No matter what photography area you focus on, you need a way to record your photos.
A camera is a perfect tool, but without a memory card, it is just an expensive paperweight.
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What are Memory Cards and What Do You Need?
First off the bat, you need to figure out what cards your camera can work with. High-end DSLRs tend to work with CF cards, but they have started to work alongside SD cards via dual card slots.
Mirrorless systems and lower end DSLRs will use SD cards, which are much smaller and thinner than their CF counterparts. Even smaller are the MicroSD cards, used with Go Pros, phones and tablets.
There are many factors you need to take into account. You’ll need to know your budget and what you will be photographing. Cost and capacity are important, but the speeds at which these cards read and write are the most important aspect.
For example, a 16GB card will hold 500-640 images using RAW format (3200 jpgs), but the write speed may be only 50/mbs. This means, while you can hold many images, you will have trouble burst shooting a scene.
If a RAW format image is 25MB big, it will take two images then buffer if shooting on a card with a write speed of 50/mbs. If your card has 275/mbs, then that equates to 11 images a second.
Buffering is what happens when your card runs out of workable memory. It stops the camera from photographing more images until it has processed and saved the images just captured.
And being away from your laptop or cloud service means you’ll need a larger capacity.
CF or CompactFlash cards are usually only found in the most advanced DSLRs.
They were first introduced by Sandisk in 1994, and were widely used up until the last few years.
They sometimes have the classification UDMA which means Ultra Direct Access Mode.
UDMA 7 is the most recent and allows a maximum transfer rate of 167MB/sec. Other classifications include CFast 2.0, which Lexar uses.
CF cards perform much better than the SD cards, which is why professional photographers tend to choose them.
Especially those who need to shoot many images per second.
Lexar 32GB Professional 3500x (High-End)
Looking at the available CF cards in today’s world, there are areas we need to focus on. The capacity of the card and the read and write speeds are the most important things to look out for.
The Lexar 32GB Professional 3500X is the high-end of CF cards. This monster isn’t cheap, but it is well worth it for making sure your images don’t go walkabout. This item has a rating of 5/5 on Amazon.
Let’s talk numbers. 32GB will give you over 1000 images in RAW format while using a high-end DSLR camera. This may be enough for a session or two. If backing up isn’t possible, you will need the 64 GB version.
Its maximum write speed is 455 MB/s. Why is this important? Well, it means it is well equipped to keep up with even the most demanding usage. Perfect for capturing 14fps when you need to, without even hitting the buffer.
The read speed comes down to your computer, yet this card will give you a maximum of up to 525 MB/s. Great for moving those huge files onto your desktop.
SanDisk Extreme Pro 128 GB (Mid-Range)
The Sandisk Extreme Pro is our mid-range option for CF card storage. Many people believe this to be more high-end than the Lexar 3500x. Even though its speeds are slower, and the price tag is cheaper.
The 128 GB option will hold a whopping 4000+ images. This can be a little scary, as losing the card means the loss of multiple sessions. Only with very large high-end DSLRs would you need something so big.
With the Extreme Pro, you can obtain write speeds of up to 150mb/s. This is about six RAW format images a second without any buffering.
The read speed is slightly faster at 160mb/s, getting your images on your computer before you can say ‘edit’.
The Sandisk Ultra is the best in budget CompactFlash cards. Budget means this card is almost 7.5 times cheaper than the Extreme Pro, and 8.2 times cheaper than the Lexar.
It is only a 16 GB card, which will still hold around 640 images if your RAW files come to around 25 mb each. This number increases five-fold if capturing in jpeg. The biggest difference here isn’t the size, but the speed.
Both the read and write speeds reach about 50mb/s, which equates to two images before buffering kicks in. This isn’t anywhere near ideal for high-speed, action or sports photographers. But for landscapes, it is perfect.
Best SD Cards
SD or Secure Digital cards have become the norm for storing digital images. They were first introduced in 1999 from the joint collaboration between Sandisk, Panasonic and Toshiba. Some cameras utilise both SD and CF cards, such as the Canon 5D Mark IV.
These cards come in two variations that you would look for. SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) and SDXC (Secure Digital ‘Xtra Capacity’). The HC broke the tradition of old SD cards only reaching 2GB. Here, they reach 32GB.
The XC cards further extend that size and reach 2TB. You need to check your camera can see these cards, as the technology might surpass your camera.
Lexar Professional 2000x 64GB (High-End)
The Lexar 2000x is a high-capacity, high-powered SD card for the serious, high-energy photographer. It is pricey, but in return, you are getting the best SDXC card available
It offers a remarkable read/transfer speed of up to 300MB/s. Write speeds are pretty much guaranteed to be much slower than that, but depending on your conditions, it can still reach as high as 275 MB/s.
64 GB means over 2000 images of RAW photographs, and the high 275/mbs equates to 11 images a second without the need for buffering.
Polaroid Extreme Performance 64 GB (Mid-Range)
The Polaroid Extreme Performance card is the perfect card for mid-range photographers. This card balances speed with value and versatility for a solid all-around memory solution.
It has class 10 and UHS-1/U3 compatibility, meaning it can handle 4k photos and videos. It hits 95Mb/s read speed and 90MB/s write speed, letting you transfer large files at quick speeds.
It also supports burst mode for continuous shooting. The card is shockproof and waterproof to survive adventurous outings. It will hold over 200 images, and process over three images a second without buffering problems
SanDisk 32GB Ultra Class 10 (Budget)
If you’re looking for something a bit cheaper and don’t mind the slower write speeds, then you’re perfectly safe going with this card. The SanDisk Ultra is the card for all photographers.
It offers a write speed of about 10 MB per second, meaning it may struggle to keep up with RAW format burst shooting. Read speeds are much faster at 80 MB/s.
This is a solid option for casual photographers who do not need 10 wide format shots a second. It’s waterproof, heatproof, freezeproof, X-ray proof, magnet proof and shockproof.
MicroSD cards are used in smartphones, tablets. With the use of an adapter, they become SD cards. Having one of these and an adapter means you don’t need to buy a specific SD card unless you need something bigger, better or faster.
There are a handful of things to consider when you’re choosing a new MicroSD. The price and capacity are usually the first things people look for. But you need to make sure it will fit your photographic style and genre.
MicroSD cards come in two different variations. SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) and SDXC (Secure Digital Extended Capacity) are available. The only difference is their capacity range.
You’ll find that SDHC cards range from 2GB to 32GB in size. SDXC MicroSD cards can range from 32GB up to 2TB in size. So far, the biggest MicroSD card we’ve seen so far is 512GB.
The cards are also broken down into ‘classes’. A class 2 Micro SD card has a minimum speed of 2 MB/s, and class 10 sees the minimum as 10 MB/s. UHS 1 and UHS 3 have minimums of 10 MB/s and 30 MB/s respectively.
Lexar Professional 1000x microSDXC 128GB (High-End)
Lexar has cropped up in this article many times, being one of the best choices in memory cards. This MicroSD card is no different. It offers a decent capacity of 12GB, meaning over 4000 RAw images.
It’s an SDXC card with a UHS-II rating, offering read speeds up to 150 MB/s. The write speeds could be much better, as they stand around 45 MB/s.
This card has many good reviews and it even comes with its own handy USB card reader.
SanDisk Extreme 32GB microSDHC (Mid-Range)
The Sandisk Extreme is our choice for the mid-range photographer. It is cheaper than our budget memory card, but it offers half the capacity. The reason this fits here is down to the write speed.
This speedy SDHC card offers read speeds of up to 90 MB/s and write speeds of up to 60 MB/s. Here, the write speeds are much more important, as it means three to four images a second.
Reviews for this memory card are overwhelmingly positive, and you can also opt for a bigger size if you need.
64GB Samsung Evo Plus Micro SD XC (Budget)
This is the first time Samsung has appeared on our list, but their MicroSD card is a great choice for the budget photographer. It has a decent capacity of 64GB, meaning over 2000 images in RAW format.
It’s an SDXC card with a UHS-II rating and offers read speeds up to 150 MB/s. The write speeds fall behind, offering around 45 MB/s, which will give you a burst of two or three images a second.
Our best buy MicroSD card has a lot of good reviews and it comes with a handy USB card reader to plug into your PC or laptop. Better for the landscape photographer rather than those who follow sports.
And there you have it, the best memory cards for all photography budgets, from CFs to SDs to MicroSDs.