Getting one of the best memory cards for a camera is an essential step to take for any photographer or videographer. While they're not the most glamorous of accessories, the media on which your images and videos are recorded are a vital cog in the creative process. While you might think you can just pick up any old thing, getting the right memory card for your camera is not just useful, but vital.
It may sound mad, but a good, high-capacity and high-speed memory card could be a great Christmas present for the photographer or videographer in your life. Having enough space to take plenty of shots without changing, and the speed to transfer images and videos off quickly, is a huge quality-of-life improvement. Trust us – they'll thank you!
The amount of speed and capacity needed will vary depending on what the user plans to shoot – high-quality video in resolutions of 4K and up has much more intense data demands than shooting the odd still image, and needs a card that can keep up.
You also need the right card to physically fit in your camera, as different models have different slots – some will take CFExpress, XQD, CFast or CompactFlash, all of which are different physical shapes. If this already sounds overwhelming then don't worry – we've put together an explainer on types of memory card where we run through it all. We also go through speed classes, so you can be sure you're getting the right card for your needs.
Also, the vast majority of cameras will accept an SD card, so we've put those first in our guide, with plenty of different speed and capacity options. As you might expect, faster cards with higher capacity will come with higher price tags.
Looking for a camera upgrade as well as a card? Our guide to the best cameras covers models across the spectrum from beginner to professional. Video shooters, meanwhile, will want to check out our guide to the best camcorders.
The best memory cards for your camera available now
Best SD cards
The majority of cameras will accept an SD card, so if you're at all unsure about what to buy, start here. The SanDisk Extreme PRO SD UHS-I is going to be a good bet for the vast majority of users, offering a broad range of capacities and providing snappy transfer speeds. Its capacity range runs from 64GB (a good amount of space, suitable for most casual users) all the way up to 1TB (absolutely loads of space, probably only necessary for pros shooting video at top resolutions). With write speeds of 90 MB/s and read speeds of 170 MB/s, it'll make file transfers relatively quick and painless. What's more, that "Extreme Pro" designation means that it's built to be waterproof, shockproof, X-ray-proof, and resistant to extreme temperatures, giving you extra peace of mind. There are faster SD cards on this list, but most users will find this one more than sufficient,
Lexar's Professional 633x SDXC UHS-I is another great choice for users of all stripes – its capacity range goes up to 1TB, but also runs down to 32GB. This is a good budget option for those who don't mind offloading content a little more frequently. The Lexar Professional 633x SDXC UHS-I is built to handle reasonably intense data crunch, with snappy transfer speeds that can handle burst-shooting high-resolution images, as well as 4K video. If you suspect you might need even more power than that, then check out the pricier but speedier Lexar Professional Class 10 UHS-II 2000X below. The high-capacity iterations of this card get pretty expensive, which is worth keeping in mind, so try to plump for a capacity level you think you realistically need.
Once we get into UHS-II SD cards, we start to see transfer speeds climbing significantly. The Lexar Professional Class 10 UHS-II 2000X Speed card is a serious tool for professionals, capable of achieving transfer speeds as fast as 300MB/s, with write speeds of up to 260MB/s. This, as you might imagine, is pretty serious stuff, and makes the card an excellent choice for recording video at resolutions higher than 4K, or burst-shooting stills on cameras with full-frame sensors and a lot of megapixels like the Sony A7R IV or the Canon EOS R5. It only goes up to 128GB, which is a lot of space, though there are UHS-II cards available with even more if you're concerned.
Another card bearing the super-tough "Extreme Pro" designation, the SanDisk Extreme PRO SD UHS-II V90 is also an extra-speedy card made for demanding professional work. It's capable of achieving read speeds as fast as 300 MB/s and write speeds as fast as 260 MB/s, meaning it's capable of keeping up with pretty much any demands a camera can impose upon it. Storage options for the card range from 32GB to 128GB, so you've got a reasonable selection of capacity choices. This is definitely a class leader among SD cards, with a heavy emphasis on speed.
Sony also makes its own range of life-proof cards, simply referred to as the "Tough" series. The Sony SF-G Tough SDXC lives up to the billing; it has been tested against drops of up to 5m, it's waterproof, it's dustproof, and it's even "bend-proof", meaning it can withstand up to 18kg of exerted pressure. Not that you should be habitually bending your memory cards, but better safe than sorry and all that.
It's got it where it counts on the inside too, with 300MB/s read speeds and 299 MB/s write speeds that'll ensure it can capture a flood of high-resolution RAW files without so much as a stutter. It's hardly a cheap SD card, but if you've already dropped a lot of cash on a full-frame high-resolution camera, then you need a card that'll keep up, and this is it.
Though there are plenty of budget priced card offerings bearing the US-based PNY brand, the PNY Elite Performance SDXC series, with capacities from a useful 32GB up to a generous 512GB, currently tops the range. It offers not only a high capacity, but also an industry-standard read speed of 95MB per second from an SDXC format card. The ‘Elite’ moniker signifies that these Class 10 speed, UHS-1 compatible cards are not only suitable for shooting video on a DSLR with, but are also durable with it, being waterproof, shock proof, temperature proof and magnet proof. Thus the brand is able to claim that the Elite Performance range of cards are suitable for advanced photo enthusiasts and even professionals, as well as those recording 4K quality clips. Peace of mind of a lifetime-limited warranty is provided.
If you're looking for a great performing memory card with a decent amount of storage capacity, while keeping costs down, then the SandDisk Extreme card is a very good choice. Unlike the 'Pro' versions, this is a budget memory card, and it offers UHS Speed Class 3 compatibility, so if you're taking videos in 1080p – or even 4K – then this card will be plenty fast enough. Best of all, it features water, temperature and shock-proof technology, so you can take it out and about with you without worrying about it getting damaged.
Best microSD cards
The Samsung PRO Endurance is our pick for the best MicroSD card around right now. It does cost a little more to get a microSD card with larger SD card-sized adapters, although this series is still very reasonably priced.
The draw here includes the fact that the cards are claimed to be able to withstand harsh environments, are longer lasting and are particularly suited to use in action cameras. This is because they can continually record at high read/write speeds (100MB/s and 30MB/s, respectively). Also promised for the highest capacity card is an industry best of 43,800 hours of continuous video recording. Peace of mind comes courtesy of warranties of between two years for the lower capacity cards, to five years for maximum capacity cards.
The SanDisk Extreme Pro microSDXC UHS-I is another microSDXC card and larger SD adapter combo for those prolific image makers sticking their cards in a variety of slots; here available in a variety of storage capacities ranging from 32GB all the way up to a whopping 1TB. Imagine that from solid state media the mere size of a fingernail. However, while read and write speeds for these cards are adequate, they’re not quite the quickest on the market at a read speed of ‘only’ 170MB/sec maximum and a write speed of up to 90MB/sec. If it’s speed you want rather than capacity, alternatively look at the same manufacturer’s UHS-II cards in the series, which max out at 128GB capacity, yet offer a transfer speed of a slightly more satisfying 275MB/sec.
The Samsung EVO Plus microSD spans capacities from 32GB to 512GB. This Class 10 microSD cards comes with an SD adapter that allows it to be used in cameras just as easily as a smartphone or tablet. Costing less than £10/$10 for the lowest 32GB capacity, this seems like good value considering it manages read speeds of 100 MB/s (albeit a modest write speed of 30MB/s).
A bright red design also ensures this jack of all trades option from Samsung won’t readily get lost down the back of the sofa, despite being fingernail sized. Peace of mind also comes via a 10 year limited warranty, plus the fact that this card is claimed as waterproof, temperature proof, X-ray proof and magnet proof.
CFExpress, XQD, CFast and Compact Flash
CFExpress Type A cards are smaller than Type B (more on this in our explainer at the bottom of the page), but still offer pretty blistering speeds, with this example from Sony able to achieve read speeds of up to 800MB/s and write speeds of up to 700MB/s. One of the main advantages of CFExpress Type A though is the fact that it’s roughly the same size and shape as SD, meaning that CFExpress Type A slots can double up as SD slots. On the few cameras that can use CFExpress Type A, like the Sony A7S III and the Sony A1, you have two slots that take both SD and CFExpress Type A, and you can use the two card types in any combination you want.
CFexpress is the latest memory card format to hit the market – and these super-fast cards are being used in a wide number of top-end mirrorless cameras, DSLRs and professional camcorders such as the Canon EOS-1D X III, Nikon D6, Nikon Z7 and Panasonic Lumix S1. With a phenomenal 1400Mb/s write speed, the SanDisk Extreme PRO CFexpress Card and others like it are creating a new benchmark for camera performance - and for card reliability. The price a the moment for these cards is expensive, but for professional use it is well worth the investment. This is a CFexpress Type B card; in time there will also be a smaller Type A card, and a larger Type C card, too.
The Sony XQD G Series Memory Card is in the XQD format is not used in every camera, but has been adopted by Nikon for some of its DSLRs and recent Z-series full-frame mirrorless cameras (as well as Sony’s high-end video camcorders). The format is set to become redundant, as it uses the same form factor as the more recent CFexpress Type B cards, but this does mean that prices have started to become more reasonable.
CFast made its debut as an upgrade on Compact Flash, at around the same time as XQD. It got overshadowed by XQD, in much the same way that XQD subsequently got overshadowed by CFexpress, but there are a few cameras with CFast compatibility that can make use of these speedy, high-capacity cards. Canon's cine range in particular sported CFast slots for a while, including EOS C300 Mark II, EOS C700 and XC15. Blackmagic made use of a CFast slot on its Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and URSA Mini, and even DSLRs got a look in with the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II sporting a CFast slot. If your camera has a CFast slot, then this is a reliable card for shooting 4K or high-intensity burst mode.
While it may not be as recognisable to the casual observer as competing card brands, Transcend is one of the longer-term players in the market – and, usefully, still makes many low-capacity cards, holding obvious appeal for those on tighter budget. However, even the higher capacity offerings that may appeal to semi pro DSLR users – such as this CompactFlash 800 series – are hardly expensive for what’s on offer.
Capacities run from a standard 32GB up to a slightly more impressive 256GB. Specification is also solid for a budget card; here we get read speeds of up to 120 MB/s and write speeds of 60 MB/s. Actual performance of course is affected by camera hardware and software, as is the case with any card. However, there’s a built-in error correcting code here to detect and correct any transfer errors.
Memory card types explained
All the different acronyms and numbers involved in memory cards can be pretty overwhelming for the unaccustomed. It's simpler than it appears: all this means that when you're choosing the best memory card for your camera, smartphone or tablet, you’re selecting one that actually physically fits it.
Check with the manufacturer of your device if you're unsure; the information will be floating around somewhere. Here's a quick explainer of the different card types you’re likely to encounter, all of which we’ve included in this guide.
SD / SDXC / SDHC
These are the most common types of card used in camera; it's highly unlikely that your camera won't accept some form of SD card. Standard-sized SD cards come in three main types: SD, SDHC and SDXC. The standard SD type is no longer found in stores, so you typically have the choice between SDHC or SDXC. The older SDHC cards have a capacity of between 4GB and 32GB. SDXC cards have a capacity of at least 64GB, going up to 1TB. Some devices will only support cards up to a certain capacity.
The smaller counterpart to SD cards (as you might have guessed), microSD cards are more commonly used in smartphones and tablets, as well as some drawing tablets, as opposed to cameras. They’re slower than SD cards, but can still generally store large capacities of information for their size.
SD speed classes: UHS / UHS-II
These are standards for SD and microSD cards, and refer to the cards’ bus speeds (file transfer speeds). The fastest SD and microSD cards use the UHS-II bus standard – however, to actually get the benefit of the extra speed, your camera or other device needs to be UHS-II compatible.
Some cameras have two card slots, one may be UHS-II and the other just UHS-I. UHS-I cards have a maximum bus speed of 104MB/s, while UHS-II cards have a maximum bus speed of 312MB/s.
Sony developed the XQD format as a faster, higher-capacity and more reliable alternative to SD cards. They’re physically thicker and stronger than SD cards, and have generally been used in professional video and filmmaking applications. It’s common to find XQD card slots in camcorders, but Nikon’s Z series of mirrorless consumer cameras also caused a stir when they initially came out with a single XQD slot.
CFExpress Types A and B – what’s the difference?
CFExpress Types A and B are both fundamentally the same type of card, but physically and in compatibility terms they’re actually pretty different. Place the two cards side by side and you’ll notice that CFExpress Type A is smaller than Type B; this is because they have a differing number of PCIe data transfer lanes. Type A cards have one, and Type B cards have two. (There’s also a Type C with four, but camera users don’t need to worry about it; these cards are more for high-end computing and industrial purposes).
CFExpress Type B cards are physically identical to XQD cards, down to the connector pins. This means that theoretically any device capable of using XQD can also use CFExpress cards, though in practice this relies on the manufacturer having released a firmware update to ensure compatibility, as Nikon did with the Z series.
There currently isn’t a huge difference between XQD and CFExpress Type B in terms of functionality, as both are limited by the transfer speeds of the devices that use them. However, CFExpress has greater speed potential than XQD, so the future is likely to be dominated by CFExpress as devices start to catch up. If your device reads both types, CFExpress is the better buy.
CFExpress Type A cards, meanwhile, aren’t as fast as Type B, but they are the same size and shape as SD cards, meaning that CFExpress Type A slots can be designed to also take SD cards. This gives the users a great deal of flexibility and means that if you upgrade to a camera with CFExpress Type A compatibility, you don’t have to get rid of all your SD cards. Note that SD slots can’t be upgraded with firmware to accept CFExpress the way that XQD slots can.
Compact Flash is an older card format, first developed in 1994. Despite this, it has been employed in professional-level DSLRs until fairly recently – the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800 both use Compact Flash cards, and these cameras are still in use and widely available on the second-hand market.
Generally, these older cameras will be compatible with both Compact Flash and SD. Some photographers prefer Compact Flash as they feel it’s more reliable and physically robust, but in practice there isn’t a lot of difference.
CFast was conceived as an upgrade on Compact Flash, though the two cards are not interchangeable, so double-check which type of slot you have. It was fairly short-lived, as it debuted around the same time as XQD, but some cameras do have a slot for it, such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, a pro DSLR still available on the second-hand market.
What to look for in a memory card
Read speed & write speed
Once you’ve sorted out what type of card you need, it becomes a matter of what and how you shoot, which affects what kind of speed (read/write) that you’ll need from your card. Shooting a lot of 4K video or extremely high-resolution images will require a card that can keep up with the intense data demands. It will also make your life easier when it comes time to offload the images and/or videos from the card – a faster card will need less time plugged into the computer or card reader!
Speed of a card is measured by a number of different scales and standards, but the key one to look for on the card is the speed measured in MB/s (megabytes per second). Note that the read speed is often higher than the write speed.
The other thing to bear in mind is how much capacity you need. There are cards that can store staggering amounts of data, 512GB or even 1TB, but unless you're a professional wedding photographer or another type of shooter who needs to fire off a lot of frames, then you probably don't need to fork out for the considerable price tags of these cards.
For photography, 32GB will probably do. If you have a particularly high-resolution camera, and/or like to habitually shoot on RAW+JPEG mode, then 64GB or 128GB might be safer. For video, and especially 4K, higher capacities are definitely recommended, as you'll be chewing through huge amounts of data very quickly.
If you’re shooting in more extreme outdoor conditions, it may be worth considering a more ‘destruction-proof’ card that can be dropped in water or the dirt, such as one from the Sony Tough range.