When it comes to SD cards there are a few things you should keep in mind to get the most out of them. These best practices will help you keep them in shape and running at their top speed to ensure you get the shot and avoid write errors. We will also talk about new technologies in SD cards that can confuse what you can expect from a write speed rating and general compatibility.
Do not fragment data
If you are the kind of person that likes to preview every single take or every other photo then you are likely deleting bad shots or clips as you review them. This is bad practice in terms of keeping your card in good shape during a shoot. You will end up fragmenting the data on the card when you record your next clip. Every time you delete a photo here and there you are designating this space as writable but in order to use it the card has to go through an extra process to fill deleted content while writing to new fresh spaces. This means you will not be writing at top speed because an extra process is happening and risk write errors. This is especially going to become an issue if you are shooting very high mbs video like on a hacked GH2 or soon be hacked GH3 where you need every bit of speed and stability the card can offer.
Allocating data sequentially on a hard disk for example will save time on accessing the file thus improving read and write speed. Generally SD cards don’t fragment in the sense of physical space like a classic hard drive but you will still impact read and write speed due to adding operations to be performed. Plus its just kinda nice to think a file is neatly written in one spot rather than randomly spread out into thousands of tiny fragmented bits, which then need to be read in the right order to preview the file. This is when you can get the whole “cant play back” issue. There are arguments that the impact is negligible in solid state media but its there and will certainly help in receiving errors.
Best practice is to just buy a second card! If you fill one card then just pop in the next one, don’t waste precious time deleting a file here and there especially not mid shoot. When you get to your workstation dump the card and format the card in camera before your next shoot. Do not highlight and delete everything to clear it, that would be the worst practice possible; do a clean full format before the next gig.
Upgrading your first card? How to choose the right one
The SD card you should purchase must be considered carefully due to a variety of factors unique to the each camera. If your camera can write raw then you want a very high data rate. Is your camera weather sealed? should the card be as well? I have been asked about this a few times now so i will say that it is not a necessity; it all depends on how much you plan to push the camera. Personally I like to shoot in all kinds of weather including pouring rain and snow so I ordered one of the weatherproof cards. There are without a doubt certain conditions in which the weatherproof SD card could come in handy. Many cards will survive getting wet even if they are not marketed that way but just as many will give an error til dry or cease to function completely. If this weather safe is important to you then i suggest you use a card designed to withstand more than a simple or quick dunking.
If you do not shoot in harsh conditions then you may want to save the cash for less expensive but still reliable storage media. Typically if you do not go with Panasonics’ offerings in the weatherproof category then I would recommend SANDISK because they have proven to be a solid investment. Before I paired my weather sealed camera with a weatherproof card, I used the SanDisk SDXC 64gig 45mbs card in my GH3. Just a tip, since high bitrates and better burst is something you’ll want to enjoy then you may want a bigger card than you are used to. Before the GH3 I used a 32gig SanDisk SDHC card on my GH2. When I upgraded to the 64gig SDXC card for my GH3 I had to upgrade my card reader as well, my old one didn’t read SDXC properly. This is common so be ready for that possible expense if only ever used SDHC since most bigger cards are SDXC and may not be compatible with your current card reader.
If you do not use a card reader then I recommend you start. Using the cable that comes with the camera allows you to connect to the SD card through the on board camera slot but it’s going to slow you down! We have USB 3.0 these days and paired with an up to date card reader will ensure you get the transfers speeds reported on the card. Rather than transfer at 10 megs a second you could be going at 30 to megs a second! This is something to keep in mind if you had a long day or a long shoot. Now you have a couple of cards filled with footage and photo. Why waste time starting at a transfer rate? Below i have made a list of recommendations chosen for their performance and price.
Recommended SD Cards
Marketed as Weather proof and for rugged use.
Panasonic 64GB SDXC Gold Series Class 10 UHS-1 (bhphotovideo.com)
Panasonic 32GB SDHC Gold Series Class 10 UHS-1 (bhphotovideo.com, Adorama)
Panasonic 16GB SDHC Gold Series Class 10 UHS-1 (bhphotovideo.com, Adorama)
If you do not go with the weather proof option then its a safe bet you will need one of these SD covers/cases.
Vanguard MCC42 Dual Sided Memory Card Case (Adorama)
Editors Choice! Pro Quality performance but well priced
*SanDisk 128GB Extreme SDXC 45MB/s (Amazon.com, bhphotovideo.com, Adorama)
*SanDisk 64GB Extreme SDXC 45MB/s (Amazon.com, bhphotovideo.com, Adorama)
*SanDisk 32GB Extreme SDHC 45MB/s (Amazon.com, bhphotovideo.com, Adorama)
SanDisk 16GB Extreme SDHC 45MB/s (Amazon.com, bhphotovideo.com, Adorama)
starred cards * = Editor’s Choice! The best bang for the buck. Sure other cards then those i mentioned may work fine but you do not want to go below the 30MB/s cards which is the write speed rating on the still floating around discontinued SANDISK extreme variations. They are still pretty good though. Class 10 is the obvious bet but many cards that qualify as a class 10 are still rather slow. Unlike its predecessor (The GH2) The Panasonic GH3 fully supports UHS-1 standards. It may not be critical but one day when the hack arrives you will be pushing the data rate! so plan ahead. That means you really shouldn’t be looking at 16gig cards unless its you mainly do photography.