If you paid any attention to the launch of Canon and Nikon’s first full frame mirrorless cameras—the EOS R, Z6, and Z7— you’d have noticed that some people were pretty unhappy that they only came with a single card slot—an SD slot for the Canon and an XQD slot for the Nikons—instead of dual storage card slots. So, let’s find out what the big deal was.

Professional and Prosumer Cameras Traditionally Come With Two Card Slots

Canon and Nikon have traditionally included dual card slots in their prosumer and professional offerings. Typically, it was one SD card slot and one CF or other faster card slot but, as SD card speeds have picked up, that’s changed a bit. Sony’s top-end mirrorless cameras all use dual regular SD card slots.

You can use dual slots in a few ways:

  • You can shoot RAW files to one card and JPEGs to another. That way, you have all the data, but you also have smaller photos you can quickly process on the go.
  • You can shoot RAW files to both cards, giving you a perfect backup should anything happen to one card. This is the most popular use.
  • You can shoot first to one card and then to the next which gives you more storage space. Since SD card prices have dropped, this is nowhere near as popular. Now, if people want more storage, they go with bigger cards.

Shooting to dual card slots, however, has never been without its downsides. Since the camera had to write to two cards at the same time (and one was often slower), it could slow down the speed at which your camera could take multiple photos. It was wedding and landscape photographers for whom data integrity was more important than burst speed that used them; sports or wildlife photographers often couldn’t.

Nikon has seemingly addressed this with the Z6 and Z7: they’ve used a single XQD slot which is a faster standard than SD cards. This means the cameras can—at least theoretically for now—shoot faster bursts for longer and higher definition (and bit-depth) video. Canon’s decision to go with a single SD card slot is a little more questionable and was probably just motivated by wanting to save space inside their smaller camera body.

Is Having Only One Card Slot That Unsafe?

All the uproar is predicated on two things:

  • That lots of people relied on dual card slots.
  • That a single card slot is that much more unsafe than two.

I suspect Canon and Nikon did their research and found that the vast majority of people buying their top end cameras weren’t using dual card slots, or at least weren’t relying on them. The amateur photography market dwarfs the professional market.

The second issue is a little more thorny. Storage cards can and do fail. It’s easy to find horror stories of photographers losing amazing images that took a lot of time and money to create. It’s foolish to think SD cards are 100% reliable. However, the odds of you having a problem with your SD cards if you use high-quality cards and treat them well are tiny. It’s like a reverse lottery: someone will lose data but the odds of it being you are next to nothing.

For people who need data security—wedding photographers are by far the biggest one since they’re paid thousands of dollars to capture someone’s big day—then dual card slots are a must and Canon, and Nikon’s decision is a nightmare. After all, wedding photographers are one of the biggest groups of professionals.

For everyone else though, it’s probably not that big a deal. I shoot to dual card slots because it’s a good idea, but it’s not crucial to my workflow. With a single card slot I’d be running a bit more risk, but realistically, I’m more likely to lose images because my camera gets stolen than because an SD card fails.

And really, that’s the decision that everyone’s facing now. Canon and Nikon have decided that a single card slot is good enough and, for most people, it probably is. A few more photographers will lose images if they decide to go mirrorless but the vast majority won’t notice the change. Plus, Sony is still making cameras with dual card slots—and who knows, the uproar might be enough to get Canon and Nikon to add them back in the second generations.

Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like the New York Timesr and on a variety of other websites, including Lifehacker.
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