When it comes to choosing a new SD memory card for your camera, there are a lot of options out there – not only differing in speed and capacity, but also brands and budget.
As camera technology improves, and 4K video capture rapidly takes over from Full HD recording, storage media has to move quickly to keep up with the demands these new technologies place on it.
Memory cards increasingly need to offer not only large capacities, but also performance that allows them to cope with crunching all those gigabytes of data. They also need to be able to keep up with blisteringly fast burst-shooting speeds that the latest generation premium cameras provide.
If you're looking for a jack-of-all-trades card that won’t break the bank, we think that the best memory card you can buy for your camera is one within the SanDisk Extreme PRO UHS-I (below) range.
Or course, the best SD memory card for you depends on how you intend to use it, and what level you're at. If you’re an amateur photographer, for example, it's a good idea to focus on card capacity above all else, while professionals will need a fast memory card to speed up their workflow.
But the range of possible options remains head-scratchingly broad. There are certain players in the memory card market that have been around for a long time and thus exude reliability – SanDisk and Transcend, for example. Meanwhile, most big electronics brands such as Samsung, Sony, Toshiba and Panasonic have their own branded media too.
Read more: Why do some SD cards have two rows of pins?
Though the postage stamp-sized SD card is the format that most digital cameras have adopted – SD has largely succeeded CompactFlash, although the latter is still popular in some pro DSLRs – this has evolved into SDHC and SDXC iterations. Most manufacturers offer ranges that give you a choice of SDHC and SDXC, which both broadly do the same thing, just at slightly differing speeds and capacities. You'll find a more detailed explanation of this below.
Here, we help you narrow down the possible selection of removable media, with our list of the best SD memory cards for photographers.
1. SanDisk Extreme PRO SDXC UHS-I
The best all-round SD memory card for your camera you can buy right now – whether you need to crunch through Raw files or 4K video
Card type: SDXC | Capacity: Up to 512GB | Read Speed: Up to 90MB/s | Write Speed: Up to 95MB/s | Warranty: Lifetime limited warranty | Suitable for: Both photography and video (including 4K)
If you classify yourself as a photo enthusiast who's serious about your hobby, then the Extreme PRO SDXC card from industry stalwart SanDisk is one of the best SD memory cards you can choose. Despite being just the size of your thumb, it runs from a capacity of 32GB up to a whopping 512GB, and sports a UHS Speed Class 3 rating. The real practical advantages here are its write speeds – which reach up to an impressive 90MB/s – meaning it's able to deal with rapid-fire sequential shooting in both JPEG and Raw, while its extremely fast transfer speeds of up to 95MB/s will speed up the workflows of both enthusiasts and pros. Aside from capturing Raw photographs, the data crunching on offer with this memory card also makes it suitable for 4K video capture. In short, this is a great, reliable all-rounder – and its price makes it hard to beat.
2. Lexar Professional Class 10 UHS-II 2000X
Designed for rapid-fire use, this is a great memory card for professionals demanding reliability and consistency
Card type: SDHC and/or SDXC | Capacity: Up to 128GB | Read Speed: Up to 300MB/s | Write Speed: Up to 260MB/s | Warranty: Lifetime limited warranty | Suitable for: Both photography and video (including 4K)
Lexar always was the go-to card for photo enthusiasts and pros, but it has arguably had its crown taken since it decided to concentrate on more profitable areas of its business than memory cards. That said, there are plenty of Lexar options still available, with this pro card being top of the tree for us, deploying UHS-II tech to enable transfer speeds up to 300MB/s and 260MB/s write speeds. So whether you’re shooting Full HD, 4K video, or high-resolution Raw files, this card is eminently suitable, even if maximum capacity is 128GB, rather than the 512GB offered by some rivals. A close match for SanDisk’s Extreme PRO SD UHS-II (also featured here), in terms of performance and spec, we similarly can’t really go wrong with this one.
3. SanDisk Extreme PRO SD UHS-II
A blisteringly fast SD card, and even faster than the UHS-I ‘Pro’ version above
Card type: SDXC | Capacity: Up to 128GB | Read Speed: Up to 300MB/s | Write Speed: Up to 260MB/s | Warranty: Lifetime limited warranty | Suitable for: Pros shooting rapid fire high res stills and video
If you’re a professional photographer, missing the crucial shot can be costly indeed. Negate the possibility of that ever happening by investing in this ultra speedy, albeit pricier, example from the ever reliable SanDisk. Offering read speeds of up to 300MB/s and write speeds of an equally impressive 260MB/s, is very much top dog among media cards. This kind of spec makes it a must-have option for sports, wildlife and news photographers, shooting bursts of rapid fire stills, or videographers recording the moment in eye-poppingly clear 4K resolution. As this is an SDXC (Extended Capacity) card too, available storage is impressive, ranging from 32GB up to 128GB, but really it’s all about speed here – and reliability with it – in preference to anything else.
4. Transcend SDXC UHS-II U3
Arguably the best-value card for shooting Raw files and videos, if you need to do both
Card type: SDXC | Capacity: Up to 64GB | Read Speed: Up to 285MB/s | Write Speed: Up to 180MB/s | Warranty: Five year limited warranty | Suitable for: Pros shooting rapid fire high res Raw stills and high quality 4K video
If you’re shooting Raw files you want a card that can handle sequential bursts of the highest quality imagery, as well as a capacity that allows for sufficient storage to avoid having to swap the media in use every five minutes. The Transcend SDXC UHS-II U3 is a belter of a Taiwanese card that can deliver, whether you're shooting Raw files or high resolution video. While the 64GB maximum capacity (the alternative being 32GB) may appear a little modest at first compared with other options here, the performance is anything but, with blisteringly swift read and write times of 285MB/s and 180 MB/s respectively. Capable of working with an UHS-II compatible DSLR or camcorder, speeds of up to 3x faster than standard UHS-I SD memory cards are possible. These Transcend branded cards are also shock and X-ray proof, giving enthusiasts and pros added peace of mind.
5. Lexar Professional 633x SDHC / SDXC UHS-I
One of the best SD cards for shooting Full HD and 4K video on offer
Card type: SDHC and/or SDXC | Capacity: Up to 512GB | Read Speed: Up to 95MB/s | Write Speed: Up to 45MB/s | Warranty: Lifetime limited warranty | Suitable for: Both photography and video (including 4K) at pro level
If you’re shooting high-resolution video, you’re always going to need as much storage space for digital data as you can get your hands on. The Lexar Professional 633x SDHC/SDXC UHS-I is the cream of the SD memory card crop when it comes to capacity, and, unsurprisingly, is designed for DSLR owners. The trade off is that the read and transfer rates are a little more modest than the lower capacity yet higher speed cards also aimed at professionals. As usual, this means you have to decide which is more important to you: having the space to store many hours of video, or having the potential to transfer it between devices even more rapidly than usual. Ultimately the fact that there is the choice makes the consumer the winner.
6. SanDisk Extreme
This budget SDHC card is high capacity and impressively speedy for what it costs
Card type: SDHC | Capacity: Up to 256GB | Read Speed: Up to 90MB/s | Write Speed: Up to 40MB/s | Warranty: Lifetime limited warranty | Suitable for: Both photography and video (including 4K)
US media card manufacturer SanDisk is long and well established when it comes to removable media solutions for digital cameras. Its Extreme range of cards offers both standard and Pro versions; naturally, the ‘Pro’ versions are slightly more expensive, but not by much. Even the standard Extreme cards feature UHS Speed Class 3 compatibility to be able to cope with both Full HD and 4K recording capability. For a 16GB SanDisk Extreme card, data read speeds are up to 90MB/s, while write speeds of up to 40MB/s are also possible, which will satisfy most photo/video enthusiasts. They’re also water, shock, temperature and X-ray proof. If you don’t need blisteringly fast read/write speeds, this is another sensible jack-of-all-trades option.
7. SanDisk Extreme PRO CompactFlash
Old school perhaps, but a great option if your camera sports a CF slot
Card type: CompactFlash | Capacity: Up to 256GB | Read Speed: Up to 160MB/s | Write Speed: Up to 150MB/s | Warranty: Lifetime limited warranty | Suitable for: Both photography and video (including 4K)
The media may be old school, but there’s nothing nostalgic about the SanDisk Extreme PRO CompactFlash’s 160MB/s read speed. Sure, it’s the size of an After Eight mint, and like those 1980s dinner-party favourites, CompactFlash cards may be long in the tooth compared to more recent SD alternatives, but that doesn't mean they can't pack enough capacity and speed to satisfy today’s DSLR users. The range offers capacities from a useful 16GB to a whopping 256GB, so you don’t have to keep swapping cards in the heat of the action. Talking of action photography, here a write speed of up to 140MB/s at maximum 256GB capacity also impresses (otherwise it’s 150MB/s for the 128GB and lower capacities), which also makes it eminently suitable for video use, particularly for those DSLRs also offering Full HD capture. In fact, with a minimum sustained write speed of 65MB/s, its manufacturer is able to claim this one as class-leading.
8. Transcend CompactFlash 800
Our pick of the best budget CompactFlash card might not be the snazziest looking, but it gives plenty of data storage for your dollar
Card type: CompactFlash | Capacity: Up to 256GB | Read Speed: Up to 120MB/s | Write Speed: Up to 60MB/s | Warranty: Five year limited warranty | Suitable for: Both photography and video (including Full HD)
Taiwanese company Transcend is another long-term player in the memory card market – and still makes many low-capacity cards, meaning they’re accessible to those on a tight budget. However, even the higher capacity offerings – such as this CompactFlash 800 series – are hardly expensive for what’s on offer to semi-pro DSLR users. Capacities run from a standard 32GB up to a suitable-for-power-users 256GB. Specification is also impressive for a budget card, with read speeds of up to 120MB/s and write speeds of 60 MB/s, although actual performance, of course, is affected by camera hardware and software. Durable and reliable, there’s even a built-in error-correcting code to detect and correct any transfer errors.
9. Samsung PRO Endurance
The best microSD card for your camera that you can buy right now
Card type: microSD (With SD adapter) | Capacity: Up to 128GB | Read Speed: Up to 100MB/s | Write Speed: Up to 30MB/s | Warranty: Up to 5 years | Suitable for: Action cameras, dashcams, security cameras
OK, so the Samsung PRO Endurance SD memory cards cost a shade more than bog-standard microSD cards with larger SD-card-sized adapter, but the pitch here includes the fact that the cards are built to withstand harsh environments, are longer lasting – hence the ‘Endurance’ moniker – and are particularly suited to use in action cameras as they can continually record at high read/write speeds (100MB/s and 30MB/s respectively). Indeed, an industry-best of 43,800 hours of continuous video recording is promised by the highest capacity card. Warranties on the cards vary between two years for the lower capacity cards, to five years for maximum capacity. Nice.
10. Samsung EVO Plus
The best budget microSD memory card on the market
Card type: microSD (With SD adapter) | Capacity: Up to 256GB | Read Speed: Up to 100MB/s | Write Speed: Up to 30MB/s | Warranty: 10 years | Suitable for: Day to day photography
Available in 32GB, 64GB, 128GB and 256GB capacities, these speedy Class 10 Samsung EVO Plus microSDHC and microSDXC cards come with SD adapter that allows them to be used in cameras just as easily as a smartphone or tablet. The smallest-capacity 32GB types won’t break the bank, despite managing read speeds of 100MB/s (although a write speed of 30MB/s is a little more modest), while the bright red design also ensures Samsung’s general use offering won’t readily get lost, despite just being the size of a fingernail. Complete with a 10-year limited warranty for peace of mind, the cards are also waterproof, temperature proof, X-ray proof and magnetic proof. Again, it’s a case of ‘can’t go wrong’ with this choice.
Memory card market demystified: what are the different types?
To some degree, you don't need to much about the type of memory card to use in your camera or other devices, as this will be dictated by the design of the camera in which they are used. You can't, for example, use a CompactFlash card in a camera that only takes SD media. That said, knowing how the different cards within each category vary is well worth knowing if you're to get the best possible performance out of your kit.
Standard-sized SD cards come in three main types: SD, SDHC and SDXC. Standard SD (Secure Digital) cards are no longer manufactured as technology has moved on since they were introduced. They can still be used in newer cameras, but they don't offer the kind of performance or capacities that suit modern devices.
SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) cards are those that have a capacity of between 4GB and 32GB. This kind of capacity suits them to everyday use, and they're a great choice for entry-level cameras, be they compacts, mirrorless bodies or DSLRs.
SDXC (Secure Digital Extended Capacity) cards offer capacities of 64GB and above. These are typically designed for cameras with many megapixels, 4K video and any other data-intensive applications, although it's important to look at the various speed ratings when buying these for a particular purpose. To get a better understanding of these, read our article on understanding everything written on your memory card
microSDHC and microSDXC
microSDHC and microSDXC cards offer the same kind of performance as their SDHC and SDXC counterparts, although they're much smaller and designed to be used in phones and other devices, rather than in conventional cameras.
CompactFlash cards used to be the format of choice for many DSLRs, although the performance of the smaller and lighter SDHC and SDXC cards has become so good that these have not largely taken over. That said, some cameras continue to offer both kinds of slots.
XQD cards are more niche than the above options, and currently only compatible with selected Sony camcorders and Nikon DSLR bodies. They are slightly smaller than CompactFlash types, but their superb performance makes them great for high-speed shooting and video recording in particular.
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