The memory card is one of the essential features of a digital camera. Without it, you're not going to be able to take many photos. But the Sony Alpha a6000 doesn't come with one. There are some bundles that retailers put together that might include a memory card, but chances are it's something you're going to have to pick up separately. So which card should you get?
Quick Recommendations on Memory Cards for the Sony a6000
If you'd like to cut to the chase, here are some quick recommendations for good memory cards for the Sony a6000. You can find more detailed explanations and more options below.
- SanDisk Extreme U3 V30 UHS-I
- SanDisk Extreme Pro U3 UHS-II
- Lexar Professional 1000x U3 UHS-II
- Toshiba Exceria Pro U3 UHS-II
It's Not as Simple as it Seems
The manual is pretty unhelpful on the topic of memory cards. If you go looking for it, this is what you'll find (on page 19):
So get an SD card that's faster than Class 4, correct? These days, pretty much all the SD cards you can buy are Class 10 or faster, so that's not particularly hard. So you're all set, right? If you're only shooting still images, then yes. Any SD card of any size that's Class 4 or above will work fine. There are advantages to having a faster one if you're shooting in burst mode or trying to speed up the process of downloading photos from the memory card, but for the most part, the a6000 is not especially picky about memory cards in the photo modes.
Which Memory Cards Work with XAVC S Video Mode on the Sony a6000?
The catch is if you're trying to record video. If you've tried to record video in the high-quality XAVC S mode, you might have come across this error message:
This memory card does not support recording of XAVC S movies. Change the file format or change the memory card. Refer to the instruction manual for details.
Except that you won't find any information in the instruction manual. So far as I can tell, there's no mention of this error in the instruction manual or any information about how to fix it.
It turns out there are two parts to solving this. The first is having a card that's fast enough for the high-bitrate recording that XAVC S uses. If you try to use a Class 4 card, you still won't be able to record in XAVC S mode.
The second part is that you'll need to use a card that's at least 64GB. Technically, it's not the size of the card that matters but the formatting system it uses. And because of the specifications set by the SD Association, SD cards that are 64GB and larger use a system known as exFAT that allows for larger file sizes. You'll also notice that SD cards 64GB and larger also have an SDXC marking on them--that's referring to the same specification. So you can look at it either way--use a card that's 64GB or larger or use one that's marked as SDXC--it's two ways of saying the same thing.1
Recommended SD Cards for the Sony a6000
The Sony a6000 is compatible with SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, so you can use any card with those marks on them. Most of the cards available these days are either SDHC and SDXC. In practice, you'll find SDHC on cards from 8GB through 32GB and SDXC on cards 64GB and larger.
But if you want to take full advantage of the a6000's features, here are some cards that work well. My emphasis here is on ones that meet the requirements, are from manufactures of high-quality cards, are readily available at retail, and are cost effective. There are faster, fancier, and more expensive cards that also work well, but those aren't the ones I'm focusing on here, and many of them will be overkill for the a6000.
And a reminder to be sure to get one that's 64GB or larger if you want to record in the a6000's XAVC S mode.
SanDisk Extreme U3 V30 UHS-I
SanDisk's Extreme range are good bets for many cameras, and that's true here too. SanDisk has faster ranges like the Plus and Pro lines, but the Extreme line is both quick enough for most cameras and usually less expensive than those faster lines.
One thing to note with SanDisk cards is that they recycle their model names. So you can find Extreme cards that are older and slower. You'll probably find those older versions work just fine--it really depends how far back you go--but you can tell the latest version because it's labeled with both U3 and V30, both of which are speed ratings specifically related to recording video. These cards are often good value, and you can sometimes find them sold in 2-packs.
SanDisk Extreme Pro U3 UHS-II
This is SanDisk's top-of-the-line range, and they work well in this camera. This latest version is somewhat overkill however, because they use UHS-II, which most cameras can't fully take advantage of. Older versions of the Extreme Pro cards are UHS-I and will still work well (ideally, stick to ones with the U3 rating on them).
Lexar Professional 1000x U3 UHS-II
Like the SanDisk Extreme Pro, this one actually has UHS-II, which you don't need with this camera, but it's still a very good, reliable option. They come in sizes up to 256GB, and you can sometimes find them in 2-packs.Buy at: Amazon or B&H Photo.
Sony U3 UHS-I
These Sony cards are quick, reliable, and fairly widely available. Sony also now has another much faster model that works well but is a bit overkill for this use.
Toshiba Exceria Pro U3 UHS-II
These aren't always as easy to find as some of the other brands, but they're very good cards indeed. Toshiba has been a big player in hard drives and flash memory for a long time, and this range builds on that expertise and reputation.
Sony Memory Stick
Sony has their own memory card format known as Memory Stick. It's the same size and shape as SD cards and broadly compatible with the SD format, with only minor differences.
But there's a catch. Way back when SD cards were a new thing, there were practical benefits to the Memory Stick specification. But that's no longer true. As SD cards have improved in speed and capacity, the case for Memory Sticks became hard to make, and the Memory Stick system never really took off. That means that they're often hard to find. That's especially true of the larger capacities such as 64GB and above. Just as with the SD cards, if you use a 32GB card or smaller you won't have full compatibility with all of the camera's video modes.
A further complication is that when you do find them, there seems to be an unusual number of counterfeit cards. So I'd recommend caution when buying them such as sticking to reputable retailers, buying only Sony originals, and steering clear of knockoffs from brands like "Sonyy" or brands you've never heard of.
Overall, I'd generally recommend using an SDXC card in the Sony a6000 rather than going to extra effort to hunt down a Sony Memory Stick. But if you want to use only Sony products (they also make SD cards, by the way, and very good ones--see above), you can find 32GB Memory Stick cards at Amazon. Finding the 64GB cards is harder.
Video Bitrates of the Sony a6000
The Sony a6000 records video with a variable bitrate. What that means is that it tries to adjust the amount of data being used to the image in the frame. A moving, detailed scene will use a higher bitrate than a still scene.
When you're using the highest quality codec, the XAVC S mode, the video is recorded with a target bitrate of 50 Mbps, which is substantially higher than when using the AVCHD or MP4 modes. Sometimes it's a little more and sometimes a little less--that's the variable bitrate coming into play--but it averages out around 50 Mbps regardless of which frame rate setting you're using.
In other modes, the bitrates range from 3 Mbps up to 28 Mbps depending on whether you choose AVCHD or MP4 and then which size and frame rate.
The Memory Card Slot on the Sony a6000
The Sony a6000 takes one memory card at a time (some other cameras take two).
One thing I don't like is where the memory card slot is. It goes in easily enough, but because it's so close to the compartment door, it's finicky to take it out again. If you're not removing your memory card often and are using the wireless connection or connecting a cable directly to the camera to download images, it's not something you'll run into often. But if, like me, you prefer to put the memory card into a memory card reader to download the images and footage, then it's an annoyance--a minor one, admittedly, but one nonetheless. All that said, there's not much you can do about it--I just wish the camera's designers had done things a little differently.
Formatting the Memory Card
It's always a good idea to format the memory card in the camera rather than doing it with a computer. That reduces the risk of something going wrong, and some cameras, like the a6000, add extra things like image databases that can't be done on a computer.
I've put together a separate step-by-step guide on how to format a memory card in a Sony a6000 here.
- It is technically possible to format a card smaller than 64GB with the exFAT filesystem using a computer's disk utilities, but that's not a solution that works here. To try it, I've formatted 32GB cards with exFAT and put them in the a6000. They will work for normal functions like taking photos and the MP4 movie mode, but once you try to switch to the XAVC S movie format you'll get the same error message, and it won't let you proceed. So the check isn't just for exFAT but also for the size of the card as well. And when you go to format the card in the camera again, it will revert to the filesystem specified in the SD Association standards (ie. it will format a 16GB or 32GB card with FAT32 and cards 64GB and larger with exFAT). ↩
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