The best memory card readers are an easy way to make sure you can always get your images off your camera. With many laptops eschewing the SD card slot in favour of ever-slimmer designs, having a memory card reader can be practically essential. Sure, there's always the option to connect via USB, or wirelessly. But in practice this can be fiddly, and sometimes simply whipping the card out is the easier option.
There are absolutely loads of USB card readers out there. Some are small, basically the size of USB flash drive (remember those?) and are priced as such; indeed, you can pick up a good card reader for very little in the way of cash outlay. Alternatively, there are chunkier readers that basically function as desktop docking stations. These can be a really good way to streamline intense workflows, particularly as they tend to have really fast transfer speeds. It's undoubtedly a great way to make sure you're getting the most out of your card speeds, especially if you've paid a premium for one of the best memory cards.
On this list, we've made sure to include memory card readers that run the gamut in terms of price, but are all of good quality. Different cameras use different card formats, so whether you use a standard SD card, microSD cards, CompactFlash, CFexpress or XQD, there should be a reader on this list for you.
The best memory card readers in 2021
Currently, we think the best overall memory card reader is ProGrade Digital's CFexpress Type B & SD Reader. While it's on the expensive side, it provides extremely fast transfer speeds, and is also compatible with the most important current card formats: CFexpress and SD. But we've also included some more affordable options, and some that offer different functionality; we're particularly impressed by the Kingston Workflow Station, a desktop dock that's modular, meaning you can customise it to suit your card/device setup.
So, let's dive in. Here are the best memory card readers you can buy right now...
With many current high-end cameras now utilizing both the CFexpress and SD card formats, it makes sense to get a card reader that also takes both standards. This offering from Prograde Digital is a high quality choice and an ideal match for today's mirrorless and DSLR cameras.
It measures a discrete 68x68x19mm and comes with a handy stick-on metal plate for attaching to your computer, and has a magnetic base for tucking it out of harm’s way. The CFexpress slot sits at the top of the reader, while the SD slot is located below.
The readers employs a fast USB 3.2 Gen 2 interface, and we clocked the CFexpress read/write speeds of 687MBs/645MBs - a respectable performance. In addition to a USB Type-C connector cable, there’s also a Type-A cable in the box for attaching to older computers.
It may be a fairly cheap card reader, but the ImageMate Pro feels like a quality product, as it’s well built and weighty enough to sit securely on a desk. And this is where it belongs, as at 122 x 58 x 17mm, it’s big by card reader standards.
A trio of card slots are spread neatly across the front, with CF, UHS-II SD, and MicroSD to choose from. A detachable USB Type-A cable is provided, so you will need an adapter if you intend to plug in to a USB-C port.
Testing with a UHS-II SD card yielded highly respectable video transfer speeds of 252MB/s read and 210MB/s write - not far off the much more expensive ProGrade Digital USB 3.1 Gen 2 Dual-Slot Card Reader. 202MB/s read and 107MB/s write figures in our testing when shifting images are also superb.
When it comes to UHS-I SD cards, maximum sustained transfer speeds of 96MB/s read and 83MB/s write aren't quite class-leading, but not to the extent that you’d really notice in real-world use.
One thing we're all crying out for in the age of digital devices is a bit more simplicity. Fewer cables, simpler devices, more straightforward solutions for organising and transferring our files. The Kingston Workflow Station Dock is a go at realising that dream. It's a USB-C docking station equipped with a stack of SD card readers, allowing you to connect multiple USB-C or USB-A devices, and download from up to eight cards at the same time.
What's also hugely useful is the aforementioned modular aspect, which means you can buy specific readers to suit your needs. So if you have more microSD cards than SD cards, you can set up the station accordingly. Or you could plug in eight cameras via USB-C and download images from all of them simultaneously, if that's the sort of thing you're in a position to do. Modules can also be used standalone, so you could take a single reader on a shoot and then reconnect it to the main dock later.
The whole thing does need power to run, as it's more complex than other SD readers. There's also the lack of CFExpress support currently, although, the modular design means it would be easy to add this functionality in at a later date. All this does cost more than other readers on this list, and if you're a "one-card, one-camera" type of photographer, it's almost certainly more than you need.
With the latest laptops like the MacBook Pro ditching every port other than Thunderbolt/USB Type-C, it isn’t just your memory card that you may be struggling to connect.
Kingston’s Nucleum is a premium, metal-encased hub containing SD and MicroSD ports, plus two conventional USB Type-A ports, a full-size HDMI socket, and two USB Type-C ports, one of which is used as a power socket to connect your MacBook’s charger. There’s a short hard-wired cable terminating in a USB Type-C plug, and all this from a device no larger than some standard card readers.
The SD slot is UHS-II compatible, but sadly it couldn’t do justice to our UHS-II test card, achieving relatively slow video read/write speeds of 189MB/s and 179MB/s respectively. 164MB/s read and 97MB/s write rates for image transfers are ok, but still underwhelming. Fortunately if you’re using UHS-I SD cards, 96MB/s and 83MB/s read/write figures are much more respectable.
Despite being super-cheap, this little reader is a pleasingly capable device, able to achieve speedy data transfer rates thanks to its USB 3.0 connection. It doesn't cover all the card types, most notably missing out on XQD, CompactFlash and UHS-II SD (though it does UHS-I), however this isn't a problem for you, the Anker USB 3.0 Card Reader will get the job done quickly and efficiently.
It's also so tiny that you can take it anywhere, measuring 5.3 x 2.7 x 1.1cm and weighing a tiny 16g, and there's also an 18-month warranty to give you peace of mind. Need something simple and straightforward? This little reader is a solid buy.
This card reader sports the classic combo of SD and CompactFlash slots, both being the fastest of their type - UHS-II, and UDMA 7. You can use both simultaneously, and the case’s design means a card of each type can be stored inside the reader, protected by a hinged rubber door that closes around them.
The 90cm USB Type-A lead is hardwired to the reader, so while you won’t lose it, it can be slightly awkward for transportation, and you’ll need an adapter to connect this reader to a laptop like the current MacBook Pro.
Speed wise, we could only extract a max video read speed of 223MB/s and 198MB/s write rate from our UHS-II SD card - not awful, but some way shot of some other readers we've tested. Image transfer performance is worse still, with 152MB/s read and 98MB/s write speeds being slower than average. Even with a UHS-I SD card the Delkin reader struggled, as 87MB/s read and 82MB/s write speeds are down - albeit not by much - on what rival readers were capable of extracting from our test card with its 95/90MB/s max read/write rates.
Even our number one card reader choice - Prograde's dual-slot CFexpress and SD card reader - will struggle to max out the transfer speeds of most CFexpress Type B cards. That's because its USB 3.2 Gen 2 interface tops out at 1.25 gigabytes per second, whereas many CFexpress cards can reach over 1.6 gigabytes per second. A faster connection is therefore needed, and that's where Thunderbolt 3 comes in. In our testing, real-world image transfers clocked in at a stellar 846MBs/693MBs read/write – that’s under 12 seconds to read 10GB worth of images.
Not only can this reader get the most out of a CFexpress B card thanks to its Thunderbolt 3 connection, it's also compatible with the older (but physically interchangeable) XQD card format. Useful, as cameras like the Nikon Z 6 and Z 7 started out with a socket for an XQD card, which was later firmware upgraded to be CFexpress compatible. But frustratingly, the majority of CFexpress readers won’t read an XQD card despite the two being physically identical. This reader from Prograde Digital bucks that trend, but there are a couple of caveats. It won’t read XQD cards out of the box – you first need to download and install a driver from Sony, though this proved a straightforward process on our Macbook Pro.
This reader is relatively big and bulky at 98x98x24mm, but it has a magnetic base and comes with a metallic sticker to attach to your computer to keep it out of the way.
Around the same size and shape as a computer mouse, Sandisk’s Extreme Pro CFexpress card reader is a nicely designed piece of kit. The spring-loaded memory card slot has a pleasing action too, with a gentle push of the memory card ejecting it from the reader.
In our testing, this reader hit a mighty impressive 718MB/s sustained read speed when transferring one large 4K video file. Image read/write rates of 534/410MB/s are just as incredible, easily eclipsing even the fastest UHS-II SD cards.
The only slight disappointment is that CFexpress cards are capable of even higher transfer speeds - up to 1700MB/s. The bottleneck here is likely the reader's USB 3.1 Gen 2 connection, which though very fast, can't keep up with the blistering performance available from CFexpress cards. But if you can live with that, this Sandisk CFexpress reader is a superb choice.
At just 56.2 x 47.28 x 12.85mm, this CFexpress reader sports a neat design that's little bigger than a CFexpress card itself, and thanks to a detachable USB-C cable, the reader will easily slip into a jeans pocket or stash in any kit bag.
USB 3.1 Gen 2 connectivity ensures a maximum 10Gbit/s transfer rate, with Lexar claiming read/write speeds of up to 1050MB/s - that's quick, though even this fast connection just isn't enough to to fully exploit the maximum 1750MB/s read speed of Lexar's Professional Type B CFexpress cards. We clocked this reader/card combo at a maximum 1039MB/s using the CrystalDiskMark speed benchmark software, verifying Lexar's 1050MB/s claim. Real world image read/write speeds of 543/384MB/s are also hugely respectable, and are comparable to Sandisk's CFexpress reader.
This reader is also backward compatible with USB 2.0 if required, and a USB-C to USB-A cable is included for use with older computers.
Sony's CFexpress Type A/SD Card Reader was launched at the same time as the Sony a7S III's release, as this was the first camera to utilize the CFexpress Type A memory card format (the physically larger Type B cards already being commonplace). With such a new CFexpress variant, and very few manufacturers currently producing Type A cards or readers, it's little surprise that this reader is ludicrously expensive. At least it uses a fast USB 3.2 Gen 2 interface for a maximum theoretical transfer speed of 1250MB/s - plenty fast enough to let a 800MB/s CFexpress Type A card transfer at its maximum speed. The MRW-G2 card reader also supports SDXC/SDHC UHS-I and UHS-II cards for added versatility, going some way to justify the high selling price.
CFexpress card readers aren’t all that common, or in this case, cheap. Doubly frustrating, as Sony doesn't even include an SD slot to at least give you a little extra versatility (XQD compatibility is included, though that's due to XQD cards being physically interchangeable with CFexpress Type B).
At least the USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) interface is speedy, equating to a maximum transfer speed of 1250 megabytes per second. However, even this is still some way short of the 1700+MB/s read speed that the best CFexpress cards can manage. even this can't let the fastest CFexpress Type B cards run at max speed.
Consequently, if you really want to max out the transfer speed of your CFexpress Type B card, we'd recommend the Prograde Digital Thunderbolt 3 CFexpress reader (above) instead.
5 things to look for in a card reader
1. Connection type
Many card readers now connect to your computer using a USB-C plug, but adapters are readily available to convert to normal USB.
2. USB speed
USB 3.1 Gen 2 is twice as fast than Gen 1, but few readers use it, and even fewer memory cards are fast enough to exploit Gen 2.
3. UHS-I vs UHS-II
UHS-II SD cards are faster, and all the readers here are compatible. UHS-I card readers will read UHS-II cards, just slower.
4. Wire it up
Some readers use a USB cable that’s hard-wired to the reader body, which can be problematic if the cable ever gets damaged.
5. Extra ports
With fewer and fewer ports on the sides of modern laptops, a card reader hub with extra USB sockets may be just the ticket.