How do I view files on my SD card on a Mac?

What is an SD card?

An SD card, or Secure Digital card, is a small removable flash memory card used for storing photos, videos, music, and other files on digital devices like cameras, phones, and computers. SD cards were first introduced in 1999 by Panasonic, SanDisk and Toshiba as an improvement over MultiMediaCards (MMC) [1]. Since then, SD cards have become the most widely used memory card format.

There are several types of SD cards that offer different capacities and speeds:

  • SD: Original SD card with capacities up to 2GB.
  • SDHC: Supports capacities between 4GB and 32GB.
  • SDXC: Allows capacities from 64GB up to 2TB.

SD cards are commonly used in digital cameras, camcorders, drones, handheld consoles, and other electronics that need removable storage. They allow you to save photos, videos, music, apps, and other files from the device’s internal storage to the SD card for expanded capacity. SD cards make transferring files between devices easy since they are universally compatible across consumer electronics.

When to use an SD card on a Mac

There are several common situations where accessing files on an external SD card can be useful when using a Mac:

Transferring photos or videos from a camera: Many digital cameras use SD cards to store photos and videos. Inserting the SD card into your Mac lets you access those files to import them into apps like Photos or Final Cut Pro for editing, sharing or storage. See Use an SD or SDXC card with Mac for more details.

Expanding storage capacity: SD cards can provide additional storage space for your Mac. You can store files like documents, photos, videos and music directly on the SD card if your main hard drive starts getting full.

Sharing files: An SD card makes it easy to transfer files between your Mac and other devices like digital cameras, drones, tablets, or other computers. Simply move files on and off the SD card.

Running apps: Some apps can be installed and run directly off an SD card, without taking up primary storage space on your Mac.

Backing up files: You can manually back up important files by copying them to an SD card for safekeeping as an alternative to cloud services.

Connect the SD card to your Mac

To connect an SD card to your Mac, you will need to have either a built-in SD card slot or an external USB card reader. Here are the steps for both options:

Using the built-in SD card slot

Many Mac models have built-in SD card slots, including MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and iMac. To use the built-in slot:

  1. Locate the SD card slot on your Mac. It is typically on the right or left side of the computer.
  2. Insert the SD card into the slot with the label facing up. Push the card gently until it clicks into place.

Using a USB card reader

If your Mac does not have an SD card slot, you can use an external USB card reader to connect the SD card. To use a USB reader:

  1. Insert the SD card into the card reader slot.
  2. Plug the card reader into an available USB port on your Mac.

Most USB card readers will automatically mount and recognize the SD card once connected. However, you may need to initialize or format a new SD card before it can be accessed on your Mac.

USB card readers offer greater portability if you need to access files across multiple devices. High-speed USB 3.0 card readers can provide faster transfer speeds compared to some built-in SD card slots.

Mount the SD Card

Mounting is the process of making external drives, like an SD card, available to use on your Mac. When you connect an SD card to your Mac, it may not automatically mount. Here are the steps to manually mount an SD card on a Mac:

  1. Connect the SD card to your Mac using a built-in SD card reader or external USB card reader.
  2. Open Finder and click on Finder in the top left corner.
  3. Under Devices on the left side, you should see your external drive listed. If you don’t see it, your SD card may not be mounted.
  4. To mount it, click on your Mac’s hard drive under Devices.
  5. In the Finder menu bar, click “File” then “New Finder Window.”
  6. In this new Finder window, click “File” again and then click “New Finder Window” one more time to open a third window.
  7. Arrange the three Finder windows side-by-side so you can view all of them.
  8. Eject the SD card by right-clicking on its icon and selecting “Eject.”
  9. Unplug the USB cable or remove the SD card from the slot.
  10. Plug the SD card back in and it should automatically mount after a few seconds.

If your SD card still isn’t appearing, try restarting your Mac or using a different USB port. If it continues to not mount, the card itself may be corrupted and need to be reformatted before it can be used with your Mac.

View files using Finder

The easiest way to view and access files on your SD card is through the Finder app on your Mac. Finder allows you to navigate and open files directly from the SD card without needing to import them to your Mac first.

To view files using Finder:
1. Insert the SD card into your Mac’s SD card reader slot if it has one, or into an external USB-C or USB SD card reader connected to your Mac.
2. Open Finder on your Mac. Finder is the app with the blue smiling face icon in your Dock.
3. On the left side of any Finder window, look under Devices for the name of your SD card. Click on it to view the contents of the SD card.

4. You can now browse and open any files on the SD card. Double click on a file like an image or document to open it.
5. When done viewing files, eject the SD card properly before removing it physically from your Mac. Right click on the SD card name and select Eject.

This allows you to quickly view, open and access files stored on the SD card without needing to import them to your Mac first. Just remember to safely eject the SD card before disconnecting it.

Import files from the SD card

Once you have mounted your SD card on your Mac, you can easily import files and folders from the SD card to your Mac. Here are step-by-step instructions for importing files from an SD card on a Mac:

  1. Launch Finder on your Mac.
  2. In the Finder sidebar, locate the SD card under Devices.
  3. Select the files or folders you want to import from the SD card.
  4. Drag and drop the selected files/folders to the desired location on your Mac, such as your Documents folder.
  5. Alternatively, you can right-click on the selected files/folders and choose Copy “item name”. Then navigate to the desired location on your Mac and right-click to Paste the files/folders.
  6. For convenience, you can also click File > Import in the Finder menu bar to import files. This will copy the files/folders to your Pictures folder by default.

Once the copy is complete, the files will now be located on your Mac’s hard drive. The originals will remain on the SD card. To safely remove the SD card after importing files, be sure to properly eject it first.

Further reading: Apple Support Guide

Edit files on the SD card

You can open and edit files directly on the SD card without importing them to your Mac first. This allows you to quickly make changes to files without taking up storage space on your Mac.

To edit files on the SD card:

  1. Make sure the SD card is mounted on your Mac (see the “Mount the SD card” section above).
  2. Open Finder and navigate to the SD card.
  3. Double click on the file you want to open and edit.
  4. The file will open in the default app for that file type. Make your desired edits and save the changes.
  5. The updated file is now saved directly to the SD card.

Some tips for editing files directly on an SD card:

  • Before editing, be sure to copy or back up the files elsewhere in case the edits get corrupted on the SD card.
  • Avoid removing the SD card while files are open, as this could cause data loss.
  • If you have trouble saving edits to the SD card, check that the card is properly mounted and not write-protected. You may need to remount the card (see troubleshooting tips).

Editing files directly on the SD card lets you quickly update and revise content without needing to transfer files back and forth between the card and your Mac.

Safely eject the SD card

It’s important to properly eject the SD card before physically removing it from your Mac. Simply pulling out the card without ejecting can lead to file corruption or data loss. Here are the steps to safely eject an SD card on a Mac:

1. Locate the SD card icon in your Dock or on your Desktop. This is the same icon you clicked earlier to view files.

2. Right-click or control-click on the SD card icon.

3. Select ‘Eject’ from the menu that appears.

4. Wait for the eject animation to finish before removing the card. The icon will disappear from your desktop when it is safe to disconnect.

You can also eject the SD card through Finder. Click on ‘Finder’ in your dock, select the SD card under ‘Devices’ in the sidebar, then click ‘Eject’ above the files list.

Following these steps ensures any pending writes to the card are completed before removing it. Forcing removal without properly ejecting risks file system corruption and can make the SD card unreadable.

Troubleshooting Tips

Here are some solutions for common issues accessing an SD card on a Mac:

If your SD card is not showing up at all on your Mac, first try disconnecting and reconnecting the card. Also try connecting it to a different USB port. If it still doesn’t show up, restart your Mac and try again.

If you see the SD card icon on your desktop but can’t access the files, try force quitting the Finder app and relaunching it. Go to the Apple menu > Force Quit > Finder. This will reset the Finder and hopefully mount the SD card properly.

If your SD card files show up but seem corrupted or missing, don’t edit or add any new files. Use data recovery software like Disk Drill to scan and restore your data. Avoid overwriting the card before recovering files.

Check if your SD card reader has any issues. Try connecting the card using a different external reader or built-in SD slot if your Mac has one. A faulty reader could prevent access.

If you get errors like “SD card is read-only” on your Mac, check the lock switch on the side of the card. Sliding it up enables writing again. A read-only error can also indicate corruption.

In Terminal you can enter diskutil list to verify if your SD card shows up properly but doesn’t mount. Use commands like diskutil mountDisk to attempt manually mounting it.

As a last resort, you may need to format your SD card to repair any corruption, though this will erase all data. First recover any important files using data recovery software.


To quickly recap, here are the key steps covered for viewing files on an SD card with a Mac:

  • Connect the SD card to your Mac using the SD card slot or adapter.
  • Allow your Mac to mount the SD card so it appears in Finder.
  • Navigate to the SD card in Finder to view and access files.
  • Use Finder or apps to open, edit, import, or manage files.
  • Drag files from the SD card to copy them to your Mac.
  • Use the Eject button next to the SD card name to safely remove it.

Following these steps allows you to seamlessly view and utilize files stored on an SD card with your Mac. The process is quick and easy once the card is properly mounted and visible in Finder.