Best SD Cards 2021: the best memory cards for your video or stills camera

Asia's Tech News Daily

Searching for the best SD cards for your camera? You’ve come to the right place. We’ve speed-tested, reviewed and ranked all of the best choices around for stills and video cameras in this regularly updated guide. (Looking for the best microSD cards? Check out our separate buying guide on those).

SD cards (short for Secure Digital) have been the most popular form of flash memory for digital files for some time now, and are most closely associated with cameras and audio kit. Since they arrived in back in 1999, there have been some major changes to the way they’re manufactured – and we’ve also seen the arrival of new performance classifications.

But what exactly do all these numbers, classes and letters mean? Deciphering all of the technical jargon can be a pain, but this guide is here to show you what to look for when choosing the right SD card for your camera. The first thing to decide is how much memory you’ll need, but after that there are some extra factors to bear in mind.

(Image credit: Future)

Choosing the best SD card isn’t just a case of finding the one with the biggest numbers on it. These numbers are a good indicator of size and speed, even intended purpose (for example, stills or video recording) but manufacturers often emphasize the best possible outcome. On the other hand, real-world tests, as we’ve done here, show the card performance you’re more likely to receive on a day-to-day basis.

Our number one pick for the title of best SD card right now is the Transcend SDXC UHS-II U3. It delivered better-than-claimed transfers speeds on test, has a good range of card sizes from 16GB all the way up to 256GB, and is shock-proof, waterproof, X-ray proof and more. It’s a card that should keep up with you whether you’re in the desert shooting 8K video or halfway up a snowy mountain capturing rapid fire high-resolution stills.

However, there are plenty of other good cards in this list that we’ve put through rigorous testing. In the interest of fairness, we tested our cards by first formatting them with the SD Memory Card Formatter available from the SD Association.

If you’re looking to save a bit a money, it’s always worth bearing in mind the Amazon Prime Day deals. The shopping event takes place from June 21-22 this year and we commonly see some pretty hefty discounts on cards like the ones in our list below, across a range of capacities.

Want a quick primer on the main things to look for when choosing an SD card? Use the link on the side to jump down to that handy section. But right now, we’re going to get stuck straight into our list of the best SD cards you can buy.

  • These are the best microSD cards you can buy right now

The best SD cards in 2021

(Image credit: Future)

1. Transcend SDXC UHS-II U3

The ultimate SD card for performance and reliability

Specifications
Card type: SDXC
Capacity: Up to 64GB
Read speed (claimed): Up to 285MB/s
Write speed (claimed): Up to 180MB/s
Suitable for: Photography and 8K video

Reasons to buy
+Incredible transfer speeds +Very durable

Reasons to avoid
Average pricing Not completely indestructible

Our stand-out best SD card is the Transcend SDXC UHS-II U3. With a Class 10, V90, U3 and UHS-II rating, we thought it would be fast enough to capture almost anything modern devices could throw at it, but we weren’t expecting the speed results we got.

The Transcend did superbly in its speed tests, excelling the claimed write speed (180MB/s) with a whopping 224MB/s, but falling slightly short on the read speed with 224MB/s. Overall, that makes this card an impressive buy at a reasonable cost. This card is ideal for high resolution, rapid-fire stills photography and 8K video, with 4K and HD video being recorded comfortably, too.

Add that to the card’s waterproofing, shock proofing, plus the fact that it’s X-ray proof, temperature resistant and static proof, and we have a card that is designed for use in almost any conditions. At such a reasonable price we’re mightily impressed with it – the only thing it seems it can’t do is stop a bullet.

(Image credit: Future)

2. SanDisk Extreme Pro SDXC UHS-I

Lightning speeds for professionals from a well-respected brand

Specifications
Card type: SDXC
Capacity: Up to 128GB
Read speed (claimed): Up to 300MB/s
Write speed (claimed): Up to 260MB/s
Suitable for: Photography and 4K video

Reasons to buy
+Fast data speeds+Good for professionals

Reasons to avoid
Fairly pricey Doesn’t match claimed speeds

Next on our list is the Extreme Pro SDXC UHS-1 from renowned SD card manufacturer SanDisk. As part of a team of manufacturers that came together to introduce standardization of the SD card market, we’re getting a good, reliable card at a decent price.

While our speed tests show quite a dip in performance when compared to claimed speeds (with our tests revealing a write speed of 63.6MB/s and a read speed of 65.9MB/s), for the money it’s still a very solid buy. Suitable for users that want to shoot stills and some 4K video, you can’t go wrong with the Extreme Pro UHS-I.

For added peace of mind, the card comes with a warranty direct from SanDisk giving you a lifetime guarantee should any fault arise (and by lifetime, they mean 30 years). Not bad, considering we probably won’t even need SD cards that far into the future.

(Image credit: Future)

3. PNY Elite Performance SDXC

A durable SD card that’s ideal for those on a budget

Specifications
Card type: SDXC
Capacity: Up to 128GB
Read speed (claimed): Up to 100MB/s
Write speed (claimed): N/A
Suitable for: Photography and HD video

Reasons to buy
+Magnet-proof and waterproof +Very cheap

Reasons to avoid
Slow-ish write speed on test Not ideal for heavy users

Considering the low price these cards go for, they’re surprisingly well protected against the elements. According to PNY’s internal testing, the Elite Performance SDXC line-up is magnet-proof, shock-proof, temperature-proof and waterproof. This makes it an ideal card for users who want a rugged memory card that can withstand the elements.

Being UHS-I, the Elite Performance is slightly slower than its bigger brothers. With an advertised read speed up to 100MB/s, it fell short of this on our tests at just 65.7MB/s, with read speeds much slower, averaging 20.8MB/s. However, for the average shooter who needs a durable card to capture some stills and a bit of HD video, you can’t really go wrong for the price. If you’re in need of a quick memory fix and need up to 128GB of the stuff, then the PNY Elite performance might be for you.

(Image credit: Future)

4. Lexar Professional Class 10 UHS-II 2000X

A fast, reliable card that’s built for power users

Specifications
Card type: SDXC
Capacity: Up to 128GB
Read speed (claimed): Up to 300MB/s
Write speed (claimed): Up to 260MB/s
Suitable for: Photography and 4K video

Reasons to buy
+Fast transfer speeds +Lifetime warranty

Reasons to avoid
Slightly pricier than competitors Only up to 128GB capacity

Thanks to the UHS-II technology in the 2000X, we can rely on this card for fast read and write speeds. Though slightly more expensive than its competitors, the Lexar name is known for reliability and consistency in performance when it comes to memory cards.

In our real-world tests, we found that the read and write speeds fared significantly better than other cards in its class. It only dipped 19MB/s shy of the claimed write speed at 241MB/s, making it ideal for larger data transfer such as 4K or 8K video recording, with the read speed only lagging slightly behind at 253MB/s.

For stills, this would benefit sports and wildlife photographers, or indeed any discipline that requires rapid bursts of high-resolution photographs. It’ll also work nicely for filmmakers needing to capture 4K and 8K on cameras, as it’s one of the fastest in this guide, as shown by its V90 classification.

(Image credit: Future)

5. SanDisk Extreme Pro SD UHS-II

Lightning speeds for professionals

Specifications
Card type: SDXC
Capacity: Up to 128GB
Read speed (claimed): Up to 300MB/s
Write speed (claimed): Up to 260MB/s
Suitable for: Photography and 4K video

Reasons to buy
+Fast data speeds +Good for professionals

Reasons to avoid
More expensive Doesn’t match claimed speeds

This card lived up to its ‘Extreme Pro’ billing in our tests, impressing with both its reliability and transfer speeds. Overall, the Extreme Pro SD UHS-II performed well, reaching 265MB/s for read speeds and writing at a respectable 220MB/s. As expected, this falls short of the claimed maximum read and write speeds, but it still makes it ideal for shooting high-resolution stills on burst mode and capturing 4K video.

It’s more expensive than its UHS-I counterpart, but that’s to be expected with those boosted specs. There are other cards on this list that outperform it and are a little less expensive, but again SanDisk offers a brilliant lifetime warranty should you need peace of mind when it comes to the safety of your images or videos.

(Image credit: Future)

6. Lexar Professional 1667x SDXC UHS-II

Ideal for filmmakers who want to record 4K video

Specifications
Card type: SDXC
Capacity: Up to 256GB
Read speed (claimed): Up to 250MB/s
Write speed (claimed): Up to 120MB/s
Suitable for: Photography and 4K video

Reasons to buy
+Consistently fast read speeds +Up to 256GB card versions

Reasons to avoid
4K video is the limit for film 64GB minimum capacity

The smallest capacity version of the 1667X SDXC UHS-II is 64GB, which might be a problem for some photographers and videographers who are still shooting slightly lower resolution content or want to grab a small backup card such as a 32GB. However, a UHS-II classification means this card can handle up to 4K video recording and with that comes some hefty files, so it’s no wonder there’s no 32GB version.

Matching the claimed read speeds almost exactly at 254MB/s, the 1667X does well when compared to the claimed transfer speeds. Write speeds did drop by about 20% to 101MB/s, which is similar to or better than other cards in this roundup. Consistency, fast speeds and a limited lifetime warranty make the 1667X a very desirable option for creatives who need to capture scenes at higher resolutions.

(Image credit: Future)

7. SanDisk Extreme SD UHS-I V3

A brilliant card at a very reasonable price

Specifications
Card type: SDXC
Capacity: Up to 256GB
Read speed (claimed): Up to 150MB/s
Write speed (claimed): Up to 70MB/s
Suitable for: Photography and 4K video

Reasons to buy
+Good write speeds +Priced competitively

Reasons to avoid
Read speeds a little slow Not as fast as UHS-II

With capacity starting at 16GB, this is a brilliant option for those who need an inexpensive backup card to throw in their camera bag – and it doesn’t lag too far behind the others in real world performance, either.

Our SanDisk Extreme SD UHS-I V3 tests saw write speeds live up to its claims, matching them almost exactly at 71.6MB/s. But as with most other cards on this list, the read speeds leave a bit to be desired, coming in at almost half the claimed speed, 71.6MB/s. All can be forgiven, though, bearing in mind the extremely low cost of these cards, especially while still offering such high capacity to users at up to 256GB sizes.

As is standard with all SanDisk cards, there’s a lifetime warranty, plus it’s shock-proof, waterproof, temperature-proof, X-ray proof and is also classed as UHS speed class 3 and video speed class 3, making it ideal for high-resolution photography and 4K UHD video.

What to look for when choosing an SD card

(Image credit: Future)

2. Speed
Capacity shouldn't be your only consideration – a card's reading and writing speeds are also crucial to storing the recorded media and for a speedy transfer between devices. Read/write speeds labelled on SD cards are best case scenarios and often hyped by the manufacturer in order to sell more units. Real-world results are often slower (sometimes a lot slower) so check our guide above for a better idea.

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2. Speed
Capacity shouldn't be your only consideration – a card's reading and writing speeds are also crucial to storing the recorded media and for a speedy transfer between devices. Read/write speeds labelled on SD cards are best case scenarios and often hyped by the manufacturer in order to sell more units. Real-world results are often slower (sometimes a lot slower) so check our guide above for a better idea.

4. Durability
SD cards are flash memory, which means they have no moving parts and instead rely on electronic chips to store data. While they don’t require power to store data, they can be damaged via water, fire and physical pressure. Some companies offer bespoke 'tough' versions that can withstand these elements, even remaining safe in extreme temperatures, so it's worth looking for those if you're going on an adventure. 

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4. Durability
SD cards are flash memory, which means they have no moving parts and instead rely on electronic chips to store data. While they don’t require power to store data, they can be damaged via water, fire and physical pressure. Some companies offer bespoke 'tough' versions that can withstand these elements, even remaining safe in extreme temperatures, so it's worth looking for those if you're going on an adventure. 

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