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Does a new camera need new memory cards?

New memory cards for your new camera are

New memory cards for your new camera are a good idea if they're more than two years old. Credit: Dreamstime

Every new model of digital camera that comes out seems capable of taking bigger and better photos. But does buying a new camera also mean buying new memory cards?

A friend who just bought a new Canon DSLR camera was wondering whether there was any problem with using the same SD cards she's been using for the past few years. The memory cards she has are a bit old, and by today's standards, they're small capacity (8 gigabytes). They've always done the job, but she noticed that her new camera shoots larger photos and each card was capable of holding fewer shots.

It is important to understand the different formats your camera can shoot. Every camera can capture JPG files, which are compressed to take up less storage space. Better cameras can also make RAW files, which are uncompressed to include the most image data. RAW files usually need to be edited before they're used or sent to someone else. You'll need a photo-editing program like Adobe Photoshop ($10 to $50 a month) or GIMP (free) to save them to a format that anyone can use. Some cameras can also shoot in a mode called RAW+JPG, which saves a RAW file and a smaller JPG file of each image.

In simple terms, let's say your camera shoots 5-megabyte JPG files and 50-megabyte RAW files. This means if you have an 8 GB memory card, you can store 160 RAW photos or 1,600 JPG files.

It makes sense to buy new cards when purchasing a new camera if your cards are more than two years old. You should also get cards that are 32 GB or larger.

New cameras can also shoot faster bursts of images. You'll want a card that can write data as fast as your camera can shoot. Look at your camera's specifications for memory card speed.

A quick check on Amazon shows that SanDisk 128 GB SD cards cost $20 to $40, depending on how fast they can write data. The speed will be listed on the card, such as 95 MB/s.

Finally, while it's tempting to replace a handful of 8 GB memory cards with one big 128 GB card, that's like putting all your eggs in one basket.

If you're on vacation and your 128 GB SD card decides to die, all your photos are gone.

Buy four 32 GB cards (about $8 to $14) instead. If one dies or gets lost, you're still left with most of your images.

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