Best SD Cards for the Nikon D3500
I have much more detail below, but if you just want to cut to the chase with the short version, here are some good options that you should have no problem finding at your preferred electronics retailer:
The Nikon D3500 DSLR doesn’t come with a memory card as standard. Some retailers put together bundles that include some accessories such as memory cards, but unless you bought one of those bundles, chances are you’ll have to pick up a memory card separately. There’s a huge number of different memory cards available for cameras. My objective here is to make it easy to pick good ones for the D3500. These recommendations are based on my own memory card tests as well as shooting with my D3500.
Recommended Memory Cards for the Nikon D3500
If you’ve just picked up one of the new Nikon D3500 DSLs, there’s a good chance it didn’t come with a memory card. Some retailers include accessories, including memory cards, as part of bundles they put together, but by default the camera doesn’t come with one. So you might be wondering which memory cards work best in it. If you tried to find the answer in the instruction manual, you would have come across this rather cryptic guidance:
The camera supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards, including SDHC and SDXC cards compliant with UHS-I. Cards rated SD Speed Class 6 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.
OK, then. But what does that mean? It’s the same kind of vague and broad guidance that Nikon usually includes for their cameras. While it’s accurate, it’s also not very useful if you’re trying to work out which memory card to buy. You’ll have to really go hunting to try to find a card that’s rated as Speed Class 6 these days, and it’s not self-evident how that compares with a U3 speed rating, for example.
So what I’m aiming to do here is translate Nikon’s guidance into something more practical, with some specific recommendations for cards that are a combination of being compatible with the D3500, reliable, easy to find at major retailers, and good value. What I’m not trying to do is list every single memory card that works with the D3500; there are others not on this list that also work well. But I’m hoping these recommendations will save you some time so you can get out shooting. I spend quite a bit of time testing memory cards, and I’ve put together these recommendations based on those tests and on shooting with my D3500.
The good news is that for the D3500 you don’t need to fork out the big bucks to get the fanciest andfastest cards with bleeding-edge technology. You can do that if you want, but you won’t see any extra benefit in the camera. Thankfully, there are plenty of excellent memory cards that are reliable and cost-effective.
And there’s more good news if you’re upgrading from the D3400: the same memory cards that work well in that will work just as well in the D3500.
These aren't necessarily the fastest SD cards on the market, but they're fast enough for this camera. It's also not designed to be a comprehensive list of every SD card that will work.
My emphasis here is on cards that meet these criteria: fast enough for all the features of this camera; from a reputable and reliable brand; readily available at retailers; and good value for money. If you want to use a faster, fancier card you can, but you won't see any extra benefit in doing so while you're operating the camera (but you might see some faster speeds when downloading the photos to a computer, depending on your computer and memory card reader combination).
SanDisk Extreme U3 UHS-I
The SanDisk Extreme line is a good option when the emphasis is on video recording. They have faster write speeds than SanDisk's Ultra line but still make for good value without getting in the faster (and more expensive) Extreme Plus and Extreme Pro models.
SanDisk recycles its model names. This latest version of the Extreme card is rated for V30/U3 for video recording and uses a UHS-I interface. It's faster than this camera technically needs, but because the Extreme line is so popular, they're generally easy to find and competitively priced.
It comes in sizes ranging from 16GB through 256GB.
Lexar 633x U1 UHS-I
The Lexar 633x range has been one of the mainstays of Lexar's SD cards for a while now. There are now faster cards available, but this one is again fast enough for this camera while also representing good value for money.
One distinctive thing about this range is that they're available from 16GB up through a whopping 512GB.
Buy at Amazon.
PNY Elite Performance V30 UHS-I
PNY as a brand isn't as well known as some others, but they've been around a long time and make very good memory cards that are usually very competitively priced and good value.
This particular model is available in sizes ranging from 32GB through 512GB.
Delkin Devices Advantage V30 UHS-I
Delkin Devices have been around for a long time but have been relatively quiet in recent years. But they're freshed their entire lineup of cards recently to simplify the range and bring the cards up to current specs.
The Advantage card is rated to V30 and has a UHS-I interface. It currently comes in sizes up to 512GB.
Transcend V30 UHS-I
Transcend isn't as well known as SanDisk or Lexar, but they've been making solid, reliable memory cards for a long while now and their SD cards are often competitively priced.
This particular card is faster than this camera needs, but it is still a good option. It's available in sizes from 64GB up through 256GB.
Buy at Amazon.
Sony U3 UHS-I
Though not always as readily available as some other brands, Sony memory cards are very good, which won't come as much of a surprise.
This particular card is available in sizes from 16GB through 256GB.
Kingston U1 UHS-I
Kingston is another brand that isn't as well known as some of the others, but they've been making reliable memory cards for a very long time. As a brand, they don't tend to focus on the cutting edge speeds but rather on reliable and good-value memory cards.
This particular card (model SDS2 Canvas Select) isn't the fastest in Kingston's range, but it's fast enough to work well in this camera. It's available in sizes from 16GB through 128GB.
Buy at Amazon.
Other BrandsThere are also a lot of smaller, mostly unknown brands. In general, I'd recommend sticking to a brand you know and trust or one of the brands I've mentioned on this page because they have well-established reputations for putting out high-quality cards. Some of the other lesser-known brands might work, but they also might not be all they claim to be. The ones above should give a good selection of ones you can find fairly easily at retailers near you.
Faster CardsIf you're looking to use a faster card, take a look at the ones that I've subjected to my independent SD card speed tests.
Why Does it Matter?
If you’re wondering why it even matters, it has to do with how quickly the memory card can write the data coming at it from the camera. This is most noticeable when shooting video, because there’s a constant stream of data being thrown at the card. If the card can’t keep up, the recording might stop or the camera freeze up and you could end up losing footage. You can also notice the speed of the card when it comes to shooting in photo burst modes and even if shooting time-lapse with short intervals. Basically, you need an SD card that’s fast enough to keep up with the camera if you want the camera to perform as expected.
The Nikon D3500 isn’t especially demanding in those respects compared with some other new cameras. In its highest video mode it records at a bitrate of about 24 Mb/s, which is much lower than some other cameras. But it’s still a large enough data stream that some of the lower-end and older SD cards on the market will struggle with.
What Size Memory Card is Best for the Nikon D3500?
Physical Size / Memory Card Type
Memory cards come in different shapes and sizes depending on their type. The common ones are microSD, SD, and CompactFlash. Some of the newer ones are known as XQD and CFast. The size you want for the D3500 is SD, and it will be marked as either SDHC or SDXC. (If it said microSDHC or microSDXC, it’s the wrong type.)
Once you’ve got the right memory card type, there are some other specs to look at. The D3500 is compatible with cards that meet the SDHC and SDXC specs, which makes it easy. That’s basically all SD cards on the market right now. What that means in practice is that you can use a card with any amount of storage space that’s currently on the market (providing those cards properly meet the specs, of course, which the big manufacturers do). The most common sizes for now are 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, 200GB, and 256GB. So if you want to put a 256GB SDXC card in it, you can. Or a 512GB card, if you really want. The sweet spot in terms of convenience and price is probably around the 64GB to 128GB range.
One of the great features of the Nikon D3500, of course, is the resolution of its 24-megapixel images. But that high resolution also means that the files are quite large and take up storage space on your card. The number of photos you can fit on a memory card varies depending on what settings you’re using. If you’re shooting in RAW format, those files are generally between 20 and 24 megabytes each. If you’re shooting in JPG, the files are smaller.
What Do All Those Codes on SD Memory Cards Mean?
Memory cards have several different sets of codes and acronyms that are used to describe their capabilities. Here are the main ones relevant to memory cards for the Nikon D3500.
SD, SDHC, SDXC. While these technically distinguish, at least in part, the filesystem type that they’re formatted in, in practice, it’s useful for determining what size card you need. SD applies to cards 4GB and smaller. SDHC applies to cards from 8 to 32GB. And SDXC applies to cards 64GB and larger. In short, you can use any of them in this camera, so you can safely ignore this rating and choose based on the size of card you want.
Recommendation: Both SDHC and SDXC cards are compatible. There’s no functional difference in speed–just storage space.
UHS-I. This refers to something known as Ultra High-Speed Bus, which is the technology behind how the camera interfaces with the card. So far there’s UHS-I (sometimes written, incorrectly, as UHS-1) and UHS-II.
Recommendation: There’s no harm in using a card that’s rated with UHS-II, but it won’t give you any extra benefit in this camera. All else being equal, UHS-I works just fine in the D3500, and they’re often less expensive than UHS-II cards.
U1 / U3 / V30 / V60 / V90. This is the speed class rating. It’s a rating system designed primarily to categorize its speed for recording video at various bitrates. Any of these will work in the D3500, although the fastest ones are overkill for what this camera needs. The most logical ones to get for this camera will have U3 or V30. You’ll also see a Class 10 rating on them, which refers to an older scale. So long as the card has one of the U or V ratings, you can ignore the Class 10 bit.
Recommendation: Cards with a U1, U3, or V30 rating, especially if you plan to record video.
Avoiding Fake SD Cards
Basic Precautions When Using SD Cards
It’s always best practice to format the card in the camera, not in your computer, and to format it regularly. If that’s not possible or not what you want to do, you can also format cards using a computer. But there are some things to know when formatting SD cards to minimize the risks of your camera having problems with them. So I’ve put together guides on how to format SD cards on Mac and how to use the free SD Card Formatter app for Windows or Mac.
And while SD cards are remarkably resilient little things–waterproof, shockproof, dustproof, etc–just like any electronic product they can and do fail. So regular backups are very much recommended–here are some ideas.
What If I Accidentally Delete the Photos on the SD Card?
If you accidentally delete photos from the card or format the memory card, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t recover them. There are apps available to help you try to recover deleted photos from a memory card. I’ve put together some recommendations here. To maximize the chances of being able to recover something, stop using the card right away so that you’re not writing over it with new data. Then you can try one of the data recovery apps.
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Where to Buy a Nikon D3500 DSLRThe D3500 is an excellent entry-point camera for getting started with DSLR photography. You can find them at Amazon and B&H Photo. You can also find them used at major used camera gear sellers such as KEH (which is where I often buy when I'm looking for used gear).
Nikon D3500 Tips
I've put together a number of resources related to the Nikon D3500.