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The best SD cards offer the convenience of making your data portable or, often even more importantly, add much needed capacity to some of your favorite devices. This is especially important in the era of the smartphone, particularly if you're on a budget. It's possible to grab a budget smartphone for much less than you'd pay for the very latest offering from Apple or Samsung, but still had a ton of storage capacity thanks to an inexpensive upgrade by way of an SD card.
SD cards have also become increasingly important for gamers, especially since the advent of the Nintendo Switch era (check out our best SD cards for the Nintendo Switch guide for some specific picks). The Switch's built-in storage is woefully inadequate—in some cases, a single game will almost completely fill it. Luckily, the Switch has a SD card slot which means for relatively cheap you can massive expand the available storage and stuff nearly as many games as your heart desires right onto the device itself. SD cards are also handy for taking save games with you on the go for PC gamers, or even loading up an entire game library to quickly transfer it between machines, or from a desktop PC to a laptop.
Speedy read/write speeds
Incompatible with some dash/action cameras
For those who need a card that can handle a heavier workload, the Samsung EVO is a better choice than our Most Popular pick. The EVO is perfect for filmmakers and photographers since it is strong enough to process 4K footage and RAW files, which take longer to upload. The EVO boasts its high storage capacity (up to 128GB) as well as its efficient speeds for reading and writing files, 100MB/s and 60 MB/s respectively. Additionally, the EVO offers a high level of durability and excellent resistance to extreme temperatures, seawater, magnets, and other harsh conditions. The EVO comes with a full-size adapter, allowing you to download files to your smartphone, tablet, PC, or other devices.
4K video ready
Great transfer speeds
Shock and waterproof
Occasional errors after formatting
This plug-and-shoot high-performance SD card is perfect for photographers of all levels, balancing 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, as well as all other traditional file types. 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, and is shockproof and waterproof to survive adventurous outings.
Good read rate
Up to 512GB capacity
Larger cards are 4K ready
Smaller cards are UHS-I/UI
PNY isn't the most recognizable brand, but it delivers performance that is comparable to better-known products in its class. The card provides reads speeds of 95 MB/s, which is a respectable rate if you’re looking for a professional-grade product. For photographers and filmmakers, the PNY Elite Performance works well with DSLRs and can support the demands of capturing action shots, HD videos, and other high-quality photos. In terms of storage, the card offers 32GB and 64GB options for less than $20 and up to 512GB if you’re willing to splurge. However, for the best value, 32 to 64GB is plenty of storage space. Additionally, the PNY Elite Performance card boasts a high level of durability as it is magnet-proof, shock-proof, waterproof, and resistant to extreme temperatures.
The PNY’s 32GB option is a UHS-I/U1 card, meaning it has a writing speed of 10 MB/s, so it only supports full HD resolution (1080p). The 64GB, on the other hand, is a UHS-1/U3 card, which features a 30 MB/s rate, meaning it can handle 3D, 4K, and ultra HD shooting. For photographers, the 32GB card offers plenty of space, but filmmakers should consider upgrading to the 64GB. Regardless, both cards provide cost-effective alternatives to household names like Sandisk and Lexar, without compromising on quality.
Strong read/write speed
Gets warm during heavy usage
The Evo series from Samsung offers an amazing value for the price because they’ve optimized these SD cards for massive UHD video files while also keeping the 64GB price below $20 -- no small feat when you look at how well this card operates. That 64GB capacity offers read speeds up to 100 mb/s, with write speeds capping at 60 mb/s. Those speeds factor out to accommodate a 3GB video transfer in as little as 38 seconds (under specific conditions). That’s certainly a far cry from the days of floppy disks. The full capacity can accommodate up to 8 hours and 30 minutes of full HD video, 14,000 photos or 5,500 songs.
The card has been tested with dozens of different devices from tablets to cameras to phones and more, and it can accommodate 4K videos, too. Samsung’s four-point protection claims 72 hours in seawater, extreme temperatures, airport X-ray machines, as well as magnetic fields equivalent to an MRI scanner, so the card will go basically anywhere you need it to go without issue. It offers grade 3 and class 10 distinctions, meaning it’s about as pro as it gets, and it comes with a full-sized SD card adapter.
Blindingly fast read/write
Error correcting tech
Supports RAW and 4K
A step down from both the Toshiba Exceria Pro and the Lexar Professional, the Transcend Class 10 line of SDHC and SDXC cards offer some high-powered specs at a lower price point. The 32 GB SDHC can be found for less than $50, while the 64 GB SDXC costs around $70. Both offer read and write speeds of 285 MB/s and 180 MB/s, respectively, and both include built-in ECC technology that helps detect and correct for writing and transfer errors. Owners are also offered a free download of RecoveRx data recovery software. This is an ideal option for professional photographers and video producers who prefer to shoot in RAW or ultra-high quality 4K video modes—anything that’s likely to produce large swaths of data. While still somewhat pricey, the Transcend SD cards may be a more affordable option than Toshiba’s Exceria Pro line.
Great for 4K
Variety of capacities
RAW files are significantly larger than other file types, which means that transferring them from your camera to a PC demands a large amount of processing power. And while the Sony SF-G32/T1 will cost you a hefty penny, it’s absolutely worth it. The card’s performance is unmatched by its cheaper alternatives. The SF-G32/T1 offers three sizes from 32 to 128GB, and the price increases along with the expanded memory. Its main draw lies in its speed class, UHS-II, Class 10, meaning it can reach transfer speeds of up to 300 MB/s. The SF-G32/T1 is best suited for professional filmmakers, especially those working with 4K continuous shooting, burst mode shooting, and action photography.
Great for 4K or 3D video
Perfect for professionals
Also quite expensive
Now we enter the realm of high-capacity, high-powered SD cards for serious, high-energy photographers and video producers. While a little pricey, the Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC and SDXC cards are available in 32, 64 and 128 GB. Why would you spend that much on an SD card? Because you’re getting perhaps the best SD card on the market, and probably because you’re a professional photographer who doesn’t mess around. Each format 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 a high as 275 MB/s. Regardless, the Lexar Professional can handle 1080p (Full HD), 3D, and 4K video, whether you’re shooting from a DSLR camera, HD video camera or 3D camera. This thing is meant to handle a variety of conditions and is equipped to do so with unprecedented speed.
Lifetime recovery software license
The Lexar Pro 256GB class 10 SD card does exactly everything you’d hope for it to do -- it transfers data at high speeds and holds a ton of it. The card utilizes UHS-I technology for ultra-fast transfers that clock in at a speed of 95 MB/s for the read levels and a whopping 45 mb/s on writing. But what can you read and write with those speeds? Well, this massive SD card is optimized for high quality, raw images, as well as full video footage from 1080p all the way to 4K, even supporting massive 3D video files. As such, it’ll work formatted with your DSLR, camcorder or 3D camera.
The cards are rigorously tested in Lexar’s Quality labs to ensure that they will work uninterrupted as advertised. But if, for some reason, it does fail and you lose some files, Lexar has included a lifetime license for their Image Rescue software that will do its best to recover lost files due to a corrupt disk.
If you want a card capable of handling RAW and 4K cards and don't mind spending slightly more, the Samsung EVO is the best option.
Our expert testers and reviewers evaluate SD card based on a number of objective measures. For starters, we look at the size of the SD card, focusing on if it's full-size or microSD, and if the card includes an adapter. Next, we test performance by using CrystalDisk Mark's sequential read/write test and Blackmagic's Disk Speed test. We compare the benchmarks to other SD cards to get an idea of where the card stands. We also put it to day-to-day use and use the SD card for file transfers, photos, and video. Finally, we look at the price, compare it to similarly-priced competitors, and make our final evaluation. All the SD cards we test are provided by Lifewire; none are given to us by the manufacturer.
Jay Alba is a tech journalist and filmmaker with extensive experience with portable storage and a wide range of consumer electronics. Her work has appeared in a number of tech publications, covering everything from cameras and accessories to mobile devices and gadgets.
Type - Before you start browsing for the fastest cards, you’ll need to determine the exact type of SD card that your device takes. There are three types available—standard SD, miniSD, and microSD—so check your device manual to figure out the one you need.
Storage - Before you make your decision, you’ll need to decide how much content you’re looking to store on your SD card. Smaller 16GB and 32GB options can be great for the budding photographer, but if you’re looking to capture 4K video, you’ll want to aim for the largest card you can afford.
Speed - Cards are available in different speeds, and while the average individual should be fine with most options, those looking to shoot high-definition video or those demanding peak performance should make sure the card they’re purchasing has a “class 10” speed rating.