Digital cameras save your photos and videos to SD cards. Using a bad no-name brand card not only puts your photos at risk, but can lower the performance of your camera. Let’s look at the best ones for different uses.
What You Need to Know About SD Cards
Over at our sister site, How-To Geek, we’ve explored what all the SD card buzzwords mean and also dug a bit into what storage cards you should buy for your camera. If you’re really interested in SD cards, go check out those articles. Otherwise, I’m just going to give you the highlights.
- SD cards come in different speed “classes”. A Class 4 card is faster than a Class 2 card. Since the price of SD cards has dropped so much, it’s only worth considering Class 10 cards, or Ultra High Speed (UHS) Class 1 or 3 cards.
- Not all cards of the same class are the same. It’s just a minimum acceptable write speed (10 MB/s for Class 10 and UHS 1 cards, 30 MB/s for UHS 3 cards). You can get cards that are much faster.
- SD cards are just one storage format. There are also MicroSD cards, CompactFlash cards, CFast cards, and so on. Make sure your camera actually uses SD cards before buying.
The two biggest names in SD cards are SanDisk and Lexar. There are other good manufacturers out there, but really, you’re best off buying from one of the big two. They have the most experience and there’s a reason professional photographers go back to them again and again. Personally, I only use SanDisk cards so they’re the ones I recommend in this article. I’ve also found they’re more widely available.
Lexar has equivalent cards so if, for some strange reason, you hate SanDisk, pick up their similarly specced cards.
The Best All Round Option: SanDisk Extreme 16GB ($11)
The best all round, bang for your buck SD card you can buy is a 16GBSanDisk Extreme. At $11, it’s a steal.
Speedwise, the Extreme sits in the sweet spot of price and performance. You can get faster cards but you probably don’t need one and they cost a lot more. The Extreme has up to 40 MB/s write speeds (Class 10 and UHS Class 3) and 90 MB/s read speeds. That’s fast enough to record 4K video; most regular photography or videography won’t come close to hitting this card’s limits.
16GB is also the right amount of storage space for most uses. It can hold about a thousand RAW images or an hour or so of 1080p video footage. Unless you’re cranking out photos or filming a movie, you don’t really need more.
The Extreme is also pretty damn rugged. They’re waterproof, temperature proof, shockproof, and x-ray proof. Even if you or your camera gets destroyed, your photos will probably be fine.
The best recommendation I can give is that these are the cards that I personally use and they’re the cards that a lot of other people I respect use too.
SanDisk 16GB Extreme SDHC UHS-I Memory Card - 90MB/s, C10, U3, V30, 4K UHD, SD Card - SDSDXNE-016G-GNCIN
A Cheaper Option for Point and Shoots: SanDisk Ultra 8GB ($6)
There is almost no reason to buy the SanDisk Ultra over the SanDisk Extreme. It’s a slower card and it costs practically the same. The 16GB Ultra is actually slightly more expensive than our top pick at the moment so the only way to save money is to drop to the 8GB card for $6.
This isn’t to say the Ultra isn’t a good card. It is; it’s just that SD cards have become so cheap that there’s really no room for low end, low capacity cards. The Ultra is still a Class 10 card after all.
If you’re absolutely on the tightest of all budgets, our top pick isn’t available and you don’t want to wait, or you only shoot JPEGs with a point shoot, then go with the Ultra. Otherwise, spend the extra fiver.
The Best SD Card for Videographers: SanDisk Extreme Pro 128GB UHS-II ($240)
If you do need a bigger, faster card, then you need to look at the 128GB SanDisk Extreme Pro ($242). You’re going to pay a big premium, so don’t even consider this option unless you need the Extreme Pro’s speeds.
One thing to note, there are two SanDisk Extreme Pro models. The UHS-I model is a lot cheaper and has read and write speeds of up to 95 and 90 MB/s respectively. The UHS-II model, which is the one you want, has read speeds of up to 300 MB/s and write speeds of an insane 260 MB/s.
If you need those sort of speeds, then you also need enough storage capacity to contain all the data that’s pouring in. 128GB gets you a little under an hour of 4K footage at 24 frames per second. If you’re shooting slow-mo, you’ll fill up that space even faster.
SD cards are an often overlooked but essential part of your camera setup. Don’t just use the free card that came with your camera. A great SD card costs just $10!