What Type of Memory Card Does the Nikon D500 Use?

There is a little trick to what kind of memory cards the Nikon D500 takes. That’s because of a tweak that Nikon made with a firmware update to add CFexpress B compatibility to the XQD memory card slot.

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Filed Under: DSLRs, Memory Cards

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The Nikon D500 has two memory card slots. One takes UHS-II SDXC and SDHC cards. The other is described as the XQD slot. But thanks to a firmware update Nikon issued in December 2020, you can now also use a CFexpress B (also known as CFexpress Type-B) card in that slot instead.

There’s a lot of flexibility in how you use these cards. Even though there are two slots, you don’t need to fill both. So you can, if you like, just use an SD card. But using the two slots adds options. You can choose one or the other (or both) to save JPGs or videos. You can copy to both simultaneously to have a real-time backup. And you can copy from one card to the other, which is useful whether you want a full backup of the card or a duplicate of just a few selects to share.

Types of Memory Card for the Nikon D500

If you look up the manual for the D500, you’ll come across this if you make it to pages 387-388.

XQD Memory Cards. The camera can be used with XQD memory cards. Cards with write speeds of 45 MB/s (300x) or better are recommended for movie recording; slower speeds may interrupt recording or cause jerky, uneven playback. For information on compatibility and operation, contact the manufacturer.

SD Memory Cards. The camera supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards, including SDHC and SDXC cards compliant with UHS-I and UHS-II. Cards rated UHS Speed Class 3 or better are recommended for movie recording; using slower cards may result in recording being interrupted. When choosing cards for use in card readers, be sure they are compatible with the device. Contact the manufacturer for information on features, operation, and limitations on use.

And if you look at Nikon’s official tech specs for the D500, you’ll see SD, SDHC, SDXC, XQD Type Memory listed.1

That’s true, but it’s not the whole story.

There’s now also a third option that was enabled through a firmware update that Nikon issued in December 2020 (and rest assured that yes, this is an official firmware update from Nikon, not a third-party hacked version). Specifically, it was added in “C” firmware version 1.30. You can download the firmware from Nikon’s site.

That firmware added a third type of memory card that’s now compatible with the D500: CFexpress B.

There are three variants of CFexpress cards currently available. The one that’s compatible with the Nikon D500 is CFexpress B.

So What’s the Advantage of CFexpress B?

The advantage of using CFexpress B isn’t just about adding more options for the sake of broader compatibility. CFexpress B is basically a newer evolution of XQD. Like XQD, it’s developed by the CompactFlash Association. In practical terms, the cards are also becoming more widely available, leading to more choice and lower prices.

But the killer feature for me is their speed. CFexpress B cards are much faster than XQD. At the time of writing, most of the currently available XQD cards are rated for speeds of around 440 MB/s read and 400 MB/s write. Most of the currently available CFexpress B cards are rated for around 1700 MB/s read and at least 1200 MB/s write (or faster).

It’s important to note the “B” here. Confusingly, there are currently three types of CFexpress cards, and they’re all different physical sizes (aka form factors), and they’re not interchangeable. That is, a CFexpress A card won’t work–or even fit–in a CFexpress B slot.2

CFexpress A is the same physical size as SD cards, and that’s the type used in some cameras, such as the Sony A1. What you want for the Nikon D500 is the CFexpress B. You’ll sometimes see it written as CFexpress (Type-B). CFexpress B cards are the same size and have the same contacts as an XQD card, which is what makes this improvement possible. If you try using a CFexpress A or CFexpress C card in the D500, it won’t work.3

Memory Cards for the Nikon D500

Number of Memory Card Slots. The D500 has two memory card slots, but they’re not both the same. One slot is for XQD/CFexpress B cards. The other is for SDXC/SDHC/SD cards.

Even though the D500 has two memory card slots, you don’t need to fill both of them for the camera to work. If you only have an SDXC card, for instance, you can go ahead and use the camera with just that.

There are, however, advantages to filling both memory card slots. The first advantage is that you’ll get several extra options, such as being able to save images to both simultaneously in order to have a redundant backup copy; being able to copy still images to one card and video to another; and treating them as a sequence of two cards, so that when it fills one, it just moves to the other, which gives you the maximum amount of storage space.

A second advantage–or, at least, an advantage to making sure that you’re using the XQD slot either alone or paired with the SD slot–is that CFexpress B and XQD cards have much faster transfer speeds than even the fastest SDXC cards. And that will benefit how quickly images will save from the camera’s buffer and ensure that high-bitrate video recording modes will breeze along (and, potentially, much faster downloads to your computer).

Which Memory Cards to Get for the Nikon D500

CFexpress B / CFexpress Type-B

With firmware update (C:Ver.1.30), Nikon made the XQD slot also able to accept CFexpress B cards.

B&H Photo has an excellent selection of CFexpress B cards from manufacturers like SanDisk, Lexar, Sony, ProDigital, Angelbird, and Delkin. You can find them here.

SanDisk 128GB Extreme PRO CFexpress Card Type B - SDCFE-128G-GN4NN
  • Read speeds of up to 1700MB/s and 1400MB/s write speeds offer low latency during high-speed recording and...
  • Enables smooth, RAW 4K video(1). (1) 4K video (4069x2160p) support may vary based on host device, file...
ProGrade Digital Memory Card - CFexpress Type B for Cameras | Optimized for...
  • Lightning-Fast Speed for Flawless Frames:​ Our CFexpress™ cobalt memory cards were engineered with...
  • Advanced Technology that Uses Less Camera Battery​: Now even your storage accessories can help protect...

XQD

XQD is an older format, and while these cards are quick, they’re not nearly as quick as CFexpress B cards. And since the price of CFexpress B cards has come down considerably, there’s not much practical advantage in choosing XQD over CFexpress B unless other parts of your workflow are geared towards XQD.

B&H has a good selection of XQD cards. You can find them here.

Nikon XQD 64GB Memory Card
  • SPEED: The cards feature a maximum read speed of 440MB/s and maximum write speed of 400MB/s
  • COMPATIBILITY: The Nikon 64GB XQD Memory Card is a high speed XQD format memory card for use with high...

SDXC/SDHC/SD

SD cards have been around much longer and are very widely available. They’re inexpensive, and you can get very large storage capacities with them. The downside is that even the fastest SDXC card is much slower than an XQD or CFexpress B card.

For the best performance in the D500, you’ll generally want to use a fast UHS-II SDXC card. And with the large images and high-bitrate video, larger storage capacities are much more practical.

I have some practical recommendations for fast SD cards separately. But for some quick recommendations, these are good bets for offering a good combination of performance, availability, and value:

  • ~SanDisk Extreme PRO U3 UHS-II~
  • Lexar Professional 2000x U3 UHS-II
  • Kingston Canvas React Plus V90 UHS-II
  • ProGrade Digital V90 UHS-II
  • Sony TOUGH-G SF-G(T) V90 UHS-II### Things Worth KnowingCamera not recognizing CFexpress B card. If your D500 isn’t recognizing your CFexpress B card, the most likely cause is that the camera’s firmware needs to be updated. You can download the firmware (C:Ver.1.30 or newer) and find Nikon’s installation instructions here.There’s a few different types of firmware on the D500. The relevant one here is the “C” firmware. And you’ll need 1.20 to upgrade to 1.30; if your camera currently has an older version than 1.20, you’ll need to do an intermediate upgrade first. You can find more details here under the “Updating from “C” Firmware Versions 1.00 through 1.12 to Version 1.20″ section.

Memory Card Readers. Don’t forget that you’ll need a compatible card reader for downloading the images to your computer. A CFexpress B card will physically fit in an XQD card reader, but just as with the camera, the hardware needs to be compatible. There are some cross-compatible readers available, like this one, but you can’t assume your old XQD reader will work with CFexpress B cards.

I personally use Prograde Digital Readers these days and have had excellent results. They’re high-end readers, but I’ve found them to be very fast and reliable. They make an XQD/CFexpress B reader with a Thunderbolt 3 connection and CFexpress B readers, but not dedicated XQD-only readers.

Sony also makes one that works with both XQD and CFexpress B cards.

ProGrade Digital CFexpress Type-B & XQD Single-Slot Memory Card Reader |...
  • DO MORE OF WHAT YOU LOVE: Because the ProGrade Digital Thunderbolt 3 Single-Slot CFexpress Type-B & XQD...
  • DESIGNED FOR LIFE ON THE ROAD: Wherever you go, your included adhesive metal plate attaches the magnetic...
XQD/CFExpress Type B Memory Card Reader
  • For XQD and CFexpress Type B cards
  • USB 3.1 Gen 2 Interface

You can also find cheaper options from third-party manufacturers.

You don’t run into the same issues with SD readers–they’re very widely available. That said, speed and performance vary widely. If you’re using a UHS-II card, you get better performance from a UHS-II-compatible memory card reader. Prograde Digital makes some good ones, including a dual-slot card that has both CFexpress B and UHS-II SDXC slots (this is the one I use).

ProGrade Digital CFexpress Type B and SD UHS-II Dual-Slot Memory Card...
  • DO MORE OF WHAT YOU LOVE:​ ​Because the ​ProGrade Digital™​ USB 3.2 Gen 2 ​CFexpress™​...
  • DESIGNED FOR LIFE ON THE ROAD:​ ​Wherever you go, your included adhesive metal plate attaches the...

Things Worth Knowing

When you go to format the memory cards using the camera’s menu system, it will still refer to the XQD card even after the firmware upgrade and regardless of whether you’re using an XQD or CFexpress B card. (Tip: There’s also a shortcut method to formatting the memory cards.)

You have some control over managing how the memory cards in the D500 are used. You can treat them as sequential memory so that when one card fills up it automatically switches over to the next one. You can copy to both simultaneously to create a mirrored backup version. Or you can send image files to one and video files to another.

There’s also a CFast memory card format. That’s different again. It’s an older format form factor that was an evolution from CompactFlash (CF). It’s not compatible with CFexpress.


  1. I’m ignoring SD for the purposes here, because the storage capacity tops out at 2GB and they’re too slow to use all of the D500’s features. So, they’re not really a practical option. 
  2. Even more confusingly, there are also versions within each of these form factors. Those affect compatibility, but they aren’t related to the physical size of the cards. 
  3. While CFexpress A and SD cards have the same form factor, and you can physically fit a CFexpress A card into the D500’s SD slot, the D500 does not have compatibility with CFexpress A using the SD slot. 

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by David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. More »

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