Although MicroSD cards are becoming more popular in compact cameras and drones, its larger sibling, the SD card, still remains a vital component in DSLR and mirrorless cameras. SD cards are relatively affordable, fairly compact in size, and overall offer a solid bang for your buck on storage.
But how do you know what SD card is right for you and your camera? And what specifications should you be keeping an eye on to make sure you get the SD card that will best fit your needs? Here are the things you need to pay attention to.
What to consider when buying an SD card
When looking at the hundreds of choices out there for SD cards, there are a few things you should keep in mind. The most important two are the capacity of the card and its price. But there are other details, such as the type and class of SD card, both of which affect the speed and compatibility of your cards.
SDHC versus SDXC
When browsing through SD cards, there are two main types you will come across: SDHC and SDXC. SDHC stands for secure digital high capacity, and SDXC stands for secure digital extended capacity. The difference between the two types lies only in the amount of data they store. SDHC cards start at 2GB and top out at 32GB, whereas SDXC cards start at 32GB and max out around 2TB of storage, although the largest capacity to date is a 1TB card from SanDisk.
Class and UHS ratings
When talking about the speed of SD cards, there are three terms you will come across: Speed class, UHS (ultra high speed) speed class, video speed class, and rated speed. While each of these is related in some sense, they are each their own standards, with some taking precedence over another, even when seen on the same SD card.
The speed class of a card is denoted by a “C” with a number inside of it, as seen in the above image. Based on the latest standards, these classes are based on the following minimum speeds:
In 2009, the SD Association introduced a new class called the UHS speed class. This new class supersedes the standard class mentioned above, but only if your device supports it (most everything made in or after 2009 does). In the event you’re using the SD card in an older device, it will default to the aforementioned speed class rating.
|UHS Speed Class||Minimum Speed|
Since then, the SD Association has introduced another class — video speed class, also referred to as “V Class.” SD cards in this class are designed specifically with high-resolution video in mind, with an emphasis on 360 recording, HDR capture, virtual reality content, and the increasing resolutions we’re seeing from high-end cameras. The various classes and speeds are as follows.
|V Class||Minimum Speed|
Now, although the above classes are standardized by the SD Association, manufacturers still insist on putting their own rated speed on SD cards. These rated speeds, almost always seen in terms of megabytes per second, are usually the theoretical maximum transfer speeds you can expect from the card. As you would expect, these vary from card to card and manufacturer to manufacturer. And, again, these speeds may very well not be achievable if the device you’re putting the SD card into isn’t capable of these speeds in the first place.
How to choose an SD card
Your goal when picking a card should be to maximize the amount of performance you can get for a price that you can afford. However, keep in mind that it won’t do you any good to buy a card that’s capable of faster transfer speeds than your camera can write to (although, cards with higher transfer speeds will offload images faster to your computer). The brand can also matter. While it’s no guarantee that a SanDisk, Lexar, Samsung, Toshiba, Kingston, PNY, or Sony card will last longer, there is a reason these brands tend to be more trusted by professionals.
Another tidbit we learned is the concept of not putting all of your eggs in one basket. While it might be nice to fit an entire vacation worth of photos to a 128GB SD card, imagine losing all of those memories if something is to happen to the card. Your better bet is to purchase four 32GB cards instead and swap them out when full. It might not be as convenient, but it’s much better to lose only a fourth of your memories than all of them. It’s also a good practice to format a card inside your camera or device every time you remove all of the photos.
Best SD cards for your camera
To help get you started on the right path toward picking out the best SD card, we’ve rounded up four of the best you can buy right now. Most of these cards come in varying capacities, but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll stick with posting the 32GB versions. Again, don’t feel like it’s necessary to stick with the brands we’re mentioning, but do proceed with a word of warning that any brands outside of those mentioned above might not have the same level of reliability and support. Prices for these cards are correct at the time of publishing, but they seem to change on a daily basis, so expect slight differences.
SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB ($22)
For the price, the 32GB SanDisk Extreme Pro is a steal. It features read speeds up to 95MB per second and write speeds up to 90MB per second. At these speeds, shooting continuous RAW photos or 4K video shouldn’t be a problem at all. In addition to quick speeds, it’s shock-proof, temperature-proof, waterproof, and X-ray proof. It comes with a limited lifetime warranty to boot, which is always a nice bonus.
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If you need a little more speed than what the SanDisk Extreme Pro offers, Lexar’s 32GB Professional 1000x has your back. This SDHC card has a read speed up to 150MB per second and write speeds up to 75MB per second. It comes in many capacities, ranging from 16GB all the way up to 256GB, so you shouldn’t have any problem finding enough storage for your needs. Like the SanDisk, Lexar offers a limited lifetime warranty for that extra little bit of assurance.
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PNY might not have the brand recognition of SanDisk or Lexar, but it has proven itself as a worthy competitor. The PNY Elite Performance series features transfer speeds up to 95MB per second. PNY doesn’t say how fast the read and write speeds are individually though. This card also includes a limited lifetime warranty and is shock-proof, temperature-proof, and waterproof, which PNY describes as “capable of operating after complete immersion in one meter of saltwater.” At just over $0.50 per GB, it’s a steal.
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SanDisk Ultra 32GB ($13)
If speed isn’t necessarily a priority and you would rather spend the money on multiple cards instead of sinking all of your dough into one, look no further than SanDisk’s Ultra SD card. With write speeds up to 80MB per second, it is more than fast enough for most 1080p video. This SDHC card comes in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB varieties and costs less than $0.50 per GB, which is about as cheap as you’re going to get before you get into less-than-reliable brands.
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