- Choosing the right SD card can be confusing.
- In addition to storage capacity, you also need to consider speed and durability.
- After in-depth research, we found that the SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB SDHC UHS-I Card is best for most people because it has fast read/write speeds, supports 4K video, and can handle extreme conditions.
The SD card may seem like a good place to skimp on the cost of your camera kit, but a bad memory card can slow down your camera or even risk losing files to corruption. Whether you are shooting stills or video, the best SD card, like the SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC UHS-I, allows your camera to reach full speed while safeguarding the files inside.
As a professional photographer, I’ve used a dozen different memory cards inside my camera. The worst slow-down my camera while the best stash lots of files quickly and have even survived an accidental wash inside a pocket. But, the favorite SD card for a professional photographer may be overkill for a hobbyist with a 12-megapixel camera. That’s why considering the card type, capacity, and speed is essential.
When it comes to the card type, the two main kinds you’ll want to consider are SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) and SDXC (Secure Digital eXtended Capacity). The only real difference between the two is how much storage they offer. SDHC cards contain 4GB to 32GB, while SDXC cards typically range from 64GB to 2TB.
Chances are, you’ll want an SD card with more than 32GB of storage, so you’ll be looking at SDXC cards. A 32GB card is fine for casual photographers or people who prefer to have multiple smaller-capacity cards for security (if you lose your card, you don’t lose everything). We typically recommend 64GB cards in this guide because you’ll want that extra space for high-resolution photographs and video, but you may want to get even more if you’re shooting 4K video.
Speed class is where things get complicated. SD cards for your average user come in four speed classes: 10, 6, 4, and 2. Class 2 cards are the slowest and class 10 cards are the fastest. The class number refers to the minimum write speeds in megabytes per second (MB/s), so Class 2 = 2MB/s, Class 4 = 4MB/s, Class 6 = 6MB/s, and Class 10 = 10MB/s.
On the top high-end cards, the speed class rating is designated with a U symbol, instead of a C symbol. U1 supports at least a 10MB/s write speed (like a Class 10), and U3 cards offer at least a 30MB/s write speed. If you shoot in 4K, you need a U3 SD card. All the SD cards in this guide are U3 or U1.
UHS speed refers to the absolute top theoretical speed of each card, instead of the minimum speed indicated by the card class. It’s a good way to gauge burst shot speeds. UHS-I Cards have a maximum speed of 104 MB/s, while UHS-II cards have a maximum speed of 312 MB/s. (A new UHS-III theoretically supports up to 624 MB/s, but isn’t widely available yet.)
The SD Association also classifies cards by a video speed class standard, which currently ranges from V6 to V90. For 4K, a video speed class of V30 or more is ideal.
It’s generally a good idea to get a high-speed SD card, especially if you are shooting in RAW or filming high-resolution video. In that case, you’ll want a class 10 SD card or higher with a UHS (Ultra High Speed) classification.
You’ll want to check to be sure your camera supports those speeds. Otherwise, you won’t get the full effect of the card. Avoid counterfeit cards by sticking with known brands and clicking on our links.
Here are the best SD cards you can buy:
- Best SD card overall: SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC UHS-I
- Best rugged SD card: Sony SF-G Tough Series UHS-II SDHC
- Best high capacity SD card: Lexar 1 TB Professional 633x UHS-I SDXC
- Best SD card for fast uploads: Lexar Professional 1000x UHS-II SDHC
- Best budget SD card: SanDisk Extreme UHS SDHC
Updated on 10/2/2019 by Hillary Grigonis and Les Shu: Added new products and updated pricing, formatting, and links. Malarie Gokey contributed to this article.
The best SD card overall
The SanDisk Extreme PRO blends high speeds and durability with an affordable price point.
With the SanDisk Extreme Pro, the best features are right in the name – this SD card is fast enough for professionals, with a durable design for extreme conditions. Available in capacities from 16 GB all the way up to a whopping 512, this card hits the sweet spot with the mix of features and price – the 32 GB sells for less than $20.
This U3 card can write files as fast as 90 MB/s, with read speeds just a bit faster at 95 MB/s. That’s enough to capture 4K video as well as RAW bursts of photos. I have half a dozen of these cards, and even in the SD slot of my pro-level, 45-megapixel Nikon D850, they don’t have a problem keeping up with the big files that the camera captures.
The Extreme Pro line is also built to withstand water, shock, extreme temperatures, and X-rays. I’ve accidentally left an SD card in a pocket and sent it through the washer and dryer and the card was unfazed (though I don’t recommend putting an SD card through a spin cycle). SanDisk includes a data-recovery program, RescuePro, for a year after purchase and also includes a limited lifetime warranty in the US.
Pros: Fast, durable, and affordable
Cons: You can faster SD cards, but the price also jumps significantly
The best budget SD card
The SanDisk Extreme UHS SDHC is an affordable SD card with a design that won’t wreak your data.
Drop the Pro from the name of our top pick, and you have a slower but still reliable SD card. The SanDisk Extreme UHS SDHC is easy to find for around $10, making it good for users on a budget or for picking up multiple cards at once.
The fastest SD cards are overkill for a lot of cameras, and if you buy a card that’s faster than your camera, you’re spending more without gaining more. The 40 MB/s write speed isn’t as ideal for 4K or those 50-megapixel RAW photos, but it’s more than enough for hobbyists and lower-resolution devices.
While casual users won’t notice a speed difference over the pricier cards, a durability difference would be glaringly obvious. Thankfully, SanDisk still makes this card resistant to water, shock, extreme temperatures, and X-rays – just not as robust as the Pro version. Available in 16 GB and 32 GB capacities, this SD card is cheap in price without being cheap on quality.
Pros: Low price, durable design
Cons: Slower than our top pick
The best rugged SD card
The Sony SF-G Tough UHS-II SDHC is so fast, it’s future proof – and it’s water and dustproof too.
Why settle for double-digit speeds when you can get triple? While the speeds of our top pick are more than enough for most photographers, the Sony SF-G Tough series hits write speeds of up to 299 MB/s, which is good for even 8K video thanks to a V90 video speed class. There aren’t many devices around today that require that much speed, but this card is so fast that, theoretically, you likely won’t need to update years down the road when the megapixel counts continue to climb and consumers finally can record 8K video.
There’s a reason that “tough” is right in the name – the card is built to not only survive a ride in the washing machine but to stick around even after three days under water. The card is also constructed to guard against dust, drops, bends, extreme temperatures, and more. That durability comes from an exterior that’s made from one piece, and while the design is solid, it also means there’s no write protection switch to keep you from accidentally deleting files on the card.
Another downside is the price. The 32 GB version costs around $70 – which is fine if you need all that speed and durability, but is likely overkill for others.
Pros: Extreme durability and speed
Cons: No write protection switch, expensive
The best high-capacity SD card
If you need space the size of a small external hard drive in a card that’s about the size of your thumb, the Lexar 1 TB Professional 633x UHS-I SDXC is a good choice.
A 32 GB card may be sufficient for most users, but the Lexar Professional UHS-I SDXC series offers capacities all the way up to a terabyte – that’s a lot of data on a standard-sized SD card. You probably don’t need to shoot a terabyte of video or photos at a time, but high- capacity SD cards are excellent ways to expand the space on your laptop and other devices without carrying around a bulky external hard drive.
The 95 MB/s read speed will help when using the SD card for data storage, and when you do write to the card, it has a respectable – though not best-in-class – 70 MB/s write speed. That’s enough for 4K video, 3D video, and RAW bursts as well as handling other large files.
Lexar doesn’t advertise any durability claims with this card outside of temperature, however, so it won’t withstand abuse like the Sony Tough or SanDisk Extreme Pro. High-capacity cards are expensive, but this one is a little less so – the Lexar slides in at approximately $200 less than the 1 TB SanDisk Extreme Pro.
Pros: One of the more affordable 1 TB cards, fast read speeds
Cons: Less durable design with slower write speeds than our top pick
The best SD card for fast uploads
With a 150 MB/s read speed, accessing files on the Lexar Professional 1000x UHS-II SDHC is quick.
The 95 MB/s speeds of our top pick is good, but it’s not as great as the file-transfer speeds of the Lexar Professional 1000x UHS-II SDHC, with a 150 MB/s maximum read speed. The 60 MB/s write speed is still enough to handle 4K and RAW bursts, while the higher read speed allows for faster transfers, which means quicker file transfers from camera to computer.
Like the Lexar Professional 633x on our list, this SD card doesn’t offer the same durability as the SanDisk Extreme Pro or the Sony Tough series. And despite that difference, it lists for roughly the same price for similar capacities as the SanDisk Extreme Pro. A handful of reviewers claim they’ve lost data from card read-errors, but this is another card that I and many photographers have used without any issues.
This Lexar comes in capacities from 32 GB to 256 GB, with a price ranging from about $13 to $60.
Pros: Fast read speeds
Cons: Slower write speeds and less durability