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SD cards for Leica M9 cameras. Some advice.

Which are the best SD cards for Leica M9 cameras? Since Leica digital photography graced the world, there have been ongoing debates across the internet about those little pieces of plastic we insert into our cameras to record the images we take.

Between myself and Sarah, we regularly use three M9 cameras, and have owned five altogether. I also own a Leica M8. In our experience, the choice of SD cards for Leica M8/M9 is critical to getting the best from the camera.

Here are our words of advice and some memory card tips and tricks to make sure you have a trouble-free relationship with these very important bits of plastic.

1. How to choose the best SD Cards for Leica.

Always buy good quality cards from a reputable dealer. I know it’s tempting to buy memory cards from internet wholesalers at discounted prices, but don’t. Please, don’t. There are many counterfeit cards out there, so spend a little extra and get a card from a reputable dealer.

My favourite SD cards for Leica are made by SandDisk. I have used SanDisk cards in my cameras for 15 years and (touch wood) have never experienced a problem. Sadly, the same can’t be said for Lexar cards.

2. Make sure your SD cards are compatible with your Leica camera. 

This might seem a daft point to make, but older Leica cameras like the M8 and M9 are really, really picky about which cards they like.

Be aware that the Leica M9 won’t work with SDXC cards or fast SDHC cards over 32GB. The best SD cards for Leica M9 cameras are the slower SanDisk SDHC cards (the camera buffer can’t take advantage of high write speeds), which are no bigger than 32GB.  The good thing is that these are really cheap at the moment.

In some parts of the world, the older SanDisk cards are becoming harder to find at old-school speeds, so Sarah has recently started to use 16GB Panasonic Gold SDHC cards for her M9. Going forward, the Panasonic could end up making the best SD cards for Leica M9 cameras as they are readily available and built very well.

3. What size of SD card should you buy?

My advice is to always buy the biggest memory card you will need to cover whatever you like to shoot. I’ve always believed that there is a greater chance of something going wrong with a memory card if it is removed from the camera mid-shoot. SD cards are particularly hazardous. They are small, easy to lose and breakable.

Camera companies spend a lot of money researching ways of protecting the card while it is in the camera. It is the safest place for it. Keep it safe and sound inside the camera until you are ready to download it. In the case of our choice of SD cards for Leica M8/M9, we haven’t had any reason to buy bigger than 16GB for a day’s shooting.

4. Don’t mix memory cards and cameras. 

Between myself and Sarah, we use a number of different cameras in our work. Each camera has its own set of cards, and each SD card is labelled with the camera ID. For example, Sarah has a set of SD cards for Leica M9, another for Monochrom and so on. This makes any troubleshooting easier and prevents mistakes from happening when preparing for a shoot. 

5. The best way of transferring images to a computer.

Always use a good, fast and reliable card reader. You can use USB cables between the camera and computer but this often very slow, as is WIFI. I’ve been using a Hoodman USB 3 reader for years, and it’s been 100% reliable. You can buy them from Amazon. I can’t say the same for the many Lexar readers that I’ve owned. 

If you experience issues with corrupt images, your card reader is most likely the culprit – not the card. Spend some money on a really decent reader and make sure the cables are of good quality.

6. Is it safe to use a computer to format an SD Card?

Memory cards are designed to be formatted in a camera. Not a computer. The camera needs to tell the card what file structure it wants to use, a computer will put in place its own file structure which isn’t compatible with the camera. 

If you ever see a folder which says DCIM or similar in the file structure of the card, it means an old file structure is still in place (in this case Canon). This happens a lot when people buy a new camera but use an old memory card.

When it comes to SD cards for Leica cameras, I always recommend buying new cards as they are really cheap. However, if you have existing cards which are compatible and you want to use them, it’s a good idea to give the card a really deep clean to get rid of any traces of the previous camera. To do this, we use an app called SD Card Formatter. Once your card goes into the computer, the app performs a deep clean and factory reset. Format it in the camera, and you are good to go. 

7. Is it a good idea to delete images in the camera?

I know a lot of photographers who do this, especially if they are running out of space on their memory card. It’s bad practice. Not only can deleting on the fly upset the data, but I will also guarantee that the law of sod will come into play. Was that picture I just deleted really that bad? Maybe if I’d seen it on my laptop….??

The easy answer to this question is to buy a higher capacity card!!

I know some people will argue that it isn’t best practice to have all your eggs in one basket, and if something happens to the card while in the camera, then lots of images will be lost. All I can say is that I’ve never had an issue with a card in the camera, but I have seen plenty of damaged SD cards outside of the camera. If the shoot is supercritical, then use two bodies and don’t worry about it.

8. Don’t wipe your card until you have finished working on your images.

On any super-critical assignment, we prefer to shoot one set of cards per event, and those cards won’t be used again until the event pictures are backed up, edited, exported, put online, and the final images are backed up to multiple drives. Throughout the entire editing and output process, the original cards serve as a back-up. If anything goes wrong with hard drives, computers, or the office catches fire, we still have the original images. 

9. After downloading, don’t put your card back in the camera and shoot with it. 

I’m not sure where I read this SD Card tip, but it makes a lot of sense. The downloading process can potentially corrupt the card database. So even though your files have downloaded correctly, there could be a nasty surprise if you take the card from your computer and carry on shooting with it. Format the card every time it has been downloaded to ensure the database is intact before taking photos.

If at any time you need to recover images after formatting your card, Use SanDisk RescuePRO.

10. Should you buy a camera that has only one card slot?

Yes, you should. Absolutely. I’ve shot over 500 events with various digital cameras and have never, ever had an issue with memory cards. I’ve always followed the points in this post religiously, and I don’t think about only having one card in my camera. I’ve had shutters fail, lenses stop working, error messages, buffer issues, and power problems, but never an issue with a card.

I always shoot critical jobs with two camera bodies at all times. That has been my redundancy policy since the days of film. If a camera stops working, I continue with the second one. This is far better, in my mind than shooting an event with one camera and two card slots. Of course, many of today’s pro-level cameras do come with two card slots. However, if you like small and light cameras, you may find that there is only one slot available because of the camera size. Don’t let that put you off. It is ok to use a camera with one card slot. 

So which are the best SD cards for Leica M9 cameras?

Which are the best SD Cards for Leica M9 cameras?

The Leica M9 is a beautiful camera and the closest model to the M6 film cameras I have used for 20 years. The SD cards have always been a weak point in its design, especially during the early days, but by taking my own advice about choosing and caring for the cards, this weakness is a thing of the past.

In my opinion, and given the SD cards which are still available today, the best SD cards for Leica M9 cameras are the SanDisk Ultra SDHC cards, 48MB/S, 16GB.

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