Lets be honest, in the realm of trail cameras there are hundreds of topics more exciting than SD cards. Wireless cameras, blue tooth connections, 4K video modes and high megapixel counts are all amazing features, but without the correct SD card, are unable to perform to their intended levels. SD cards are essentially the storage to your camera, and matching the best card to your camera is critical for the best results.
The best SD card for your trail camera depends on many factors specific to your camera, such as storage capacity, card size, and speed in transferring photos to the card.
We cover specifically standard sized SD cards in this article, but here is an article we spent time on constructing a helpful resource on using micro SD cards.
Almost all trail cameras on today’s market accept an SD card with a storage capacity of at least 32GB, with some able to hold a capacity up to 512GB. It is important to read the owners manual for your specific camera to assure the maximum capacity SD card your camera will take.
The recommended capacity of your trail camera is just the maximum size of disk it will accept, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to spend all your hard earned money on storage you may never use. A general rule of thumb is that for a standard 8 megapixel camera, an SD card will hold approximate 350 photos for every 1GB. A helpful resource is SanDisk’s photo capacity chart, which will give you an accurate amount of storage available for your camera based on the MP it uses.
While understanding the capacity for photos are pretty cut and dry, the amount of storage you will need for running your camera in video mode, takes a bit more work. An SD card’s capacity for videos is determined by the Mega bits per second (Mbps) or bit rate. In general the higher the bit rate a camera takes, the high the quality of the photo. Most trail camera manufacturers do not provide the bit rate of their cameras, but do provide the photo resolution.
The most common resolution in trail cameras are 1080p which has a bit rate of 8 Mbps, and a 720p which is 5 Mbps. Now knowing the mega bits per second of your camera, you can check SanDisks video capacity chart for the appropriate size SD card you will need.
In general, if you are using 1080p video resolution, with 30 second videos, your SD card will be able to record and store about 30 videos per GB.
SD, SDHC, SDXC
Strangely enough not all SD cards are made the same. There are actually three main types of SD memory cards; Standard SD , SD High Capacity (SDHC) and SD Extended Capacity (SDXC). Each classification of SD memory cards has its own capacity size, speed rating, and compatibility. Here is a break down of each type of SD card.
Standard SD memory cards have a memory capacity of of 128MB to 2GB. These cards have the ability to work in all devices that support standard SD, SDHC and SDXC. The speed rating for standard SD cards are displayed on the front of the card with the number circled. Standard speeds are 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10. The number indicates the amount of MB’s per second the card is able to write.
For example a class 4 speed memory card will be able to write 4MB per second. For trail camera users this information is vitally important, as we have just previously discovered a 1080p video will record at a rate of 8MB per second. Using a card that is slower than the speed in which is required, will quickly bog down your camera and could cause failure in transmitting data to your card.
SD High Capacity
SDHC memory cards have a capacity between 4GB and 32GB. Cameras that are manufactured after 2008 should be SDHC compatible. Be careful though SDHC cards are not backward compatible, meaning they will not work in devices that only take standard SD cards. They will however work in trail cameras that accept SD Extended Capacity.
The speed rating for SDHC memory cards comes in UHS speed class 1 or 3, which will displayed on the card encompassed by a “U”. The speed rating is read slightly different than standard SD cards, as the class rating is in multiple of 10. For instance a class 3 SDHC card multiplied by 10 (3 X 10= 30) will give you a writing speed of 30MB per second.
With SDHC memory cards you will not only receive more storage capacity, but will have a faster bit rate that will be able to keep up with your trail camera’s fast trigger speed, quick recover times, while being able to record full HD videos .
SD Extended Capacity
SDXC has capacities that range from 64GB- 2TB. While most trail cameras on the market today have a 32GB capacity, higher capacity units are becoming more popular as technology increases. These cards are not backward compatibile, so they will not work in trail camera units that are specifically designed for SDHC or standard SD cards.
SDXC uses the same UHS speed class ranking of 1 or 3, that the SD high capacity card does. Essentially the only difference between the two cards is the memory capacity. It is important to note that some lap tops and SD card readers may not support SDCX cards. This problem is more prevalent in devices manufactured before 2008. Be sure to check your card readers before using.
Video Speed Class
I would be remissed if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that with SDHC and SDXC cards there is also another speed class available called video speed class or V class. This class of recording speed can transfer files of speeds up to 90MB per second. These cards are designed to capture virtual reality, 360 views, as well as 8k videos. All feature in which trail cameras do not have, and are completely unnecessary, but are still an option that is available if you so choose.
SD cards come in three different physical sizes; Standard, Mini, and Micro. Nearly all trail cameras will use the standard SD size. Fundamentally there is no difference in the performance of the three variations of memory cards. Each will adhere to the same storage capacity and speed classifications as the standard SD memory cards. These cards while functioning in the same manner are not interchangeable due to their size difference. Be sure to use the card size that your trail camera manufacturer suggests.
SD cards might not be the most exciting topic on trail cameras, but their importance to its overall performance is vital. In most cases using your trail camera’s manufacturer suggestion on SD cards, will be in your best interest. Pay close attention to the cards capacity and its speed class, and choose the card that is best suited for your needs.
SD Card Recommendations
As a rule of thumb, I always purchase two SD cards for every camera I own, and format both cards specifically to that camera. Having two cards dedicated to each camera allows you to always have a card in your camera and one you can use to swap out cards.
When running cameras specifically for photos I almost always use a Sandisk 16GB class 10 card. With the ability to store 350 photos per GB you will have over 5,000 photo capacity on your card. In most situations that is more than enough photos in between card changes. The only situation in which I would use a larger SD card capacity is when I have a an external battery source on my camera, and I have no intent of checking that camera for at least 6 months. In those cases, I will use a Sandisk 32GB, in which you will get more than 10 photos of storage.
When I use a camera for the specific purpose of using video mode, which coincidentally in most of the time, I will often run the Sandisk 64GB class 10 card. The reason for this is not a need for nearly 2,000 videos, which is a nice added feature, but the capacity of running video mode becomes a bit more complicated when dealing with the recording speed of frame per second (fps). Almost all of my video cameras not only use 1080p, but also record at a speed of 30 fps which inevitably will take more space on the SD card.
The last thing that I recommend is to always purchase brand name SD cards. I personally like the Sandisk brand, and have had very few issues with the hundreds of cards I have ran through my cameras. I also encourage everyone to purchase their SD cards through Amazon. The price for two 64GB cards is the same as the price of two 16GB cards at your local super market. There is no need to spend more on the exact same product.