SanDisk Ultra vs Ultra Plus: Everything You Need to Know

by Tom Shu
Published: Last Updated on

The SanDisk Ultra and Ultra Plus cards are pocket-friendly SDXC cards that will offer you decent performance for almost all common digital camera systems except for the really demanding ones like the medium format cameras where the uncompressed raw files go over 100MB each.

The heavier your raw files are, the slower these cards will perform. They cannot handle 4K video recording either. That said, they can both do 1080p really well. Unless you are doing a lot of bracketing or using the burst mode often, you won’t notice much of a difference when shooting stills either.

The write speed on the Ultra is from 27 – 51MB/s and on the Ultra Plus it is around 42 – 62MB/s.

This is enough for most cameras, all the way up to full-frame ones where the raw files hover around the 40-50MB mark. This is also enough for the most demanding 1080p video applications. Here’s how they compare to each other:

SpecificationSanDisk UltraSanDisk Ultra Plus
Sequential Write27 – 51 MB/s42 – 62 MB/s
Sequential Read~99 MB/s~99 MB/s
Max CapacityUp to 256 GBUp to 256 GB
C RatingC10C10
U RatingUHS 1UHS 1
V RatingV10

Let’s put these numbers in terms of common real-world uses.

The Cinema 4K setting on the Canon 5D MK4, at a resolution of 4096 x 2160p, is recorded at 500 Mb/s. So in this case, the camera needs to transfer data at a constant rate of 62.5MB per second (500/8).

Neither the Ultra nor the Ultra Plus can handle this speed, so they can’t do 4K. For that, you need to invest in the Extreme or the Extreme Pro SD cards from SanDisk.

Let’s put these numbers in terms of common real-world uses.

The Cinema 4K setting on the Canon 5D MK4, at a resolution of 4096 x 2160p, is recorded at 500 Mb/s. So in this case, the camera needs to transfer data at a constant rate of 62.5MB per second (500/8). Neither the Ultra nor the Ultra Plus can handle this speed, so they can’t do 4K. For that, you need to invest in the Extreme or the Extreme Pro SD cards from Sandisk.

Another bottleneck that can happen with slow cards is when you are shooting on burst mode for photography.

For example, the Canon 5D MK4 creates raw files of about 39.5MB and has a burst rate of 7FPS. So, in one second, it can shoot up to 7 frames each of about 39.5MB. This means 276.5MB of data needs to be moved to the card immediately so that the internal memory cache of the camera can be cleared up to take more burst mode shots.

The Ultra Plus is the faster of the two cards we are comparing today. With a write speed of from 42 – 62MB/s, it will need about 4.5 seconds to store what the camera shot in 1 second. So you will have to wait several seconds for the internal memory cache to be freed up enough to let lose another burst of shots.

In such a case, the SanDisk Extreme or Extreme Pro with write speeds of about 89MB/s and 98MB/s respectively, are the ideal choice of cards to have inside your camera. If you are shooting 4K at higher bitrates and thus producing really large files, you will also benefit from the larger 1TB maximum capacity of the Extreme Pro.

However, these are special scenarios that most casual shooters don’t run into. So if you are not going to be shooting 4K and don’t need to use the burst mode a lot, you can save some money by going for the Sandisk Ultra or the Ultra Plus.

Let’s look at some of the terminology first before we take an in-depth look at our SD card contenders.

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 🙂

SD Card Terminology

Take a look at this page by the SD Association (the governing body of the SD card technology standard) to know more about how the various speed classes work.

Or just read on to get a brief overview.

Speed Class

Denoted by a number within a C, this is the first scale to have been used to classify SD cards based on their minimum write speed. Most cards will be rated at C10 these days and that simply means that you can expect the performance to stay above 10MB/s in all scenarios.

UHS Speed Class

Denoted by a number within a U. This is more recent than the C numbers.

U1 means 10MB/s minimum and U3 means 30MB/s minimum. This classification was released with the UHS Bus IF family of products. This is comparatively newer technology where there are 3 types – UHS I, II, and III, denoted simply by the Roman Numerals I, II and III on the sticker.

These numbers simply denote the transfer speeds a device is capable of.

UHS I devices can reach write speeds of up to 104MB/s. This technology maxes out the single row of data pins that most SD cards have.

To get around this barrier, a second row of data pins were introduced and the UHS-II and UHS III standards came into being. UHS-II can go up to 312MB/s and UHS III can go up to 624MB/s. To know more, you can visit the link below to get to the UHS page on the SD Association’s official website.

Video Speed Class

Denoted by a number beside a V. This scale is the latest and it is intended to replace the older classification systems. It starts from V6 for 6MB/s and goes to V10 (10MB/s), V30 (30MB/s), all the way up to V90 (90MB/s).

You can look at the chart from the SD Association to get a better sense of how these 3 speed-classification systems line up with real-world performance and video recording usage.

Sequential Read/Write

Your camera writes data to the card in a sequential manner where all the data is lined up in a queue and they are written to physical data blocks on the card that are right next to each other. You are using sequential read/write when you write large video files to the memory card, when video is being played back, and when you are taking photographs.

For all of you photographers, sequential read/write speed has the biggest impact when you are shooting burst mode. As I covered above, the faster the sequential read/write speed, the better and faster it will perform when using burst mode.

In this article, all the speeds mentioned are sequential write and read speeds.

Random Read/Write

As the name suggests, Random Read and Write is when there is no sequence in which the data is being written or read.

Because the data being read or written is scattered in different places, the overall speed of transfer slows down.

This is what happens when you want to transfer many files, folders, and subfolders all at the same time and you notice that your transfer speed is slower than if you were moving the same amount of data in a single file or two.

Now that you understand all the terms, let’s jump into the comparison between the Sandisk Ultra and Sandisk Ultra Plus.

SanDisk Ultra Overview

This is the cheapest SanDisk card you can buy and yet it delivers excellent quality and performance. The only difference between the Ultra and the Ultra Plus memory card is the maximum write speed.

The Ultra lags by about 11MB/s with a top end write speed of 51MB/s compared to the 62MB/s of the Ultra Plus.

SanDisk Ultra vs SanDisk Ultra Plus

PROS

  • Ultra is cheaper than Ultra Plus
  • Ultra offers the same read speed of about 99MB/s as the Ultra Plus, which translates to 128GB transferred in about 22 minutes

CONS

  • Has a slightly slower write speed than the Ultra Plus
  • Cannot handle 4K video recording

SANDISK ULTRA PLUS OVERVIEW

The Sandisk Ultra Plus’s primary difference to the Sandisk Ultra is in the write speed. which is about 11MB/s higher at at the top end with write speed of 62MB/s vs 51MB/s on the Ultra.

This difference is important enough to give it a V10 rating but it doesn’t make that much of a real-world difference when it comes to 1080p video recording performance or during photography. Both the Ultra and the Ultra Plus work well for 1080p video, where the data rate seldom goes north of 25MB/s (180Mb/s).

For those of you who don’t want to spend the extra money for the Sandisk Extreme but want to have a card that performs well, this is one to consider.

The extra write speed will give you slight improvements when it comes to burst mode shooting and bracketing. If that doesn’t matter though, just save your money and buy the SanDisk Ultra instead.

SanDisk Ultra Plus vs Ultra

PROS

  • Ultra Plus faster than the Ultra by 11MB/s at its top end write speed, meaning slightly better performance during burst mode and bracketing

CONS

  • The Ultra Plus is more expensive
  • Cannot handle 4K video recording

SanDisk Ultra vs Ultra Plus Comparison

Between the Sandisk Ultra and the Sandisk Ultra Plus, the Sandisk Ultra is the clear winner for those who are looking for the best value. Although the Sandisk Ultra has a slightly slower sequential read/write speed (slower by about 11 Mb/s), this speed difference won’t make much of a difference in real world shooting.

At its price point, the Sandisk Ultra is a great choice for those who want to get started in photography, are not shooting 4k video, and won’t need the fastest performance when using burst mode for photography.

Here’s some data to give you a better idea why the slight speed boost you get from the Ultra Plus is probably not worth the extra money.

A mid-range crop sensor camera like the Canon 550D can shoot at 3.7 frames of about 24MB each with a cache that can hold up to 6 frames. That’s a 144MB of data that will take 2.8 seconds to be fully transferred to the Sandisk Ultra. In comparison, it will take 2.3 seconds to transfer to the Ultra Plus. This difference is minimal and you most likely will not notice it in a real-world setting.

Maximum Shot/Write Speed

As I have gone over, the Ultra Plus has a slightly faster maximum top end write speed of 62MB/s versus the 51MB/s of the Ultra. This means that theoretically you’ll get better performance when using burst mode and bracketing mode, but realistically, you won’t notice much difference.

Maximum Transfer/Read Speed

When it comes to transfer/read speed, the SanDisk Ultra Plus as a faster read speed of ~129 MB/s vs the 99MB/s found with the Ultra.

Read speed only matters when you are transferring your files out of the card and will make the biggest difference if you’re transferring big file sizes. If you’re just shooting photos and videos casually, either the Ultra or the Ultra Plus will serve you fine.

If at any point you start taking large amounts of photos in RAW format, though, it might make sense to upgrade to either the Sandisk Extreme or Sandisk Extreme Pro for the fastest transfer speeds.

Durability

All Sandisk SD cards are waterproof, temperature proof, shockproof, and X-ray-proof. In my years of using them, I have never had anything to complain about. They have gone through different weather conditions, airport security scanners and various cameras. The cards have always performed consistently.

Alternatives to SanDisk Ultra and Ultra Plus

SanDisk Extreme

The Sandisk Extreme is part of the company’s Extreme line of cards that is targeted to the professional market. It is faster than the Ultra by a significant amount and can shoot 4K video. Because of its faster speeds, it will also give you much better performance when shooting in burst mode.

For a comparison between the Sandisk Extreme versus Extreme Pro review.

PROS

  • Faster write speed of about 89MB/s versus the 62MB/s of the Sandisk Ultra. This makes it a good fit for cameras with heavy RAW files of 30MB+ and for bracketing or shooting in burst mode
  • Rated at V30, meaning it can be used for 4K video recording
  • Higher read speeds of around 153MB/s versus the 99MB/s of the Sandisk Ultra and Ultra Plus. To give you an idea 128GB of files will transfer under 14 minutes with the Sandisk Extreme

CONS

  • Expensive compared to the Ultra and the Ultra Plus
  • Only goes up to a capacity of 256GB, the same as the Ultra or Ultra Plus
  • Not supported by some other cameras

SanDisk Extreme Pro

The Extreme Pro is the top-of-the-line memory card from Sandisk and gives you the fastest read and write speeds. Like the Sandisk Extreme, you can also record 4K videos and it performs very well for burst mode or bracket mode photography.

For a comparison between the Sandisk Extreme versus Extreme Pro review.

PROS

  • Faster write speeds of 98MB/s versus 89MB/s of the Extreme. It gives you slightly better performance for bracketing and burst mode photography
  • Very high read speeds of about 176MB/s which will transfer 128GB of files in about 12 minutes versus the 14 minutes with the Sandisk Extreme
  • Rated at V30, meaning it can be used for 4K video recording
  • Goes up to 1TB, which is nice for large amounts of 4K video files or RAW photos

CONS

  • The most expensive UHS I SD card from Sandisk
  • The higher price may not be justified if your camera cannot perform at the same speed
  • Not supported by some older cameras

Summary

The Sandisk Ultra and Ultra Plus are meant for mass-market consumer use and are specced accordingly.

If you are just getting started, need a backup card, or want to buy a large capacity like 256GB without spending too much, these cards are your ideal choice. They will do perfectly fine when shooting stills or recording 1080p video.

Yes, you will face some performance issues when dealing with large data rates such as when shooting in burst mode or bracketing but otherwise, you won’t notice any problems even on newer full-frame or mirrorless cameras.

However, the big downside is that you will not be able to shoot 4K video on either of these cards. And they have noticeable slow performance if your camera produces large heavy raw files.

If you want to shoot 4K and have a smoother time using burst mode and bracketing on your camera, you are better off buying the Sandisk Extreme or Extreme Pro memory card as they are not that much more expensive in the grand scheme of things.

Another thing to keep in mind is if you are thinking about upgrading your camera any time soon. New cameras these days have larger and larger RAW files, have faster burst modes and offer 4K and higher video recording features, so it might make sense to upgrade memory cards right away.

That’s it for the Sandisk Ultra and Ultra Plus SD card comparison and I hope I was able to help you make a decision.

Let me know which card you went for in the comments below. If you already own one or more of them, drop a comment with your experience with them and why you chose to buy the ones you have.

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