Photography / Buying Guide

Memory Card Buying Guide

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Recording work and data in the form of thousands of pictures or hours of video is made possible by compact memory cards. These devices are the standard for photo and movie storage, saving and protecting your files until you can transfer them safely to a more permanent home on your computer or external hard drive. They are available in an array of different types, with a broad range of capacities and data-transfer speeds.

Card Types, Capacities, and Speeds

The various card types include CompactFlash (CF), Secure Digital (SD), microSD, Memory Stick (MS), XQD, SxS-1, SxS PRO+, P2, and microP2. They differ in form factor and the type of interface they use. Across types and within the same type, cards are differentiated by capacity, read speed, write speed, data protection capability, and durability.

Currently, memory card capacities stretch across a broad range, from 2GB to 512GB, and the technology allows for 2TB of maximum storage. Speeds are typically listed in MB/s or Gb/s, and many cards also feature an “x” rating, such as 400x or 1000x, which is used as a shorthand for speed and often appears as part of the name of a card, allowing for quick and easy comparisons of different models (the higher the rating, the faster the card). The “x” represents the standard 150KB/s data transfer rate of a CD-ROM drive. Multiplying this by the number preceding the x in a card’s rating will tell you that card’s maximum transfer speed.

CompactFlash

CompactFlash (CF)

 

CF cards exist in both Type I and Type II formats, although the smaller Type I, which draws less power and is exclusively a type of flash media, is much more common. CF cards are larger in size than SD cards and are known for their physical durability. To denote transfer speeds, they use the Ultra Direct Memory Access (UDMA) mode system, in which a number of 0-7 gives you a rough idea of how fast a card will be. Mode 0 permits up to 16.7MB/s and Mode 7 allows for up to 167MB/s. CompactFlash cards often feature the x rating in their names, helping you compare speeds at a glance before getting a more in-depth look, by examining the actual data transfer rates.

Secure Digital (SD)

Secure Digital (SD) and microSD

Among SD cards, the Secure Digital Extended Capacity (SDXC) models have the greatest amount of storage space at more than 32GB, and up to a theoretical 2TB, while Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) and SD cards hold up to 32GB and 2GB, respectively. The microSD cards are physically smaller, though they can still feature large capacities and follow the same SD/SDHC/SDXC naming scheme.

 SanDisk 32GB SDHC Memory Card Class 4

SD cards, including the micro type, are divided into classes—2, 4, 6, and 10—where the class number denotes minimum write speed. Class 2 means a minimum of 2MB/s write, while Class 4 means 4MB/s, and so on. The Ultra High Speed Class 1 (UHS-I) rating was established when cards became faster and it was possible for minimum read/write rates to exceed 10MB/s. Now, UHS-II cards offer substantially quicker transfer rates than ever before.

UHS-I and II cards are capable of huge performance boosts over standard cards, in terms of maximum read/write speeds. A UHS Class 1 rating tells you that the technology allows for speeds of up to 104MB/s. Many UHS-1 cards deliver read/write rates of 80―95MB/s, with a lot of others getting up to about 60MB/s. UHS-II denotes even faster maximum speeds of 312MB/s, with the reality being 250―280MB/s for the current SD lineup.

Memory Stick (MS)

Memory Stick (MS)

A proprietary memory type used in many Sony devices, Memory Stick PRO Duo cards are similar in size to SD cards and are smaller than the original incarnations of the Sony Memory Stick. The MS PRO-HG Duo offers performance approximately four times faster than the PRO Duo. MS cards also have MagicGate copyright protection technology, which provides authentication and content encryption and decryption to prevent unauthorized copying, and conform to Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) standards.

XQD

XQD

XQD cards, made by Lexar and Sony, use the PCIe interface featured on certain computer expansion cards. In theory, the XQD format has a maximum possible capacity greater than the 2TB limit of other memory card types, though we have yet to see an actual card approaching such massive storage capabilities. They are currently available in several classes: the standard XQD, also known as the H Series, as well as the N, S, and G series. The H and N class support transfer speeds up to 125MB/s, while the S-series supports up to 180MB/s for reading and writing. The newest class, the G series, supports transfer speeds up to 400MB/s to benefit 4K video recording and high-resolution still shooting bursts.

SxS

SxS

 

Sony's SxS-1 and SxS PRO+ cards were created for the XDCAM EX camcorders and feature the same interface as a computer ExpressCard. SxS-1 cards feature similar performance compared to the PRO+ versions and offer maximum read speeds of 1.2Gb/s (150MB/s), with slightly lower write speeds. SxS PRO+ memory cards support write speeds of up to 1.5Gb/s (187.5MB/s) and maximum read speeds of 1.6Gb/s.

P2 and microP2

Designed for full HD and 4K recording in Panasonic's P2 camcorders, the company's P2 cards have the same maximum transfer speeds as the SxS-1 cards. The microP2 version, which has a form factor identical to a full-size SD card, is UHS-II and features much faster 2Gb/s (250MB/s) rates. To help ensure high reliability, both the P2 and microP2 cards offer a RAID-type error-correction system similar to that of many external computer drives.

 Panasonic 32GB F-Series P2 Memory Card

Compatibility

Most consumer-grade cameras and camcorders are compatible with CompactFlash (CF), Secure Digital (SD), or Memory Stick type cards, and several cameras now feature dual memory slots, allowing you to use up to two cards at a time. Common combinations include two SD slots or one CF and one SD slot, along with a handful of different combinations.

The microSD cards are often used in more compact devices, such as smartphones and tablets, though they also fit into a number of small point-and-shoot cameras. They can be adapted through the use of a standard SD-size adapter to function in devices that only accept SD cards. All cameras and other devices that support SDXC cards are also backwards compatible with SDHC and SD, and devices that support SDHC will also support SD cards. The same rule does not apply in reverse, though, and devices compatible with up to SDHC cards will often not support SDXC memory cards.

Memory Cards Compatibility

The vast majority of cameras that take CF cards accept Type I only. Type II is rarely used anymore, but can still be found in certain hard drives and other computer devices.

Before making a decision, make sure you are working within the limits of your camera or other device. Many entry-level and intermediate-grade cameras are not capable of supporting cards with capacities over 64GB.

Use and Applications

Choosing the Correct Capacity

It’s easy to think that bigger is better when it comes to capacity, but it really depends on the application. Many photographers prefer several lower-capacity cards to a single high-capacity one, because that way, if one breaks or fails and work is compromised, they still have the data they’ve saved on the other cards. Another advantage to this approach is that when traveling, photographers can use one card per day to keep a succinct and orderly record of which day’s images are on which card. Those who shoot high-speed bursts, such as sports photographers, and those who record lots of video, often prefer one card with lots of storage space, since it allows for more continuous shooting without having to stop and switch to a new memory source.

Another consideration when deciding upon card capacities is the type of files you shoot, generally, and how large your average file size is. If you are working with a small 12MP point-and-shoot camera and only shooting JPEG files, you can record upwards of 8,000 images to a single 32GB memory card. But if you are dealing with a full-frame DSLR and recording both RAW and JPEG file types simultaneously, you might only get 500 or so images per 32GB.

Speed Considerations

It’s not just about how much data your card can store, but also how fast it can store and move it. Time-saving is a ubiquitous concern nowadays, and cards with faster write speeds will enable you to get more shots in a given period of time, while higher read speeds will improve workflow efficiency by speeding up card-to-computer file transfers.

Faster write speeds enable improved performance during 4K and HD video recording and RAW and high-resolution JPEG image capture, especially in continuous shooting modes, and when using advanced modes like slow-motion recording. You will experience less lag and fewer interruptions with speedier cards, and this makes a world of difference when recording high-definition movies or fast-action photo sequences.

Memory Cards Speeds

UHS-1 is really a must for pros using SDHC/SDXC, while those who use CF cards ought to go for UDMA 6 or higher. The XQD card format is designed specifically for transferring large files quickly, as are Sony's SxS-1/SxS PRO+ and Panasonic's P2 cards. Since the microP2 is UHS-II and features 2Gb/s (250MB/s) transfer speeds, it is ideal for professional broadcast video capture.

Unless you’re shooting very casually and are really not concerned about speed, we recommend that you choose a card with read and write speeds of at least 30MB/s. If you’re a professional working with today’s high-resolution cameras, try for at least 45―60MB/s. And if you’re a sports shooter or a 4K HD videographer, get the fastest card you can. Many of the ones on the market today go up to 90MB/s and beyond, and there are offerings that are well over 100MB/s.

Protecting Your Work

Apart from capacity and speed, data protection is a concern. A lot of cards feature Error Correction Code (ECC), which enhances reliability by automatically detecting and fixing transfer errors. This is a great asset in any application, but would be especially important in situations in which you have to work quickly and deliver results in a very short time, such as professional sporting events or news coverage. When you need to upload or send files so that your work can be seen by the world before your competitors’, having a reliable card with a small chance of failure or errors is critical.

Picking a Card that's Built to Last

A card’s durability may also be an important point of consideration. There are really two types of toughness for a memory card: the ability to withstand a large number of insertion/removal and read/write cycles, and the ability to survive environmental factors. Most of the better cards on the market permit 10,000 or more duty cycles as a standard. Those that offer wear-leveling management ensure that data is written evenly across various regions of the card—preventing excessive wear and prolonging card life.

There is a greater degree of variation in the other kind of durability. Certain cards are built to live through bumps, drops, and even heavy burdens that would break or crush most devices their size, while others are designed to last through extremely cold or hot temperatures that would render most electronics useless. There are cards that are water resistant, and even those that are completely waterproof. Additionally, some models are built to survive exposure to magnetic fields and X-rays.

If you’re a travel photographer, such as a photojournalist, or just an avid explorer or adventurer who loves shooting in extreme locations such as the mountains, tundra, jungle, or desert, these tough cards are made for you. Fortunately, some of the real rough-and-tumble cards also feature very respectable speeds—up to 90MB/s or greater for read and write—so you can get the benefits of their strong build quality without having to compromise in other areas of performance.

Whatever your needs, B&H has you covered with a comprehensive array of options spanning all memory card categories.

57 Comments

What's the best memory card for a Canon 7D?

Which DSLR takes the largest capacity memory card?

Hi Daniel - 

The new Panasonic LUMIX DC-GH5 can handle 256GB SDXC memory cards.

The  SONY a7S II Mirrorless Digital Camera  will accept 512GB SDXC memory cards as well.

My question is when on the camara(nikon coolfix) to operate it instantly indicates as THIS CARD CANNOT BE USED but earlier when this indicate I remove the card and blow by mouth and replaced then it worked but itwon't  any more , what I have to do 

I would suggest sending us an email, letting us know which model coolpix camera you have, which memory card, and if you have formatted the card in the camera before. An agent would then be able to attempt to trouble shoot what might be going on.

Dear Mark,

I have a question for you. The photographer of my wedding just told me that he had some troubles while downloading the photos he shoted in the church. He told me that he went away while the fotos where downloading and when he returned he saw that the process was interrupted and then he couldn't download the fotos. The result is that he brought the memory card to a recovery center. It's 2 weeks till now that I'm waiting for an answer. The photographer told me that it's taking a little longer because thay need a special code (serial number of that lot  or smth like that) that is hard to find because the memory card is a latest technology one. Once they have this code thay may reach the heart of the memory. 

Does all this sound true to you or it may be a lie?

Thank you very much,

George

There are many different processed used to recover memory cards. There would be no way for us to determine the validity of the particular method they are using. 

I mean link sd slot

My HP 840 elite book will only hold a mini memory card. My cameras use regular size and the smaller size. Is there a converter that can go in the mini sad slot?

Hi  -

Threre is no adapter that can take a full sizse SD card and fit it into a microSd slot.  You may want to purchase a USB card reader for your computer:

The Lexar Multi-Card 25-in-1 USB 3.0 Memory Card Reader enables you to quickly and reliably transfer photo, video, music, and other files from any popular memory card type. Now, you can easily move files between your digital camera, MP3 player or mobile phone and your computer. Just take the card out of your digital device, slide it into the reader, and drag and drop files onto your computer.

I have a printer which will only accept S.D cards. I also have an Olympus/Camedia digital camera which

has an Olympus XD Memory card. Can you advise me on the purchase of an SD mem/card which

will fit my camera. it is a c.60 6.1 Thank you

Hi Mick -

There is no xD to SD memory card converter available.  I recommend using a card reader to import the file from the xD card into the computer and then transferring it to the SD card.   

Xcellon CR-D6A Aluminum USB 3.0 Multi-card Reader    B&H # XCCRD6A

  The Xcellon CR-D6A Multi-card Reader supports SD, microSD, CompactFlash, Memory Stick, and Memory Stick Micro formats, and even the xD-Picture Card. This is a portable, all-in-one solution for anyone who works with multiple card formats and needs a single device to read them all.  

I recently came back from Ireland and took 1500 photos.  I downloaded the pictures via camera to computer and now would like to download the pictures to memory sticks to give to my children.  What kind of memory stick should I use.  I know very little when it comes to computers and cameras so I really need any help that I can get.

You might look at the Sony 32GB Microvault USM-X USB Flash Drive (Black).  It would be a solid option for putting photos on to hand out to your family, and it is both Mac and Windows compatible. 

Hi, I recently purchased a Pentax K3 and would like to know what would be the best SD card for me. I plan to shoot many very important events, helping my daughter with her buisness. Not planning to do much rapid action photos mostly stills. Thanks Kim

I would like to archieve/backup photos by year onto an sd card is this wise?  If so what type of card should I use. Main purpose is the small size for storage into a small fireproof safe.
 

Yes, generally speaking its not a bad idea to backup important images in this manner.  For this task you dont necessarily need the fastest speed card, but you would want to take the size capacity into account.  I personally prefer cards from Sandisk and Lexar.  I'd start off with a simple 8gb card such as the one at the link below.  They are inexpensive enough you can purchase as many as you'd need and be set without breaking the bank.  See the link below for details:

http://bhpho.to/1B5hwmK

why does the message apper occasionallhy that  read " card error " and all I can do is turn the camera off and back on- to continue either taking pictures OR viewing pictures ?

In order to give you a focused reply, can you please indicate what specific mode camera you're shooting with as well as the specific make and model of the memory card and also if possible mention what mode the camera is in most commonly when this occurs.  Thanks in advance. 

I see cards listed on retail sites with U1 and U3 designations as well as a symbol "I" next to the SDXC. And one article (not BnH) mentions "U1 with speed class 3". This is confusing.

Is the U1 and U3 designations what you refer to as UHS 1 and UHS3? Your article referes to UHS-2 but I dont see any cards with that designation. Is there some other consideration for speed class?

I see some packaging labels saying "4k video " and other packaging say nothing. If I want to read and write 4k video on full frame camera is U1 sufficient?

By the way my research indicates SDHC and SDXC are formatted fat-32 and exfat64 , so SONY in particular ( not sure about other manufacturers) require SDXC to record xavc-s codec.  ( avchd is sufficiently recorded to SDHC or SDXC).  My guess (check for yourself)  is any 4k camera is going to require at least SDXC cards and that SDHC is not sufficient.

Further research (for SD cards only):  I found the "I" is the bus type so there is a I and II possible, but I is sufficient (up to about 100MB/sec) for 4k video on low end cameras regardless of sensor size (maybe ok for mid to high end also but it depends on the recording codec) . There is only U1 and U3 designations possible which is the speed class, which is an additional speed above and beyond the "10 in a circle" symbol. As I mentioned SONY cameras going forward (maybe other manufacturers?) recording to XAVC-s codec require the SDHX capacity cards (thus 64GB and above) because the format is exfat-64 whereas the format on SDHC capacity cards formats are FAT32. Conclusion : low end 4k cameras require I and U1 designations on SD cards , and SONY cameras require 64GB or above if recording to XAVCS codec. Thus the Sony a-6000 and A7 series cameras for example require I, U1 and SDHX   sd cards.

My apologies!  Correction to previous comment.... 4k video wil require u3 designation, not u1.......

The Ultra High Speed Classification (UHS) determines the maximum speed at which a memory card can read. UHS-I Cards have maximum theoretical speed of 104 MB/s, and UHS-II Cards have a maximum transfer speed of 312 MB/s. UHS-II cards also have a second row of contacts, which are utilized when used with UHS-II compatible cameras. 

Speed Class Ratings will show what the minimum write speed of the card would be.  U3: Minimum 30 MB/s read, U1: Minimum 10 MB/s read, Class 10 Minimum 10 MB/s read. 

Given the age of this particular article, I would recommend checking out another one of our articles, “The Fastest Memory Cards Money Can Buy” (http://bhpho.to/1HTXapi) which is a more up to date overview of the current cards available and their performance. 

Hi, with the Nikon D3s which of the Lexar's professional CF cards are compatible?  I was a tad apprehensive in purchasing anything over 16gb.  

Cheers,

Joe

Sandisk brand just as a reference has actually tested several of their own cards with the D3s that are over 16gb with success.  From Lexar I couldn't find a confirmation as to what larger cards of theirs they may have tested with the D3s.  See the links below for recommended cards from each manufacturer to consider:

http://bhpho.to/1f9CBSJ

http://bhpho.to/1FQhiWf

What are advantages of Micro SDHC cards over regular SDHC cards being used in digital cameras other than their form factor and convenience? What kind of card most folks prefer to use?

The type of card that is used in current devices would be dictated by the manufactuer, not by personal preference.  I would recommend to view your device's specifications to view the type of memory card that is designed for use with your equipment.  The differnece in SDHC cards compared to microSDHC cards is mainly the size and form factor.  As indicated by their name, microSDHC cards are smaller in size compared to standard SDHC memory cards.  They are both available in similar class ratings and read/write speeds.  Usually, the determining factor of which is used is the size of the item in which the card will be used.  Standard point-and-shoot cameras and devices will typically use the standard SDHC memory cards, while smaller devices like compact video cameras (think GoPro and other action cameras), smartphones and tablets, or minitaure devices will use the smaller microSDHC card.  As stated, this is decided by the manufacturer when building/creating the product in question.

i have a nikon d3 and I'm wondering if anyone knows if the UMDA 7 CF cards will work with it?

Yes, the Nikon D3 DSLR camera is compliant with UDMA CompactFlash Memory cards and UDMA 7 cards may be used in the camera.

Does anyone know what the difference is between a Panasonic Micro p2 card and a regular UHS-II Memory Card?

P2 cards are special cards which are only compatible with 4k devices listed as requiring/compatible with a P2 type card. They cannot be used in devices which are not listed as P2 compatible.  They are durable, able to resist water, dust, static electricity, bending and twisting, magnets, X-rays, wide temperature ranges, and has a safety built-in-fuse. It has a flash memory error correction system, a Lifetime Counter, a Content Protection System that password-protects the card, and a QR code for scanning and identification. MicroP2 cards will ensure high-speed transfer, high reliability and the writing assurance of all P2 frame rates, formats and codecs.

I will be traveling to Paris in June would like to take a reliable card for all of the pictures that i plan to take.  I own a Canon 50D, please advise that is the best card that i can purchase from you to take to the trip.  Thank you for your cooperation and assistance in this matter.

Hi Carmen -

Your Canon EOS 50D is compatible with UDMA Class 6 CF memory cards.  I recommend purchasing several cards in case of loss or damage:

Delkin Devices 32GB CompactFlash Memory Card 700x UDMA

Delkin Devices 64GB CompactFlash Memory Card 700x UDMA

Delkin Devices 128GB CompactFlash Memory Card 700x UDMA

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

What is the largest memory card supported by Nikon D5100?

What would be the best card oprion (price/size/speed) for this camera?

The Nikon D5100 is compatible with SDXC memory cards, so is compatible with the largest SD cards on the market (up to 512GB at this point).  For the D5100, you might look at the Lexar 64GB SDXC Memory Card Professional Class 10 600x UHS-I or SanDisk 64GB Extreme UHS-I U3 SDXC Memory Card (Class 10).

I have a Canon 60D and am in the learning process. The previous SLR I used was a Pentax K1000...totally manual, film camera. Comparatively my Canon is a rocket compared to the Wright Brothers' plane! I was recently in Italy and took nearly 800 photos on an sd card that I knew little about. Reading this educational information about sd cards will efinitely help with my purchasing decisions for my next sd cards! Thanks!

I have a Nikon D50.  What is the best option of memory card for me?

Due to the age of the Nikon D50 and the fact the camera uses FAT16 formatting, the maximum memory card size available for use with the Nikon D50 is 2GB. 4GB and larger SDHC and SDXC memory cards will not work in the Nikon D50 DSLR camera.  At this time, we only have two (2) SD memory cards compatible with your Nikon D50 DSLR camera, and of the two cards, I would recommend the  for your needs. 

I have new Canon 5d MarkIII....what are the best/fastest CF and SD cards to use for this camera?  

Thanks very much

  I typically stick with Lexar and SanDisk cards, as I find them to be among the most reliable on the market.  For the 5D III, you might checkout the Lexar Professional Compact Flash and SDXC cards.  As for speeds, the 1066X for CF and 1000X for SDXC would be the fastest options from Lexar at this time, and excellent for the 5D III.  You can find a link to those cards if you CLICK HERE

I have a canon fx100 camera,I have a cf card that ever five minutes the camera will stop recording and say cf error. Can you tell me what I can do to repair this card?

Firstly, if you have not done so already, format the card in-camera.  This should be done with every new card and each time a card is used in the camera after transfering the data off it.  It will help optimize the card's performance with the camera. 

If you've formatted already and still have this issue, there is a good chance your card is corrupted/defective.  In general with memory cards there is not much able to be done to repair them in most cases, as the cost to repair them is typically greater than a new card would be. 

 MacBook Air & some newer Minis seem to feature a PCIe-type interface for Memory Cards to replace a HD and maybe even more. Are these for XQD cards? Operating a computer on a PCIe-array seems a lot faster than any other way. Can you send me a better explanation as to how this works & can be practically applied to Maclike systems? Thank you. 

The PCIe bus isn’t used for the memory card slot. That is on the USB (bus) The solid state drives on the PCIe bus are not XQD cards. To my knowledge there isn’t a way to run an array off the PCIe drive slot on the newer Apple computers.

what's the optimal card speed and size for a canon 6d?

The camera requires a minimum sustained write speed of 20 megabytes per second.  Most of todays Class 10 cards perform at this speed.  I most commonly recommend Sandisk Extreme series cards which are fast but also reliable.  As far as what capacity is best, that is typically determined by the shooter, but 32gb is a good starting point.  See the following link for a recommended 32gb Sandisk Extreme series card:

http://bhpho.to/1adnrIS

Excellent review of features. Can you comment on the comparative quality from manufacturers or popularity?

A very well written article on an often overlooked but, important photo accessory. 

Finally, a simple, easily understandable guide to memory cards! The code has been broken! I can look at a card and figure out its capacity and speed. Thank you!

I use sd card like external drive on my computer and work fine !

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