If you don't have the best memory card for your camera, then you're not going to get the most out of your photoshoots. With so many options for speed, capacity, brand, compatibility and price available, you might initially feel overwhelmed. However, we've broken down the best memory cards available to show you which ones are best for you.
When you think of a memory card, you'll likely find that the popular SD card format comes to mind. However, if you're using a newer camera, or one of the best professional cameras, then you'll likely need to look for a CFexpress or XQD card. However, Compact Flash, microSD and CFast cards are still all regularly used as well.
One of the most obvious ways to differentiate between memory cards is how much storage they have. A 16GB card might be fine for an afternoon wandering around your local wildlife reserve, but videographers looking to shoot all day could get frustrated with having to constantly swap over cards.
However, this isn't the only way to judge what memory card is best, as you'll also need a card with fast read and write speeds. This will not only affect how quickly you can transfer images from the memory card to your computer (or one of the best portable hard drives), but it will also impact the burst mode on your camera. If your memory card isn't fast enough, you'll find that it will lag and struggle to accomplish the blisteringly-fast shooting speeds that some of the latest cameras are capable of.
If you're still not quite au fait with all of this technical lingo, then don't worry. We've put together a handy jargon explainer at the bottom of this article to help you find the best memory card for your needs.
The best memory card in 2021
Best SD cards
The postage stamp-sized SD card is the format used by most digital cameras. SD has largely succeeded CompactFlash, although the latter is still popular in some older pro DSLRs. Most card 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. The best memory card for your needs will depend largely on how you want to balance capacity, speed and cost.
If you're a photo enthusiast passionate about your hobby, then you could do worse than picking up the Extreme PRO SDXC card from industry stalwart SanDisk. This unassuming card is one of the best SD memory cards you can choose, with capacities ranging from 32GB to a staggering 1TB and an impressive UHS Speed Class 3 rating.
However, the most impressive aspect of the Extreme PRO SDXC card is its write speeds of up to 90MB/s, which allows your camera to handle rapid-fire sequential shooting in both JPEG and RAW with ease. Meanwhile, its rapid 170MB/s read speed is perfect for a refreshingly fast workflow. 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.
Lexar has long been a go-to card brand for photo enthusiasts, with this pro card being top of the tree for us, deploying UHS-II tech to enable read 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-1TB 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 one of the best memory card options out there right now.
Offering read speeds of up to 300MB/s and write speeds of an equally impressive 260MB/s, this SanDisk UHS-II SD card is very much top dog among memory cards. This kind of spec makes it the best memory card 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.
If you’re shooting high-resolution video, you’re always going to need as much storage space for digital data as you can get. The Lexar Professional 633x SDHC/SDXC UHS-I boasts a huge 1TB capacity option, although read and write rates are a little more modest these days. This means you have to decide which is more important to you: having the space to store many hours of video, or having the fastest possible transfer speeds between devices.
SanDisk's Extreme range of SD cards come in both standard and Pro versions. Naturally, the Pro cards are slightly more expensive, but even this regular Extreme card features UHS Speed Class 3 compatibility to be able to cope with both Full HD and 4K recording.
A 16GB SanDisk Extreme card can offer data read speeds of up to 90MB/s and write speeds of up to 40MB/s. While these aren't mind-blowing numbers, they're perfectly suitable for most photography needs. Outdoor photographers will be pleased that these cards are also water, shock, temperature and X-ray proof.
If you have no need for blisteringly fast read/write speeds, the SanDisk Extreme range is a great option at reasonable prices.
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 cards every five minutes. The Transcend SDXC UHS-II U3 is a belter that delivers 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 a UHS-II compatible DSLR or camcorder, speeds are up to 3x faster than standard UHS-I SD memory cards This card is also shock and X-ray proof, giving enthusiasts and pros added peace of mind.
Smaller cameras like action cams use the microSD format, as well as drone, smartphones and tablets. Technically, it's just the same as the SD format, with similar capacities and speed ratings, just in a much smaller form.
See also Best microSD cards
Samsung PRO Endurance SD memory cards cost a shade more than standard microSD cards, but they're designed to be the best microSD cards for harsh environments and are longer lasting – hence the ‘Endurance’ moniker - with an industry-best of 43,800 hours of continuous video recording is promised by the highest capacity card. They can continually record at high read/write speeds (100MB/s and 30MB/s respectively). Warranties on the cards vary between two years for the lower capacity cards, to five years for maximum capacity.
Available in 32GB, 64GB, 128GB and 256GB capacities, these speedy Class 10 Samsung EVO Plus microSDHC and microSDXC cards come with an SD adapter that allows them to be used in standard SD card cameras just as easily as in 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. The bright red design also ensures Samsung’s general use offering won’t be easily lost, despite it 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. You really can’t go wrong with this card.
This decent little microSD card is available for a really competitive price, and it can even be found bundled with a USB 3.0 adapter for easy file transfers. Its read and write speeds are perfectly decent, if unexceptional, and it's made with the kind of quality you'd expect from a maker as reputable as Lexar. It comes in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB and 256GB variations, so you should be able to choose whichever size fits your needs and your budget.
It is not just cameras that use microSD cards, of course. And one of the most popular devices to use this memory type at the moment is undoubtedly the Nintendo Switch handheld console, and its baby brother the Nintendo Switch Lite. The slot in memory is not only great for expanding the number of games you carry, but also for taking screenshots and videos of your victories and adventures. The cards are different colors depending on the capacity - so red with a Nintendo Mushroom icon for 128GB, yellow with a Super Star for the 256GB, and teal green for the 512GB card. You don't need these customized cards, as any microSD card will work in your Switch – but you will earn kudos points for brand loyalty.
• See also Best microSD cards in 2021
Best CompactFlash cards
There are still lots of cameras around that use the Compact Flash format, and it gets plenty of support from memory card makers. The new and upcoming formats for pro cameras are XQD, CFexpress and CFast (all listed further down), but the Compact Flash memory card format looks like it will be around for a while yet.
CompactFlash may be old school, but there’s nothing nostalgic about the SanDisk Extreme PRO CompactFlash’s 160MB/s read speed. It's also physically large by current memory card standards, but that doesn't mean CompactFlash can't pack enough capacity and speed to satisfy today’s DSLR users. The SanDisk range offers capacities from a useful 16GB, up to 256GB, so you don’t have to keep swapping cards in the heat of the action. A write speed of up to 140MB/s at maximum 256GB capacity also impresses (and it's an even faster 150MB/s for the 128GB and lower capacities), making it eminently suitable for Full HD video capture. Its minimum sustained write speed of 65MB/s is even class-leading.
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 800x series – are hardly expensive for what’s on offer. Capacities run from a standard 32GB up to 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.
CFexpress is rapidly becoming the memory card format of choice for high-end stills and video cameras. Evolving from the XQD card format, CFexpress Type B cards share the same outer design as XQD cards, but pack faster memory inside, making them some of the fastest memory cards available today. Almost all cameras that originally supported XQD cards have now been firmware-updated to also work with CFexpress Type B cards, so cameras like the Nikon Z6 and Z7 are no longer restricted to XQD cards alone.
Recently, Sony muddied the CFexpress waters by bring to market CFexpress Type A cards. This CFexpress card variant is physically smaller than the Type B standard, and therefore you can't use a Type A card in a camera designed for XQD/CFexpress Type B cards. You wouldn't really want to though, as the drawback of CFexpress Type A's compactness is a reduction in read/write speed, compared to Type B cards. At present, only a handful of Sony cameras utilize CFexpress Type A cards, most notably the Sony a7S III.
• See also Best CFexpress cards
SanDisk was one of the first card manufacturers to market CFexpress Type B cards, and its Extreme Pro range is still a force to be reckoned with today. Capable of up to 1700MB/s read and up to 1400 MB/s write, only a select few rival cards can go faster. However, you'll need to part with big bucks to get these speed ratings, as they only apply to the top-of-the-range 512GB version. The 128GB and 256GB cards in the range can 'only' hit 1200MB/s write speed (the 1700MB/s read speed still applies), but the poor old 64GB card is only rated for 1500MB/s read and 800MB/s write.
Lexar's CFexpress card is a star performer when it comes to read speed, with its 1750MB/s maximum rating slightly beating the 1700MB/s advertised by many rival cards. However, the 1000MB/s write rate is less impressive and it trails most of the competition. Even so, you'll need to be shooting very high bit-rate 4K or 8K video to have any chance of running into trouble. Capacities range from 64GB to 512GB, and all have the peace of mind of being backed by a limited lifetime warranty.
CFexpress cards can now be bought in two variants: Type A, and Type B. The latter is far more common and supported by loads more cameras. Both types are based around the same technology, but differ in the amount of PCIe data transfer lanes available. the upshot is Type A cards have a theoretical maximum 1000MB/s data bandwidth, whereas Type B cards can reach up to 2000MB/s. So why is Sony backing the slowest 1000MB/s Type A CFexpress standard when faster Type B cards are already available? It all comes down to compactness. Where a CFexpress Type B card measures 38.5 x 29.8 x 3.8mm, a Type A card is considerably smaller at 28 x 20 x 2.8mm. To put this in perspective, that's even smaller in length and width than a standard SD card.
With read/write rates of 800MB/s and 700MB/s respectively, Sony's Tough CFexpress Type A cards may be a lot slower than most Type B cards, but it's still very fast. It is however currently the only Type A card you can buy, so don't expect any price wars just yet.
Best XQD card
Nikon was the first camera company to introduce XQD cards in digital cameras and a lot of people thought it would be short-lived, and since XQD has now evolved into CFexpress Type B, in some sense they were right. CFexpress cards are considerably faster than XQD cards (though that's not to say XQD is slow - far from it), and there are more manufacturers producing CFexpress cards than XQD, leading to more competitive pricing.
Now that most XQD cameras have been updated to support CFexpress Type B cards, it makes little sense to buy a new XQD card, especially since they're still priced in line with comparable CFexpress Type B cards of equivalent capacities.
XQD is well suited to the high-speed data rates required from 4K video recording, and also for serving the maximum burst rates offered by stills cameras. XQD is supported by cameras like the Nikon Z7, Z6, D810 and D850. It is also used by some professional Sony camcorders, and the Panasonic S1 and Panasonic S1R. Sony has pioneered the format, with its latest G-series cards offering a write speed of 400MB per second, and an equally impressive read rate of 440MB/s. You'll get even faster speeds from a CFexpress Type B card though, so if your XQD camera now supports CFexpress, it may well be time to jump ship from XQD and pick up one of our top CFexpress Type B cards (above).
Best CFast card
CFast is a high-speed memory card that looks very similar to CompactFlash. The CFast format is used mostly by high-end video equipment, such as professional cinema video cameras from Canon, Arri and BlackMagic. In terms of stills cameras, this type of card is currently only used in the Canon EOS 1-D X Mark II and Hasselblad H6D-100C. Here are the best CFast cards on the market right now:
Lightning fast transfer speeds make CFast perfectly suited to 4K video shooting. SanDisk are the ones to watch in this format, and this most-recent version of its CFast card offers a staggering write speed of 525Mb/s, along with an admirable 400 Mb/s read speed.
If you're often working with high quality 4K video, ProRes video, or RAW photos from cameras such as the Canon EOS-1DX Mark II, then you'll know the value of a card that can keep up with what you're shooting. Luckily, the Lexar 64GB 3500x CFast 2.0 card is with you every step of the way. With a write speed of up to 445MB/s, this Lexar CFast card can help you capture cinema-grade video with ease – while a 525MB/s read speed will dramatically accelerate your post-production workflow.
The best memory cards demystified
It's worth remembering that, despite the wide variety of memory card formats, you don't actually need to worry about what type you should use. This is because this decision will have already been made for you by the camera manufacturers. This means that you're not going to be able to use a CFexpress card in a camera with a microSD card slot! However, it's still worth knowing what the benefits and drawbacks of each memory card format are.
While SD cards might immediately come to mind when you think of memory cards, standard SD (Secure Digital) cards are actually no longer manufactured. This is because the technology has moved onto SDHC and SDXC cards, which are readily available. If you have some old SD cards knocking around, you can still use them in newer cameras that have the SD card format, but don't expect the same performance or capabilities offered by newer memory card generations.
As an upgrade to the standard SD card, SDHC (Secure Digital Extended Capacity) cards offer memory capacities between 4GB and 32GB. This makes them great for everyday use and entry-level users who don't have large storage capacity needs.
You'll find SDXC (Secure Digital Extended Capacity) cards with capacities of 64GB and over. Designed for cameras with large sensors, lots of megapixels, 4K video and other data-intensive applications, serious photographers and videographers will want to choose an SDXC card over SDHC. However, don't forget to check the read and write speeds to ensure you get the performance you need. 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 will offer a similar performance to their larger SDHC and SDXC siblings. However, they're around a third of the size and can be used in the best camera phones and best action cameras.
CompactFlash used to be the preferred format for higher-end DSLRs. However, with the improved performance of SDHC and SDXC cards (and the introduction of newer memory card formats as well), this memory card format is growing more rare.
While CFast cards look similar in size and shape to CompactFlash cards, they're not compatible (so don't try to jam one in your old DSLR!). This new-generation high-speed memory card format will be found in professional stills and video cameras.
We wouldn't be surprised if you hadn't heard of XQ cards, as they're a little more niche than the memory card formats listed above. At the moment, they're only compatible with selected Sony camcorders and some Nikon DSLR cameras. It doesn't look likely that more cameras will join this format in the future, as it's now been pretty much superseded by CFexpress. However, XQD cards offer great performance for high-speed shooting and video recording.
As an evolution of the XQD format, CFexpress is one of the best memory card formats around. However, it's currently only available with a limited number of high end cameras (mostly from Canon, Nikon and Panasonic). However, it's worth noting that the release of the Sony A7S III brought a somewhat confusing split into two different variants of CFexpress cards. Up until this point, all CFexpress-compatible cameras used CFexpress Type B cards (yes, 'B' does come before 'A' in this case!). Meanwhile, CFexpress Type A cards are smaller and slower. Crucially, Type B and Type A cards aren't interchangeable, so a camera such as the Nikon Z7 won't be able to accept a CFexpress Type A card.
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