Best Memory Card of 2021
Of our test selection, the SanDisk 64GB Extreme PRO SDXC is the best option for the majority of memory card users. It offers impressive write speeds, logging a high speed of 88 mb/s in our tests. This is enough speed for serious photography hobbyists that like to capture RAW images or record 4K video. You can also rest easy knowing that the Extreme PRO is sufficient for devices like camera drones that require higher-speed cards to function. Notably, it manages to achieve these speeds while avoiding the high price tags of the fancier UHS-II cards.
Though it is a bit pricier than the average memory card, it's not overly expensive. That extra price brings the extra speed and, with it, the peace of mind that a lagging card isn't going to cause your camera drone to malfunction or let you down at your next photo shoot. For those seeking a card they don't have to worry about, the SanDisk 64GB Extreme PRO SDXC is a perfect choice.
We've been impressed with SanDisk's Extreme Pro line, and the MicroSD version is no exception. For those seeking a MicroSD card for pretty much any use, the SanDisk 64GB Extreme Pro MicroSDXC is our first recommendation. We measured a fast write speed of 86 mb/s, making this card perfect for everything from expanding tablet or phone storage to capturing high-quality imagery. It comes with a converter, conveniently allowing you to use it in either standard or micro SD card slots.
There is a cost for the performance of this card. The SanDisk Extreme Pro MicroSDXC is slightly more expensive than the average microSD card. However, we feel the extra expediency will be well worth the additional cost for most people.
If you have fairly basic card needs — 1080p video recording, non-RAW photography, or similar — you likely won't need huge storage capacities or extreme speeds. That's where the SanDisk 32GB Ultra SDHC comes in. It provides enough firepower for common tasks while keeping costs significantly less than faster cards. They cite that the card can handle shock forces, water, temperature extremes and that it won't be affected by the X-ray machines at the airport.
The lower price comes with some tradeoffs. While the speeds are adequate for most uses, they aren't sufficient for some advanced camera drones. If you like to shoot burst images in RAW, the speeds will also slow you down. That being said, we had no issues recording 4K video with this card. As long as you're not looking to complete data-intensive tasks, the SanDisk Ultra SDHC provides a low price for reliable performance.
A multitude of devices, like security cameras, dash cams, or storage depleted phones and tablets, can benefit from an inexpensive and reliable microSD card. The Samsung 32GB EVO Select MicroSDHC fills that need almost perfectly. Our tests measured its write speed at 35 mb/s, which is fast enough for basic data transfer and capturing 1080P HD video. We found it was even fast enough for capturing 4K video. And it does all this at a relatively rock bottom price. Like most reliable manufacturers, Samsung certifies the card as shock, temperature, water, and X-ray proof.
The only time we felt limited by the EVO Select's speed in our testing was during the burst shooting of high-quality RAW images. It could only keep the shutter chugging along for about three seconds before getting bogged down. The faster cards we tested were able to double and sometimes even triple that figure. We think the Samsung 32GB EVO Select microSDHC is a great option for those on a budget — as long as you're not shooting lots of RAW images.
If you're constantly testing the speed limits of your cards by taking many RAW images in rapid succession or recording lots of 4K video, it may make sense to upgrade to an ultra high-speed class 2 (UHS-II) option. This card reached a blazing write speed of 250 mb/s in our tests, significantly faster than the other UHS-II cards we tested and quicker than even the best UHS-I cards. To top it all off, the card is built more ruggedly than most others on the market. Sony claims it is 18 times more bend-resistant than standard cards. It is also one of the few that sports an independently certified IP68 dust and waterproof rating. With that, they claim you could submerge it in a meter of water or bury it in the sand without compromising its effectiveness. Sony even offers free file rescue software to help recover accidentally deleted photos from the card to its customers.
All of this performance and speed come at a correspondingly high price, with this being one of the priciest cards we've tested. You'll need UHS-II compatible devices to fully take advantage of its high speeds; however, the card will work in any SD card device. This might mean buying a compliant card reader and/or buying a camera whose price is well into the quadruple digits. That said, if you're in search of the fastest card possible and already have UHS-II compatible equipment, the Sony Tough High Performance SDXC UHS-II is sure to please.
Boosting the internal memory of a tablet or phone is perhaps one of the most useful abilities of a microSD card (sorry Apple users, you're out of luck here). If that's why you are shopping for memory cards, look no further than the SanDisk 128GB MicroSDXC for Nintendo Switch. Not only can it store games on its gaming device, but it can also store movies, music, and photos on phones and tablets. Thanks to the 86 mb/s write speed and even faster read speeds, you won't be left waiting to upload media to or access media from the card. It offers high-capacity options at relatively economical prices.
The most significant downside to the SanDisk 128GB MicroSDXC for Nintendo Switch is that it doesn't come with a converter for using it in full-sized card readers, meaning it can't pull double duty in your camera unless you separately buy a converter. However, if you're sure you'll only be using it in your tablet or phone, it's nice to not have the converter as another piece of plastic to deal with.
If you're looking for a high-speed card that is a bit friendlier to the wallet, the SanDisk 64GB Extreme SDXC is a great compromise. It logged a respectable 70 mb/s write speed in our tests. It might not be as fast as some of the upper-tier models, but we found this to be more than sufficient for recording 4K video. It was also able to keep the shutter moving for six full seconds when shooting RAW images in burst mode, making it suitable for advanced photography as well.
While you can save some by opting for this card over a higher-level one, the savings are relatively small, to the point where most people will likely want the extra performance cushion provided by the slightly faster cards. However, if you're in need of a relatively fast card and you want to save a few bucks, the SanDisk 64GB Extreme SDXC will serve you well.
The PNY Elite Performance 32GB was a decent all-around performer in our tests. We measured a maximum write speed of 40 mb/s, which was fast enough for recording video in 4K, and burst shooting RAW images for about five seconds before the card started to buffer. Though this performance is good enough for most applications, it doesn't quite live up to the name.
While we like the PNY Elite Performance, we feel it is a bit overpriced given its speed. There are significantly faster cards available for similar prices.
Why You Should Trust Us
The design of our memory cards testing processes and the interpretation of the ensuing results both lean on the expertise of our in-house photographers, Laura Casner and Jason Peters. Combined, they have multiple decades of professional photography and videography experience and have burned through many hundreds of memory cards throughout their careers. Senior review editor Max Mutter has tested and reviewed many data transfer devices, most recently dozens of USB flash drives, as well as over 100 devices that utilize memory cards such as drones, security cameras, and dash cams.
To reveal the different performance levels behind the near-identical faces of the memory cards on the market, we objectively measured their write and read speeds when plugged into a computer and used in a camera. For all of these tests, we used both large movie files and folders full of lots of photos to assess their ability to capture and transfer high-quality video and still imagery.
Analysis and Test Results
Write speed, or more colloquially the rate at which data can be collected, is the major differentiating factor of memory cards. Faster write speeds translate into capturing high-quality video and images without any buffering, lagging, or impaired image quality. We separated our write speed tests into two categories: large file and small file. Large file write speed corresponds to a card's ability to record video, while small file write speed is indicative of a card's prowess in taking many still images in rapid succession. We also measured read speeds, or how quickly a card can upload existing files to your computer.
Large File Write Speed
We tested large file write speed in two ways. First, we transferred the same five gigabyte 1080p video file using the same SD card reader onto each card and timed the transfer. This allowed us to get a controlled measurement of how quickly each card could record the exact same video file. Transferring large files is the easiest task for cards, so this speed represents the maximum functional write speed. We then conducted a pass/fail test, putting each card into a camera, recording five minutes of 4K video, and then reviewing the resulting footage for any dropped frames or pixelation. All of the cards that made our final cut passed the latter test.
By far, the fastest card we tested is the Sony Tough High Performance SDXC UHS-II, which posted an impressive speed of 250 mb/s in our tests. Unfortunately, you need UHS-II compatible devices to fully unleash this card, so it's only worth the investment if you already own correspondingly high-quality equipment.
The fastest of the UHS-I models we tested is the SanDisk Extreme PRO SDXC. It reached 88 mb/s in our test, offering plenty of speed for pretty much every task imaginable. The microSD version of this card achieved nearly the same speed in our tests, as did the SanDisk 128GB MicroSDXC for Nintendo Switch. The SanDisk 64GB Extreme SDXC was just a bit slower at 70 mb/s.
After this, there was a significant dropoff in speed. However, all of the models passed our 4K recording test, indicating they can all handle even taxing large-file tasks. If you have a device that requires a faster card or just want the peace of mind that your card won't limit your devices, you'll want to look at the models mentioned above.
Small File Write Speed
Our first small file write speed test involved loading the same five gigabyte folder full of nearly 2000 photos onto each card, timing the transfer each time. This provided a baseline speed measurement for how quickly each card could ingest multiple photo files. We then tested this speed in-camera, shooting RAW images in burst mode until the cards started to bog down. While doing so, we recorded each camera using a microphone and basic audio recording software. The shutter clicks showed up in the resulting waveforms as large spikes, allowing us to visually assess how quickly each card was able to process images, and at which point they started to get overwhelmed and bogged down. These in-camera measurements almost perfectly lined up with the results from our first test.
Here again, the Sony Tough High Performance SDXC UHS-II reigned supreme by reaching speeds of 72 mb/s. It also performed very well in our RAW image burst tests, seemingly able to go on forever before the shutter started to skip.
After this, there was a precipitous drop-off in performance, with the 38 mb/s speed achieved by the SanDisk Extreme PRO SDXC being the closest competitor. This speed allowed it to keep our camera's shutter moving at full speed in our RAW burst shooting test for a full six seconds before pausing to buffer. This is more than enough speed for almost any photography application.
Beyond this point, the cards got progressively slower, but in a functional sense, the differences were relatively small. For instance, the top-performing Sony Tough High Performance and the SanDisk Extreme PRO were able to write our 5GB folder of photos in 1:09 and 2:12, respectively. Even the slowest cards we tested still stayed inside the five minute mark, with just a single outlier (the SanDisk 16GB Ultra MicroSDHC) taking 8:20. Even this slow performance in our file transfer test translated into decent in-camera performance, as the SanDisk 16GB Ultra MicroSDHC could still shoot 4 seconds of full-speed burst RAW images before slowing down, meaning you're very unlikely to notice its lack of speed in everyday photography pursuits.
Read speed is the rate at which a card can transfer files from itself to another device. We measured read speeds by offloading the video and photo files from our previous tests from each card onto a computer with a stopwatch running the entire time. For the most part, we found very little difference in read speeds, with only some of the high-quality UHS-II cards displaying significantly faster speeds. If you specifically need a card that can read files faster, it is likely worth spending the extra money to upgrade to a UHS-II card. Just remember that not all devices have the extra hardware required to take advantage of the extra speeds of UHS-II cards, so you'll also need a fancier card reader and/or camera to make the extra cost worthwhile.
In testing read speeds, we timed how long it took to extract both a single five gigabyte movie file and a 5GB folder full of photos from each card. For the large file, the UHS-I cards all clocked in at right around 53 seconds (94 mb/s) with very little variance. The UHS-II cards were able to improve that time to 17 seconds (294 mb/s). The folder of photos was a similar story, with all the UHS-I cards hitting right around the minute mark (83 mb/s) and the UHS-II cards reaching 26 seconds (192 mb/s). While the UHS-II cards are undeniably faster, the actual time savings are minimal unless you're transferring hundreds of gigabytes of data from your card onto your computer.
As cameras and smart devices become more and more ubiquitous, the need for memory cards and their reliable, solid-state data storage has grown. Unfortunately, all of those memory cards also look almost exactly the same, with only arcane statistics and advertising differentiating them from one another. We hope that our testing results have helped cut through all of that confusion and help you find the perfect memory card for your needs and budget.
— Max Mutter