I've always purchased medium-speed SanDisk memory cards and the cheapest USB 3.1 card readers for my computer. Have I been missing out? Are these ultra-expensive cards and readers actually worth it? Let's find out.
Our current go-to cards are the SanDisk 256 GB 95 MB/s maximum write speed which I purchased for around $95. I certainly assumed that the ProGrade cards, that are almost four times the price, would be faster, but I also thought that all USB 3.1 card readers were the same. Boy, was I wrong.
When I set the ProGrade card reader on my computer tower I was excited to see that a magnet held it securely in place. I loved this feature but I still expected the performance of the reader to be identical to my Transcend reader. I was very wrong. To my surprise, the ProGrade card reader was significantly faster than the Transcend card reader with both the cheaper SanDisk card and the ProGrade card. Both the Transcend card reader and my Lexar card reader transfer at wildly inconsistent speeds but I always assumed that was normal. The ProGrade card reader had a faster maximum top transfer speed that was more consistent even with cheap cards. You can even transfer two cards at once without losing speed. $80 for this kind of performance boost is totally justifiable and I would recommend that every photographer buy this card reader.
Understanding Memory Card Speeds and Ratings
When buying a memory card, you should only care about three numbers: the capacity, the maximum read speed, and minimum write speed. We all know what the capacity is (we almost exclusively use 256 GB cards now) but very few photographers know about the other two. Maximum read speed is usually printed on the front of a card. These ProGrade cards say "250 MB/s." This is the theoretical speed that you should be able to transfer files from the card to your computer. The other important number is the minimum write speed. This number is shown on memory cards with the letter "V" in front of it. My SanDisk card is a V30 card and these ProGrade cards are V90. Some cameras require extremely fast cards to work properly and this is the number to look for. Our GH5s require at least a V60 (60 MB/s minimum write speed) to shoot in 10-bit color. With a slower card, we cannot use this feature.
When comparing the speed of the SanDisk V30 and ProGrade V90 cards, the decision to upgrade becomes more difficult because the cost difference is so large. Yes, the ProGrade V90 cards are two to three times faster than SanDisk V30 cards but they cost almost four times as much. Some still cameras will perform better when rapid firing with raw files, but for the average shooter, they probably don't need to spend this much on a memory card. But, even though you don't need it, you may want it. In our "read" speed tests, the ProGrade card and reader were able to transfer footage six times faster than the cheaper option. If you're transferring a ton of footage, this could literally save you hours. Check out our exact test results below transferring 1.5 GB of data.
SanDisk 95 MB/s V30 Read Speed
With Transcend reader: 45 seconds
With ProGrade reader: 20 seconds
SanDisk 95 MB/s V30 Write Speed
With Transcend reader: 20 seconds
With ProGrade reader: 18 seconds
ProGrade 250 MB/s V90 Write Speed
With Transcend reader: 21 seconds
With ProGrade reader: 9 seconds
ProGrade 250 MB/s V90 Read Speed
With Transcend reader: 18 seconds
With ProGrade reader: 7 seconds
I'm always excited to find a product that performs better than I expected and the ProGrade card reader was far better than the two memory card readers that I currently own. At $80 price tag seemed expensive at first, but now it seems like a bargain. Don't wait, buy it.
The ProGrade V90 memory cards are amazing but they are also super expensive. If you can't justify the price right now, I have good news, ProGrade also sells V60 cards for less than half the price. You can buy these for just a few dollars more than a SanDisk V30 cards and get double the performance. In the next year or two, V90 cards will become more affordable, but if you want the best of the best today, you're going to pay handsomely for it.