SD cards are easily available today, but with the mainstream adoption of 4K video recording and cameras that keep pushing megapixel boundaries, you’ll want high-speed memory cards that can play nice with your camera. Here are some of the best out there.
VS SANDISK EXTREME PRO SDHC/SDXC UHS-I•SONY UHS-I CLASS 10 U3 SDXC SF-UX/UX2 SERIES •SAMSUNG PRO PLUS•STRONTIUM 128GB SDXC UHS-1 U3 NITRO PLUS
AT A GLANCE Storage1 28GB Format SDXC Reported Read/Write Speed: Up to 95MB/s read speed Up to 90MB/s write speed Price $158
SANDISK EXTREME PRO SDHC/SDXC UHS-ISONY
An American company that’s no stranger to flash memory storage, Sandisk is a must-have when we want to compare the top SD cards in the market. The Sandisk Extreme Pro range was released in late 2014, and it was one of the first cards to have 512GB capacity in this form factor. This card is tailored for 4K recording (as with the other UHS Speed Class 3 cards here), but it’s also built for harsh conditions – the card operates in temperatures ranging from -13 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit (-13 to 85 degrees Celsius).
AT A GLANCE Storage1 28GB Format SDXC Reported Read/Write Speed: Up to 94MB/s read speed Up to 70MB/s write speed Price $19
SONY UHS-I CLASS 10 U3 SDXC SF-UX/UX2 SERIES
As one of the bastions of Japanese electronics and hardware, it’s no surprise that Sony would have their very own UHS Speed Class 3 SD card. For this particular SD card, you can download a free program called File Rescue to recover lost or damaged data. It comes with a five-year warranty and it’s rated IP57 for dust and waterproofing. Its burst mode capabilities on a maximum setting of RAW+JPEG format isn’t as robust as its peers, but it does 4K recording smoothly.
AT A GLANCE Storage 128GB Format SDXC Reported Read/Write Speed: Up to 95MB/s read speed Up to 90MB/s write speed Price $199
SAMSUNG PRO PLUS
Samsung’s high-end SD cards are actually microSD in nature, but the Korean electronics company likes to package their microSDs with an SD card adapter out of the box. It’s pretty neat, especially if you prefer versatility over any other feature these peripherals offer. Desptie its diminutive size, it still does 4K recordings just fine. The Samsung Pro Plus can resist magnetic f elds of up to 15,000 gauss – the equivalent of that is a high-field MRI scanner. Like its peers in this shootout, it’s X-Ray-proof as well, so your data won’t be damaged if you’re clearing customs for an overseas shoot.
AT A GLANCE Storage128GB Format SDXC Reported Read/Write Speed: Up to 80MB/s read speed Up to 60MB/s write speed Price $170
PLUSSTRONTIUM 128GB SDXC UHS-1 U3 NITRO PLUS
How could we forget our homegrown flash memory company? Active since 2002, Strontium has since expanded its operations to other parts of South East Asia, as well as countries like the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and India. Like the other big boys in this line-up, Strontium has the latest, highest speed cards that can record in 4K under the Nitro Plus branding. An interesting point to note, is that Nitro Plus cards offer read/write speeds of 95MB/s and 85MB/s respectively, but only up to 64GB in capacity. The 128GB card reviewed here has a lower advertised read/write speed of 80MB/s and 60MB/s.
SERIESSANDISK EXTREME PRO SDHC/SDXC UHS-I MEMORY CARD
Read/Write Speeds (Mbps)(higher is better)
For our SD card benchmark, we used a Lenovo YOGA 3 Pro and its internal 4-in-1 Card to simulate typical real-world use. The laptop is capable of making the card bring its best game-face to the table, and we ran the AS SSD Benchmark to get an accurate reading of its Read/Write speeds.
SERIESSANDISK EXTREME PRO SDHC/SDXC UHS-I MEMORY CARD
Photo FPS test (in seconds)(lower is better)
SD cards are primarily used by photographers for their work. Naturally, we would want to test our batch for its performance with a high end camera. We used a Sony 7R II in burst mode - at 1/1000s, f3.5, ISO 3200, shooting at RAW+JPEG quality. Typically, data from the photos will go into the camera’s buffer before it moves into the SD card. Depending on the images’ file size and the camera used, the camera’s buffer can only take so much before it stops to finish its transfer into the equipped SD card – in this case, we chose a really powerful camera so the limitations are on the SD cards instead.
The shutter was held down until the camera stopped taking pictures, and the resulting timing shows how long each respective SD card could go from the start of burst mode, until camera stopped to empty its buffer into the receiving card. The camera stopped at 22 frames each time the test concluded.
This is the real reason why we chose the Sony 7R II – its support for UHS Speed Class 3 SD cards allows it to record in 4K resolution. For our test, we recorded a one minute-long footage through each SD card, at the camera’s highest available 4K shooting format – 25p, 100Mbps, which translates to 3,840 x 2,160 pixels resolution at 25 frames per second. After each recording, we’d preview the footage to check for judder, tears, and other recording anomalies. We’re glad to say that all the cards did great for 4K, even if the results were predictable.
WHAT IS UHS SPEED CLASS 3?
Speed Class and UHS Speed Class symbols indicate minimum writing performance of your SD card. The Speed Class is denoted with a number inside a circle, and it’s the de-facto tell-tale number of the speed of your SD card. Typically, a Speed Class 10 card has a minimum serial data of 10MB/s. Lower speeds are available, such as Speed Class 6 rated at 4MB/s, although it’s outdated by today’s tech standards.
The new Ultra High Speed classification, known as UHS, is for UHS-compatible devices. It’s shown on the SD card with a tiny, angular U-shaped symbol with a number inside that determines its maximum speed. UHS Speed Class 3 SD cards in our shootout has a minimum serial data at 30MB/s, and denotes the card meets requirements for 4K recording. The other speed, at UHS Speed Class 1 also has a minimum serial data of 10MB/s, but that doesn’t mean Speed Class 10 and UHS Speed Class 1 is interchangeable since they are different formats. Having the correct SD card with the correct device gives you the performance you need, and it’s particularly important if we are talking about 4K video recording.
THE BEST SD CARD IS
SANDISK EXTREME PRO SDHC/SDXC UHS-I
In our synthetic benchmarks, the Sandisk Extreme Pro SDHC/SDXC UHS-I SD Card performed the fastest of the lot. In real-world tests, it recorded 4K footage without judder and plays it back swimmingly too. We could nitpick that it was actually the slowest in the RAW+JPEG shooting test, but the fraction of a second differences are mostly imperceptible; the Sony being the only card that broke the 4 second mark. However, the Sandisk is also the most affordable and that 20 percent price difference is significant. Because of its combination of top-class data transfer rate and value, the Sandisk Extreme pro is our clear winner.