Sound Advice Column: Digital SLRs need high-speed memory cards, image stabilization, zoom range and tripods

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Distributed By McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Q: I am looking to buy a digital camera and want to learn more about memory cards. In practical situations, what is the difference between using a regular card and a “high-speed” card?

-Karen DeJeet, Murrysville, PA

A: High-speed memory cards read and write data much faster than regular cards. In very simple terms, when you take a picture, you write from the camera to the card. When you review a picture, your camera reads from the card to display the image. High-speed memory cards are a must for digital SLRs (single lens reflex cameras) and advanced cameras with more than 8 megapixels, which are usually designed to work best with high-speed memory.

You can use a regular speed card with such cameras, but it will result in very sluggish performance when reviewing pictures because it takes the camera too long to read the data from the memory card. It can be very frustrating when you push the button to view the next image and you sit there and wait, wait, wait! Regular memory also may bog down the camera when taking several pictures in quick succession because the camera can’t transfer the data to the card quickly enough.

If your camera is not designed to take advantage of high-speed memory, you won’t see any speed improvements when using the camera, but there are still potential benefits. High-speed memory cards will download your pictures to your computer much faster if you use a USB 2.0 card reader. It could be the difference between waiting a few seconds to download the pictures, instead of a few minutes.

High-speed memory used to cost significantly more than regular memory cards, but that is no longer the case, especially if you wait for a sale. I recently bought some 4GB high-speed SD cards made by Sandisk (a top name brand) for only $29 each, about $5 more than the regular speed version. Each card included a compact USB 2.0 high-speed card reader, making it an even better deal.

Given its advantages and the modest price premium, I recommend readers purchase high-speed memory cards exclusively and pass on the regular speed versions. If your camera uses SD cards, make sure it is compatible with “SDHC,” as most high-speed SD cards now conform to the new SDHC standard. If your camera is not compatible with SDHC out of the box, check the manufacturer’s Web site to see if there is a firmware download that includes SDHC compatibility.

Q: I am considering purchasing the Canon SX 100IS that has a 10x zoom, or the Nikon Coolpix P80, which has an 18x zoom. I understand both have optical image stabilization. Does OIS work well with a zoom that large, or will I still need to use a tripod for most shots>

-Jack Williams, State College, PA

A: The stabilization works, but how well it works depends on how close you are to your subject, how much zoom you are using and how steady your hand is. I don’t think you will need a tripod for most shots. However, you may need a tripod for some shots. If you keep the shutter speed over 1/125 of a second with the OIS, I think you will be fine in most cases if you aren’t enlarging the pictures a great deal. If you are making big enlargements and want them to look their absolute best, use a tripod.

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