The MAX is GoPro’s second-generation 360-degree camera. And they’ve now had a chance to make significant improvements over the first generation.
Some of those improvements and upgrades directly affect the memory card. The MAX’s predecessor, the Fusion, took a different path concerning memory cards. It was a bit like two cameras glued back-to-back, with each saving its video and images to its own SD card. So, for the Fusion, you needed to get two SD cards to make it work (and then the images/video would be stitched in post). With the MAX, the stitching is now done in the camera to produce a single, combined file. That’s infinitely more convenient for the user, and it also means that you only need one SD card.
GoPro HERO9 Black Now Available!
The HERO9 Black is now available. It has a bigger battery, shoots up to 5K30 video, color front preview screen, 20MP sensor (a big bump up from 12MP in the HERO8 Black), built-in horizon leveling, upgraded HyperSmooth 3.0 and TimeWarp 3.0 video stabilization, and new HindSight, Scheduled Capture, and Duration Capture modes.
It's priced at $449.99. GoPro.com is running a launch promotion where you get the camera for $349.98 when you sign up for a 1-year subscription to GoPro ($49).
More details about the new HERO9 Black here.
But which one? A faster SD card won’t give you better video quality or help you take better pictures, but a card that’s fast enough will allow you to use all of the camera’s features without running into problems. When using the higher-end video modes, the camera needs to be able to write a lot of data to the card very quickly. If the card can’t keep up, it can unexpectedly stop the recording, drop frames, or even lock the camera up.
My aim with these GoPro MAX SD card recommendations is to make that easier and to have confidence that you’re getting a card that works well in this specific camera.
So here are some quick recommendations for SD cards for the GoPro MAX. You can find much more detail, including the MAX’s video encoding bitrates, below.
- SanDisk EXTREME V30 UHS-I
- Samsung EVO Select U3 UHS-I
- Delkin Select V30 UHS-I
- Lexar 1000x V60 UHS-II
- PNY Elite-X V30 UHS-I
I’ve included several different well-regarded brands here, but any of these make for a good choice for the GoPro MAX.
What Do the Best SD Cards for the GoPro MAX Black Need to Do?
But which one? Not all SD cards work well in the GoPro MAX. The main issue is that the card needs to be fast enough to keep up with the camera. While it’s not hard to find cards that will work well, it’s also quite possible to get the wrong card.
GoPro MAX Video Bitrates
The maximum video encoding bitrate of the MAX is 78 Mbps. That might not seem particularly high–and, indeed, it’s not when compared to some other higher-end cameras and even the HERO8 Black. But it’s still plenty to give excellent quality, especially when combined with other innovations to improve the encoding and image quality.
GoPro has made a number of improvements in its encoding methods of 360-degree videos compared with how it was done in the Fusion. They related primarily to specialized EAC encoding and improved stabilization that’s applied before being sent to the encoder. Both changes result in better quality at lower bitrates. And that, in turn, means that more SD cards will work in the MAX.
That 78 Mbps bitrate isn’t used for every combination of resolution and framerate (in fact, it’s only used for one). So, for most practical purposes, the maximum bitrate is 60 Mbps, which is actually quite low (but see below for what that’s not necessarily a bad thing). And in many of the lower resolution/framerate combinations, you can switch between high bitrate and low bitrate settings (that’s that the numbers like 45/60 are; it’s not an option for 5.6K and 3.6K spherical recording).
|Capture Type||Resolution||Dimensions||Framerates||H.264 Bitrate (Low/High)||HEVC Bitrate (Low/High)|
It’s worth noting that even though the bitrate for the HEVC (H.265) is lower than the corresponding H.264 option, with the better encoding efficiency of H.265 (combined with other tweaks), the quality results are roughly equivalent. There’s a reason it’s called High Efficiency Video Encoding, after all. Put another way, HEVC at the 60Mbps is at least equivalent (or better) in terms of quality as 78Mbps in the H.264 setting.
Detailed Recommendations on SD Cards for the GoPro MAX
I make a point of buying and testing as many SD and microSD cards for cameras as I can—you can see those test results separately. So I’m lucky enough to have on hand many of the major current memory cards available.
So here are some more detailed recommendations on which SD cards support the MAX. As a practical matter, there’s a lot of overlap here with the HERO8 Black SD card recommendations.
SanDisk Extreme V30 UHS-I
The SanDisk Extreme cards are fast, cost-effective, reliable, and widely available. They're also safe bets for a wide range of cameras, including the GoPro MAX. Extreme cards are the ones that GoPro themselves often bundle with their cameras and sell on GoPro.com, and it's one of the few they officially recommend in their "Works with GoPro" certification program.
From my own speed tests, it is plenty fast enough for the 5.6K video of the MAX.
The latest version of the SanDisk Extreme comes in 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 400GB, 512GB, and even new 1TB versions.
As with most of its product names, SanDisk recycles them with newer, faster cards. So you can find "Extreme" cards that are actually several years old. It's therefore worth checking the model number, although in practice even a number of the older versions of the Extreme cards will support the kinds of speeds that the MAX needs.
SanDisk uses a three-part model numbering system in the format SDSQXA1-256G-AN6MA. In this example, SDSQXA1 is the model number, the 064G refers to the amount of memory, and the last 5 characters are used by the marketing department for different parts of the world but the cards are otherwise the same. So the first part is the crucial part if you're looking to see which model the card is, and you don't have to take much notice of the last 5 characters.
The basic version includes an SD adapter. You can also find it bundled with a USB microSD card reader.
Samsung EVO Select U3 UHS-I
Samsung makes several models of microSD cards, and more than one model will work well in the MAX. But they have a somewhat confusing naming system that doesn't always make clear what the difference between the models is. The Select is one of their better cards but is also very cost-effective. Like SanDisk, Samsung recycles the series names. The latest version of the EVO Select is available in 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB sizes. Alternatively, the EVO Plus models also works well.
It includes an SD adapter.
Find them at: Amazon
Delkin Select V30 UHS-I
Delkin Devices have been making memory cards for a long time, and good ones at that. But it's only recently that they simplified and streamlined their product lines to make it clearer what the differences are between cards. The Select line isn't their fastest line--that is the Power V90 line--but the Select series are rated for V30 and are good combination of being fast enough for the GoPro MAX as well as cost-effective.
This card is rated for V30 and has a UHS-I interface. It's available in sizes ranging from 16GB up through 512GB and it comes with an SD adapter.
SanDisk Extreme PRO V30 UHS-I
The Extreme Pro line is SanDisk's top-of-the-range line. It's faster and fancier than even the MAX needs--the regular Extreme cards work just as well in the camera--but if you're going for the top of the line and want to be confident of being able to use the same card even if you upgrade your camera in the medium-term future, this is a good option.
SanDisk has recently refreshed the Extreme Pro line, and there are now 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, and 400GB versions.
Find them at: Amazon
PNY is another memory card brand that isn't as well known as some of the others, but in my experience they make very good cards. They have a few different ranges, but the Elite-X strikes a good balance of being fast enough and good value.
They're UHS-I cards and carry a V30 rating. The 32GB card is a tad slower than the larger capacities, but most users will probably prefer sizes more on the 128GB-256Gb end of the range anyway.
Lexar 1000x U3 UHS-II
During 2017, Lexar went through some corporate upheaval, but now that they're under new ownership, supplies of their memory cards seem to have stabilized.
Lexar has always to put more emphasis on marketing the read speeds of their cards--in this case, 1000x or up to 150MB/s--but several of their cards have write speeds fast enough for GoPros shooting 4K video. This is one of the newer ones and is rated for a write speed of up to 45MB/s. It comes in 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB versions. Like the even faster 1800x model, it's a UHS-II card, a feautre that the camera can't take full advantage of (but it will still work because it will roll back to UHS-I.
If you order your GoPro MAX directly from GoPro.com, they throw in a 64GB SD card.
Why Do You Need a Fast SD Card for the MAX, Anyway?
For the past several generations of GoPros, I’ve been putting together recommendations on which SD cards work best in these cameras. I started doing them when I first got burned with a card that was too slow for the HERO3 Black. Since then, the capabilities (and, importantly, the video bitrates) of GoPro models have only increased. In turn, that has required better and faster SD cards to keep up. Thankfully, memory card manufacturers have come through, and it’s easy to find cards that work well in the MAX without paying an arm and a leg. But that’s not to say that you can just choose any old SD card and expect it to work well—there are some minimum requirements.
So not every SD card will work well in the GoPro MAX. You won’t break your camera if you use an SD card that’s too slow, but you can end up with some pretty unfortunate side effects. You might have already found this out the hard way if your recordings have stopped unexpectedly, or you’ve been getting SD card errors. Those are the most common issues you can run into with a slower SD card, but you can also get the camera overheating or shutting down. You might see an error message, you might lose footage or frames, or the camera might lock up. Or maybe you’ll get all of the above. Some memory cards can also provoke write error messages and cause excessive battery drain, although those issues tend to be less common. But the upshot is that if your GoPro is behaving strangely, one of the first things to check is the microSD card.
The most significant requirement that an SD card needs meet to work well in the MAX is that it’s fast enough. But it has to be a specific type of fast, and often the speed ratings you see on SD card packaging and marketing materials are referring to characteristics that aren’t directly relevant to the camera’s requirements.
Usually, the speed rating you see in memory card marketings materials refers to a “transfer speed.” That’s only a very vague term that really isn’t very helpful in trying to work out the card’s capabilities. It typically means sequential read speed. That’s the speed at which data can be downloaded from the card. But when choosing an SD card for the MAX, what we want to look for is the speed at which data can be transferred or written to the card. And even then, it’s a specific type of writing: sequential write speed. Some cards are designed to be fast at a different type of writing: random write speed. Those are well-suited to use in a device used for gaming or mobile computing, but that particular measure is not directly relevant to shooting video with a GoPro.
How to Format SD Cards in the GoPro MAX
It’s always good practice to format the memory card in the camera rather than with a computer. And to do it regularly (once you’ve safely downloaded and backed up your photos and video, of course). That makes sure that the card is prepped in such a way that the camera needs it, and it reduces the risk of something getting messed up.
Formatting the SD card in the GoPro MAX isn’t complicated, but the menu item isn’t necessarily in the most intuitive place.
You can now find the option under
- Preferences > Reset > Format SD Card
The Reset bit is the part that made me pause the first time because when I see that, I think of a factory reset of the camera. But in this case, it’s a subcategory title option, not actually resetting the camera (those other reset options are under the same subcategory screen).
If you’re using the GoPro mobile app, it’s still in the same place as with previous models, although, confusingly, the wording is different than it is on the camera. You find it under:
- Settings > Delete > Delete All Files from SD Card
I’ve also put together a more detailed guide on how to format an SD card for GoPro cameras here.
GoPro SD Card FAQs
Here are some answers inspired by questions I’ve gotten from readers.
Can You Use UHS-II Cards in the GoPro MAX?
Yes, you can safely use UHS-II cards in the GoPro MAX, but you won’t get any benefit compared with using a UHS-I card. The camera’s own bus interface is UHS-I, so if you use a UHS-II card, it will still roll back to UHS-I.
Can You Use a 512GB or 1TB Cards in the MAX?
Yes, so long as those cards properly conform to the microSDXC spec and they’re otherwise fast enough, you shouldn’t have any issue.
SD Card Slots
There’s a single microSD card slot. It’s right next to the battery. On this model, the card sits in very flush with the battery. To remove it, just push down lightly on the card edge, and it should spring out.
About these GoPro SD Card Recommendations
I’m not aiming to create a comprehensive list of every card that works with the GoPro MAX. There are some other cards that also work well; I’ll update this list as I have a chance to test them or as new cost-effective models come out. There are also other fast cards that simply aren’t easy to find or aren’t cost-effective when you do. I’m most interested in ones that are readily available and reasonably priced. What I am trying to do is present some options so you can choose a card and be confident that it’s compatible.
GoPro does have their own official list, and I’ve consulted that in compiling these recommendations, but it doesn’t always stay up to date with the latest versions of the memory cards. I’ll do my best to keep the recommendations above up to date with the latest versions of the memory cards.
So this list is a combination of GoPro’s official recommendations and my own real-world testing in the cameras, not on card manufacturers’ speed claims. I do my own independent microSD speed tests. To make it onto this list, the cards have to have demonstrated that they can handle the video and photo modes that generate the most data—particularly high-bitrate modes like 5.6K and 3.6K.
Formats, Speed Ratings, and Types of microSD Cards Explained
There are a few different types of cards that fall under the general “SD card” umbrella. For the MAX, you’ll want a microSD card. Those are physically smaller than SD cards that you might be used to with larger cameras. Smartphones also use microSD cards, which is a common place you might have come across them.
In terms of storage capacity, measured in gigabytes, you can safely use any of the currently available sizes. So if you want to use a 16GB card, you can (although you’ll run out of space pretty quickly). Or if you want to use a 1TB card, knock yourself out. The current sweet spot in terms of convenience, availability, and price tends to be around the 128GB to 256GB sizes. Although the prices of 512GB cards are coming down all the time, making them a much more viable option. There are also now 1TB microSD cards on the market that are fast enough for this camera.
You can use either microSDXC or microSDHC cards in the MAX. As a practical matter, you’ll almost certainly be using a microSDXC card. This isn’t a performance rating. It refers to the formatting system used on the card. The cards you buy will be microSDHC if they’re in the 16GB to 32GB range, and they’ll be microSDXC if they’re 64GB or larger. Those are specs assigned by the SD Association, and they apply to all SD and microSD cards you’ll find for sale. You can find a more detailed explanation below.
You’ll see the current generation of cards marked with either UHS-I or UHS-II (or sometimes UHS-1, which is technically incorrect). This is labeled with either a small I or II on the card. The MAX uses the UHS-I host specification, so you won’t get added benefits if you put a UHS-II card in it. But it will still work because of the way that the specification is designed to roll back gracefully to UHS-I.
SD and microSD cards also have a speed rating system that refers specifically to recording video. Confusingly, there are three different generations of ratings. Older cards used a rating such as Class 10 or Class 4. They’re generally too slow to work well in the MAX. A newer speed rating system uses either a U1 or U3. U3 is faster than U1 and is generally a safer bet. Finally, there’s an even newer scale, which you’ll see written as something like V30 or V60 or even V90. Those refer to even faster ratings. So the short version is that if the card has at least a “V30” rating, it’s fast enough. If it has a U3 rating, it’s fast enough. If it has a U1 rating, it might be fast enough, but there’s some risk that probably isn’t worth it because V30-rated cards are so easy to find now. And if it only has a “Class 10” rating, it’s almost certainly too slow.
Adding to the confusion, cards can have all of these three rating systems on the label. So a card might have Class 10, U3, and V60. In those cases, you only need to take notice of the highest rating system, which in this example would be V60.
And, finally, you’ll also come across cards that have an A1 or A2 rating on them. You can ignore that for these purposes. That’s a separate kind of speed rating that refers to random write speed and is relevant to devices that run apps, such as smartphones or gaming devices. If you’re interested, I have a more detailed explanation here.
Speed Measures Explained
A common source of confusion with the speed of memory cards is the difference between Mb/s and MB/s (or Mbps and MBps). Whether or not that “b” is capitalized is a little thing, but it matters.
Video bitrates are conventionally measured in megabits per second, which is sometimes written as Mbps or Mb/s. The speed of memory cards is conventionally measured in data transfer in terms of megabytes per second, which is written as MBps or MB/s. There are eight megabits in 1 megabyte. So 60Mb/s (megabits per second) is equivalent to 7.5 MB/s (megabytes per second).
Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. It would be nice and easy if that meant that you could just make sure your card had a write speed faster than 7.5 MB/s, but there are other factors that come into play, including inflated manufacturer speed ratings, sustained speeds vs. peak speeds, and the role of host devices and connections. All of which means that it’s best to stick to cards that are known to work rather than try to cut it too fine with measurements.
Another common source of confusion is that not all memory card manufacturers use the same speed measure. Some manufacturers use a more cryptic “x” rating in place of MB/s. Lexar, in particular, has long used this system. It comes from the old way of measuring the speed of CD-ROM drives when the standard speed of a CD-ROM drive was 150KB/s. Each x, therefore, equals 150KB/s. But that’s obviously not particularly useful today–who uses CD-ROMs anymore?–and thankfully more and more manufacturers are adopting the more conventional of using raw MB/s numbers.
What’s the Difference Between microSDHC and microSDXC Cards?
As I said above, microSDHC and microSDXC don’t refer to a performance rating. They refer to the kind of storage formatting they use (microSDHC cards use FAT32; microSDXC cards use exFAT). These are specifications adopted by the SD Association.
microSDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) is a design specification that refers to SD cards that are between 4GB and 32GB in capacity and formatted with the FAT32 filesystem. FAT32 supports individual files up to a maximum of 4GB.
microSDXC (Secure Digital eXtended Capacity) refers to SD cards with a capacity larger than 32GB and with a maximum theoretical limit of 2TB. They’re formatted in the exFAT filesystem.
In practice, you’ll see minimal, if any, difference in terms of performance. But there is one aspect where you will see a big difference: microSDHC cards are 32GB or smaller while microSDXC cards are 64GB or larger.
The MAX is compatible with both the microSDHC and microSDXC formats, so you can use either. But it’s more likely that you’ll be using a microSDXC card simply because that covers the larger-capacity cards that are so readily available today and so convenient to use in cameras like GoPros.
The SD Association has also created a newer specification known as SDUC. It has its own host technology, but in terms of storage capacity, it’s designed to cover cards ranging from 2TB up through 128TB. SDUC cards will only work with devices that have SDUC compatibility specifically included, but you won’t find any of those cards in the wild just yet, so don’t really need to be concerned about accidentally getting one of those for now.
Technically, it’s possible to use a computer to format, say, a 32GB microSD card with exFAT or a 128GB card with FAT32. But doing so goes against the SD Association specifications, can cause problems in some cameras, and they’ll be overwritten to the appropriate standard next time you format the card in the camera. In general, I don’t recommend it. That said, it is possible.
If you want to format the SD card in a computer–again, it’s better if you can do it in the camera–I’ve put together a guide to using the official (and free) SD card formatter.
microSD Speed Classes Explained
Just like SD cards, microSD cards are assigned a class rating that refers to their speed in writing data. Each category corresponds to a real-world video recording use. These apply the same to microSDHC and microSDXC cards. Where things get a little complicated, though, is that these speed ratings don’t necessarily reflect the absolute speed of the card. Put another way, a card that has a V30 rating isn’t necessarily faster than one that has a U3 rating. That’s because to display the rating on the card, the manufacturers have to have their cards certified for that rating. It also involves revising packaging and marketing materials, which is an expensive process. So not every manufacturer will go to that trouble and expense right away. The upshot is that it’s not as simple as just looking at a card with a V30 or even V60 rating and knowing that it’s faster than one that only carries a U3 rating. It might be, but the rating system doesn’t work quite that way. You can see evidence of that in the speed test results on this page, with some cards with a lower speed rating being faster in testing than ones that display a higher speed rating on the packaging.
V90. The V-class is a new designation created to designate cards that are designed to work with the speeds required for 4K video and faster. The SD Association added some lower numbers to make them backward compatible with the older class designations (e.g., Class 10 and Class 6), but the most important ones are V30 and above.
Memory cards in the V90 class are rated to support a minimum sequential write speed of 90MB/sec. Their primary market is for cameras that shoot 8K video. There aren’t many V90 microSD cards available yet, and there aren’t many cameras that can use them (most of the cameras that can use those speeds use the larger SD format cards).
V60 is applied to cards that support a minimum sequential write speed of 60MB/sec.
V30 is applied to cards that support a minimum sequential write speed of 30MB/sec. These are designed to support at least full HD video and some 4K video cameras like GoPros.
U3 is designed to support 4K video recording at a sustained video capture rate of 30MB/s. This class overlaps with the newer V30 class.
U1 is designed to support real-time broadcasts and HD video (720p and 1080p) with a minimum serial write speed of 10 MB/sec. This overlaps with the newer V10 class.
Class 10 is designed to support 1080p recording at a minimum (but again, not at all framerates) with a minimum serial write speed of 10 MB/sec.
Classes 2, 4, and 6. Class 2 supports standard definition video recording with a minimum serial write speed of 2 MB/sec. Classes 4 and 6 are designed to support from 720p and 1080p video (but not all framerates) with a minimum serial write speed of 4 MB/s and 6 MB/s, respectively. Most newer cameras need cards faster than these, so memory cards in these speed classes aren’t as commonly available now.
A1 / A2. Finally, you might have noticed the speed ratings A1 starting to appear on some of the newer cards. That’s a different type of speed rating geared toward apps. Devices that run apps, like smartphones and gaming devices, don’t send a long stream of continuous data but rather lots of small chunks of data. So they need cards with fast random write speeds. And that’s where the A ratings come in—to help identify cards that are suitable for app devices. So it’s not really relevant for using SD cards in GoPros. I have a more detailed explanation of the A1 and A2 ratings separately.
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What to Do if Your GoPro Photos or Videos Go Missing From Your SD Card
There can be several reasons why photos and videos go missing from memory cards. But you can often recover at least some of them. I have a more detailed post on how to recover deleted GoPro videos and photos from SD cards, but here's the quick version:
- Stop using the SD card. This is important, because overwriting the data will make it harder to recover deleted files from it.
- Scan the memory card with the free trial versions of either Stellar Photo Recovery or Disk Drill. Both have Windows and Mac versions. The scan will show you whether any files can be found and recovered.
- Recover the files. If the apps can find the files, you can then decide whether to buy a full license to run the actual recovery process or to try one of the other options covered here.