[FONT=Arial][SIZE=4][B]I often hear concerns that really big memory cards are a risk not worth taking but is this right?[/B][/SIZE][/FONT]


[I]Even premium branded super high capacity cards like the 128GB SDXC card, above, are now increasingly affordable[/I]

The flash memory industry continually staggers me. Just ten years ago a 16 or 32 MEGABYTE card was a bit of a luxury. Today the typical capacities of memory cards can be around a thousand times greater, with 16 GIGABYTE cards now commonplace and very affordable, and larger sizes available up to and beyond 128GB now readily available and decreasing in price steadily.

What could be wrong with that? Well, many people are worried that big cards could mean big losses in the event of a card failure. Personally, I feel that there is too much concern over this and here is why.

Back in 2000 I had a little Canon Ixus 300 compact digital camera and it came with a bundled 8MB (yes - 8MB) compact flash card. The 2MP JPEG images this camera produced were between 250 and 500K each so the 8MB card could store between 16 and around 32 shots - not too disimilar to the rolls of film that were still selling well in those days.

But a maximum of 30-odd shots is very limiting with a digital camera and I can remember having to delete perfectly good shots in order to make space for new pictures I needed to take.

Today, it's not unusual to take shots that are many megabytes each, especially if you are shooting RAW. Nikon's 36 megapixel D800 produces RAW files exceeding 70MB. You would need nearly 3GB just to store 36 shots. Of course we're all used to shooting and storing hundreds of shots. The freedom to shoot unfettered by the storage capacity of my camera has definitely improved my photography. I can explore more angles, and I can use continuous high speed sequential shooting to catch a more precise moment and to help avoid camera shake when I'm forced to use a marginal shutter speed. It also makes exposure bracketing much more useful. I sometimes routinely shoot several hundred shots in a day and I don't want the hassle of changing cards.

And what about video? Some cameras will consume 2GB of card space recording just 6 or 7 minutes of video.

[B]Are there dangers?[/B]

Certainly, memory cards can fail but in general there are sensible ways in which you can limit this probability.

If your camera uses Compact Flash cards as well as SD cards, I would recommend you stick with Compact Flash because these cards are very robust. They are also less easily lost because of their size. If you use SD cards, treat them with respect. My experience is that the main cause of card failure is physical damage. Don't twist the card or in any other way physically stress it. When not in the camera, store your cards in protective cases. Consider keeping the card in the camera and using the camera's USB port to download your pictures. Get the pictures off your cards onto your PC (and regularly back-up your PC) as soon as possible.

I have been briefed several times by reputable card manufacturers and they all explain how they invest heavily in the physical robustness of their cards, including the plastics used in the case material and the design of electronic circuit boards within. It's a key differentiator from the cheaper brands that is well worth noting.

If you follow the above advice you should be able to benefit from the flexibility and freedom of very large capacity cards without being overly concerned about failure leading to catastrophic losses. On top of that, even if you are unlucky enough to experience a card failure, there is a very good chance that your images can be recovered, either by yourself using a reputable card recovery program or via professional recovery services.