Digital Camera Memory Cards

The digital camera has changed the way people take pictures. It is now easier to take a picture, decide if we want to keep it, and delete it if we don’t. Some cameras even allow you to apply effects to your pictures, such as colour replacing. How are digital cameras able to do this? Pictures are stored as files on a memory card that you load into your camera.

There are many types of memory cards on the market today, and different digital cameras require different memory cards. Some cameras even allow you to use two types of memory cards. What is the difference between all the types, and which one is better? This post will describe the various popular memory types and discuss their differences.

What is Flash Memory?

Before we look at the various cards, it is important to understand what I mean I say flash memory. You may be familiar with computer memory (RAM) or hard drive space, which have been around for many years. Both of these storage mediums have their advantages and disadvantages. The RAM in your computer has no moving parts so it may not break as easily than a hard drive, but it is volatile, meaning that it won’t keep the data once the power is turned off. Hard drives are non-volatile, can hold enormous amounts of data, but they have many moving parts, that could easily break.

Flash memory is non-volatile memory with no moving parts. They have been known to be durable even on some intense testing. The memory can be electrically erased and written to just like a hard drive, and very small physically. Although they don’t have the storage capacity of a hard drive, they are becoming larger each year.

CompactFlash / MicroDrive

The CompactFlash cards were once the most common flash cards used, however, that crown now belongs to the Secure Digital memory. CompactFlash is rather large at 3.3mm x 36.4mm x 42.8mm (thickness x length x width) for the Type I compared to the other memory cards. Type II cards are thicker at 5.0mm, but the length and width sizes are the same. Cameras that use Type I cannot use Type II, however, cameras that use Type II can use either.

Some older cameras that use CompactFlash may not be able to use any size larger than 2GB. This is because CompactFlash uses FAT for sizes under 2GB, and FAT32 for any sizes above 2GB.

Some cameras that accept CompactFlash Type II may also be able to use a MicroDrive. A MicroDrive is a small hard drive usually in sizes of 340MB and 1GB.

Secure Digital (SD) / MultiMediaCard (MMC)

This is perhaps the most common memory card in use today. They are much smaller (2.1mm x 32mm x 24mm) than the CompactFlash cards but have the same amount of storage space.

Both the SD and MMC cards are almost identical in terms of size and look on the outside, but inside they are technically different. Although your digital camera may accept SD memory cards, it may not accept MMC cards as well.

There are also miniSD cards on the market mostly used in MP3 players and mobile phones; I have yet to see any digital cameras that use this memory card. The miniSD is smaller than the SD card since it is only 1.4mm x 21.5mm x 20mm.

Sony Memory Stick (MS)

This type of memory card, or rather stick, was created by Sony in 1999 and is used in all of their Cybershot digital cameras as well as their digital video Handycams.

The original blue Memory Stick was incredibly slow compared to today’s SD and CompactFlash cards. There have been several versions, or types of memory sticks developed by Sony over the years.

There is the Memory Stick Select which allows you to select between 128MB and 256MB to make it compatible with older digital cameras. Next came the Memory Stick Pro that had a capacity up to 2GB. With the exception of the Cybershot F717, this Memory Stick was not compatible with any of the pre-2003 digital cameras. There is also a high speed Memory Stick Pro that is capable of transfer speeds of 80Mbps.

xD-Picture Card (xD)

The xD card was developed by Olympus and Fujifilm and is about the size of a postage stamp. Most Olympus digital cameras now use the xD card. There are currently two types of xD cards on the market: the M series and the H series.

Not all cameras can accept both types of xD memory cards, so check your manual before purchasing an xD card. The H series cards are reported to be about 2-3 times faster than the M series.


There are many types of flash memory cards on the market to use with your digital camera. Any digital camera you purchase today will use one of the memory cards mentioned in this post. Always read your instruction manual that came with your camera to determine the exact memory card that you can use. As always, technology progresses, and there may be a time when the above memory cards will be replaced with something else. As long as you can keep taking pictures, you don’t need to worry about that, though.

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