MicroSD cards are almost identical to SD cards in every way, except instead of being used in point-and-shoot cameras and DSLRs, they’re more common in devices like smartphones, tablets, action cameras like the GoPro, and portable gaming consoles like the Nintendo Switch. Finding the right microSD card doesn’t have to be difficult — just don’t let yourself be intimidated by the seemingly indecipherable symbols and numbers printed on each one. We spoke to multiple experts to help you find the best microSD cards for your needs, including photo and video pros at New York institutions like B&H and Adorama, our colleagues at tech site the Verge, and a professor of video storytelling at the Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. Use the handy links below to skip ahead to what you’re shopping for, or keep reading to find out how to choose a microSD card with a good balance of read speed, write speed, and storage capacity.
What we’re looking for
Storage capacity: Storage capacity is how much information your card can hold — how many games, how many hours of video footage, how many photos, and so on — and it’s usually measured in gigabytes (although some microSD cards now hold up to a terabyte). How much storage capacity you need will depend on what device you’re using and the type of data you’ll be saving on it. For context, a 64 GB card will hold about 6,000 photos, and a 128 GB card will hold approximately 12,000 photos. But the number of photos or hours of video a card can hold is dependent on the file size of the images or videos that you’re saving, so it can fluctuate drastically.
There are also three types of microSD cards — SD, SDHC, and SDXC — and the type of card is a factor in how much storage capacity it will have. The classic microSD variety isn’t used much these days because it doesn’t offer the same capacity and speeds as newer formats. What you will more commonly find are SDHC (secure digital high capacity) microSD cards, which have a storage capacity of between 4 GB and 32 GB, and SDXC (secure digital extra capacity), which offers storage between 64 GB and 1 TB.
Speeds: The experts we consulted say that focusing solely on storage capacity is a risky proposition when choosing a microSD card; instead, you should look for one with a good balance of storage, write speed, and read speed.
Write speed is how fast a card can create and write a file, and it’s measured in megabytes per second (MB/s). Read speed is measured the same way (MB/s), and it measures how quickly your card can access the file you’re trying to open. Buying a microSD card with a ton of storage and a slow write speed is like buying a pickup truck with a tiny engine — you may be able to fit all sorts of things in the back, but it’s no good to you if it can’t drive up a hill. With that said, read speed is a bit more important than write speed for most people because you won’t want any lag while trying to access files or saved game data, for example.
We also looked at each card’s speed class, which mainly affects action cameras and video capture. When you look at a microSD card, you may notice a semi-circle with a number inside — 2, 4, 6, 8 or 10. That’s the speed class, and it’s meant to tell you the minimum write speed of the card in MB/s. A speed class of 4 means the card promises a minimum speed of 4 MB/s. Classes 4 and 6 are generally considered to be okay for HD video, but you may want to pick up a class 8 or 10 for capturing higher-quality video. All of the cards on this list have a speed class of 10, so they should all be versatile enough for the average user.
If you’re especially interested in video, you should look for a video class rating. You can find it on some cards marked with a V symbol and number. If you see V30, for example, the minimum write speed for video is 30 MB/s which is great for capturing 4K video. You can even find V90 for capturing 8K video. But unless you are using a high-speed camera and trying to record pro-level video, video speed won’t be as important.
Best overall microSD card
256 GB | SDXC | Read speed: 130 MB/s | Write speed not specified | Speed class 10
This microSD card is an upgraded version of our earlier favorite. It can handle the needs of nearly any device and any type of user. It has a top-of-the-line speed class and read speed, and you can buy it in several different storage capacities between 64 GB and 512 GB. The write speed isn’t provided on the Samsung spec sheet for this microSD card, which isn’t uncommon — manufacturers often focus on read speed instead because it’s where you’ll notice a lag if there is any. But based on all of the card’s other specs, it should handle anything you throw at it. A previous version of this card had a write speed of 90 MB/s, so this one is likely in the same range or a notch higher. It’s also shockproof and waterproof and can withstand extreme temperatures. Our colleagues at the Verge like it because “it has the obvious advantage when it comes to storage capacity,” according to writer Cameron Faulkner. He points out that “if you plan to use [it] for both gaming and recording video, it’s good to know that it can perform both functions well.”
Best microSD card for gaming
128 GB | SDXC | Read speed: 120 MB/s | Write speed: 90MB/s | Speed class 10
Although Joseph Palma at B&H Photo likes Nintendo’s official SD card, which has read speeds of up to 120 MB/s and write speeds of up to 90 MB/s, he actually recommends saving a little money and buying this 128 GB card from SanDisk. Why? SD cards in gaming devices are mostly “used to store the game info and read the game, not write beyond save files and installation,” he says. So the extra speed is unnecessary. This card may have a lower read speed and write speed than the best overall, but it still has plenty for typical gaming. It’s what Palma uses for his own Switch.
Best high-capacity-storage microSD card
512 GB | SDXC | Read speed: 120 MB/s | Write speed not specified | Speed class 10
“Whether you’re trying to add more storage to your Nintendo Switch, a phone, a laptop, or a GoPro, this is the card that will get you the biggest bang for your buck,” says the Verge’s Faulkner. “It commonly sells for less than $50, making it an affordable yet huge storage upgrade.” It’s also shockproof, waterproof, and X-ray-proof, and it can handle high temperatures. You can buy this card in a 1TB capacity, which is an almost unthinkable amount of photo and video storage, but the option is there if you need it.
Best microSD card for cameras
512 GB | SDXC | Read speed: 100 MB/s | Write speed: 90MB/s | Speed class 10
Where write speed really comes into play is when you are recording video. That’s also when you’ll want to pay attention to the video class, which measures the minimum levels of write speed for recording video. The video class on a microSD card can range from V6 to V90; Palma says V30 should be sufficient for shooting ultra-high-definition 4K video. It should also have the ultra-high-speed class designation, which tells you what type of video, HD or UHD, the card can handle. Ultra-high-speed class is a number inside a U on the front of the card. A U1 card should be able to handle 1080p recording without any issues, but if you want to record 4K, get a U3 card like the PNY Pro Elite, which comes recommended by the Verge. It has up to 100 MB/s read speed and a 90 MB/s write speed, plus a V30 video class.
Best microSD card with an SD card adapter
256 GB | SDXC | Read speed: 160 MB/s | Write speed: 90MB/s | Speed class 10
Bob Sacha, a photographer and associate professor of video storytelling at the Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, recommends getting a card like this one, which includes an adapter to make it compatible with devices that use standard SD cards. He shoots with many different cameras and likes to have a microSD card that can work with all of them. Then, for cameras that take standard SD cards, “I often will put that microSD card into an SD-card adapter and then use it in my DSLR or video cameras,” he says. “It’s a great trick to have one set of cards that will work in all the cameras I use.” This microSD card is also shockproof, waterproof, and able to withstand high temperatures.
• Cameron Faulkner, Verge staff writer
• Seth Miranda, content producer and host of AdoramaTV
• Bob Sacha, photographer and associate professor of video storytelling at the Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY
• Joseph Palma, sales staffer at B&H Photo
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