Memory Cards

Memory cards come in all shapes and sizes, and so do their prices. Back when I was shooting on tape (typically mini-dv), I wouldn’t hesitate to buy large packs when I saw a good deal – but I never wavered from my brand loyalty. In addition to paranoia of volatile tape lubricants and other problems with mixing tape brands, I probably wasn’t tempted since tapes were rarely any cheaper than $5 each. With a memory card though, the difference can be substantial. Lucky for you, I have experienced several brands by now and will use their names with no hesitation.

All cards are not created equal…

When I first starting shooting HD-DSLR video I looked into issues like card read/write speed, capacity, etc. more than reliability. Memory is memory, right? Quite the contrary. For card speeds, I primarily consulted a discussion posted on Vimeo (link now missing) and determined that 133x (20MB/s) would suffice; I stand by this decision. However, I figured I’d go with the cheapest 32GB card I could find and buy two of them, despite a heavy split in reviews on Newegg ranging from “DOA” to “Does the job!” The brand was “Transcend” and I got my card for about $50 (compared to ~$140 at the time for leading brands in that speed category of 133x); considering that higher card speeds increase cost even more, I felt very confident that I had saved enough money to make a big difference in a low-budget filmmaker’s wallet.

Due to my decision, I encountered repeated issues with writing lag on set, a couple of corrupt files, and now 1 of my 2 cards is entirely dead. In addition to these headaches, I’m of course dealing with the RMA forms now to replace these cards and hopefully get some money back. As soon as my first card failed, I ordered a SanDisk card (same speed, same capacity) and it has worked like a charm. I ordered another on Cyber Monday when the price came down to $80 – a price which diminishes even further the cost of upgrading to a reliable product (this price has remained, by the way). At the media department where I work, we ordered the same. Guess what? All of the aforementioned headaches are nonexistent.

When it comes to memory card purchasing decisions, I now view it as if I did when purchasing tapes in bulk back in the day (after all, your memory card is re-usable and thus a semi-permanent piece among your equipment). Sure, I could always reuse tapes. I could use them as many times as I wanted and never have to buy tapes again – believe me, I have a mountain of them. But in the end I always said “sure, reuse a tape… as long as what you’re shooting isn’t important.” Students in our media lab always raised an eyebrow at this statement, but it’s true. In short, you get what you pay for.

Is my wallet empty? Almost. But I can shoot with the confidence that I won’t be losing any more of my time, gas, catering budget, dignity, etc. bringing my actors out for a reshoot.

Maybe if I got an endorsement by SanDisk…

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