Many photographers don't realize how important a fast, quality memory card can influence their workflow. Not only do quality memory cards typically operate faster, but they are also demonstrably more stable. Imagine losing an entire day's shoot to memory card corruption! It happens all the time.
Many individuals simply look for a good deal, or perhaps just want to limit their shopping to cards that match their camera's maximum write speed. After all, what's the point of paying extra for a card when your camera can only write data so fast, right? Don't forget, writing is only half the process. There's still the reading of that data! After filling up that slow 16GB card with pictures from your day at the beach, for instance, you get home, pop the memory card into the reader and wait…and wait! Instead of getting to edit your pics quickly, you’re stuck staring at the upload progress bar that just seems to be sitting still, like it’s almost mocking you. On the other hand, with a faster memory card the reading part of the process can be cut in half or sometimes much more.
The process by which manufacturers produce flash memory has become more dependable over the years and the chances of corruption seem to have gone down significantly in that time. However, corruptions certainly still happen often enough for you to be mindful of the possibility. Case in point, I borrowed a memory card to complete a wedding, got home, and a large portion of the photos on said card were corrupted. What a nightmare that was! You can do your part to help mitigate this possibility by keeping your memory card clean, dry, and stored in the recommended temperature range. Another thing you can do (and perhaps the most effective) is purchase a quality memory card by a reputable manufacturer sold by a reputable dealer as counterfeit memory cards are more common than you might think. Stick with a dealer with good reputation for providing authentic products; if the deal looks too good to be true, well, you know the rest.
You’ll also want to consider that a high quality memory card will more than likely last you for the rest of your photography career and they can also take a beating. There have been several anecdotal stories of people finding memory cards lost over the side of cruise liners or river rafts that have been recovered working many years after they were lost! Although you may initially wince at the price, consider that a smart memory card purchase can mean you won't have to buy another for a very long time, if ever again for that matter.
If I might suggest, buy the largest you can afford. In just a few years time that 16GB card you buy today will quickly become tight on space if you ever eventually decide to mix video with your photography. Even so, you'd be surprised at how quickly a 16GB card fills up shooting 20MP RAW files. With as competitive as the market has become, it doesn't cost much more to jump up a size or two compared to a few years ago. Take advantage of that!
The best cards listed here were chosen because they’re from reputable manufacturers. With an established history, you can be better assured that a card made by certain manufacturers will not only last but will also not corrupt your data as these cards are proven reliable. These memory cards are also chosen because at their respective price points, they represent the highest performance cards you can buy. If reliability is the most important metric, performance is the second most. No one wants to wait around for the camera's buffer to empty or data to transfer any more than they have to. Finally, these cards are chosen because they utilize special features like Error Correction Code (ECC) that can help eliminate errors during data transfers or special shock absorbing coatings to better ensure reliability during everyday use. Some even ship with data recovery software to get back those files you might accidentally delete.
From the maker many consider to be the premier memory card brand, the SanDisk Extreme PRO may also be the most reliable and certainly the fastest! If you only want to buy once and not again, consider the SanDisk Extreme PRO SDHC UHS-II memory card. Read Full Review
SanDisk is perhaps the single most respected producer of flash memory cards for both still and video cameras. Anecdotal evidence abounds regarding success stories from users who've put their SanDisk cards through the ringer and their data lived to tell the tale. However, there have been published reports crowning SanDisk cards as the least RMA'd memory card from various large retailers, so one doesn't have to rely simply on the anecdotal. Suffice it to say, SanDisk cards are extremely popular among professionals who demand reliable data storage and fast transfer speeds for critical work.
SanDisk's latest high-end Extreme card boasts the fastest transfer speeds yet by a SanDisk card. Rated at a whopping 280MB/s for reads and an equally impressive write speed of 250MB/s, the SanDisk Extreme PRO is a real burner. In fact, it's the fastest all-around SD card on the market, a title SanDisk Extreme PRO's have often held. If your camera is UHS-II rated, like many 4K video cameras, this is the card for you. This pretty much makes it an excellent card for ANY use. Remember, the camera you use today may not be the one you use tomorrow, and your future camera might accept and push data at a much faster speed than your current gear.
Where future-proofing is so often prohibitively expensive, the modest premium Sandisk charges for the Extreme PRO might make more sense when future use is a concern and why not? This card will probably last longer than your actual picture-shooting career! Speaking of lasting a long time, the Extreme PRO is shockproof, X-ray proof, and waterproof and has a safe operating temperature range of -13 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit. So if you are planning a trip to the Libyan desert, this is a card you can trust to secure the vacation photos.
As a nice bonus, SanDisk includes effective data recovery software with each card. RescuePro Deluxe is a popular data recovery application that can find and recover files you might have accidentally deleted, or outright deleted on purpose and later changed your mind. So long as the needed data has not been written over, RescuePro Deluxe can probably find it and save the day.
Really, the only difficulty is determining the best memory card is trying to decide between which flavor of SanDisk Extreme PRO. The SD version of Extreme PRO was chosen as this list's best because the SD format has both surpassed the performance of CompactFlash and has surpassed it for popularity. Many cameras now only take SD cards and of the professional cameras that accept CompactFlash, many of those also take SD cards.
If you are looking for a blazingly fast, long-lasting memory card that will last and most importantly, has a proven track record for reliability, look no further than the SanDisk Extreme PRO SDHC UHS-II memory card.
Perhaps the most professionally used CompactFlash memory card ever, the SanDisk Extreme PRO has stayed at the forefront of performance and reliability going back several product generations. The latest Extreme PRO offers world-class read and write speeds and standardized speed ratings exceeding all current requirements used currently by CompactFlash. Read Full Review
So what does SanDisk's flagship CompactFlash line bring to the table? How about chart-topping speed ratings for starters. The latest Extreme PRO CompactFlash delivers a rated 160MB/s read speed and an incredible 150MB/s write speed. But, since speed rating can simply be marketing speak for a rarely achieved burst speed, one can better trust the Video Performance Guarantee (VPG), which is a minimum write speed rating.
The Extreme PRO is rated at an astonishing VPG-65, which means this card reaches a minimum sustained write speed of 65MB/s. That's a phenomenal number and one that far surpasses all speed requirements of any application for which CompactFlash is currently used. The card also offers UDMA 7, the highest such transfer rating currently available on a memory card.
Contributing to the Extreme PRO's build is what SanDisk call RTV silicone coating. RTV silicone coating is a material injected into the card to help absorb physical shock and vibration. These cards are designed to take a beating, and good thing too since they will be asked to store sometimes irreplaceable files.
The Sandisk Extreme PRO CompactFlash card is one of the single most used memory cards among professionals and this is probably due to two reasons. First, CompactFlash has been the staple memory card type for professional-grade cameras and secondly, SanDisk is a highly respected memory card manufacturer. Regardless, the Sandisk Extreme PRO line is very popular and it's easy to see why. SanDisk make very high quality products with a focus on quality control and performance.
If you are looking for a memory card with breakneck speed, yet built to weather the rigors of a lifetime of use, look no further than the SanDisk Extreme PRO CompactFlash. There is no more trusted a CompactFlash memory card on the market.
From a highly respected and often wallet-friendly memory card maker, the Transcend Ultimate is a very fast card, especially for reading speed, that's chock-full of features and specs. You won't go wrong trusting your data to a Transcend Ultimate memory card. Read Full Review
The Transcend Ultimate is a UHS-II, so it meets the current state-of-the-art data speed rating. If your camera shoots 4K, 3D, or HD video, you'll have no problem pushing all that data through to this card. Since those high bitrate video files add up quick, this card will download that data as fast as your reader can handle it, and probably faster. Rated at 180MB/s for writes, it's plenty fast to get even the most strenuous jobs done. Not to mention it's rated at an amazing 285MB/s burst reads. That's a blazing fast read speed!
As Transcend's top-of-the-line card, the Ultimate features waterproofing, static proofing, X-ray proofing, and shock proofing. The Ultimate has what Transcend markets as "temperature proofing" which is a fancy term for the card being able to withstand a wide temperature range, in this case, -13 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit.
Buying the Transcend Ultimate also entitles you to Transcend's own RecoveRx Photo Recovery Software. RecoveRx works like the recovery software from competing makers in that it digs deep to uncover files that were deleted but not yet written over. It's not a bad freebie, but it's also par for the course when dealing with high quality memory cards. Still, it's a bonus not to be taken lightly, it can definitely save the day when it's needed!
Transcend's products often go on sale and when they do they are for generally unbeatable prices. This is especially true for the quality of memory card the Ultimate line produces. If you are looking for a fast, top quality memory card but also what to save where you can, look no further than the Transcend Ultimate SDXC/SDHC UHS-II U3 memory card.
Lexar Professional memory cards are industry-leading cards used by countless professionals. The latest in the Professional line, the Professional 2000X SDHC UHS-II continues Lexar's mission to push memory card technology with ultra-fast read/write speeds to give you plenty of headroom for even the most demanding tasks. Read Full Review
If SanDisk is the most respected memory card maker currently, then Lexar has to be a close second. Lexar incorporates similarly strict quality-control measures at their factory and the result is a product line that many professionals trust with their irreplaceable data. Lexar is a consumer brand of memory giant Micron, one of the world's largest memory suppliers, so you can be assured that the company will be around to back that lifetime warranty though you will never need them to.
The latest iteration of the venerable Professional line, the Lexar Professional 2000X SDHC UHS-II (U3) is a real data reading burner, rated at an industry-leading 300MB/s. For writes, Lexar uses what is probably the more important of the read specs which is minimum data write speed. In this case, the minimum write speed is 30MB/s which is plenty fast for 4K video recorders and beyond.
Since this card is so fast (and chances are you don't have a reader that can exploit those stratospheric read speeds) Lexar include a speedy UHS-II card reader with each Professional 2000X memory card. It's a very practical bonus and one that you can use for any card, not just the Lexar. And since it's little more than a USB dongle, throw it in your bag so you’re never without a convenient way to download your data.
Like other products on this list, the Lexas Professional 2000X comes with access to data recovery software, dubbed the very to-the-point Image Rescue Software. So long as the data hasn't been written over, Image Rescue can retrieve files you may have accidentally deleted.
I’ve personally used many Lexar Professional cards and not a single one has ever let me down. But you don't have to take just my word for it, the internet is replete with testimonials expounding the virtues of Lexar's products. They really do make a reliable product and you shouldn't think twice about trusting your data on them.
Delkin Devices' Cinema series CompactFlash cards are designed to be "indestructible" and can withstand abuse that would bring other cards to their knees. Despite this, Cinema cards are also quite nimble, turning in performance scores that are state-of-the-art, and perfect for data intensive applications like 4K video. Read Full Review
San Diego-based Delkin Devices have carved a niche for themselves making nearly indestructible memory cards for mission critical and intense environments. Indeed, Delkin routinely introduce products they deem "virtually unbreakable. If the military needed memory cards, chances are Delkin would be the chosen supplier. Delkin's cards are produced in a more hands-on manner, often times with employees physically inspecting each card for defects. It's a remarkable level of quality control, and one rarely seen in the memory card market.
Borrowing much of this rugged technology, the Delkin Cinema CompactFlash memory cards are similarly built to withstand physical abuse. Despite being designed sustain physical damage, the Delkin Cinema CompactFlash cards are rated at 160MB/s maximum for reads and 120MB/s maximum for writes. They also meet most popular video performance requirements, most notably Video Performance Guarantee 20 (VPG-20). VPG-20 is a high classification that signifies the card is able to sustain a minimum recording rate of 20MB/s. If you intend to shoot RAW video with your camera, the Delkin Cinema CompactFlash will suit your needs.
Delkin Cinema cards carry a Limited Lifetime Warranty and theirs customer service is exceptional. So rest assured any problems you encounter will be taken care of by a company with a reputation for good service. If you like to take your pictures falling from an airplane or zip-lining through a forest, consider Delkin's Cinema CompactFlash memory cards.