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Everything You Need to Know About SD Cards and Trail Cameras

Everything You Need to Know About SD Cards and Trail Cameras

SD Cards and Trail Cameras - Why you could be wasting your money! 

While we are all overwhelming fortunate to be past the 35mm Trail Camera era, the digital revolution hasn’t eliminated all of our user frustrations tied to poor data recording or the lack thereof. Although we may not all know the technical differences between cards, we do know what function they serve and how seamlessly they store data.

But what about the problematic times…when the camera doesn’t write to a card, you have the corrupt files, or you experience any number of the other glitches? Is it the camera? Maybe the batteries? The card? User error? Or a combination? It’s hard to imagine something so small and typically an afterthought when talking trail cameras can literally bring a grown man to his knees….not to mention the number of free-flowing cuss words!                                                     

The bottom line is SD cards are usually treated like a red headed step child (apologies if that statement holds true to any readers) but truthfully they are as vital to the performance of your camera as the camera itself. We all know what SD cards look like and their purpose so let's take a minute to look at the technical differences and best practices to save some frustration.

The Technical Lowdown 

Card Type

Skipping over all the does not apply to the trail camera world, the two most common types of cards used are SDSC (Secure Digital Standard Capacity) and SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity). With advancements in hardware designs in trail cameras you will also start seeing the ability to utilize SDXC (Secure Digital eXtended Capacity) depending on the manufacturer and camera model…As seen in our LIFT II model accepting up to a 64GB card. 

The main difference between types is simply storage capacity and their filing system.

  • SD cards contain up to 2GB of storage with a FAT 12 or 16 file system
  • SDHC cards contain 4GB to 32GB of storage with a FAT 32 file system
  • SDXC typically ranging from 64GB to 2TB with an exFAT file system. 
The file allocation tables get somewhat complicated and for the purposes of not boring you to death with coder/techie talk, we are skipping over it.  A quick google search can do you justice if interested in learning more.

The thought process when selecting a card type for your trail camera should be dependent on two things.

  • What mode is the camera running on?
  • How long do I anticipate before swapping cards?

Your card selection should easily accommodate those answers. A good rule of thumb that we follow at Exodus is to only account for 75% of max card capacity just in case the soak is longer than anticipated. This can get tough when using smaller capacity cards because every camera model will write different size files due to hardware/software differences. Our suggestion....buy bigger. I've never heard anyone complain about having extra storage on their cards.

Below is a generalized chart giving you some tangible data to reference with card capacities.

Memory Card Capacity*

 

MP Setting

   File size*

4GB

  8GB

16GB

32 GB

64GB

3 MP

  800 KB

5,500

  11,000

  22,000

  44,000

  88,000

5 MP

  1 MB

3,500

  7,000

   14,000

  28,000

  56,000

8 MP

  1.3 MB

2,100

  4,200

   8,400

  16,800

  33,600

12 MP

  2.7 MB

1,400

  2,800

   5,600

   12,000

  24,000

VIDEO

  HD 720p

   

  3H

   6H

    12H

    24H

VIDEO

  HD1080p

   

  2H

   4H

    8H

    16H

*File sizes will differ from model to model, manufacturer to manufacturer due to software. Numbers from the LIFT II were used for illustration purposes

 

Card Class

Cards are categorized into 3 classes designated by their minimum writing speeds “Speed Class”, “UHS Speed Class”, and “Video Speed Class”. The latter two do not really concern us as trail camera users.  If you are using UHS or VSC class cards you’re liking paying for performance that won’t be seen when using them with trail cameras.

Speed Class cards, most commonly used with trail cameras, are designated on the card with a number encompassed by the letter “C” like the photo above. The speed class categorization is based on minimum writing speeds as shown in the chart from the SD Association. The number is shown inside the "C" simply correlates with the minimum writing speeds as listed below

As noted in the previous section, Card Types, there are a few cases where SDXC cards can be utilized with trail cameras. As seen in the graphic above the class will be designated with a the number "1" or "3" encompassed by the letter "U". Typically these cards can be used with higher end trail cameras recording FHD video at higher bit rates.

So the question is, why doesn’t a higher class card improve your camera’s performance? The writing speed of the cards is classified as a minimum, but only guarantees that speed when it’s provided by the host. For example, if you’re running a class 10 card with a writing speed of 10+Mb/s but the host is only providing a speed of 5Mb/s simply not achieving the performance you paid for. On the positive side, there isn't really any technical downside as long as the card is compatible with the camera.

 

SD Card Brands

It seems as though every manufacturer has their recommendations due to the FW/codec of the specific camera and circuitry supplying voltage to the card. For best results, we recommend following the manufacturer’s suggestions and using their card of choice. If no specific brand of card is recommended, typically you should have great results with any major brand. Here is a quick rundown of a few major players…

Lexar

Lexar offers superior quality and reliability. Some of their cards are not cheap but come with a 5-year warranty. Unlike other manufacturers, they focus solely on memory and have received multiple awards and editor’s choices for their products.

SanDisk

The SanDisk Memory is arguably the global leader in flash memory cards. The brand focus is mostly on memory and has a huge variety to choose while offering a 5-year warranty. For most folks, SanDisk is their go to.

Sony

The corporate giant Sony was one of the first manufacturers of memory cards. Although the company is in multiple markets, the Sony memory division is still very competitive and high quality but are only backed by a one year warranty.

Kingston

Kingston offers a wide range of flash memory that usually comes with a lifetime warranty. Their flash data retention is rated at 10 years of normal wear and tear. This means there’s very little chance of losing data due to a faulty secure digital SD memory card.

Samsung

Yes, the conglomerate makes SD cards too, along with everything else under the sun. Samsung does guarantee their cards to be water resistant, shockproof, magnetic proof and warranty for 5 or 10 years depend on the card.

PNY

Headquartered in Parsippany, NJ PNY has become a global powerhouse dedicated to business and consumer grade electronic manufacturing. PNY offers a very reasonably priced selection of cards but only boast a one year warranty. Personally, I've had great success with PNY cards, the downside is specific types and class can be hard to come by.

 

Best Practice Guide for using SD Cards in Trail Cameras

Manufacturers Recommendation

We've mentioned this multiple times here and for good reason. Save yourself the trouble and use the brand, card type, and card class the manufacturer suggests. Using a card that is not compatible with the specific trail camera it's being paired with can cause major issues such as card errors, corrupt files, scrambled photos, lagging videos, and possibly it may not work at all.

 

1) 2 Cards per camera and label to camera

We can't stress this point enough! Over the past 3 years of running approx 75 cameras, the lack of organization has bitten us more than once. Having two cards for each camera will allow you to catch potential issues with cards. When that happens you can quickly set that card off to side or dispose of it. However, the bigger point here is ensuring you are not using cards in multiple brands of cameras! Every camera operates slightly differently in regards to its codec, which may affect data transfer if the card is put into a different camera. 

2) Format card in camera before use.

LIFT II Format option

If you're familiar with our products or maybe even chatted with us at a tradeshow you're likely familiar with this practice. Consider formatting your cards like an oil change with vehicles....it's just good maintenance. Formatting your card inside the device allows the camera to arrange the file structure to work best with its codec. This practice also ensures there is no corrupt files or cookies on the card that could affect data transfer. 9 times out of 10 you won't have any issues but if you fail to practice this habit at some point you will have an issue.

3) Inspect contacts and locking tab.

sd card contacts

This will probably get overlooked as we ourselves only do this when we experience an issue but it is a good idea to visually inspect the contacts on the card. Dirt, debris, or significant wearing on the contacts can be problems. (One a side note, this can also happen in the cameras card slot. When doing your yearly inventory of cameras gently blow into the slot to ensure it's free and clear of obstructions) Without proper contact inside the camera's card slot, you'll likely get "No Card" errors. On top of having clean contacts be sure the lock/unlock tab is freely moving and working properly.

Proper storage when not in use.

Always keep cards in some type of protective case, whether that's the small plastic case they come with or a more advanced card holder. A small watertight case that securely holds and organizes cards is your best bet. It's your best bet to store unused cards in a location with moderate temps and humidity levels....no 100°+ trucks on summer days!

 

If you've enjoyed this article or found it the least bit informative we'd love to hear some feedback or a social share would even be better. If there's ever a topic you'd like us to cover please feel free to drop us a line at info@exodusoutdoorgear.com