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13 Tips for Using and Caring for Memory Cards

Memory-Cards-2How should I care for my digital camera’s memory card to make it last as long as possible?

Where there are many things that are unique from one digital camera to another – one thing unites us all (or most of us) – we all media cards to store our photos onto (the exception to this are a few cameras with lots of internal memory).

So how can you care for your memory card and get the best results from it?

Here are 13 tips for using and caring for Memory Cards (note – if you want advice on buying memory cards check out our post on Which Memory Card Should I Buy:

1. If Disaster Strikes – Stop Shooting

If you have a disaster and accidentally delete your images or see an card error message – stop using the memory card. All is not always lost when you have one of these problems and it may be that you can still recover your images – the key is to stop using the card or else you might overwrite your other images. Data recovery services or tools may be able to restore your images for you.

2. Delete Images on your Computer not In Camera

Deleting images from your card while the card is on your camera can actually shorten the life of your memory card. The rule is that the fewer times you add or remove data on your card the better. Erasing all your images at once after uploading them to your computer means one erase cycle rather than lots of them if you delete them one at a time on your camera. (or better yet – use the Format function on your camera each time to wipe and start clean)

3. Remove Cards Safely When Connected to Your Computer

After uploading images to your computer from a card make sure you follow the proper procedure to eject the card before removing it from your card reader. In OSX this means right clicking the drive assigned to your card and hitting ‘eject’. In Windows use the ‘safely remove hardware’ option in your system tray to remove the card and the card reader).

4. Multiple Cards Can be Better than One

I learned this lesson on a recent trip when I had a memory card die on me mid trip. Having a second card handy meant that I was able to continue using my camera. It also means that if you do lose the data on one card, not all of your images from a shoot will be lost. Of course multiple cards can also mean problems too as there are more to keep track of – I’ve heard h3 arguments for both – but personally rotate through 3 cards at present.

5. Avoid Filling Your Cards Completely

I have a friend who recently had an issue with a memory card. When he took it into the store he bought it from for advice they asked if he’d completely filled the card with images. When he said he had they told him that this could occasionally cause problems with some types of cards. I’d not heard this before and am a little skeptical about it myself – but it’s probably worth keeping in mind. I guess the advice is to regularly take images off your cards rather than doing it just when they are full. This is common sense anyway as it stops the heartbreak of losing gigabytes of images if you lose a card/camera or have a card error with a three quarters full memory card.

6. Periodically Reformat Cards

Every now and again reformat your memory card. This will wipe any data, images, file names on the card and set it up afresh for your camera. Of course you should only do this AFTER you’ve downloaded any images on the card or you’ll lose them.

7. Format your Memory Card In the Camera You Want to Use it on

Formatting your memory card while in your camera will make sure that the card is set up and structured specifically for your camera. If you’re using someone else’s card in your camera (and they’ve used it on a camera with a different make) you can end up with issues that can be resolved by reformatting on your camera (just make sure you’ve got all the images that were on the card off it first as reformatting deletes all data on the card).

8. Switch Your Camera Off before Removing Memory Card

This was a tip that was given a lot a year or two ago for fear of cameras giving cards ‘voltage shock’ on removal of the card. Manufacturers seem to have made improvements in this area since then – although I can’t speak for all of them and I guess that it is better to be safe than sorry. Check your camera manual to see what they recommend.

9. Keep Your Camera Up to Date

Camera manufacturers will release firmware updates from time to time. These keep your camera up to date with any fixes for errors or problems that are identified with a camera. Some of these can relate to the camera’s interaction with the memory card.

10. Periodically Update Your Cards

While memory card life spans have increased significantly over the last few years – they do have a limited life and will need to be updated from time to time. With prices coming down this is fortunately a less and less expensive task.

11. Replace Batteries Before they Run Down

Keep an eye on the power level left in your camera’s batteries and either recharge them or change them over for a fresh set before they completely run down. This will stop your batteries running out halfway through writing an image to your card. This will stop you losing that last image but also can stop card errors that can occur when an image is not fully written to a card.

12. Don’t Switch Off Your Camera too Quickly after Shooting

This tip is for those of us who shoot in ‘burst’ or ‘continuous shooting’ mode. When shooting lots of images quickly a camera needs a little time to write all of the data you’ve taken to the memory card. If you’ve taken numerous images very quickly your camera will be ‘buffering’ images and if you switch it off during this process you’ll lose images and could even find yourself with a system error (note: some more modern cameras have fixed this problem and will now continue buffering after you switch them off).

13. Common Sense Maintenance

It should go without saying – but keep your cards dry and clean, don’t expose them to extreme temperatures, don’t drop, bend or puncture them and don’t expose them to h3 electro/magnetic currents. Storing cards that are not in use in a plastic casing (usually supplied with the card) can give it an extra layer of protection.

Bonus Tip – Prepare Your Card for Being Lost

One last tip from our archives. One fear that many digital photographers have is that they’d lose their camera and/or memory card. One tip that I heard a while ago now is to take a picture of your business card or luggage tag complete with your contact details and to keep it as the first image on each of your memory cards. Lock it so that it’s not deleted and hopefully if your camera or card is lost the person who picks it up will get in touch (if they’re honest).

Got some memory card tips to share? Feel free to add them in comments below.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category.

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Karen

    I’m very disappointed to have, I think, lost all my photos of Cuba, from where I’ve just returned, and I don’t know how it has happened. When I plug the card reader with the XD memory card in it (it’s an old digital camera) into the USB port of my laptop, the message, ‘The file or directory is corrupted and unreadable’ comes up and, what is even more dire, is that when I put the card back in the camera to see if the images were still there, it said ‘No image’. Yet I have seen the images in the camera since I have been home, so something happened after I took out the XD card, which was not full. Is it OK to transfer the memory card to the card reader to the computer when only half full? I tried importing pictures from another XD card just to check and that worked fine. Can there be a problem if you move the XD card from the camera to the card reader and laptop several times? This was a new generic XD card and it worked fine while using it in the camera but I’m not experienced at this next step. Does anyone have any clues as to why my XD card has become corrupt? I tried RECUVA on it (didn’t retrieve it) and will try ZERO ASSUMPTION RECOVERY, which I have seen on here but I guess there’s no hope since it says ‘NO IMAGE’ when inserted in the camera. I also just put the card reader cable in and out of the USB port without using the ‘safely remove hardware’ tool, so maybe it doesn’t like that but it was OK when I did that before. Baffled!

Some older comments

  • Regan

    December 11, 2012 03:29 am

    Yup, 6 one way, a half dozen the other. Rule #1- See which cards are recommended in your camera's owners manual, and don't expect that your old D50 is going to except more than 2 gigs (SD only, NOT SDHC). Rule #2- Use a card reader. Rule #3- Download https://www.ecamm.com/mac/cardraider/

    A photo recovery will find pictures on your card if you haven't overwritten them. If you follow the well presented advice of having several cards, there's a chance you can recover images that were deleted months incase a storage device fails.

  • Camphoneguy

    February 2, 2012 02:24 pm

    arlinka worl- for some strange reason formatting information is buried in your manual. For example, the important tip for formatting a memory card in a Canon PowerShot a590 is on page 141! In most cameras it's either in the 'tools' menu or the setup menu.
    Second, I owned a photo lab for 24 years and have worked in camera store another two- I would really recommend ONLY formatting a memory card when completed and ready to reuse- and as mentioned- ONLY after being sure the images are backed up- and in two places for important photos. Then get prints of the really important ones- prints have shown they can last for many years- digital files have not!
    ramanan- your experience is EXACTLY why I tell everyone to format after use, and NEVER delete 'in camera'. Just don't download any you don't want- or delete them AFTER you've downloaded everything- and once you're sure you have your two backups- then FORMAT. I've seen your corruption issue many times- usually when someone went back and deleted an image. Jpg files are different sizes and your camera can be confused and put part of your image in one 'slot' and the rest somewhere else and not reassemble it correctly- sometimes two different images (or more) will get 'blended'- sometimes only half of the image shows with the rest grayed out. Often the thumbnail will look find- that's a different file stored separately in with the full image.
    Hey, anyway, the vast majority of what was shared Darren I agree with- the rest is more additional information from years of experience- both mine and my customers!

  • veerendra

    March 28, 2010 03:30 pm

    Do not "DE FRAGMENT" Ur memory card, it uses lots of write cycles and erase cycles to do that..

  • Sue Elhatow

    December 18, 2009 06:56 am

    Thank you Darren, I'm taking notes and learning:)

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  • Anurag Samuel

    August 28, 2009 06:09 pm

    The tips are very informative and provide sensible and important aspects of card maintenance.Very beneficial .

  • Arlinka Worl

    August 28, 2009 03:06 am

    Thanks for the tips.

    Yet, I need a little more info. You mentioned reformatting the memory card, but not how to do that.

    Also, you said a memory card needs to be updated from time to time. Can you be more specific? Is it time to dump my memory card after taking 4000 raw pics with it? Does it affect the photo resolution, color, etc to keep using the same memory card over and over? Thanks so much, Arlinka

  • ramanan

    May 8, 2009 12:54 pm

    I have a Sony DSC H2 camera.When I press the playback button to view the images taken it sometimes shows a small image on the screen.When these images are downloaded to the computer it shows an image with the lower 1/4 occopied by some other photo(?overlap).I was told this may be due to a corrupted FAT table & I should format the card in the camera which I have done. & hoping for the best..Any comments or suggestions?

  • marcy

    December 8, 2008 04:42 am

    I have an olympus d-460 zoom and when I went to use it recently it read "card full" even though there was only 6 images on it. I put in a fresh, brand new smartmedia card and the message still comes up on my camera. I can't do anything because it's like its waiting for me to do something about it. AAAAHHHHHHHHH! Please Help!

  • Geoff Kuenning

    July 29, 2008 08:20 pm

    Time for a few facts here. First, a credential: I am a lousy photographer, but I am also a researcher specializing in file systems of all sorts, which in particular means I know more than zero about flash-memory file systems such as the cards used in cameras. You're welcome to Google me if you want to check me out.

    I'll limit myself to correcting misstatements.

    Jamesc359 is incorrect; his information is based on how hard (and floppy) disks worked 20 years ago. "Formatting" a card (which is really an incorrect term nowadays) simply means rewriting the File Allocation Table (FAT). The data itself (the pictures) is still there and can usually be recovered. Jamesc359's test was flawed in that he only tried 2 pictures. If he'd filled the card with 1000, he would have found that most, though not all, were recoverable after formatting.

    Tips 1, 3, 4, 7, 11-13, and the bonus are all right on. Tips 2, 6, and 8 are debatable (see below). Tip 9 isn't wrong but probably won't help (again, see below). Finally, tips 5 and 10 are just plain wrong (expanded below).

    BTW, that's a pretty good durned good batting average for information collected from a variety of sources. The authors of this article are to be commended.

    OK, on to the tips:

    1. Stop shooting on disasters. YES!!!!! The single most important thing you can do.

    2. Deletion on the computer vs. the camera. On modern cards, it probably doesn't matter. An individual cell's lifetime is roughly 100,000 write/erase cycles. The card's "mapping" firmware spreads wear across all cells, so you'll more likely get a million erase cycles before you start seeing failures, regardless of where and how you erase things. Long before that happens, your shiny and massive 8 GB card is going to get replaced by a terabyte card whose price has fallen to $15.00, of which $14.00 goes for the huge plastic package that Best Buy insists on putting it in. FWIW, I erase my cards in-camera, using "format" if I have a lot of images and "delete all" if I only have a few (a decision that is based entirely on the speeds of the two operations).

    3. Safe removal. This only matters if you've made changes to the card, such as deleting an image. But it can't hurt. I always take care here.

    4. Multiple cards for safety. This is like diversifying your stock portfolio. I don't rotate cards, but I do carry spares. If I was making a living from photography, I'd rotate cards as well. Or buy a really expensive camera that writes to two cards at once.

    5. Don't fill your cards. Note that the evidence for this advice is a store manager, hardly a tech expert. I know of no technical reason why filling your cards would matter. (In response to Torgeir Frøystein, flash memory always has "spare" space to handle these situations.) If you're in the midst of a shoot, your card is close to full, and you have a spare moment, by all means change your card so that you don't get a nasty "CARD FULL" message in your viewfinder just when you finally snapped the perfect image. But don't stress about it. It won't make your cards more reliable.

    6. Periodically reformat cards. As a practical matter, there is no difference between deleting and reformatting, unless you have astoundingly buggy software (e.g., circa 1989) on either your computer or camera. But formatting is often the quickest way to delete all images (especially if you have some so-called "protected" images). Also, see #7.

    7. Format on the camera you're going to use. It can't hurt. Theoretically, the FAT, FAT32, or VFAT filesystem is a standard that is supported by all cameras and computers. In practice, there might be "tiny" variants that turn out to break everything. Your camera knows what it wants; it's not likely to screw up.

    8. Switch your camera off first. This is very unlikely to matter. The memory cards are designed to be inserted into and removed from devices that already have power (in particular, that expensive card reader attached to your computer always has power). The grain of truth here is that some cameras (notably the stupidly designed Canons before the 40D) screw up writing pictures if you open the card door too soon after taking a series of shots. If your camera has a flashing LED, wait for it to be quiet before you take the card out. See Matthew Miller's comment.

    9. Keep your camera up to date. The FAT filesystem and its variants are well understood. Unless you have a very old camera, firmware updates aren't likely to matter. One exception is if you buy a memory card bigger than 2 GB; it's remotely possible that older firmware might not handle it but a firmware update would.

    10. Keep your cards up to date. Long before this is necessary, you'll decide that your old cards are useless because they're so small. I have some 64 MB SD cards that still work fine; the smallest available from buy.com are 512 MB and they only cost $2.

    11. Don't let batteries run down. Yes!!! 'Nuff said.

    12. Don't shut off the camera. This depends on the particular camera. A lot of cameras will happily finish writing data even if you move the power switch to "off". But on all cameras, if you open the battery door before it's finished, you are going to be up a creek without a paddle. On pre-40D Canons, opening the card door gives you the same unpleasant result (points to all other manufacturers, and I'm a Canon shooter). This is closely related to tip #3: before you disturb the world, make sure the card has finished its work.

    13. Common sense. Hey, it's common sense.

    Bonus: Again, yes. As several commenters have pointed out, something written on the outside of the card beats having a photo that can get lost by formatting. But 99% of the people in the world are honest, and only 10% of them are so lazy that they wouldn't get the card back to you if you make it easy. Label your cards! On the outside, even if you need to use a 6-point font!

    Finally (yeah, I know, you're tired of listening to me) comments on the comments:

    Graeme Smith: Yes, name brands are generally better in both reliability and speed. And yes, counterfeiting can be a problem.

    Brett Veenstra: Wow, news to me. I don't know enough about LCD technology to figure out why this happened. Even with the flash card, I find your experience surprising, but I learn something new every day.

    Chrissy: Your paranoia is admirable. It'll be a long time before you lose a photo.

    jkpaul: My guess is that either your friend was very unlucky, or there was some extreme force involved. The design of CF connection pins is such that it's very hard to bend them. I'm not at all nervous about changing CF cards in my camera. However, regarding your worry about the speed of an adaptor, in the absence of tests to the contrary I would tend to assume that an adaptor wouldn't slow things down by a measurable factor (to be fair, that's just an educated guess).

    Fred Albrecht: Yup.

    John Bokma: You're right that only badly designed electronics would misbehave when the power switch is turned off. Unfortunately, there are all these bad designers out there...

    ismaelj: Sorry to contradict your experience, but formatting a card will have ZERO effect on performance. Flash is not disk. There is no advantage to having things be contiguous. I can give you references if you want.

    Callie: if your card isn't misbehaving, no repair is needed. If you think something is wrong, formatting it in the camera will return it to a pristine state. Your son is completely wrong with his claim that you damaged your hard drive by removing the card "unsafely"; that idea is utterly absurd. If he's under 13 or over 19, point him at my Web page (see Google) and tell him to ask me. If he's 13-19, you're already up a creek, sorry. :-)

  • gina.maria

    May 29, 2008 06:00 pm

    @Luis
    Is it possible that it's an HC card? My older card reader couldn't even see my new HC card, so I had to have a specific reader for it.

  • Luis

    April 10, 2008 03:19 pm

    I have a 4gb chip i got at buy.com and for some reason my computer will not recognize it if i remove it from my camera. i have formatted it and everything but still. so i just connect my camera to the comp and it works only then. is there away to make it work?

  • Torgeir Frøystein

    January 22, 2008 04:20 am

    #5 This is correct, and has to do with the file system. (FAT32) It has to write information about the file to the file Allocation Table. If the card is full, there is no room for changing the information and you risk "disc" failure.
    And as stated by others, formating in camera, actually means rewriting of just the FAT, and saves writing cycles on the card as this is actually very little writing on the card itself, as opposed to deleting.

  • Callie

    January 3, 2008 01:22 am

    I am new to digital cameras and also 'technically challenged' when it comes to computers. I have already removed the camera memory card from my computer without using the 'safe to remove' button. (yes, I've already been chewed out by my son) but no suggestions on how to repair the issue. If that is the issue that is now causing my laptop to shutdown on a regular basis. My son thinks I may have damaged the hard drive. Any thoughts or suggestions? I appreciate your advice and expertise.

  • Gil

    January 2, 2008 03:34 pm

    Yeah, I also got confused there. I had to read it a couple of times. :-)

    So, which is which?

    Thanks!

  • Bambam

    November 23, 2007 01:23 pm

    2. Delete Images on your Computer not In Camera

    Deleting images from your card while the card is on your camera can actually prolong the life of your memory card.

    --I found this advice conflicting. Should I delete in camera (as the body suggest) or on computer (as the title states)?

  • David Bradley

    November 13, 2007 06:28 pm

    Accidentally deleted your image files from your memory card?

    Three words:

    Zero Assumption Recovery

    (www.z-a-recovery.com)

    Great little program that will help you recover lost images very quickly.

    I was going to write a review on Sciencetext.com, and may yet do so, but the program does what it says on the tin and is worth having in your memory card software arsenal.

    db

  • PhotographyVoter.com

    November 11, 2007 07:14 am

    How should I care for my digital camera’s memory card to make it last as long as possible?

    Where there are many things that are unique from one digital camera to another - one thing unites us all (or most of us) - we all media cards to store our photos onto (the exception to this are a few cameras with lots of internal memory).

  • ismaelj

    November 10, 2007 09:07 pm

    @jamesc359: formating is the same in a card and in a hard drive: they both rewrite the first sector of the media being formated, erasing the file structure(the way files are laid out on disc) and this is why is not possible to recover images from a formated card/HD.

    The only difference is that the hardware inside the card maps different areas of the card to be the "first sectors". The reason behind this is to spread the writing of data in different areas of the card, given that cards have a finite number of writes.

  • jamesc359

    November 10, 2007 08:38 am

    John Bokma, I read here a long while back that formating a memory card is different than formatting a hard-drive, in that your camera will overwrite everything. I wish I could find my source again, but Googling hasn't turned up anything so far.

    Not being happy with that I did my own little test. I downloaded some software that claims to be able to recover files after having formated your memory card.

    I started by taking two pictures, deleting them and scanning the memory card. The software managed to recover both images after it's first pass.

    I then took another two shots and reformatted the card in camera. The software found nothing on the first pass and switched to a more intensive scan which also turned up nothing. I can't be 100% certain this is because the camera overwrote the files, but what ever it did do it made recovery a lot more difficult.

    For those wondering I used a freeware app named PC Inspector smart recovery.
    http://www.pcinspector.de/Sites/smart_recovery/ueber_uns.htm?language=1

    It is possible that maybe using other software or a different camera or even a different type of memory card I'd have gotten different results. But who knows.

  • ismaelj

    November 10, 2007 07:37 am

    About tip #2, I'm a IT administrator and developer, and I know how FAT and FAT32 file systems (the ones used by almost all camera makers) "erases" the files: they simply change the first character in the name of the file! It's a special one, so the operating system in your computer or camera knows that the space in disk is free to be written again.

    So, it really doesn't matter if you erase only one file at a time or all together, all then will be marked/written the same way.

    On the other hand, formatting your card from time to time (every week or month, for instance) could have a good impact on your camera performance it it's a little slower writing files or you shoot often in continuous mode, given that this will restore the writing area on the disk/card to a continuous space and images will be recorded one after the other without having to skip already written areas.

  • Scoop

    November 10, 2007 05:26 am

    I have a Nikon D50 and I download everything to my laptop, run it through Photoshop, delete the junk, then save it all on a Maxtor 300. I check to make sure everything is OK, then I delete the card in the PC, remove the card and format it in my camera.

  • John Bokma

    November 10, 2007 05:09 am

    @jamesc359 - "Formatting your card regardless of where you do it will overwrite all the data on the card. " - I am not sure if this is really the case, I guess that formatting just creates the file system layout. There is no need to overwrite *all* data for a format, just laying out the file system is enough. And if I am correct, data can still be recovered (but not as easily).

    "Even companies who specialize in data recovery may not be able to recover your photos."

    If you're correct, and all data *is* overwritten, then data can't be recovered as far as I know. Flash memory works very different compared to magnetic recording systems like hard disks.

    @Matthew Miller - that's not the same as turning off, but more similar to pulling a floppy out of a drive while the computer is still writing data to it. Does opening the card door also eject the card?

    But like I wrote, there is no reason for turning off your camera with the on/off button resulting in data loss other than badly designed electronics.

  • Fred Albrecht

    November 10, 2007 02:14 am

    I'm with XX in saying that #2 doesn't fly. Flash cards still use the old FAT filesystem where deleting a file means writing a few bytes in the allocation table saying the space previously occupied by that file is now free. In FAT this is done by overwriting the first character of the filename.
    Repeat for each file you erase.
    When you "format" a card, all you really do is rewrite a blank FAT (a few hundred Ks of data), you don't actually format anything.

    Now where it *used* to be the case that flash media only had a very limited number of read/write cycles available, nowadays, not only has that number grown way up but the controllers tend to cycle the writes all over the memory so that it gets abused evenly. So all in all, chances are you'll drop your card in the harbour, in a puddle of beer, or lose it in whatever way (or just dump it because it no longer fits in any of your cameras) before it starts to fail. If you buy decent flash memory to begin with of course.
    Basically, avoid the noname stuff and you should be fine.

  • Matthew Miller

    November 9, 2007 10:26 pm

    John Bokma -- Canon's older dSLRs (I think including the Rebel XTI, but I don't know for sure) are notorious for shutting off instantly if you open the card door even if there's still data in the buffer.

  • jkpaul

    November 9, 2007 06:18 pm

    hmmm, yes, I reformat every time I've downloaded the photos from the cards.

    I've a friend whose D350 had to be sent back to Canon during the first year because the CF pins got bent when replacing a card *during his honeymoon*!

    Since then he never removes the card and simply fills it then downloads it.

    My suggestion, though I've not (yet) done it myself, is to get a CF card that's an adaptor for SD cards, then to use those as normal, removing them from the CF card when full.

    The reason I've not done this yet, is because I enjoy the (slightly) faster read/write times of my Sandisk Extreme III 2GB card and I suspect that having an adaptor between the slr and a fast SD card would probably slow things down.

    Thoughts anyone?!

  • wayne west

    November 9, 2007 12:39 pm

    man, you keep going back & forth - just format in camera every time.

  • DTM

    November 9, 2007 11:01 am

    Formatting a card in-camera is best practice and it should be done *every* time the card is inserted into the camera. Any decent DSLR will have a key combination to do it so you don't have to dig through the menus.

    If you delete some photos or even all the photos from the card using a computer, the file structure on the card can be compromised when used back in the camera and may affect the writing of new images.

    If you have a memory card issue in the field it may lock up and only a format will recover it, if that's the case you'll lose all the images on the card if you can't download them.

    Format every time you reinsert the card, it'll save tears in the long run.

  • Ed O'Keeffe

    November 9, 2007 09:46 am

    I always format my cards in camera after they are imported.

    I never delete files from the card, only from the computer when the card is fully imported.

    I always buy high quality SanDisk Cards.

    I never buy cards that take more than 150-200 images in the highest quality raw format, so if a card goes bad, I havent lost a full days work.

  • Tom Bonner

    November 9, 2007 09:30 am

    Delete Images on your Computer not In Camera

    My recommendation is to never format or delete images from a memory card on your computer. I believe most camera manufacturers will echo that. You should always delete images from the camera, not the computer. Digital cameras are fairly touchy about formating and there may be subtle differences between the format from your computer and your camera. Formating or deleting images on a computer may result in a card that your camera will have trouble reading and writing. It's always best to format the card in your camera after you are sure the images are safely written to your computer.

    As to the notion that removing Compact Flash cards from your camera is dangerous -- that is just wrong. I use multiple Compact Flash cards and interchange them with several different cameras. I always use a card reader -- it is faster and safer. After several years of heavy use, I have never had a CF card (or a Micro Drive) give me any trouble. I have however, seen images lost trying to transfer over a USB cable.

    I believe it might have been possible to incorrectly insert the old Type I CF cards -- they were thinner and didn't have a strong failsafe stop. Unless you use brute force, it is nearly impossible to insert a TypeII CF in the wrong way in a quality digital camera. TypeII cards have a small ridge that prevents inserting it incorrectly. TypeII cards have been fairly standard for at least five years, so unless you buy some el-cheepo card somewhere, you probably have already have a TypeII card.

    Use name brand TypeII memory, get a card reader and don't worry about how often you swap memory cards.

    Hope this helps!

    Tom Bonner
    http://alphatracks.com

  • Frank Pratt

    November 9, 2007 09:17 am

    I too had a situation where I bought a new CF card that worked fine until it was filled up. Crucial tech support told me to make sure it was formatted in the camera, not the computer. After investigating further, I discovered that all my cameras use the FAT file system but the default for formatting in Windows is FAT32.

    BTW, I was able to recover the files using FileRestore.

  • jamesc359

    November 9, 2007 07:01 am

    “Your best bet is to reformat the card in-camera. This involves less rewriting of data than deleting all files at once and, should you have to recover them, is more likely to be recoverable.” ~ Scott

    Deleting your files from you camera may make them easier to recover and may involve less writing, but not formating. Formatting your card regardless of where you do it will overwrite all the data on the card. That makes it extremely difficult to recover any of the cards contents. Even companies who specialize in data recovery may not be able to recover your photos.

    Given the longevity of flash memory I don't think that how many times you write to your card should ever be a concern. It's far more important that your card functions reliably while it is alive. If that means formatting every so often, then that's a *very* *small* price to pay.

  • Jeff Donovan

    November 9, 2007 04:33 am

    I learned the hard way to avoid removing the card as much as possible. It does take longer to download pictures from some cameras, but it is one of those things you can start and then walk away from.

    I will definitely start formatting my cards every once in a while.

    Lastly, I usually don't delete photos from my camera until I upload them to my Smugmug site. Then I have them saved in two places so there is very little chance they will be lost.

  • John Bokma

    November 9, 2007 03:07 am

    #2 - Modern cards can handle a lot of operations before they wear out. You probably have stopped using the memory card long, long before this happens (remember: there are now hard disks being made using the same technology)

    I doubt if this was even an issue with old cards. Moreover, I have the feeling that my Sony DSC-S600 deletes the photos one by one anyway, even if I delete them from the computer, so if I delete 100 photos, it looks like 100 operations, not a single "update the folder, 100 photos are deleted". Remember, deleting a photo is just updating a folder entry, not actually overwriting each image with zeros. If a memory cell wears out, it's mapped out and another part of the memory card is being used.

    #12 - I doubt this: it's not that hard to make the off button *not* cut off the power directly, but connect it to some electronics. I guess that on most camera's this is the case, and that the off button is able to "wait" until there are no more operations on the memory card in progress that can result in data loss. I've never lost a single photo by turning off the camera too fast, not even with my now very outdated Philips ESP 60...

  • MikMik

    November 9, 2007 02:47 am

    @Scott: about writing your name and address on the card, that's easy with big cards, like CF, but with others it's quite difficult because of their size (xD, for example).

  • Pkabz

    November 9, 2007 02:28 am

    a link to a great free utility to recover deleted files from memory cards: http://www.cgsecurity.org/wiki/PhotoRec
    It works magic IF you haven't taken new pictures after the accidental deletion. Otherwise, you may or may not be able to retrieve all deleted pictures.
    Was able to get 100+ pictures I had accidentally deleted last week...

  • 1001 noisy cameras

    November 9, 2007 02:27 am

    Indeed, I learned about #11 (batteries running out of juice) the hard way. Sometimes a camera may not handle the running out of power situation correctly and start misbehaving and writing corrupt JPEG files on the memory card. This is a sneaky problem because you may not realize it while it's happening and think everything's okay. Perhaps when the battery indicator reaches the last mark before empty, that's a good time to reload new batteries. Other areas of camera performance may also be affected (focusing, etc), perhaps more so with AA-powered cameras?

    Also, I'd like to congratulate Digital Photography School for being ranked #250 among all the blog feeds around the world in the new beta Bloglines Top 1000. I am going through the list in my blog, looking at how the different camera and photo blogs are doing.

  • Chrissy

    November 9, 2007 01:22 am

    I don't usually let my card get completely full, but I won't format it until I have my photos backed up in two places - my computer, and an external hard drive. Once I put photos on the external hard drive, I'll format the card in-camera. And like Niels above, I also like to keep the card in the camera at all times. There's less of a chance of damaging it or getting it dirty.

  • Tim

    November 9, 2007 01:09 am

    If I turn off my D50, it stays on to continue the buffer.

  • Scott

    November 9, 2007 01:07 am

    A couple comments:

    2. Delete Images on your Computer not In Camera

    Your best bet is to reformat the card in-camera. This involves less rewriting of data than deleting all files at once and, should you have to recover them, is more likely to be recoverable.

    And, regarding putting an identifying file on your card: this doesn't work very well when you reformat it. You're better off putting your name & address on the side of the card.

  • Niels Henriksen

    November 9, 2007 12:55 am

    I am always a little concerned with Compact Flash (CF) cards as they fit onto 40 pins in the camera and these can be easily broken or bent. On pervious camera I did notice that after years of removing , downloading and inserting card back into camera there was some problems occurring with the card being properly seating and therefore connected to camera. Would flash ‘not memory card’ and would sometimes occur out in the filed.

    With my new camera I always leave the card in (8GB). I download files directly from camera, which does drain the battery more (you should always have spares) and reformat every time rather than delete the card.

    Niels Henriksen

  • Brett Veenstra

    November 9, 2007 12:53 am

    Another tip, keep your mobile phone away from your camera (and storage card).

    I just had my Canon Powershot on vacation and happened to put it in my pocket NEXT TO my cell. It stayed there all day and then I discovered that the LCD on the Powershot and the card became corrupted. Reformatting the card worked, but the LCD always had "streaks" in it.

  • Graeme Smith

    November 9, 2007 12:51 am

    Not really a tip, but I have heard that the popular memory card brands (Sandisk, Lexar) are more reliable than other cards. Also, there are fake cards around so buying from a reputable store is a good idea.

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