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The Best SD Card for Video- Which Card to Get?

The Best SD Card for Video- Which Card to Get?

Today, I'm going to tell you everything you need to know about SD cards and even some things you don't. Every single one of my cameras now has 2 SD card slots in it, and when you go and get a new camera that has new specs and new codecs and you look online for the list of what are the best SD cards to get, you actually get quite a few recommendations in there that are junk and shouldn't be recommended, and don't really make sense based on what you're searching for.

So today, I want to demystify all of the numbers and letters and designations that are on SD cards, and to do that, I decided today would be a fun day to do some macro video since I've got this macro lens for the Sony a7 III and shoot some video on it! So, I'll be shooting the SD card all zoomed in, and I'll point at some of the designations on the card and I'll go over from there.

Read Speed on the Face of Card

Okay, so let's move over to the SD card here and just, kind of, take a look around and I'll tell you what everything means and then what you need to look for when it comes to getting SD cards for video. Now, I should mention that this is primarily for video because, for photos, these settings are a lot more relaxed.

So first up, right here you've got the speed which, on this card, says 80MB/s.

The Best SD Card for Video- Which Card to Get?

Now, these speed designations are never really that useful to you, but they do give you a rough idea of what you should expect to read the card at when you take the files off of the card and put them on your computer. For instance, if you stick this card in a USB-3 card reader, you can actually get close to 80MB/s offloading the files, but this isn't really that important in terms of figuring out how to match with the codec on your camera.

Classes That Actually Dictate the Speed

Next up, we've got the size of the card right here at 32 GB and then we've got some branding above and below.

The Best SD Card for Video- Which Card to Get?

Now, let's get into this whole cluster of stuff here which is really more important to figure out what the speed is. Now, these designations provide a better understanding of what the sustained write speed is, which is what's important when it comes to video recording and again, not that important when it comes to photos unless you're talking about big raw files and unloading, a big buffer quickly and that kind of thing, but even for that, this number over here isn't as important as these numbers, even for the photo thing.

Basic Speed Class - Class 10 = 10 MB/s Write Speed

So let's start with this number here that is in this, sort of, C circle and the number in ten. Now, this is the one that you're going to see most likely these days because any numbers lower than this aren't as easy to find because they're pretty outdated, but basically what this means is that you can expect to receive a sustained write speed of 10 MB/s, which is a lot lower than the 80 MB/s over here. But, this is more about when it's in the camera and it's actually writing to the card in the camera. It's not the same speed as when you pull the files off using a card reader.

Megabytes vs Megabits

Now, all these numbers we're talking about here are in megabytes per second, like the 10 megabytes, but when it comes to codecs in your camera, they're usually listed in bits, megabits per second. So, when you convert that, it's very, very simple, you just multiply by eight. There's eight bits in a byte. So, something that can achieve 10 MB/s sustained write, can achieve 80 megabits per second, sustained write. That's basically how that works.

UHS Speed Class - U1 = 10 MB/s Write Speed

Now, let's jump over to the one inside of the U shape here. This is the UHS speed class, which is a 1=10 MB/s, same as this here, so they have the same speed rating, they're just provided by two different classification systems.

The Roman Numerals - I = UHS-I

And, this one here corresponds to this little I, Roman numeral I that's located here to indicate that the card is a UHS-1 card, and we'll get into UHS-1 vs. UHS-2 in just a moment when I show you a UHS-2 card, but a great number of the cards that have been out for all the years prior to this would have been UHS-1.

SDHC - What Does the HC Mean? (FAT32)

Now, the last thing we're going to point out here is this section here, which says "SDHC" and the SD part is obvious 'cause it's an SD card, that's not going to change, but the HC part will change, and this part is very, very, very important when it comes to video. Something you'll see often recommended are cards that are, that have affordable prices but are of an SDHC classification. There's a problem with SDHC, which is that it uses the FAT32 file system, and that's basically the file system of how the files, when you record with your camera or you do something like that, how they're formatted and organized on the card.

4GB Limit on FAT32 File System

Now, one of the limitations of the FAT32 file system is that you can't write files larger than 4 GB. Anything beyond 4 GB has to be split up and put into another file and another file, so if you have 16 GB of footage, you're going to have four files, and this is very easy to do when you're recording 4K video. 4 GB isn't a lot and so, anytime that you see SDHC here on the card, you know you're going to be getting a FAT32 file system, which I don't think is very good for video these days. It's fine for photos but I don't love it for video because of the breaking up of 4 GB files. Photos aren't going to be over 4 GB, so this is one of those things where photo and video differ in terms of what kind of cards to look for.

SDXC - exFAT File System Won't Break up Video Files

Now, the next designation up from this would be SDXC, which I'm going to show you a card like that right now.  So, this is an SDXC card as you can see the X right there.

The Best SD Card for Video- Which Card to Get?

That means it's using the exFAT file system as opposed to the FAT32. Now, the advantage of the exFAT file system is that it can record files much larger than 4 GB. It can go up to 2 TB files, so you're never really, at least not for a long time, going to be worried about separating your video files into multiple files. You can record them into one single file, move it over in your edit and then chop it up that way, which I vastly prefer.

SDHC Only Reaches 32GB; 64GB Cards Will Be exFAT

Now, the easier way to remember this is that the FAT32 file system, known as SDHC, it only goes up to 32 GB cards, and then the SDXC or exFAT system starts at 32 GB and goes beyond. Now, there's not a lot of exFAT cards at 32 GB, so it's probably easier to remember that 64 GB and beyond are going to be exFAT and be good for video for not splitting up in 4 GB files, and anything 32 GB and smaller are going to FAT32 and will split up your video files into 4 GB chunks. Now, while we've got this 64 GB card here, let's point out a couple of other features.

U3 - UHS Speed Class 3 = 30 MB/s Write Speed

You'll notice that this one here has a three inside of the U, which means UHS class three, which means that it can write up to 30 MB/s sustained write speed for video, which is also designated here by the Video Class, which was introduced more recently than these other ones, V30, which means the same thing, 30 MB/s sustained write with video.

Video Speed Class (V30, V60, V90) - Video Recording Speed

Now, the speed class here hasn't changed from ten because they don't have anything beyond ten. This basically says it can write 10 MB/s, which I guess means that it's okay for most photo files and that kind of thing, but when it comes to video, we're looking more for the V30, V60, V90, and the U3. Now beyond, there's nothing really beyond U3 right now that I've seen, but there are V60s and V90s, which of course, will mean that they can sustain writing speeds at the video for 60 MB/s and 90 MB/s.

So if we translate that into bits to know what kind of codecs they can cover, a V30 card here multiplied by eight, that means that it can support codec up to 240 megabits per second, which is great for pretty much most codecs that you're going to find on something like a Sony, on a lot of the other ones that are hybrid video shooters, and that's obviously a lot more important, like we said, than the 95 MB/s, which again, just pretty much means how fast you can take the files off the card.

UHS-I vs UHS-II Cards

But still, take note of the Roman numeral I here, that means it's still a UHS-1 card, and if we flip the card over, you'll be able to see what UHS-1 looks like. So, as you can see, there is one set of pins here, which it has for transferring information in and out. Now, if we look at the UHS-2 card,

The Best SD Card for Video- Which Card to Get?

You can see that the UHS-2 card has a lot more contacts in order to transfer data on, so you're going to be able to achieve a lot greater speeds and if you flip these cards over, you'll be able to see what I'm talking about. Okay, so these cards are essentially identical except for one is a UHS-2 card which you can see right here with Roman numeral II, and one is a UHS-1 card seen here with Roman numeral I. They're both 64 GB, they're both the Extreme PRO, but as you can see, there's a huge speed difference written here from SanDisk of 300 MB/s vs. 95 MB/s.

The Best SD Card for Video- Which Card to Get?

UHS-II Backward Compatibility & Benchmarks

Now, if you are offloading files with UHS-2 and you have to have a UHS-2 card reader, a card reader that can have the same contacts, you can pull files off up to 300 MB/s, and it's quite fast, but you'll notice here that there is not really any updated designations. There's still the class ten, and there's still the U3. But obviously, you should be able to expect a lot better performance from these cards than the, you know, 10 MB/s that you're used to here and the 30 MB/s here, but it doesn't have a V30 rating.

There are websites that have done benchmarks on this card with the GH5 and its video, sort of, sustained writing speeds come in around 80-90 megabytes per second, so if we multiply that by eight, then we know that we're going to be able to get around 600-700 megabits per second codec, and the fastest codec on the GH5 currently is that 400Mbps All-I. So, these cards are definitely capable of the highest level codecs that you can get on, sort of, small SD card cameras right now.

Is a V30 Card Fast Enough for Sony a7 III, GH5, G9, etc.?

Now, in the future, there may be faster codecs that require, even bigger SD cards. This guy, the V30, which, obviously, 30 MB/s times eight is going to be 240 Mbps. If you have any kind of reasonable codec where it's 100-200 Mbps, this should be fine and this is actually one of the cards that I would recommend because it has SDXC, so we know it's not going to break up the files into 4 GB. It's got the V30, so we know it can handle most of the codecs in the Sonys, Olympus, Fujis, anything that takes SD cards and does video as a secondary function, the V30 should cover you, and then these designations aren't as important if we see V30, but if you have a card that doesn't say V30 but it have a U3, then you know it's also good for 30 MB/s, which should also provide support for those codecs in the 100-200 Mbps range, up to 240, theoretically.

Which Card to Get?

So, based on all this information, the starting point that I would recommend for an SD card if you want to do video would be this one, bang for buck-wise. This is the SanDisk Extreme PRO, it's the one that I was showing you there. It's a 64 GB card and it's an SDXC, obviously, because you can't get SDHC in the 64 GB card, which means it's not going to split up your files. It has a V30 rating, so it should support pretty much anything, the G9, the GH5, all of its codecs, except for the crazy All-I one, the Sony a7 III, all those cameras will have-- this card will support the codecs, and you can get bigger sizes if you want, but I probably wouldn't go below 64 GB, one, because of the SDXC thing, you don't want your files split up, and two, because 4K footage takes up space quickly.

How Long Can you Record Video with a 64GB card?

On the GH5, when I use its 150Mbps codec, I get about an hour with a 64 GB card. So, if you're using a 100Mbps codec like the Sony, you're obviously going to get a little bit longer, like an hour and a half, but when you're looking to get a card, start here, and then-- it doesn't have to be SanDisk, by the way, just look for those specs on any given card, because the designations aren't provided just by SanDisk.

They're, sort of, a universal class, so look for a card that has all those features and then think to yourself, "I'm going to get about an hour to an hour and a half every 64 GB", and then look for the bang for the buck for how much recording time that you think you're going to need, and then also price out if your camera has two card slots, think about getting two of the same cards, because it'll be better if you want to do redundant backup recording, or if you want to be able to record from one to the other in relay and know exactly how long you have, well, you're going to have, obviously, double of the first card.

So, the price that in when you're thinking about getting cards, think about which one can I get two of because I think that'll produce a better result for you, but if you are planning on doing backup recording, remember that you only get one of these. So, if you're going to get a 64 GB and another 64 GB and do backup recording, you only get 64 GB flat. So, if you want to be able to record two to three hours, maybe get two 128 GB cards, if you're planning on doing the backup recording.

Anyway, that's going to be it, I know I said a lot of numbers and letters and designations, but I just think this information is crucial and I hope that I conveyed it to you well because I don't want you buying SD cards that aren't going to be useful to you, or not going to give you enough headroom, because there's pretty much no resale value on SD cards and you can't really take them back.

So, I want you to get the right card that's right for you and I think that there's a lot of, sort of, weird information out there when it comes to best cards for, you know, this and that camera. If you know the designations, then you can ignore the lists and just read the card for what you need for the job you're trying to get done.

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