If you just purchased, or are thinking about purchasing, a trail camera or other portable electronic device with expandable memory you are most likely in the market for one or more SD cards. When you shop for SD cards you will see so many brands, physical sizes, speeds, and classes it might make your head spin. How do you know which ones will work with your trail camera and is one type better than another?
This guide will explain some of the most important terms and features to know about and understand when buying SD cards. We will also explain which SD card is best for your purposes and give you some SD card recommendations from some different trail camera manufacturers.
When we talk about speed as it refers to SD cards, what we are talking about is how fast data (images or video in the case of trail cameras) can be saved to the card.
Speed becomes important when you are taking several pictures in rapid succession, or if you are recording high-definition video and saving it directly to the SD card. Since most trail cameras can now record video, with many cameras capable of recording high definition video, you need to pay attention to the speed class of the memory cards you are purchasing.
SanDisk states that speed classes measure the minimum sustained speed needed for recording an even rate of video onto the card with the class rating number relating to the transfer rate that is measured in megabytes per second. So for example class 2 cards are made for a minimum sustained transfer rate of 2 megabytes per second and class 10 cards are designed for a minimum sustained transfer rate of megabytes per second.
When you are shopping you will find cards with class ratings of 2, 4, 6, and 10 (with 10 being the fastest). Remember that the card you buy needs to meet the minimum requirements for the device you are buying it for. It is perfectly fine to buy a card with a higher class rating than the device calls for, but avoid buying an SD card with a lower class rating than what the device manufacturer suggests.
Devices that use SD cards will use one of 3 sizes of SD cards. There are standard SD cards, miniSD cards, and microSD cards. Devices that use SD cards will all have a slot where you insert the SD card. Each size of SD card will have a specific sized slot that it will fit into that the other sizes of SD cards will not. So it is important to understand the different physical sizes of SD cards so you can be sure that the SD cards you purchase will fit the device you are buying it for.
Standard Sized SD Cards
Standard sized SD cards are the largest and measure 32x24x2.1 mm. This is the size that you will want for most trail cameras.
miniSD cards are smaller than standard SD cards and measure 21.5x20x1.4 mm. miniSD cards are probably the least common type of SD card you will come across. They were originally intended to be used for small mobile phones, but we now have a smaller size that is used much more frequently.
microSD cards are the smallest size of SD cards and measure 15x11x1 mm. microSD cards are now used in most cell phones that allow for the use of SD cards. In addition to cellular/smartphones, you will often see microSD cards used to expand the memory of tablets or other small devices.
Storage capacity refers to the maximum amount of data that can be stored on the card. Storage capacities can vary greatly from a minimum of 128MB to 2TB.
Most trail cameras that are sold today, which was the original inspiration for this article, can handle up to a 32GB SDHC card.
So what is an SDHC card and how does it differ from a regular SD card or SDXC cards (which we have talked about yet)?
SD Cards vs. SDHC Cards vs. SDXC Cards
SanDisk, a respected memory card manufacturer, addressed the differences between SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards in an article on their website. The main differences between these types of SD cards are as follows.
Storage capacities for SD cards range from 128MB to 2GB.
These standard SD cards will work in all devices that support SD, SDHC, or SDXC memory cards.
SD High Capacity (SDHC) cards have storage capacities that can range from 4GB to 32GB.
SDHC cards work differently than standard SD cards. These differences mean that SDHC cards are NOT backward compatible with host devices that only take SD (128MB – 2GB) cards. Most devices built after 2008 that use SD cards should be SDHC compatible.
If you are unsure if an SDHC card is compatible with your device, you can look for the SDHC logo on devices you wish to use them in (cameras, camcorders, trail cameras, etc.)
SDHC cards will work in both SDHC and SDXC host devices.
SD Extended Capacity (SDXC) cards have storage capacities that can range from 64GB to 2TB
SDXC cards work differently than standard SD and SDHC cards. These differences mean that SDXC cards are NOT backward compatible with devices that only take standard SD cards (128MB – 2GB) or SDHC cards (4GB – 32GB).
While many devices built after 2010 should support SDXC cards, most current trail cameras will only support SDHC cards (4GB – 32GB).
To ensure compatibility, look for the SDXC logo on cards and the devices you wish to use them in. Remember that SDXC cards will only work in SDXC devices.
Which Type of Memory Card do Most Trail Cameras Use?
Almost all trail cameras currently being sold can support SDHC memory cards up to 32GB. This means that you can also use any old standard SD cards (128MB – 2GB) that you might have lying around, but be aware that current trail cameras might fill a standard SD card pretty quickly with their high-resolution images and video recording capabilities.
What Do Trail Camera Manufacturers Have to Say About SD Cards?
Browning recommends using good quality SD cards. They recommend Sandisk SD cards, Kingston SD cards, or Browning branded SD cards. Due to the large file sizes associated with high-resolution images and HD video recording, Browning states that the best cards for their trail cameras “are labeled SDHC and are a minimum of a class 4 card.”
Moultrie recommends SDHC cards with a 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, or 32GB capacity. The memory cards that Moultrie promotes have a class 10 write speed.
Ultimately they are saying that you are safe getting an SDHC card with whatever capacity that feels best for you, which is really more determined by how frequently you intend to check the camera and remove images and videos off the card. More importantly, they are urging its’ customers to get an SDHC card with a class 10 write speed to maximize the performance of the camera as it captures high-resolution videos and records HD videos.
Wild Game Innovations
The SD cards that Wild Game Innovations mentions as accessories for their trail cameras are SanDisk 8GB SDHC card that have a class 4 rating.
Since the typical Wild Game Innovations trail camera can accommodate up to a 32GB memory card 8GB card mentioned on their site seems kind of arbitrary. So if you get an SDHC card that is a class 4 or better (higher) you should be in good shape.
Conclusion and Recommendations
So when you are purchasing an SD card for your trail cameras, or other portable electronic devices, the first thing you need to think about is what physical size of card will your device accommodate. For trail cameras you will normally want the standard sized SD cards that measure 32x24x2.1 mm. If the packaging on the SD card DOESN’T say miniSD or microSD it should be a standard sized SD card.
Next, you will want to think about storage capacity. Along with storage capacity, you will want to think about how often you will plan on checking your trail camera and removing images from the SD card. The more time between visits to your trail camera the more storage capacity you should have. This is especially true if you plan on having using your trail camera to record video.
Finally, you will want to think about what speed class you need your SD card to have. Many trail card manufactures are just fine with a class 4 card. However, certain manufactures, such as Moultrie suggest getting class 10 cards. If you want to guarantee that you will get the most out of your device a class 10 card is well worth the investment and you can usually get a class 10 card for just a few extra dollars. This is especially true if you plan on recording a lot of videos.
Our recommendation would be to buy an SD card that has more memory capacity than you think you will need along with the fastest speed class you can find. As it relates to trail cameras currently being sold we suggest that you get a 32GB SDHC Class 10 memory card from SanDisk or another reputable manufacturer. You can view this SD card along with other options here.
Lastly, you might also want to consider getting 2 SD cards for each of your trail cameras. That way when you go into the woods you can simply switch out the old card with the new one and view the pictures and videos on your computer when you get home. By getting an extra SD card for your trail camera you will minimize the amount of time you spend in the woods (reducing the chances for spooking deer) and eliminate the need for purchasing a portable SD card viewer. You can shop for multipacks of SD cards here.