If you are at all familiar with DJI products, you know that DJI has gone to extreme efforts to allow you to take great videos and still photos. The entire Phantom series has two methods of viewing and saving the product of your labor for later editing and for others to enjoy.
One of the methods is direct streaming. The image that the camera views is transmitted back to your controller screen and, in some models, can be streamed to other devices.
This method can be difficult to watch because it is coming directly from the drone and the strength of the signal depends on the strength of the battery and the distance the drone is from the receiver.
DJI has supplied all of the Phantom Series drones with a port right in the aircraft for a mini SD Card to record all the images directly, thus eliminating any lag time, transmission interruption, and picture distortion.
The best use of the SD card is that you can download the entire contents of the card to a computer for editing and production finishing touches. So what SD Card do we need for the DJI Phantom series of drones?
All the Phantom series drones require a Micro SD card with a maximum capacity of 128GB. The card supports a write speed of at least 15MB/s. These requirements are met with a Class 10 or UHS 1 rating.
The one exception is for the Phantom 3 Standard, which takes a maximum capacity of 64GB but can take a Class 6 or higher card.
For several decades, since the technology age came into being, manufacturers have been in constant research and development wars to invent and produce better data storage capabilities.
In a recent visit I made to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX., I discovered that the original control center, located several floors above ground, was connected with miles and miles of cables to the data storage and operations center in the basement of the same building.
The amount of data and computing power that filled several rooms of the basement is now available in the cell phones we carry in our pockets.
From the beginning, it was obvious that a more efficient data storage method was needed.
To help, we’ve identified and reviewed the best drone courses for beginners and professionals.
We have all heard about CDs (compressed disks), memory sticks, and a multitude of other devices that can save an extraordinary amount of information in a very small area, but what we want to focus on in our discussion is the memory card.
One of the first cards developed was the MultiMedia Card (MMCs), which had become the industry standard for many years.
The picture below is an example of the size of the MMCs. Many computer systems still have ports that support these cards.
In 1999, three of the bigger tech companies, Toshiba, SanDisk, and Panasonic formed a cooperative association, naming it the Secure Digital Association (SDA), thus the term SD came about.
They formed the non-profit SDA in January of 2000 with the goal of promoting SD Card standards.
There are now about 1,000 members, and they force compliance to the accepted standards and specifications so that all users of SD cards can rely on the compatibility of all SD cards with all devices that use this storage device.
The SD card has even been through a couple different designs, but the currently accepted form is the Mini SD card.
Again, here is a size comparison of the MMC to the mini SD. Please take note that the examples pictured are not an endorsement of the brand but just examples of what is on hand.
Finding the right SD Card
First of all, I recommend that you shop for your SD Card at a physical store. Most stores like Best Buy, Office Depot, and even Walmart have a good selection of SD Cards with various brands, sizes, and speeds.
I do not shop online, even at a reputable site like Amazon, because there are so many fake or counterfeit SD Cards on the market, and if you get one from an online site, you will lose your money and might hurt your aircraft programming.
Be careful and don’t fall for lower prices. This is an important item in your drone business inventory, so don’t risk a few dollars for quality.
I prefer the name-brand SanDisk. They are well known, their packages are clearly marked with all the information you need, and they are easily returnable to the store if there is a problem.
Does size count?
You might be asking yourself, “how much memory should I get in an SD Card? Is bigger better?”
SD Cards come with a variety of memory capacities from 2GB up to 128TB. Yes, that is Terra Bytes.
However, the DJI manual states that you should not use an SD Card over 128GB (Giga). If you use a higher memory capacity, the card might not recognize the drone, and the photographic data might be corrupted.
When you format the card (we will cover that in a minute), the drone prints information onto the card that limits the storage. So, if your capacity is higher than the drone can print, a conflict occurs, and the SD Card may not recognize the drone.
All that to say, when shopping for a mini SD card, check the memory capacity first. Remember that amount of memory also translates into price. The higher the memory, the more it costs.
If you want to save a few bucks by getting less memory, you might find yourself on an extended flight and in the middle of a scene you really want to keep, but your memory card will be full, and you will have to fly all the way back just to change cards. What a pain.
Speed Does Count
Writing speed is important because of the programming of the drone. If you get a card that does not accept the necessary speed, you simply will not get the data you need.
If you are talking too fast for your audience to understand you, your message is lost. Same with a slow SD Card.
DJI says a Class 10 or UHS 1 card that writes at least 15MB/s is required. This information is printed on the SD Card and the package it comes in.
If you see a small “C” with a 10 inside, that is a class 10.
UHS 1 is shown by a U with a “1” inside, as seen on the 32GB card below.
On the ONN and the SanDisk 128GB there is a “3” inside the U, which means it is a UHA 3 rating. The “V30” printed on the card means the minimum writing speed is 30MB/s.
So the 32GB card, even though it is a C10 (U1), might not be fast enough because Class 10 only has a minimum writing speed of 10MB/s, and 15MB/s is needed. This card does not include the actual writing speed.
How many do you want?
Redundancy and backup are an absolute necessity in flying a drone, especially if you are trying to run a business. I have a backup drone, 7 backup batteries, extra propellers, and at least two SD Cards in my tool kit at all times.
I usually have three 128GB UHS 3 cards stored in my case where I can easily reach them. SD Cards can go bad due to damage and wear. And, if you are able to catch so much footage that you fill your card, you will need an extra.
Another issue that can quickly spoil your shooting day is if you discover that you forgot to download the images from the SD Card to your computer. This can leave you with a card that has less available memory.
Time to use the SD Card
Now that you have purchased the card and opened the package, what do you do with this tiny computer chip?
The first step is to load it into the aircraft, and all Phantom 4 models have the SD slot in the same location. Shown here on the Phantom 4 Pro V2, when the battery is facing toward you, the SD slot is on the left side of the bird.
Just below the side obstacle sensors and next to the USB port is the SD card slot. The picture on the Phantom shows that the SD Card needs to be inserted with the electronic contact points going in first and facing up.
Push it in until it clicks in place and stays there. You might need to use your fingernail to push the card in all the way.
Removing the card is just the opposite. Push (maybe with your fingernail, then let the pressure off, and the card will come out.
Be careful at this point to keep your hand or finger over the card because the slot has a spring loading mechanism, and it can shoot the SD card out.
If you do this over grass (as I did last night) or dirt, you might not be able to find it.
What all drones have in common is that you need to FORMAT the new SD card before you fly.
But, why do we need to format the SD Card?
First of all, formatting places information onto the card from the drone that allows the card to accept the videos.
Secondly, formatting cleans all other information off the card. If you format the card and forgot to back up your data onto a computer or other device, you just lost everything you had. Been there, done that.
When to format
Five circumstances warrant formatting your SD Card:
- The SD Card is new and has not been used in this aircraft.
- The SD card is full, and you have safely backed up the files to your computer.
- The SD card has stopped working properly.
- You’re about to start on a new project or shoot.
- The SD card has not been formatted in a while.
How to format your SD card
Follow this process to format your SD card for your Phantom 4 using DJI Go 4:
- In the DJI Go 4 app, touch the screen on the upper toolbar just to the right of the DJI symbol. This activates the “Aircraft Status” menu.
- At the bottom of the menu is “Remaining SD Card Capacity” and “Format” in a square box.
- Push the Format button, and a confirmation message appears, verifying that you want to format this card. This is where you need to be positively sure that all the information on the SD Card is copied somewhere else or is not needed at all because once you confirm the operation, there is no going back.
- Push “OK.”
- When the operation is complete, you will get a confirmation message.
Many Phantom 4 V2 pilots are switching to the Litchi app instead of DJI Go 4. My reason for switching over was that my Samsung Tablet and DJI Go 4 are no longer compatible with each other.
I have been assured by Samsung and DJI that this issue is being worked on, but until then, I still needed an app to film and produce work for my clients, so I went to Litchi.
In Litchi, the screen is a bit different, so to format your SD Card from the main screen:
- Touch the tools button on the upper toolbar in the far right corner. It looks like three gears.
- This brings up the “Settings” menu, which has five categories.
- The “Camera” button selects the necessary menu.
- The third button from the bottom is the “Format SD Card” activated.
- Again, you will get a confirmation message, so push “Cancel” or “OK.”
The manual for the DJI Phantom 4 Pro v2.0 clearly says that a Micro SD card with a maximum capacity of 128GB and that the card supports a write speed of at least 15MB/s. These minimum requirements are met with a Class 10 or UHS 1 rating.
To be sure that these requirements are met, I recommend a UHS 3 with a speed over 15MB/s clearly visible on the package. That way, you have some assurance that your projects will not be lost or corrupted.