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What Memory Card Do I Need for a DSLR or Mirrorless Camera?

Determine which memory card to get for a DSLR or mirrorless camera, and that will fit your needs. Learn about the different SD card types and CFexpress, XQD, CFast, and CompactFlash memory cards.

What Memory Card Do I Need for a DSLR or Mirrorless Camera? Samsung Memory / Unsplash

Last Updated: March 18, 2023

Written by Brandon Jones

What Type of Memory Card Do I Need?

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There are many memory cards to choose from, so it might be challenging to select the correct one. In this article, I'll help you get the best memory card your camera supports and one that fits your needs.

Many popular DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras use newer types of SD memory cards (SDHC, SDXC, and SDUC), while the highest-end cameras use CFexpress. Older cameras may use CompactFlash, XQD, CFast, or standard SD cards.

To start, check the camera's manual (you can find this online) or product description to see which type of memory card is supported for your camera. Afterward, continue below to see which specific memory card classes and size will meet your needs.

Memory Card Types

SD Memory Cards

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SD Card Types

There are four types of SD cards; SD, SDHC, SDXC, and SDUC. Each type of memory card supports a different tier of capacities they support.

Check out my recommended memory cards for the best one out of the most popular types.

Memory Card Types
Card Type Size
SD 2 GB and less
SDHC More than 2 GB, up to 32 GB
SDXC More than 32 GB, up to 2 TB
SDUC More than 2 TB, up to 128 TB

SD Memory Card Speed Classes

Memory cards support different speeds and capacities, making some better for various use cases.

The table below shows each class's minimum sequential write speeds and the video resolution they support. For example, if you need to shoot an 8K video, you'll need a V90 memory card, preferably an SDXC or SDUC card type. See below for info about compatibility.

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You don't necessarily need a higher speed card if you're taking normal photos (not burst). A card that can handle at least 30 MB/s should be enough to handle both JPG and RAW images. If you also want to take burst photos and video, it's best to get the highest card class that your camera can handle.

To find which class of memory card a camera, it's best to either look in the product description or user manual to find that information. Most newer DSLR and mirrorless support SD, SDHC, and SDXC.

Memory Card Speed Classes
Minimum Write Speed Speed Class UHS Speed Class Video Speed Class Suggested Max Resolution
90 MB/s Class 10 U3 V90 8K
60 MB/s Class 10 U3 V60 4K
30 MB/s Class 10 U3 V30 1080p
10 MB/s Class 10 U1 V10 720p
6 MB/s Class 6 V6
4 MB/s Class 4
2 MB/s Class 2

Ultra High Speed (UHS) SD Memory Cards

You might have noticed the "I" symbol on an SD memory card. That symbol shows the bus interface for the memory card, which determines a higher speed class of cards. The EX/Express labeling means that a card supports a very high speed. In the table below, you can see which speeds each interface supports.

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Most cameras support UHS-II, while some higher-end cameras made after 2020 can support higher speeds like UHS-III or SD Express. These higher speeds are usually used for video or for people who take a lot of burst photography. Make sure your camera supports the interface before purchasing an SD card.

Ultra High Speed Cards
Bus Interface Transfer Speed
UHS-I 50–104 MB/s
UHS-II 156–312 MB/s
UHS-III 312–624 MB/s
SD Express 985–3940 MB/s

Backward Compatibility

Cameras that support higher memory card capacities can also support lower capacity cards. For example, a camera supporting SDHC memory cards works with standard SD and SDHC cards, but not SDXC and above.

However, memory cards don't work with cameras that only support lower memory card capacities. For example, SDHC memory cards can only be used with devices that support SDHC, SDXC, and SDUC, but not with devices that support standard SD cards.

Should I Use SD or MicroSD Cards?

While you can use both SD and MicroSD cards with cameras, standard SD cards are best. MicroSD cards require an adapter to use with a camera since most DSLR and mirrorless cameras have a standard SD card slot. The downside to using an adapter is that it tends to slow down your camera and reduce performance.

What Size of SD Card Do I Need?

Many cameras only support up to 256 GB memory cards, but some newer and higher-end cameras support larger capacities. It's best not to get a card above 256 GB unless the camera says explicitly it supports higher capacities. Since all cameras are different, it's always good to check the manual (you can find this online) or product description to see the max size of memory card you can use with the camera.

It's usually best to get the highest capacity memory card to give you more flexibility and not worry about it filling up too soon. If you are going to record many videos, especially 4K videos, you should get a 256 GB memory card if the camera supports it.

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SDHC - 32 GB

SDXC - 128 GB

SDXC (V90) - 128 GB

CFexpress Memory Cards

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CFexpress memory cards are entirely different than SD cards and are much faster. A camera must support CFexpress cards to work with them and can't be used in a camera that only supports SD cards.

These cards are also different sizes based on the type of CFexpress card. Type A is the smallest, and Type C is the largest. Type C cards aren't implemented currently, so the two choices are Type A and B, with Type B being the most common.

This CFexpress Type B card is backward compatible with some XQD cameras that support firmware enabling CFexpress.

CFexpress Memory Card Speeds
CFexpress Type Max Transfer Speed
Type A Up to 1 GB/s
Type B Up to 2 GB/s
Type C Up to 4 GB/s
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CFexpress Type B - 512 GB

CFexpress Type A - 160 GB

XQD Memory Cards

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XQD memory cards were made to replace CompactFlash cards with faster read and write speeds and larger storage options. XQD cards are used by older professional-grade cameras and are being phased out by CFexpress cards.

Some cameras that support XQD received firmware updates that added support for using CFexpress memory cards but did not necessarily add the higher speeds. XQD memory cards are still required for cameras that haven't been updated or received any firmware updates to add support for CFexpress cards.

XQD cards and slots are incompatible with CompactFlash, CFast, or SD memory cards and slots.

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CFast Memory Cards

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CFast memory cards are a variant of CompactFlash and are different than traditional CompactFlash cards and newer CFexpress cards.

While there are multiple versions of CFast cards, CFast 2.0 is the most common and widely available to purchase.

CFast cards and slots are incompatible with CompactFlash or CFexpress memory cards and slots.

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CompactFlash Memory Cards

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CompactFlash memory cards, not to be confused with newer CFast cards, are primarily used in older cameras before 2012. Older CompactFlash cards had a Type I and Type II, with Type II being thicker and only working in Type II slots. The most common is the Type I form-factor.

CompactFlash memory cards have a UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access) card class. The higher the UDMA number, the faster the card is. UDMA 7 is the fastest and most common type of CompactFlash currently.

The minimum write speed is labeled with a film clapperboard icon on the memory card with a number inside.

CompactFlash cards and slots are incompatible with the newer CFast memory cards and slots.

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UDMA 7 CompactFlash Card