As new camera models with maxed-out specs like the Sony A1 and Canon R5 come on the market, shooters need a memory card that can keep up. Your standard SD card is going to have trouble processing 60-megapixel RAW photos at 20 frames per second, or 8K video.
CFexpress cards aim to solve that problem, boasting write speeds of over 1,000 MB/s. Shooting with one of these cards means several seconds—and hundreds of frames—of uninterrupted burst photo shooting. And even when your camera’s buffer fills, it clears in a fraction of the lengthy wait times of the past.
When choosing a CFexpress memory card for photography, the most important factor will be the kind of shooting you do. If you shoot wildlife, you’ll need a card that can keep up with sudden high-speed bursts of action. If you’re a heavy video shooter, you’ll need one that can keep up with the demand of video recording files over extended periods of time.
CFexpress cards come in three types: A, B, and C. Currently, only A and B are available to buy, and both are expensive. They’re mostly used in mirrorless cameras, but a few top-tier pro DSLRs like the Canon 1DX MKIII use them, too. Future firmware updates will also make cameras currently using XQD cards compatible with the CFexpress format.
Whether you’re using type A or B, higher-capacity CFexpress cards appear to perform better. Since these cards are already expensive, we’d recommend investing a little extra for something around 300-500 GB to start for better performance.
One other very important thing to note: the speed listed on the package won’t be what you’re getting all the time. That speed is the maximum read/write speed claimed by the manufacturer, and actual consistent read/write speeds will be different.
These cards can get hot from very heavy use, and that can also throttle the write speed down to somewhere around 300 MB/s. That said, average users and even most professional shooters won’t tax these cards to the point that they heat up, and they cool down pretty quickly.
Since this format is still relatively new, there are some bugs yet to be worked out and some cameras might not support certain cards. Canon’s R5, for example, will accept ProGrade Cobalt cards and Sony Tough cards but not ProGrade’s Gold line. When choosing a CFexpress card, be sure it’ll work with your camera.
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, we’ll look at some of the best CFexpress cards on the market right now.
Best CFExpress Card Overall: Prograde Digital Cobalt
- ✓ Rugged and durable design
- ✓ High read/write speeds during real-world use
- ✗ High price point
- ✗ Lower capacity type B cards might not be as fast
ProGrade Digital’s Cobalt line is designed very sturdy and performs with the best of them. If you’re the kind of person who worries about snapping memory cards in the field, these are built with a metal enclosure for extra durability as well. It would take a lot to break this card!
In an exhaustive real-world performance test by photography website PetaPixel, the Cobalt cards tied for first in a number of benchmark tests, making them a solid all-around choice. ProGrade makes both type A and type B cards, with the type B cards we recommend available in up to 660 GB capacity.
If you’re looking for something dependable or you’re just getting into the CFexpress format, this is a solid card to try.
Best Type A CFexpress Card: ProGrade Digital 160GB
- ✓ Same rugged design as the Cobalt line
- ✓ Slightly faster read/write than Sony under thermal throttling
- ✗ Can’t get as much storage capacity as type B cards
ProGrade Digital’s 160GB CFexpress type A Card comes in just a hair ahead of Sony’s Tough line of type A CFexpress cards to win this spot. When tested against the Sony cards, the ProGrade model had higher read and write speeds after they heated up from use and the built-in thermal throttling took effect.
Type A cards are slower than type B, but they’re also less expensive. So if you’re looking for a budget CFexpress card—as much as one can be budget that is—type A might make sense if you’re using a camera that takes them.
We recommend the ProGrade due to its slightly better performance, but Sony pioneered the type A card, and many of their higher-end cameras like the Sony A1 use them. The Tough CFexpress cards are slightly more expensive than ProGrade, but their cards hold up very well if you’re a Sony person and want to stick with that brand.
Best Type A CFexpress Card
Best Type B CFExpress Card: Delkin Power 512GB
- ✓ Tough design
- ✓ High capacity for large files
- ✓ Good dollar per GB of storage value
- ✗ A little slow to clear the camera buffer shooting in burst mode
As such, a greater number of manufacturers have released type B cards. Among them, Delkin’s 512GB model from their Power line of cards is a very strong performer.
Delkin built this card to resist magnetism, shocks, extreme temperatures, and water, so it’s a fairly safe bet they’ll be able to go with you wherever. If you’re a wildlife shooter or photojournalist constantly out in rough conditions, this card will be a good investment.
PetaPixel ranked this model as the CFexpress card offering the best price per gigabyte of data storage and put it in the top five performers out of all models tested. The Delkin card also gave testers the most shots before their camera’s buffer kicked in by a small margin. It wasn’t the fastest to clear the buffer, coming in at about six seconds, but it still held its own against more expensive cards.
In short, if you grab this CFexpress Type B card, you won’t be disappointed.
Best CFExpress Type A Card Reader: ProGrade Digital
- ✓ High-speed transfer rate
- ✓ Offers a lot of value for the price point
- ✓ Can be stacked with other ProGrade readers
- ✓ Also reads UHS-II SD cards
- ✗ Doesn’t read CFexpress type B cards
At under a hundred dollars, ProGrade’s CFexpress Type A Reader comes from a trusted manufacturer and won’t break the bank. There’s also a card slot for UHS-II SD cards, a handy addition for those transitioning from SD to CFexpress, or for a camera that takes both cards.
ProGrade’s reader can clock transfer speeds of up to 1.25 GB/s, so it won’t take all day to transfer those large RAW files from your card to the computer you’re editing on. It’s also USB-powered, so this reader doesn’t need an external power source. It’s convenient and cost-effective.
ProGrade also makes several other readers similar to this one designed to be stacked with one another, good for people using several different memory card formats that want to stick with this brand.
Best CFExpress Type B Card Reader: Angelbird CFexpress Card Reader
- ✓ Metal body guards against shocks and drops
- ✓ Write protect switch helps protect data
- ✓ Fast file transfer speeds
- ✗ Doesn’t read CFexpress type A cards
Angelbird’s CFexpress Card Reader separates itself from the pack not only with performance but stellar customer service. Reviewers praise the build quality and transfer speed of this reader, many of whom point out that it competes with pricier models.
Angelbird’s reader has unrestricted data transfer speeds and impressive build quality—the metal construction makes it resistant to shocks and drops, and the form factor is impressively compact. If you’re a photographer that travels a lot, this could be the reader for you.
Another nice factor of this reader is a built-in “write protect” function. Flipping a switch on the body of the device prevents unwanted files from being written to the card or unintentional deletion. That’s an especially useful feature if you’re, say, a wedding photographer with gigabytes of crucially important shots to back up.
There are certainly faster readers out there, but for the money, this is one of the best CFexpress type B card readers currently on the market. It costs around $80 at the time of this writing, and competing readers can go for as much as $200.
Best CFexpress Type B Card Reader