Pretty much the first thing you need to do when purchasing any GoPro is to buy an SD card. None of the cameras have any internal storage for photos or videos, so everything has to be saved to a memory card. The good news is that the cost of these cards has plummeted in recent years, and so it is now quite affordable to get a large capacity card that will hold a considerable amount of footage.
While the original GoPro cameras used the regular-sized SD card, all of the current generation use the smaller microSD cards. These now come in capacities ranging up to an enormous 2TB – you will sometimes see reference to the SD cards being described as follows:
- SDSC – the smallest capacities – from 1MB to 2GB;
- SDHC – from 2GB to 32GB; and
- SDXC – from 32GB to 2TB.
In practice however, the maximum SD card size that the GoPro cameras will work with is 64GB or, in the case of the entry level GoPro Hero, 32GB. While some users have experimented and got 128GB cards to work, others have experienced errors with them, so it seems sensible to stick to the GoPro limits. However, given the pricing of the cards, we do recommend going for a 32GB or 64GB card – that way you can likely shoot for several days without worrying about the card filling up or having to swap to a new microSD card. One disadvantage of the microSD cards is that being so small, they are horribly easy to drop and lose, especially when handling them out in the field. As such, our preference is always to use a larger capacity card and leaving any card swaps until we are safely back at base.
The next thing to consider is the speed of the card. This determines how quickly data can be written to and read from the card. In practice, it is the write speed which tends to be slower, and is the critical factor for whether a card is fast enough for use in a particular camera – if the write speed of the card is less than the rate at which the camera’s sensor outputs photo or video data then the card will be unable to cope. There are now 6 potential speed classes for SD cards – the original 2, 4, 6 and 10 categories, plus two new “ultra” classes of U1 and U3. The maximum read and write speeds of the different classes are as follows:
|SD card class||Minimum write speed|
|Class 2||2 MB/s|
|Class 4||4 MB/s|
|Class 6||6 MB/s|
|Class 10||10 MB/s|
Note that class 10 and U1 have the same write speed, and as such either will work where 10MB/s is required.
The data rate output by a GoPro depends on the resolution and framerate it is shooting in – the higher these are, the more data needs to be recorded per second. In addition, shooting in ProTune mode reduces the amount of compression applied to the footage, which also increases the data rate. This means that the higher spec GoPro cameras potentially require a faster rated card. The table below shows the approximate data rate of each model camera at its highest resolution and the corresponding card speed necessary. Note that data rate figures are given in mega bits per second (Mb/S) – however as there are 8 bits to a byte, it is simple to convert to megabytes (MB) per second by simply dividing by 8.
Camera Maximum resolution Data rate (Mbps) Minimum card write speed needed
GoPro Hero 4 Black 4K at 30 fps 60 Mbps 7.5 MB/s
GoPro Hero 4 Silver 4K at 15 fps 45 Mbps 5.6 MB/s
GoPro Hero 4 Session 1440p at 30 fps 30 Mbps 3.8 MB/s
GoPro Hero+ LCD 1080p at 60 fps 30 Mbps 3.8 MB/s
GoPro Hero+ 1080p at 60 fps 30 Mbps 3.8 MB/s
GoPro Hero 1080p at 30 fps 30 Mpbs 3.8 MB/s
It can be seen that for the lower spec cameras (Hero, Hero+, Hero+ LCD and Session) a class 4 card would in theory be fast enough, while a Hero 4 Silver needs at least a class 6, and the Hero 4 Black requires a class 10 or U1. Note that there is no harm in buying a faster card than is necessary, and doing so can be sensible if you anticipate that you might upgrade your camera in due course. It is also increasingly the case that class 10 cards are seen as being standard, and so the prices for these are hardly more than the slow cards that are still available.
A final consideration is the quality of the card. Put simply, it seems that you are less likely to have card failures with SD cards from the established manufacturers like SanDisk, Lexar and Kingston, than you are with more generic “white label” cards. Now that prices have come down so much across the board, it seems a false economy not to spend a little more on a brand name card which should hopefully ensure reliability.
Here are our top pick Micro SD cards for the GoPro cameras.
Lexar MicroSDHC 633x 32GB – a U3 32GB card with a good discount on Amazon, and also on GoPro’s recommended SD card list.
SanDisk Ultra 64GB – a class 10 card with the maximum capacity available for all GoPros (other than the entry level Hero)
Samsung 64GB EVO – another 64 GB U1 / class 10 card