SanDisk Ultra vs Extreme: Everything You Need to Know

by Tom Shu

If you are a photographer or filmmaker who started his career anytime during the last decade (or a bit more than that) you probably are using a digital camera and are already familiar with the name SanDisk.

SanDisk is one of the leading storage solutions providers for the digital world. Photographers and filmmakers the world over use their memory cards and portable storage devices to back up and store their work.

SanDisk Ultra and SanDisk Extreme are two very popular products offered by SanDisk for the digital photography and videography industry. Today, I am going to put these two extremely popular memory cards against each other and try to find out their strengths and weaknesses.

I also wrote a more in depth comparison between the SanDisk Extreme vs SanDisk Extreme Pro and the SanDisk Ultra vs Ultra Plus which contains very good information that could help you choose too.

SanDisk Ultra vs Extreme Features:

  • SanDisk Ultra has a Class rating of 10 when compared to U3 on the SanDisk Extreme
  • The SanDisk Ultra and the SanDisk Extreme can both store up to 256 GB of data
  • Only SanDisk Extreme has a V30 rating
  • Both the SanDisk Extreme and the SanDisk Ultra are temperature proof, shockproof, and waterproof.
  • Only the SanDisk Extreme card is capable of recording 4K videos at a constant speed
  • Both cards are compatible with MobileMate® and are capable of being read using a USB 3.0 reader

Why Trust Me?

image of guy and dog in the snow

As with all of the camera-related articles I create, I have poured countless hours of research into it to make sure you have all the information you need to make the best decision.

I’ve been a professional filmmaker and photographer since 2018 and have been lucky enough to work on projects all over the world with brands such as Alaska Airlines, Kayak.com, Prague Tourism, Visa, Airbnb, and many more. If you’re curious to see the full list of companies we’ve worked with, just head over to our Work With Us page.

Although I use other memory card brands too, SanDisk SD cards make up the majority of the memory cards I have. I have used both the SanDisk Extreme and Extreme Pro in a variety of different photography and filmmaking situations and it’s from these experiences that I think I’m in a good position to help you figure out which one is best for you.

Most importantly, I’m just a message away. So, if you have any questions, just leave a comment below, email me at [email protected], or send me a DM on Instagram @tom.shu.

P.S. I answer every question that is sent 🙂

Comparison Between SanDisk Ultra vs Extreme

The best thing about a SanDisk SD card is its reliability. For over three decades SanDisk has stood for that and more. Reliability alone makes it one of the most preferred SD cards in the industry with thousands of photographers and filmmakers trusting SanDisk cards with their work.

SanDisk Ultra

The SanDisk Ultra, on the other hand, has a speed rating of Class 10 or UHS 1. That means a minimum sustained writing speed is only 10 MB/s.

As you can probably tell by now, I don’t recommend SanDisk Ultra for shooting 4K videos. You can use it for recording full-HD videos but not at very high frame rates.

For 4K videos and or shooting at a higher frame rate I recommend using the SanDisk Extreme or even the SanDisk Extreme Pro that I reviewed here.

Read speed is much higher though. The SanDisk Ultra reads at a maximum of 120 MB/s.

PROS

  • SanDisk is one of the most trusted brands
  • Weatherproof design.
  • Offers Class 10 U1 write speed.
  • Comes with a lifetime warranty

CONS

  • The maximum storage capacity of these cards is limited to only 256 GB.
  • Class 10 rating for 1080p video is insufficient for 4K/UHD video recording
  • Slower write speed of ~27 – 51 MB/s

SanDisk Extreme

SanDisk Extreme was introduced exactly 10 years ago. For a decade it has remained one of the top choices among photographers and filmmakers around the world.

SanDisk Extreme has a company-specified read speed of up to 150 MB/s (SDXC). It also has a V30 rating which means it offers a sustained minimum writing speed of 30 MB/s. This makes it one of the best choices if you are looking for an SDHC card for shooting 4K/UHD videos.

The maximum writing speed is however around 70 MB/s. With its high writing speed, it can easily record 4K/UHD videos and take care of sustained RAW continuous bursts.

However, the only problem with this card is that it does not come in a larger capacity. With just 256 GB to burn if you are a wedding videographer or shooting anything outdoors that requires capturing a lot of RAW frames (sports, wildlife, birding), you will run out of memory quickly. It will affect filmmakers more than others as they will have to continuously replace cards and that can be a botheration.

But on the flip side, the SanDisk Extreme card is backward compatible. In other words, it works on a large number of devices that are not UHS-1 or V30, or U3 incompatible. When you plug in a SanDisk Extreme card on such a device its performance gets re-tuned to match that of the ‘slower’ device. So, maximum write speed gets reduced to Class 10 levels (depending on the device speed) or 10 MB/s.

To add to the overall list of advantages of the SanDisk Extreme card, it comes with a lifetime warranty in some markets. In the US you get that advantage.

Pros

  • SanDisk is one of the most trusted brands
  • Faster write speed of ~70 MB/s
  • Offers U3 recording speed.
  • Weatherproof
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Built-in write-protect switch

Cons

  • Maximum storage capacity is limited to 256 GB
  • Maximum writing speed maxes out at 70 MB/s which is not the fastest compared to other SD cards in the market

Real-World Use Comparison of SanDisk Ultra vs Extreme

Now, let’s compare the two cards in real-life situations and find out how they compare. By now you must have realized that the SanDisk Extreme is the better of the two cards purely in terms of writing speed, but lets elaborate a little more.

Some Thoughts on Write Speed

U1 or Class 10 cards have a guaranteed write speed of 10 MB/s. Although you will find that the actual write speed is slightly higher.

Here it is important to make a difference between U1 and Class 10 cards. Class 10 is the highest rating for SD cards using the old technology. These cards can offer a minimum consistent write speed of 10 MB/s.

On the other hand, U1 cards (just like U3 cards) use the latest UHS technology. These cards use a different UHS bus technology.

Some cards like the SanDisk Extreme that we have listed here come with a dual rating of U1 and Class 10. This may be confusing to understand because at the end of the day both these ratings suggest that the card offers a minimum write speed of 10 MB/s.

What this dual rating suggests is that the particular card is compatible with both older bus technology and modern UHS bus technology. But the write speed will depend on the bus technology that is being used in the device that you plug this SD card into.

In a real-world scenario when you are shooting 4K/UHD videos at 24p or 30p, the minimum recommended sustained writing speed is 20 MB/s. With a Class rating of 10, the SanDisk Ultra fails to provide that speed and is therefore not recommended for recording 4K/UHD videos.

On the other hand, the SanDisk Extreme card is capable of hitting a sustained minimum write speed of 30 MB/s which is more than enough for recording 4K/UHD at 30p.

So, What Can you Record with the SanDisk Ultra?

Full HD videos at 24p and 30p are possible to be recorded with the SanDisk Ultra. You can also shoot RAW stills in small bursts.

When you fire the bursts allow time for the camera’s buffer to write the images to the memory card.

The speed at which this happens will depend on the write speed of the card. Some cameras have a deeper buffer and in that case, your continuous bursts can be longer. But even then, you will need to allow time so that the buffer is cleared.

Maximum Read Speed

read speed on sandisk extreme memory card

The second important speed denomination is the read speed of the card. However, that is often the most prominently mentioned number on the face of the card. Why? Because 120 MB/s read speed sounds better than 10 MB/s write speed, though it is the write speed that matters the most.

Interestingly enough read speeds are never an important parameter for taking pictures or making videos. It is the write speed that is important, and we have already discussed that in detail above.

It is only important when you are transferring images and videos from your memory card to your computer or an external hard drive. Faster the read speed of the memory card faster that data is downloaded. Which is in one way a gratifying thing to see happen. But from personal experience faster I can download the contents of a card, the earlier I can start sorting the images and videos and start editing them.

In that respect, I feel the 150 MB/s of the SanDisk Extreme reads better than the 120 MB/s on the SanDisk Ultra.

Durability

Memory cards are not expected to be exposed to the elements as much as your other photography or video equipment are. But even then, it is expected that they would be able to survive bad handling, occupational hazards like scratches, and of course the elements.

At the end of the day your memory cards are exactly what they are called – storage of all your memories; even if it is momentarily until you transfer those images and videos to a more permanent destination. So, it is pertinent that the memory cards will be able to last several cycles of write, read, and formatting before they see the end of their working life.

In that sense, the SanDisk Extreme and the SanDisk Ultra are both capable of handling the vagaries of nature and the demands of a professional photographer’s and filmmaker’s workflow. They are both weatherproof, shock-proof, and x-ray proof.

Additionally, both these cards come with a lifetime warranty in many countries including in the US. So, in case of any issues, you will be able to get a replacement for your cards.

Pro Tip: If your camera supports a dual-card slot system use one card as a backup for the other. This may slow down your camera’s performance by a notch and you will need double the number of cards to do a usual day’s work, but it is a much safer practice. Also, use a field backup system that will require a portable hard drive wherein you can backup your work till you reach home to do a proper permanent backup.

Alternatives to SanDisk Ultra and SanDisk Extreme

SanDisk is not the only player in the market when it comes to memory cards. They are not even the largest players. There are a bunch of other manufacturers that also make excellent quality memory cards –

  • Samsung
  • Toshiba
  • Lexar
  • Kingston
  • Sony
  • Transcend
  • Verbatim

Are a few to name.

Lexar Professional Class 10 UHS-II

The Lexar Professional Class 10 UHS-II is one of the best SD cards that you can buy. It is pricey no doubt, but it supports UHS-II technology means it offers a consistent video write speed of 90 MB/s. This is the sort of card you will need when shooting 4K/UHD videos at a high frame rate or when shooting high-resolution continuous burst shots with cameras like the Sony Alpha A1 and the A9 II.

The read speed is a phenomenal 300 MB/s versus the 150 MB/s of the SanDisk Extreme, meaning you get twice the transfer speed as you do with the SanDisk Extreme.

There are some drawbacks though. One of them is that the maximum capacity of these cards is only 128 GB. If you are a filmmaker, you have to use several of these cards just to work through the day. For still shooters, though, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

Lexar Professional 633x SDXC UHS-1

U1 cards using the UHS-1 bus technology are best suited for shooting full HD videos. This card is suited for 4K/UHD video recording as well as for shooting full-HD videos at a higher frame rate of 120 fps.

The maximum capacity of Lexar Professional 633x cards is 1TB. Should be great for someone doing 4k/full-HD filmmaking. It is also suitable for someone working with a medium resolution camera (24 MP or thereabouts) in RAW mode and using it to shoot continuous bursts.

ProGrade Digital UHS-II SDXC Memory Card

If you’re looking for even faster transfer speeds, this could be a good alternative to the Sandisk cards. With a maximum read speed of 300MB/s, compared to the 170 MB/s of the Extreme Pro this might be a better fit for you if you’re moving large numbers of images and video files.

The Conclusion

The SD card is a boring topic when it comes to cameras, but is a necessity.

Depending on what you’re shooting, the memory card you choose can and will make a big difference when you’re out in the field.

These two memory cards from SanDisk are both good and will get the job done, but they’re made for different consumers.

If you’re planning on shooting 4k video, then you need to go with the SanDisk Extreme (or one of the alternatives) as the SanDisk Ultra can only handle a max of 1080p video.

On the other hand, if you’re just taking photos casually and don’t need 4k or the fastest SD card, the SanDisk Ultra is a good choice to save some money.

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