So, you’ve purchased the camera that you have always wanted, but what about the memory card? Having a great camera with a wrong memory card will cripple the performance of your camera.
I have already discussed the difference in various types of SD cards and outlined how to select the best memory card for any camera in the detailed guide: “How to Select the Best SD Memory Card for Photography.”
Today, I want to compare three models of Sandisk cards that are the most popular among professional photographers.
The Sandisk Extreme Pro, the Sandisk Extreme Plus and Sandisk Extreme are among the best cards in the market based on their quality, performance, and reliability.
First, let’s compare the specifications of all three models.
Specifications: Sandisk Extreme Pro vs Sandisk Extreme Plus vs Sandisk Extreme vs Sandisk Extreme
Write Speed Matters?
When we take pictures with our digital cameras, the digital data is temporarily stored in the camera’s buffer. The buffer is the internal memory bank that is similar to the Random Access Memory (RAM) you find on a computer. When the buffer is filled with digital images, the camera starts to offload the data to a memory card. This is when the memory card’s write speed comes into play. The faster the write speed, the faster the camera’s buffer is emptied and the faster we can continue shooting.
The maximum write speed of the Sandisk Extreme Pro is 90MB/s, the Sandisk Extreme Plus has a max write speed of 60MB/s, and the Sandisk Extreme has a max write speed of 40MB/s.
The issue with the maximum write speed parameter is that it only indicates the burst speed and cannot be maintained for a long period without fluctuations. This is not a problem for still photography, but if you are shooting 4K videos, the write speed should be constant without any ups and downs.
This is when the concept of “minimum write speed” was introduced. It indicates the maximum speed value that can be sustained for a long period without dipping below that value.
The minimum write speed of the Sandisk Extreme Pro, the Sandisk Extreme Plus, and the Sandisk Extreme is identical at 30MB/s.
Clearly, there isn’t much to separate when you shoot video.
The only photographers who can take advantage of the faster write speed of the Sandisk Extreme Pro are those who shoot a large number of photos in long bursts. For example, wildlife and sports photographers.
Where Read Speed Matters?
The read speed is how fast the data can be read from the card and transferred to another computer or device.
While 99% of photography depends on faster write speeds, read speed is paramount for sports photographers, photojournalists, and event photographers. Especially vital during international sporting events when shooting and transferring images needs to be immediate, a faster read speed certainly comes in handy.
The Sandisk Extreme Pro has a read speed of 95MB/s while the Sandisk Extreme Plus and Sandisk Extreme have a read speed of 90MB/s.
To illustrate the point, sports and event photographers tend to shoot JPEGs whenever they don’t have time to edit pictures. A 16GB card can hold about 1,400 36MP JPEG pictures. To transfer them, it will take about 23 minutes at 95MB/s and 22 minutes at 90MB/s.
The difference is very small and usually only matters if you are a professional photographer whose job depends on how fast you can deliver your photos.
There are certainly a few places where having a faster memory card makes a difference. For most purposes, however, there isn’t a huge difference between three of the most popular and highest quality SD cards on the market—the Sandisk Extreme Pro, the Sandisk Extreme Plus and the Sandisk Extreme.
SanDisk Cards Comparison (2020 Update)
When I originally published the SanDisk comparison review, my goal was to explain the differences between three SanDisk memory card models—the SanDisk Extreme Pro, the SanDisk Extreme Plus, and the SanDisk Extreme.
At the time, the SanDisk Extreme Pro was positioned at the top as the preferred card for professional photographers. Just below the Pro model was the SanDisk Extreme Plus followed by the SanDisk Extreme. The differences between the models was not drastic and caused confusion for many photographers.
SanDisk recognized that problem and restructured their memory card lineup. In the last year or so, they started to phase out the SanDisk Extreme Plus. At this time, you can find the Extreme Plus in a few locations that are getting rid of their existing stock.
Right now, the SanDisk SD memory card lineup looks like this:
At the very top is the SanDisk Extreme Pro, which is what I use in my photography. At the bottom is the SanDisk Ultra, which is a budget model. Somewhere in between but closer to the top is the SanDisk Extreme.
SanDisk Ultra vs SanDisk Extreme
“I just bought my first camera. What SD memory card should I buy—the SanDisk Ultra or the SanDisk Extreme?”
This is a very common question my blog readers ask, so I thought it might make sense to address it here.
Please do not consider the SanDisk Ultra for your new camera because it will hurt its performance.
Let me explain.
When I’m in the field shooting, the most frustrating thing for me is to wait until the camera finishes transferring the images from the buffer to a memory card before I can continue shooting. I use the fastest memory cards available, but it still takes 10 to 15 seconds for the transfer to be completed.
When you use a slow memory card like the SanDisk Ultra, it will take minutes for the camera to clear the buffer. You will miss many shooting opportunities at this time. Spend the extra $10 to get the faster model.
The only scenario that I see where the SanDisk Ultra is ideal is when you have an older camera model with a slow internal writing speed that cannot take advantage of faster memory cards. Another instance where the SanDisk Ultra might be beneficial is when using the card for archival purposes.