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You probably already know that today's high-resolution cameras - sporting 8, 10 and even 12-megapixel sensors - require bigger memory cards. The rule of thumb is simple: The bigger the files you're storing, the bigger the memory card you need.
But there are two other important considerations for choosing memory cards. And these are considerations that become critical for pros.
First, not all cameras can handle today's high capacity memory cards. And that includes cameras currently being manufactured. High-capacity cards typically have "HC" in the card's designation. For example, Sandisk's high-capacity 8-gigabyte Secure Digital card is marked "SDHC". Before you invest in a high-capacity card - which can cost upwards of $50 - check your camera's manual. If it doesn't say the camera is compatible with HC cards, stick with cards of 2 GB or less.
The second pro consideration - especially if you plan to shoot sports, wildlife or any other fast-action subject - is the card's data transfer rate. Here's why:
When you're taking multiple shots over a short period of time, you'll quickly use up your camera's buffer. That's the built-in memory that holds the data for your digital photographs while it's being transferred onto your memory card. Imagine you're shooting Tom Brady running the ball into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown to win the conference title... and your buffer runs out of space just before he crosses the goal line.
Ouch! Suddenly, that data transfer rate has become a career make-it-or-break-it number. Fortunately, some memory card manufacturers - most notably Lexar - offer a range of cards with different data transfer rates.
If all you shoot are posed portraits, then you'll probably be fine using less expensive "standard" cards. But if you shoot unpredictable or fast-moving subjects, then look for the data trasfer rate before you invest in a memory card. Some day, that number could save your digital photography career.