Selecting the best memory card for your camera might initially seem like a daunting task. Not only are there a wide variety of options available, but memory cards also differ in speed, capacity, brand and compatibility – not to mention price tag as well.
The SD memory card format might be the most widely used, but there are newer formats that are beginning to snap at its heels. Many of the latest cameras are beginning to lean more heavily on CFexpress and XQD card technology – especially if they're storage guzzlers that require plenty of space. However, Compact Flash, microSD and CFast cards are also used in a variety of different cameras as well. We've selected the best memory card deals for this guide, but don't forget there are lots of cheap camera deals around right now too.
Not only do the best memory cards need to offer large capacities for storing countless photo and video files, they also need to be able to transfer data quickly and effectively. Some of the latest generation professional cameras are capable of eye-wateringly fast burst-shooting speeds, but an impressively quick burst mode is useless if your memory card isn't up to the challenge. That's why read and write speeds are so important when selecting a memory card.
If all of these acronyms are scrambling your brain, don't worry – we've including a handy jargon explainer at the bottom of this post to help you decipher exactly what memory card you need.
One last thing; the best memory cards deserve a fast card reader to max out image and video transfer speed to your computer - here's our round-up of the best card readers you can buy.
The best memory card in 2020
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.
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, and yellow with a Super Star for the 256GB. 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 2020
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.
Best CFexpress card
CFexpress is the latest evolution of XQD, a sophisticated format promising blisteringly fast transfer speeds. It's geared towards the pro end of the market, with an increasing number of pro cameras using the format. There aren't many manufacturers currently selling CFexpress cards, but here is our pick for the best you can get hold of right now.
CFexpress is here, and SanDisk has hit the ground running with its new Extreme Pro CFexpress cards. These offer the kind of transfer speeds up to a frankly astonishing 1700MB/s read and up to 1400 MB/s write. The card format is being rapidly adopted by high-end cameras, such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mk III, Nikon D6, Nikon Z6 and Z7, as well as the Panasonic Lumix S1 and Lumix S1R. We're confident we'll be seeing a lot more of this fantastic format in the future, with prices continuing to fall as a result.
Best XQD card
Nikon was the first camera company to introduce XQD cards in digital cameras and a lot of people thought it was a technical dead-end – but with the XQD format now evolved into CFexpress, it's now got everyone talking. We'd recommend going for CFexpress if your XQD camera has been updated to support the newer format, as if you want to stick with XQD, your choices are limited to one - pricey - brand: Sony.
XQD is perfect for the high-speed data rates required from 4K video recording, and also for serving the maximum burst rates offered by stills cameras. Currently XQD is supported by 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 blistering write speed of 400MB per second, and an equally impressive read rate of 440MB/s. The cards have already built an impressive reputation for ruggedness and reliability.
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.
Memory cards 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.
Looks similar in size and shape to CompactFlash, but is not compatible. This new-generation high-speed memory card is used in a number of professional stills and video cameras.
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.
A new evolution of XQD, providing blistering speeds but currently only compatible with a limited number of cameras from Canon, Nikon and others. We'd expect more and more pro DSLRs in the future to move over to CFexpress compatibility though, so this is one to watch.
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