New Camcorders Still Need the Best Blank Media

New Camcorders Still Need the Best Blank Media

With all the talk about "cloud" storage and Internet access through broadband of video and audio content -you'd think that there would be no need for physically storing any kind of data anymore. But there's yet to be a camera that doesn't require some type of physical storage in order to retain what has recorded.

Video cameras in the past relied on magnetic tapes (VHS, VHS-C, Super 8mm, MiniDV, etc.), and as a result had to be built large enough to accommodate the size of the tape - not to mention being limited in the storage space due to the physical form factor of the cassette being used. Today's cam's use built-in hard drives, spin mini-DVD discs and even use flash memory ("Look Ma, No Moving Parts!"). But the majority of new camcorders today rely on memory cards as the blank media purchased for either supplementing internal memory or acting as the main reservoir for the video being shot.

DV Tape

Yes, DV tape is still being manufactured because there are thousands of miniDV and HDV camcorders still in use, and some manufacturers, while not making new designs, still carry older versions of miniDV camcorders. Canon's GL2 is a classic example, introduced in the early 2000s, you can still buy them and users swear by them. MiniDV tapes have a lot of good reasons to still be around, they are great little archive tools for raw footage that you don't want to compress like you would with a DVD, and if you run out of card or drive space, you can always dump your raw files to miniDV and it'll be good for a long long time.

Memory Cards

Memory cards have a lot going for them when it comes to their use as the blank media for a video camera - on a purely size aspect they're small enough to never be any farther away than on a desk or shelf, or in a drawer, purse or backpack. They're durable, shock-resistant and hard to damage (at least, if you practice a modicum of common sense when handling them). Designed to only be inserted correctly, you really have to try hard to mess up inserting one and about the only disadvantage is that there's always that moment when you kick yourself for not getting the one with the greater storage capacity than the one you're holding right now.

So what's the catch? How about the fact that there's more than one type of memory card you can get - quite a few of them in fact. Passing over the fact that not every memory card will work in every video camera, the size of the card itself becomes an issue -- as does its data capacity and the physical speed at which it can accept and transfer video data (faster always being better, for sure). Knowledge may be power, but having a basic understanding of the types of memory cards that can be used as blank media in a video camera is just plain vital. So peruse and choose wisely.

CompactFlash (CF)

If we were beatniks, we'd say "CF is really square, man." One long edge provides plenty of connector space and in the world of retro, CF rules. Or call it CF Type I since CF Type II exists, but mainly as a shell for holding a Micro-drive or WiFi electronics. Type I is svelte enough, but it's still chunky gravy compared to the miniscule depth of its competition. Manufacturers include SanDisk, Transcend, Kingston, and Lexar among others.
Capacity: up to 128GB
Read/Write Transfer Speed: Varies depending upon card types with standard CF cards averaging around 30MB read/write speeds.
Cost: Retail prices range from just over $10 to more than $1,000.
Pro: High compatibility and availability
Con: Larger form factor unsuitable for smaller devices.

Secure Digital (SD)

Rather than having come to life on its own, some kudos must be given to the MMC (multimedia card) that never quite caught on. The nifty thing you will notice if you look closely is that there's a sliding tab that will lock out data from being put on the card. Reverse its position to eliminate the function. Manufacturers include SanDisk, Kingston, Transcend, Fujifilm among others.
Capacity: up to 2GB
Read/Write Transfer Speeds: Speeds average at about 6 MB per second.
Cost: Retail prices range from a couple of dollars to over $50
Pro: Inexpensive and widely available
Con: Rapidly being "eaten" away by the higher capacity SDHC model. Low capacity of the cards compared to CF. Locking tab requires very tiny fingers to operate.

Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC)

Think SD but faster and with greater capacity for storage without bulking up. Manufacturers include PNY, SanDisk, Transcend, Kingston, Lexar among others.
Capacity: up to 32GB
Read/Write Transfer Speed: Average around 11-15MB/s. SanDisk's Extreme series boosts that speed up to 20MB read/write.
Cost: Retail prices range from about $10 to more than $200.
Pro: Higher capacity/Faster data transfer speeds
Con: Same tiny tab and ease of loss. Not compatible with devices that use SD cards.

MiniSD

No surprise that it's a Secure Digital card shrinky-dinked, right? Keep a SD card adapter handy if you're planing to use it on your PC. Manufacturers include Kingston, SanDisk,Transcend among others.
Capacity: 1GB to 32GB
Read/Write Transfer Speed: Similar to SD cards.
Cost: Retail prices range from about $10 to around $80.
Pro: Same as an SD card. Can be used in SD card slots using SD card adapter.
Con: Not all devices can accommodate the card size directly. Higher capacities comparable to SD cards not available due to size of card.

MicroSD

Micro goes one step farther than Mini, and you're often likely to find this one used in cell phones and other portable devices where size is always an issue. Considering it was originally called "TransFlash," we'll go with Micro, no problem. It also comes in an SDHC mode (MicroSDHC). Manufacturers include Kingston, Blazing, SanDisk among others.
Capacity: up to 32GB
Read/Write Transfer Speed: Similar to SD cards and SDHC cards, respectively.
Cost: Retail prices range from about $20 to $200 and more.
Pro: Same as an SD card. Can be used in SD card slots using SD card adapter.
Con: Not all devices can accommodate the card size directly. Higher capacities are more expensive due to a miniscule size when compared to SD cards.

Memory Stick

Sized like a stick, this proprietary standard is Sony's baby either in the PRO, Pro Duo or Pro-HG Duo models. They were small to begin with, and then they got even smaller. Manufacturers include Sony, SanDisk and Lexar among others.
Capacity: up to 32GB
Read/Write Transfer Speed: up to 60MB/s average
Cost: Retail prices range from $20 to over $200.
Pro: Simple design and easy insertion.
Con: Limited series of devices that use the proprietary format.

P2 Memory Card

Designed for use in camcorders and other P2-compatible devices, this memory card is designed around the PCMCIA card form factor that laptops love to use - to call these small is to be sanity-challenged. Flash memory provides fast data transfer speeds that can seem almost instantaneous - especially compared to the flash memory cards consumers primarily use. Manufactures include Panasonic, Fujifilm among others.
Capacity: up to 64GB
Read/Write Transfer Speed: 1.2 Gb/s average
Cost: Retail prices range from around $400 to over $1000.
Pro: Extremely fast data transfer speeds
Con: Costly

Cards that Couldn't Cut It

1. MultiMedia Card - More similar to a memory stick than a SD card, this pup kept the connectors on its backside. Didn't go over well with just about anybody.

2. SmartMedia - similar in design to a CF card, if lighter and smaller. Front facing contacts may have looked cool but gave up reliability, dependably and ultimately salability.

3. xD-Picture Card - similar to a SD card but the format was not compatible with the majority of devices out there and went by-by quickly.

Sidebar: DVDs

DVDs, once the baddest dog on the block, now seem to have been relegated to the dog-pound in the light of flash memory and even hard drives. No cameras manufacturered today shoot to DVD, but there's still time when the storage capacity and near-universal availability of a DVD player makes storing content on these discs worthwhile. Providing you know which disc is which and what disc holds what. As the following provides:
DVD-R (minus): Near universal acceptance on any DVD player makes this the disc to use, providing you place all of the content on the disc at one time, and the length of the content doesn't exceed 4.7GB.
DVD+R (plus) follows the same storage capacity as DVD- does, only playback devices other than DVD players aren't quite as plentiful (modern computer DVD drives handle both DVD- and DVD+ with equal ease).
DVD+R DL: Stands for Dual-Layer or Double-Layer and ups the storage capacity to 8.5GB.
DVD+RW: Stands for Read/Write (or Re-Writable, according to some) which, as the name suggests, means that you can write content onto the disc, remove it and re-write new content.

Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's Blank Media Buyer's Guide

Marshal M. Rosenthal is a technology and consumer electronics freelance writer and has been writing for Videomaker since 1998.

Issue: 

Marshal M.
Rosenthal
Wed, 06/01/2011 - 12:00am

Comments

The article is confusing b

karlberger's picture
The article is confusing because it has been shrunk too much. The tables have columns labelled SxS which is not explained anywhere. The pictures of "Patriot memory and Lexar media"do not illustrate anything in the text In summary the article is not useful!!

You all need to do more ho

You all need to do more homework here. For one, where's SDXC... that's the format most current devices support (along with SDHC and SD). The SDXC formal specs allow for cards up to 2TB in size, and it defines yet again faster speeds (the maximum read speed from a standard SDHC is limited by the interface to 25MB/s, while current SDXC specs allow for 104MB/s. Not a huge issue for basic camcorders, but higher end models, HDSLRs, etc. may benefit from faster writes. And you can always use a faster read out of your assets. And MMC... MultiMediaCard was nothing like a memory stick, and quite a bit like an SD card. In fact, it was exactly the same length and width as an SD card, a little thinner by spec (24321.4 mm vs. 24322.1 mm). SD was, in fact, designed as an upgrade of the MMC, and most SD devices can still read the original MMC card type. And yeah.. while the original MMC hasn't seen much action, it's not a completely dead spec. In fact, there are several other variations (not SD compatible), cards available up to 32GB in size, etc. The original justification for SD was a seldom used DRM feature, and, from the creator's viewpoint, some proprietary technology. The MMC remains a fully open and free specification, the main justification for some continued use, though very little visible in the US consumer market.

I've used most of these d

artsmith's picture
I've used most of these devices, although 'Micro SD' is confined to the device holding maps in my GPS. Overall, I'd go for 'Compact Flash', and those who are seriously into gathering 'wild' audio, as I have to do at times, would tend to agree with me, I feel. Smaller, does not necessarily equate with 'better'. The only 'con' about 'CF' is the need to to insert and extract the device slowly and carefully from the camcorder, and if any resistance is felt which might indicate a bent pin, remove it again to check-it-out. However, I have had positive experiences too, from DV-Tape. I use the shot-logging process to 'top-and-tail' shots (like carrots), prior to committing to storage. I make all of my shots a bit over-length and trim off the first and last couple of seconds unless the material has been obtained very much 'on-the-fly'. That generally removes the unwanted noise picked up while your hands are still moving around the camcorder, checking the levelling-up of the tripod, etc. One point I would like to make, is that camcorders should not be shrunk around 'flash' devices simply to accommodate them. My JVC 'Everio' uses a removable CF flash-card or mini hard-drive optionally. Too much has been sacrificed in my view with this magnificent little performer to miniaturisation, which makes the camcorder too fragile for hard-use. Bear in mind too, that shots from a flash-device arrive pre-cut into ready-made clips. If the format is mpg2, or a variant of it, the definition is already compressed, and as good as it is going to get. That means, that it is destined for life on a DVD, and may not upscale, if needed, to a HD format. For those who feel they have moved 'beyond' mpg2, that might be a problem.