers have slots for different kinds of cards.  Some computers also have card reader slots.Attach Digital Card Reader to USB portLight on Card reader tells you SD card is in correctly.
Compact Flash, SDHD, XD card, Micro SD with adapter
Compact Flash, SDHD, XD card, Micro SD with adapter | Source
Put Micro SD into adapter.  It should click in tightly.
Put Micro SD into adapter. It should click in tightly. | Source
Digital card in card reader. Inexpensive card readers have slots for different kinds of cards.  Some computers also have card reader slots.
Digital card in card reader. Inexpensive card readers have slots for different kinds of cards. Some computers also have card reader slots. | Source
Attach Digital Card Reader to USB port
Attach Digital Card Reader to USB port | Source
Light on Card reader tells you SD card is in correctly.
Light on Card reader tells you SD card is in correctly. | Source

How Much Speed and Capacity to Buy

Megapixels of Camera
doesn't matter
fastest possible
fastest possible
fastest possible
over 10
fastest possible
4G or larger

How to Install Memory Card in Digital Camera

Your memory card should be ready to take pictures right away if you follow these steps:

  1. Turn off your camera.
  2. Open up the place for the memory card.
  3. Push down the memory card already installed and it should "un-click" and pop up.
  4. Remove the old memory card by touching only the plastic. Put it in a safe container.
  5. Put your new memory card into the slot and press down firmly until it clicks in place.
  6. Close up the slot and turn on the camera.
  7. Your camera should recognize the card and ask if you want to format it. If not, go to the camera settings and format the card (see your camera manual for how to do this).
  8. You are ready to take pictures! Your camera should show you how many pictures your new card will hold.

Where to find the Memory Card

Find Memory Card by Battery.
Find Memory Card by Battery. | Source

Digital Camera Memory

Some digital cameras have a small amount of internal memory for pictures, but most pictures are stored on memory cards which fit into a slot in your camera. See the chart for the different types of memory cards.

  • What are Memory Cards? These memory cards use flash memory which doesn't require power to save the data so they can hold a lot of pictures and video and can transfer easily from a digital camera to a computer. Generally, digital cameras come with a small capacity card, but this card often gets filled up quickly and so most people want to add memory by buying one or more higher capacity cards.
  • Find Your Memory Card. You can find your memory card by looking for the slot on your computer or checking in your camera manual. Often the memory card is located in right next to the battery.
  • Take the Memory Card Out. Generally, you push down on the card to remove it. You should feel it "unclick" and it should pop out. Be careful to only touch the plastic parts of the card and to place the metal part (where the memory connection is) upright when you put the card down on a flat surface.
  • Look at the Memory Card and Write Down what Type it is. Memory cards are different sizes and work differently, so you need to make sure you get the right kind for your camera. Look at the chart and pictures to see what kind of memory card you have and write that down so you can buy the correct card for your digital camera
  • Decide What Memory Card You Need. Memory cards come in several different speeds and contain from 128 Megabytes to 64 Gigabytes of memory! How do you know what to choose? Memory cards are getting faster and cheaper all the time. You can get a high speed 8 GB top brand SD card for around $10. However, you need to consider whether your camera can handle a high speed or high GB card. Check your owner's manual or go online to the camera company website to find out. The website should have information about your camera if you type in the name. You can also chat or email the tech support to get information.
  • Decide How Many Memory Cards You Need. Even if your camera can handle a large GB card, you may want to choose one or more smaller cards instead so that you aren't tempted to put too many pictures on the card before you download them to your computer. Although memory cards tend to be very safe, it is possible for memory cards to fail and if you haven't downloaded the pictures to your computer, your memories will be lost. Most photographers prefer to have 2-4 cards that are 2-8 GB. I personally have one 8GB card and five 4GB cards that I share between two cameras. That has been plenty for a 3-week vacation trip taking pictures and video.
  • Buy One or More Memory Cards. Now that you know what you want to buy, you can purchase those cards. You can get the best prices on memory cards on Amazon, and they usually have free shipping too. Another advantage of shopping online for memory cards is that you can be sure you get the right speed and the size of memory you want. In addition, many of the online stores will also let you know if that memory works for your camera. You can also buy SD memory cards at Walmart, Target, Best Buy or even your local grocery store. Sometimes, those stores also stock Compact Flash and Sony Memory Sticks. However, if you need XD cards, as we do for our Olympus camera, you will probably need to buy those online or at a photography store since they are no longer being used and difficult to find.

Transferring Photos and Video to Computer

SD card inserted in Card Reader
SD card inserted in Card Reader | Source

How to Keep Memory Cards Working Top Speed

Tip#1: Re-format your Digital Memory Card on a regular basis. Wonder why your card doesn't hold as many pictures as it did when you first got it? It isn't enough to just erase the pictures on your card. Periodically, every couple of months or so, you need to re-format the card so that "junk" memory that remains after you erase the card gets taken off. Do this using the camera and not the computer for best results. Not only will your card word better and faster, it will hold the maximum number of pictures and video.

  • How to do it? Each camera is different. You might want to check the manual or online at the camera company website. Or you can just fiddle around the Tools and Settings section on the camera and you will probably find the "format card" button.
  • Does it Work? Yes! I've been a digital camera user for over 10 years, but I never knew this important trick until I learned it while researching for this Hub. Now that I've re-formatted by cards, my camera takes pictures much more quickly and holds more pictures on the disk. hat I learned while researching this Hub. I've tried it now and can't believe the difference it makes.

Tip #2: When Buying New Memory, Check to See What Your Camera can Use: Getting a super high capacity card sounds great until you get it in the camera and find out it doesn't work. That happened to me with an expensive XD card I bought which takes great pictures but can't capture sound with video.

  • How to Find Out: Put your camera type and number in Google and look at the specifications of what type of memory it can use. This might also be in your camera manual. You may also want to check the date of your camera and the date of the new memory. Chances are if your camera was manufactured in 2005 and the memory has just come out in 2013, it won't work in your camera.

Tip #3: Erased Pictures by Mistake? If you haven't re-formatted the card, you might be able to get those pictures back. Look for software which helps recover lost photos.


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    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 14 months ago from United States

      I had not heard about the XQD card. Thanks!

    • Hanzamfafa profile image

      Mike Leal 14 months ago from London

      Amazing Hub. Very informative. There is also this XQD card that I have seen. It has greater storage capacity but a lot more expensive. Seems like it suits professional photographers who do not want to bother changing memory cards too often while shooting especially in events where they do not want to miss any single important moment.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      An interesting look at various memory cards. The tips on keeping memory cards in top-notch shape is particularly helpful. The video is useful--thanks for reiterating how to safely handle a memory card. I almost missed an important tip that I did not know.

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