SanDisk’s 1TB microSD cards are ridiculous and every photographer should get one

Dec 7, 2019

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

SanDisk’s 1TB microSD cards are ridiculous and every photographer should get one

Dec 7, 2019

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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When I first heard the announcement that SanDisk was showing off a 1TB SD card at Photokina 2016, I thought “Impressive, but why?” Ok, at first I thought “That’s insane!!!”, who’s going to use a card that big? Then I was impressed. When they announced a 1TB Extreme microSD card at the beginning of this year, though, my thought changed to “Cool, want one!”. The difference, for me, is the form factor.

Since then, SanDisk has also released a faster Extreme Pro 1TB microSD card. And now I have one. Here, I’m going to tell you how I’m using it, what I think of it and why I think every photographer needs one.

YouTube video

Why 1TB microSD cards are awesome

Like SanDisk’s full-size Extreme Pro SD cards, the Extreme Pro microSD card offers write speeds of up to 90MB/sec and read speeds of up to 170MB/sec. You do need to use one of SanDisk’s readers to get those speeds, though, as it’s a proprietary protocol which isn’t part of the regular SD spec. With other devices and 3rd party card readers, it caps out around the standard 95MB/sec or so. And it’s limited to that speed even with some of SanDisk’s own current model readers, too, as it turns out.

SanDisk’s own Extreme Pro Type-C UHS-II SD card reader does not support 170MB/sec speeds with their cards

Unlike regular SD cards, though, microSD cards have the advantage of being able to stay with you everywhere you go, accessible and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Of course, I’m talking about using it as storage inside your smartphone. And no, I don’t just mean having somewhere to save your lifetime’s worth of selfies.

If, as photographers, we start to think of our phones as tools, rather than just a way to communicate with people and play games while we’re sitting on the toilet, we start to see that they actually have some functional utility on shoots, too. In this case, as the portable backup device that you will always have with you.

Speed tests

I did speed tests on the 1TB SanDisk Extreme Pro microSD using the Type-C SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-II SD card reader plugged into my ASUS ZenBook Pro using the AJA System Test software. It’s a handy application as it allows you to test different storage devices based on the type of footage you’re shooting. Very handy for filmmakers when they need to test media to record to.

But it also shows the raw transfer rate, too, which is what we’re concerned with here. I also picked up a regular-sized 128GB 170MB/sec SanDisk Extreme Pro SD card as well, for a side-by-side comparison. It turns out, though, that not all SanDisk card readers support their high-speed protocol. This reader caps out at around 95MB/sec even with SanDisk’s own Extreme Pro 170MB/sec SD and microSD cards.

So, while this speed test isn’t really pushing the read speed limits, we do get to see the write speed and consistency.

First, I tested the 1TB SanDisk Extreme Pro microSD. I ran the test five times to check for consistency and get a good average, and here are the results.

1TB SanDisk Extreme Pro microSDWriteRead
Test 184MB/sec93MB/sec
Test 283MB/sec92MB/sec
Test 383MB/sec92MB/sec
Test 483MB/sec92MB/sec
Test 583MB/sec92MB/sec

As you can see, both the reads and writes were very consistent, with write speeds of 83-84MB/sec, and read speeds of 92-93MB/sec. I did some tests with other card readers form ProGrade, Lexar and Hoodman, and they were all pretty consistent with these speeds.

With the standard-sized 128GB SanDisk Extreme Pro SD card, the results were also consistent and comparable to those of the microSD card. Again, this card reader would not fully utilise the read speed capabilities of this card.

128GB SanDisk Extreme Pro SDWriteRead
Test 183MB/sec93MB/sec
Test 283MB/sec93MB/sec
Test 381MB/sec92MB/sec
Test 482MB/sec92MB/sec
Test 581MB/sec92MB/sec

Although I didn’t see the 170MB/sec read speeds this card is popular for, that’s not going to be a problem for the intended use of the card, because the device we’re going to put it inside can’t make use of the full 170MB/sec speeds anyway.

What do you do with a card this big?

As I alluded to earlier, a card like this demands to go inside a smartphone, even if the speed can’t be fully utilised. The A2 app class rating means it’s actually designed precisely for devices like smartphones (and small computers like the Raspberry Pi or ASUS Tinker Board). The A2 rating allows for a lot of fast read and write operations per second. This offers advantages if you use your microSD card for app or data storage, where your phone will need to read and write lots of small files constantly.

But for us, it’s the capacity we’re interested in rather than anything else. It allows us to turn our phone into a portable backup device that’s always in our pocket… Or purse. Plenty of photographers are women and they have phones, too, even if not all of their clothes have pockets.

The phone that goes with me on every shoot is an ASUS ZenFone 5. It features a dual sim-tray, allowing for either a pair of sim cards or a single sim card and a microSD card, and it supports cards up to a theoretical maximum of 2TB. I say theoretically because nobody actually makes a 2TB card yet. 1TB is as big as they go for now.

The ZenFone 5 also has a Type-C USB socket on the bottom, like most Android smartphones and tablets these days. This means that you can plug your card reader or an external SSD straight into it and read the files off it. You can browse through what you’ve shot and transfer them to the phone’s internal storage, too, including whatever microSD card happens to be inside it.

But why your phone?

Your phone is always with you. There’s nothing extra to pack. Your phone is in your pocket whether you’re doing a shoot or not. You don’t have to remember to charge and pack a laptop, or another separate backup device in order to make use of it. It’s just there with you. Always. The only extra thing you need to pack in your camera bag is a card reader. And most people I know have a spare card reader in their bag anyway, even if they have another one for their computer at home.

And, it’s also always with you. I’ve lost track of the number of stories I’ve read online (and they seem to be increasing lately) where somebody left their car parked somewhere while they stopped for a bite to eat on the way home from a shoot only to find their car had been broken into and all their stuff was stolen. Just this week, it happened to a photographer in Manchester, England. Or they simply lost a card between leaving a session and copying the cards over a day or two later.

Insurance can replace the gear, but it can’t get yours or your client’s photos back that you shot that day. With a copy of everything on your phone, at least you haven’t lost the irreplaceable stuff.

Having the entire session on your phone also means you can start working on those social media images right away or even do preliminary edits in Lightroom on your phone to sync up to your desktop later.

Ok, I’m convinced, so how do I do this?

Not every phone supports microSD cards (sorry, iPhone users). Not even all Android phones do. But I’m going to assume here that you have an Android device with a microSD card slot. I mean, if you do photography as a business, you’re going to probably have two phones anyway. One for personal and one for work. So, why not make one of them an Android device with a microSD card slot?

The process is really simple. Just pop the card into the phone and initialise it as you would any other. Your card reader then just plugs into the Type-C socket on the bottom. You don’t even have to deal with OTG cables anymore, as you would have done in the past when phones still had micro USB sockets. Just plug it in the same as you would with your computer.

Somewhere on your device, there will be some kind of file manager. If not, there are plenty of 3rd party apps out there that will let you do this. But once you insert the card into your reader and plug it into your phone’s USB socket, bring up the file manager and you should be able to see it alongside your phone’s internal storage and the microSD card.

After that, browse to the folder on your SD card you want to back up, select the files you want to duplicate, and then tap “copy” (or whatever it says in your app).

You’ll probably be asked where you’d like to copy them to, by choosing a device in which you’d like to store them. Here, we just choose “MicroSD” (the 1TB card sitting inside the phone).

I have a file structure that I use for my internal microSD card when I’m backing up because sometimes I’m away for a few days and I’ll have several different shoots backed up to my phone simultaneously in separate folders for different projects. So, you’ll probably want to create a folder name with a little more imagination than this one.

But after creating or choosing your folder and hitting “OK”, you’re basically done. You just need to wait for it to transfer, and that’s all there is to it, really. It’s that simple.

I leave my card copying as I start to pack up my gear at the end of a shoot. By the time I’m done, it’s copied and the camera goes in the bag last. If I have multiple cameras, as long as I remember to check, they’ve all copied by the time I’m packed.

And then I don’t have to worry about it at all. If anything happens, I still have a copy of everything we shot that day on the microSD card. Worst case, if I get home and my cards are missing, corrupt, or whatever, I can just pull it from my phone and worry about replacing any missing items after.

Transferring from your phone to your computer typically doesn’t have the fastest transfer speed. So, I’d still copy from your cards to your computer as standard practice. But with the number of people I see posting on an almost daily basis that they’ve had a card go corrupt, or they’ve lost the card containing yesterday’s session before they’ve copied it, or they put the wrong card back in their camera and accidentally formatted it, it’s handy to have that backup, just in case.

I keep the backup on my phone until everything has been copied to my desktop at home and backed up to two other drives. Then I erase it from my phone, except for images or clips I might want to edit for social media, ready for the next time I need to go out and shoot.

Final thoughts

One of the biggest problems with microSD cards of this capacity is that so few devices officially support them right now. The Insta360 ONE X and GoPro Hero 8 Black, for example, have both only been manufacturer tested up to a maximum of 256GB microSD cards (Insta360 / GoPro), and even the DJI Mavic 2 Pro only supports up to 128GB cards.

But devices running fully blown operating systems like Android on smartphones and tablets, Linux on single board computers like the Raspberry Pi and ASUS Tinker Board, or Windows and macOS on your desktop or laptop can access the full capacity of the card and potentially the full speed of the card – if you use the right card reader.

But do you really need the speed of the SanDisk Extreme Pro microSD over the regular SanDisk Extreme microSD for the purpose described in this article? If you’re only going to be using it for backup inside your phone, especially given that phones will never attain those 170MB/sec read speeds anyway, then no, you more than likely don’t.

You can probably save a little money by going with the SanDisk Extreme microSD card instead. Both offer max 90MB/sec write speeds, and both cap out around 95MB/sec on the read speeds when not using specific SanDisk card readers.

Whichever card you go for, though, it can turn your Android phone into a very valuable backup tool to use on location and ensure that you have multiple copies of your work before you’ve even started heading back home.

I haven’t seen the 1TB SanDisk Extreme Pro microSD card available anywhere except the UK so far, but if you are in the UK, you can buy one here for £419. In the USA, I’ve only seen the 1TB SanDisk Extreme microSD card, which you can buy now for $249.99.

How do you back up your work on location?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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52 responses to “SanDisk’s 1TB microSD cards are ridiculous and every photographer should get one”

  1. Clement RENAUT Avatar
    Clement RENAUT

    400€ … I can see why I should NOT get one.

  2. udi tirosh Avatar
    udi tirosh

    Looks like a great phone option!
    Sadly my phone only supports cards up to 500gb :/

    1. Rawr Avatar

      Nah, if your phone support sdxc format (like the 500gb card) then your phone automatically support 1tb, phone maker just put 500gb as max on their phone spec because its the largest available card in the market at the time the phone released

  3. W Douglas LeBlanc Avatar
    W Douglas LeBlanc

    Yuh no, bring prices way down. Even then that’s a lot of photos to process or to lose in a single go.

    1. John Aldred Avatar
      John Aldred

      Didn’t read it, huh? Not losing them is the entire point. :)

  4. Banji Bagwana Avatar
    Banji Bagwana

    Until you drop 1Tb worth of content!

    1. John Aldred Avatar
      John Aldred

      Unless you’ve got it backed up. Which is the whole point. ;)

  5. pandacongolais Avatar

    At first, I thought we were talking photography !

  6. Queen Suzuka Nakamoto Avatar
    Queen Suzuka Nakamoto

    Hhmm… Interesting, as my LG Verizon Zone 4 supports up to 1 terabyte, right now I’m finally working with 128gb sandisk cards… ????

    1. megapixelz Avatar

      ??awesome! I hope you enjoy it. Right now I have a 128 internal and a 128gb in my SD card. I haven’t come close to filling and I take and video record a lot. But with these great deals how can anyone go wrong with having extra ones just in case any situation occurs.

  7. Carsten Schlipf Avatar
    Carsten Schlipf

    Hm, if you carry your phone with you or in the worst case even in your photo bag this defeats the purpose of a backup, which should always stay in a safe, separated place.

    1. AWD Avatar

      I’m with the author – unless I’m at home, I always have my phone on my person; either in my hand or in my pocket. Your smartphone is the gateway into your life and it’s foolish to leave it unattended, even if it is hardened against intrusion. Physical access to a device is an information security nightmare.

      Once my camera card has been dumped to my phone, I have my phone start uploading to my online backup while on WiFi. I rarely get much at all uploaded while I’m out, but at least I’ve got something uploaded, and my phone will finish when I get home without me thinking about it.

      1. Kaouthia Avatar

        “Once my camera card has been dumped to my phone, I have my phone start uploading to my online backup while on WiFi.”

        I do that a lot of the time, too, if I’m away for a few days. It’s handy when I can jump on hotel WiFi and leave Resilio Sync to transfer everything to my computer at home overnight while I sleep. :)

        1. AWD Avatar

          Man, I’d kill for hotel WiFi that fast. I feel lucky when I get a few Gb uploaded overnight.

          1. Kaouthia Avatar

            Indeed, some are definitely better than others! :)

        2. Carsten Schlipf Avatar
          Carsten Schlipf

          Exactly… but then 128 GB as intermediate storage for a few bucks should be enough today. The only reason for 1 TB I could imagine is if I am on a remote location with no internet connections at all for multiple days.

          1. Kaouthia Avatar

            Is that a sweeping generalisation I see? And I live in Scotland. I often go away to remote locations for several days with no Internet connection. ;)

          2. Carsten Schlipf Avatar
            Carsten Schlipf

            Maybe. And I am envious, too. Scotland is beautiful.

    2. Carsten Schlipf Avatar
      Carsten Schlipf

      If you get robbed out, they will take your camera bag, your wallet and your phone.

      Yes, having WiFi is the best option. But then why do you need a 1 TB microSD? I can easily fit more than 5000 RAWs on a 128 GB microSD. That is more than enough for one day of shooting. And if this is uploaded on a fast WiFi over night, I can get rid of the local storage in my phone.

      For many photographers 1 TB is enough for a whole year. So I struggle to get the point of spending so much money for a microSD card to keep backups locally in my phone.

      As for me I am using Lightroom mobile and once uploaded my local storage is freed up automatically.

      1. Kaouthia Avatar

        Most will assume you only have one phone. So, assuming you’re doing photography as a business and have two phones (one for personal and one for work) you give them one and keep your other. With or without the memory card, it’s common sense to do that so that you can call the cops. :)

        1TB might be enough for a lot of photographers. For others, it’s definitely not, especially if they also shoot video.

        1. Carsten Schlipf Avatar
          Carsten Schlipf

          OK, I see that Video point. I don’t shoot video at all. Plus I don’t have a need for high resolution cameras, so I am fine with much less today.

        2. Kaouthia Avatar

          Timelapse is another time when you can fill up cards fast. That’s why I have a dozen DSLRs. I don’t sell my old cameras when I upgrade, so I think nothing of throwing 50K actuations on those older bodies in a day (it’s cheaper than replacing mirror/shutter assemblies in a current model body). If I’m out in the middle of nowhere camping for 2-3 days just to shoot timelapse, yeah, that adds up real quick. :)

          A lot of the time when gear goes missing, though, it’s simple straight up theft, not robbery. You leave your car outside the random venue you just shot at where every-random-body’s just seen you load up all your gear while you go back in for 5 minutes to say goodbye to everybody, or you stop off for something to eat on the way home from shooting a wedding, etc. But in those instances, you’d still usually have your phone in your pocket.

          But as AWD says, loss is just data loss, not physical loss, most of the time it’s just cards that fail or human error. Every day I see somebody post on Facebook that they’ve “lost yesterday’s shoot!” or they accidentally formatted a card they hadn’t copied yet, etc.

        3. Carsten Schlipf Avatar
          Carsten Schlipf

          Still would feel more comfortable not to carry the backup at the same location as I am. But this could be solved if you use an older smartphone or your tablett, which you keep at home or in your hotel safe.

        4. Kaouthia Avatar

          If it’s at home or in the hotel, then you don’t have a backup. Because you haven’t gotten to it with your camera gear and memory cards yet. :)

  • AWD Avatar

    Robbed, as in under duress? Where they take everything you have? It could happen, but it’s not as likely to happen as data loss is. I’ve never been robbed (one on one, that is), but have had numerous hard drives, CDs, tapes, SD cards etc fail for no apparent reason. I bet we’ve all popped at least one SD or CF card into our camera and had it come up bad.

    I’ll agree 1 TB does seem excessive to me, ludicrous even, though I shoot older gear and don’t bracket much or spray-n-pray (ok, now you know I’m lying :)). On the other hand, I can remember when 1.44MB was tons of space, but I digress.

    Your usage scenario of 128GB/day if spread across a few days with no access to your work computer, is a good case for a ginormous SD card. Trusting your online backup only is foolhardy, laughably so if this is your profession. A good data backup plan consists of 2 local backups and a remote as soon as possible. Also, I’ve never had a hotel connection I could upload 32GB overnight, much less 128GB.

    Data loss happens, and it happens much more frequently than we all think.

  • Mike Van Den Berg Avatar
    Mike Van Den Berg

    Extern Ssd sundisck 1tb 160euro ?

  • Freelance cameraman China/HK Avatar
    Freelance cameraman China/HK

    I hate these micro SD.
    They all fail to connect at one point compare to the SD format. Putting so much information on this tiny connector do not look so safe to me.

    1. Fried Toast Avatar
      Fried Toast

      Then don’t use them. I, for one, love them. I’ve got a 400gb in my phone, 256gb in my GoPro 7, a 128gb in my Osmo Pocket, a 64gb for backup duty in my GH5 and have a series of cards (32gb – 128gb) that I use in drones (Mavic Pro, Phantom 4 Pro+, Mavic Mini).

      I have a little credit-card-sized holder that is great for holding cards and they are great for a quick backup. A main backup on different devices is, of course, the way to go, but in a pinch, they’re great for a quick backup or even way to give data to someone else.

    2. Carsten Schlipf Avatar
      Carsten Schlipf

      I can confirm this. I am only buying SanDisk, but in the last year all SDs that failed are microSDs (2 of 3), while the normal SDs (more than 10) never had any issues.

    3. roirraW "edor" ehT Avatar
      roirraW “edor” ehT

      I’ve only lost connection to my MicroSD cards on particular phones. I’ve had no problem with my HTC 10 and Sony Xperia XA2 Ultra. I did lost connection from time to time on my LG G3 (VS985). I previously used a SanDIsk 128 GB and now use a SanDisk 400 GB – both the normal cheaper versions, not Extreme or Extreme Pro.

    4. Corey Ortega Avatar
      Corey Ortega

      I agree.

  • Phredator Avatar

    I ordered mine on Black Friday and just picked it up yesterday. There is something to be said for putting everything including the kitchen sink on your phone and still having >600 Gigabytes free!

  • Rick Scheibner Avatar
    Rick Scheibner

    I’m looking for the microSD slot on my Mamiya C220…

    1. AWD Avatar

      That’s a film camera. It records images on a light sensitive emulsion that has been applied to a thin clear plastic strip. There will be no SD card slot on this camera, and continuing to look for one would be silly.

      1. P Schmied Avatar
        P Schmied

        That plastic strip stores images with data content in excess of 250MB/image.

        1. AWD Avatar

          My Minox negatives would beg to differ with that number. That camera also has no SD card slot – I learned that the hard way.

      2. Rick Scheibner Avatar
        Rick Scheibner

        Ohhhh…thank you. That clears things up immensely.

        1. AWD Avatar

          No need to thank me. That’s what I’m here for. :)

          Edit: You should hold on to that camera, despite not having an SD card slot, you’ll find that it is still a competent piece of photographic equipment that will continue to work as such for many, many more years.

  • Awayase Avatar

    Big question is, how to secure it on my phone in case my phone got stolen or lost?

  • Keith Ritman Avatar
    Keith Ritman

    While the storage and the speeds are great the one problem is limited read write access. You can only read or write to these memory cards so many times they have a built in number and if you reach it all your data is lost

    1. Kaouthia Avatar

      I’ve heard this rumour before, but I’ve yet to see any proof.

      I still have memory cards here that I bought 20 years ago that can still be read from and written to just fine. The technology’s come a long way since then and A2 cards are specifically designed for a lot of read and write operations.

      1. Keith Ritman Avatar
        Keith Ritman

        20 years ago they did not build in read write maximums, they never heard of planned obsolescence now even the manufacturer builds in limited read write maximums.

        1. Kaouthia Avatar

          I’ve owned over 200 memory cards in the last 20 years. I’ve yet to hit any read and write limits on any of them. Again, where’s the proof?

  • P Schmied Avatar
    P Schmied

    That much storage leads to sloppy work habits and is more likely to result in something worth preserving being lost or damaged than saved.

    1. AWD Avatar

      Non-video shooter spotted!

    2. Kaouthia Avatar

      Lack of self discipline is what leads to sloppy work habits :)

  • Nazzarov Marus Avatar
    Nazzarov Marus

    or shouldn’t

  • Armageddon Gurr Avatar
    Armageddon Gurr

    Lol phones don’t have sd cards anymore ?‍♂️.. Oneplus user, never found it useful when I’d rather just have a USB or the cloud

  • JustChristoph Avatar

    Let’s put aside the title …why every photographer should get one that has ommitted the caveat …if you own a smart device that has a micro SD slot.

    To copy data to this card using your phone will take around 3 hours and probably do a pretty good job of draining the battery. Same when you offload the data. You would be so much better off to buy a cheap standard SSD drive and an SSD to USB adapter cable (or other connector type). This solution is far cheaper, more robust, far, far, far quicker, and you won’t lose the pesky thing. Oh, and one other thing, it’s relevant to photographers, unlike a micro SD card.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar

      “Same when you offload the data”

      Not really, because… well, it’s a backup, you’re not copying from the phone to your computer unless you absolutely have to. Ideally, you still have your cards. The phone is for when you don’t.

      But even when you don’t, you’re going to be offloading the data in one of two ways.

      1) You’re going to take the microSD card out, put it in a card reader and transfer it, which uses precisely zero battery life on your phone.

      2) You’re plugging in a USB cable from your computer to your phone and transferring over that way. This actually increases the battery life as it charges while it’s copying.

      The SSD and USB hub is a totally valid option, but the whole point of this solution is to not have to remember and pack more kit. Just because a solution does not work for you does not mean that it doesn’t work for everybody. :)

      1. JustChristoph Avatar

        Just because a solution does not work for you does not mean that it doesn’t work for everybody.

        My SSD solution will work for far more photographers than your micro-SD card suggestion, that you now mention is best taken out of your phone every time you need to download the data.

        1. Kaouthia Avatar

          It may be more practical for you. It may not be for others. Again, the whole point of this is to reduce the amount of extra kit you have to deal with. Are you going to be taking your SSDs with you when you leave the rest of your kit in the car if you stop somewhere to eat on the way home? No, 99% of people are going to have them packed in the bag along with the rest of the cameras.

          If your solution works for you, awesome. I’ve use SSDs for backup too. It’s what I did before I switched to microSD. microSD is VASTLY more practical for me. :)

          You do you. But don’t assume your way is the single best way for everybody.