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The Different Methods Of Cleaning Memory Cards

Cards a plenty

Copyright Robert S. Donovan

“Just delete the photos you don’t want,” one friend suggests when you ask what to do when you’ve finished downloading a memory card to your computer.

“No, no. You want to format it in the camera to be safe,” chimes in another

And still a third friend offers, “What’s best is low level formatting, if you camera offers it.”

For a lot of people starting out in digital photography, all these bits of advice can seem both conflicting and confusing.  What is low level and why is it better?  What happens if I just delete?  And will anyone make fun of me if I do the ‘wrong’ thing?

First, let me belay the last question.  We are all here to learn and at some point or another everyone faces this question.  So don’t sweat not knowing because this post will help set the record straight on how each method works.  It’s my hope you will then be able to speak intelligently about the different methods and use that knowledge for the greater good of digital photographers everywhere.

For the techies out there, I suggest you look away from this next part.  I’m going to over simplify things a bit in order to make sure the basics of data storage are understood.  I’m not going to get into bits and bytes and instead try to make this post accessible for all.  And for the sake of argument, we’ll assume all digital cameras function essentially the same when it comes to card formatting, etc… while admitting different models and brands do things ever so slightly differently.  That’s not really in the scope of this post either.

Square One

Let’s start with some basics and use an analogy.  Imagine your memory card is a book.  A real simple book with only a table of contents and the pages.  Maybe it’s 50 pages of Table Of Contents (TOC) and another 450 of actual story, so 500 pages in all.  Now then, when you take a picture, essentially what the camera does is write all the information of the picture (all the information from the camera’s sensor) onto a page in the book and then notes that page in the TOC.  Pretty simple.  The camera writes out a page that describes a flower in massive detail and then writes in the TOC that page 342 contains “flower, shot on March 12th, etc…”

You finish shooting for the day.  You’ve downloaded all the information from the card to your computer and are prepared to take more pictures.  Here’s where the different methods come into play.

Deleting Photos

When you delete photos you are, more or less, going into the TOC and erasing the entry for “flower, shot on March 12th, etc…”.  This then lets the camera know that page 342 is available to be written over.  Either one at a time, or all at once, you’re only affecting the TOC, not the actual pages when you delete.  On page 342 there still exists a massively detailed description of a flower, but your camera only knows what’s on each page by looking at the TOC, NOT the individual pages.  As far as it knows, there is nothing on page 342 and it can reuse that page

Basic Or High Level Format

Until the last couple of years this was the only type of formatting available on cameras.  And you might not have even know it because it was only called “Format”.  This was the quick way to delete a whole card and start fresh.  Just like the Deleting option above, it wipes clean the TOC only but does it all at once.  Nice and efficient and according to a camera looking ONLY at the TOC, you have a completely clean book on which to write.  (NOTE: in these examples the camera will actually take a page from the book and, when it’s ready to write a new picture, erase each letter, one at a time while it writes in the new information.  We’ll get to why this is important in a bit.)  Again, it’s only a TOC function, not a book function when formatting a card at high level.

Low Level Format

Now we have the real destructor.  A Low Level Format not only wipes out the TOC but it will go through and erases each and every letter on each and every page and types in little zeros in all those spots.  What you end up in the end is a book with no TOC and zeros everywhere.  There’s no way to find out what was there beforehand.

What Does This All Mean?

What this all means is if you want to reclaim the maximum amount of space and have the cleanest card, use a Low Level format if your camera can do it.

If not, be aware that your camera will be constantly writing to pages with text already on them, sometimes taking more than a page to write a single picture.  And if you only delete some pictures and then start shooting again, you may be telling the camera it’s ok to use pages 342, 355 and 398.  The camera might then use all of page 342 and then some of 355 for the next shot.  This is the classic definition of fragmentation and it can slow performance over time (although less so with solid state media like memory cards than it can with moving hard drives).  The next picture you shoot then straddles page 355 where the last image left off and part of 398. And on and on and on.

Go back and delete that first picture and the camera now thinks all of 342 and part of 355 is available, while the next picture taken may only use part of that.  Confused?  This is why a fragmented hard drive on your main computer runs slower because of having to ‘think’ and hunt for all those little bits and pieces that aren’t all written on consecutive pages, but instead scattered depending on where available pages popped up when it was time to write information.

The method of deleting photos or running a High Level Format does have one advantage though: it’s (somewhat) undoable.  Meaning, if you accidentally ran a High Level Format on your card and, GASP!, realized you didn’t want to, chances are all those pictures are still there on all those page.  If you followed along above, all those descriptions of what the camera saw with each picture are, in fact, still in the book, there’s just no Table Of Contents to help the camera (or home computer) find them.  This is where photo recovery software comes in.

Photo recover software works on the principle that all the info is there, but you need to read the entire book in order to write out a new TOC.  And that’s what it does.  While not perfect, photo recovery software will read that original page 342, understand where the description of the flower starts and stops and then present you with the image, letting you decide to keep it or recover it.  Most programs do not rewrite the TOC for you and instead keep a virtual copy resident as long as the program runs.

And that concludes today’s over simplified analogy lesson of how data is stored and destroyed on flash memory cards.  I’m not here to tell you which is best (ok, I kind of did, just a little) but hope the info in this post will help you make an informed decision in the future!  What works best for you is completely up to you.

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Peter West Carey is a world traveling photographer who now is spending a large amount of time going back through 6 years of travel photo and processing them like he should have to start with. He is also helping others learn about photography with the free series 31+ Days Of Photography Experiments which builds off of the 31+ Days To Better Photography series on his blog.

  • http://danferno.deviantart.com Danferno

    Another interesting thing to keep in mind is that your computer has to check the TOC every time you access the card, and everytime you open a photo (say preview function?). Even when you’re not actively looking at your images, as long as your card is attached to your PC, the TOC will be accessed every now and then by the PC to check if everything is still OK. This is why you should always copy all your images to your hard drive and immediately eject the device/card. Otherwise, you’re wasting valuable memory card life.

  • Michael Daniels

    One thing I wonder about low level format is if it shortens the life of the card. Solid state drives have a limited number of times they can be written (granted this is a large number on the order of > 100,000). If you low level format all the time and therefore write to the entire card every time wouldn’t the card’s life be cut in half. Just a thought. I don’t know for sure.

  • Andre

    The method you call “low level formatting” is not called that. Low level formatting is something that’s done to a hard disk prior to us buying it. In the “old days” you could low level format a drive to clear up problems. Newer drives don’t allow consumers to do this. Note that a low level format did not erase each byte on the disk, rather it set up the geometry of the drive.

    The method you are referring to would be better referred to as a secure erase.

    My opinion on which method? If you are concerned about someone recovering deleted photos off your card, then use a secure erase. If not, then don’t secure erase. You might want to recover deleted photos yourself one day.

    The best every day way to do it? Format the card in the camera. If you format it on your PC, you run the risk of something not being quite right when you pop the card in the camera. A good example is Macintosh. When you use a card in a Mac, the Mac OS will write hidden files to the card. A camera may or may not be able to deal with this. Windows will sometimes create a “recycled” folder to use as a Recycle Bin. You also run the risk of formatting it wrong because of some defaults – for example FAT16 or NTFS instead of FAT32.

    Your camera understands cards best that have been formatted by your camera. The type of format will be perfect.

  • http://www.sk8hx.org.uk Steven Lilley

    Sorry, this article seems flawed. With a “high level format” the camera is writing to dirty pages, but it doesn’t care. It’s not going to fragment the new images. Deleting images in camera would lead to fragmentation over time. The paragraph starting “If not, be aware…” seems to confuse these scenarios. Regards.

  • Jamesc359

    I understand this is for a newbie, and technical discussions aren’t wanted, but I believe there are a few mistakes in your analogy and conclusions that could lead people astray.

    The first being that fragmentation on a memory card will slow it down. This is not true. Skipping around from one supposed page to another is not slower because unlike a hard drive their is no physical seeking involved. In actuality your card will probably be fragmented anyways because of built in wear leveling. Basically that’s where your card changes the “page numbers” in an attempt to prevent any single page from being excessively used.

    Also, every card has a finite number of writes it can perform before failing, so every time you format your card you’re shortening its lifespan and increasing the odds that you will have a failure. It’d be like taking the eraser to every page in your book regardless if it needs it or not, sooner or later you will tear through a page.

    Going all the way back to my first digital camera and it’s 8MB memory card, I’ve never had a card fail on me or had a corrupted picture. Nor have I known anybody that has either. If your memory card fails it’s most likely because of a manufacturing fault. There’s no amount of formatting that can fix that.

  • http://www.bebop-ad.com BebopDesigner

    Brilliant post! I had no idea. Thanks for sharing. Cheers!

  • Jeff Plum

    Yikes! So many words, and so much debate for such a simple question! Here’s the simple, 9 word answer for people who don’t have a spare afternoon:

    Format card in camera after transferring images to computer.

  • Jeff Plum

    Oh my goodness, I feel compelled to wade into this discussion after reading one thing up there:

    “every card has a finite number of writes it can perform before failing, so every time you format your card you’re shortening its lifespan”

    Goodness me, let’s all hide under our tables and never leave the house – never mind taking photos!

    I’m fairly sure that modern memory cards can handle being formatted before use. In fact you access the card less times by formatting than by deleting photos one at a time, or – shock horror – previewing your images on the camera or computer screen directly from the card. This is because an in-camera format deletes the table of contents. It does not wipe the data, it merely changes the flag on written data from ‘do not write over’ to ‘write over’.

  • anaconda

    Jeff, if you transfer the images, why do anything at all, since you’re left with an empty card. Surely you meant formatting in the camera afterward if you just copy the files?

    That’s what I do anyway, use Windows explorer and cut and paste the images to whichever folder I want them. Photos in computer, empty memory card, simple. Also I don’t see a need to format the card.

  • mike

    Sorry I’m another techie and I agree with jamesc359. There are a couple conclusions here that are probably not accurate.
    1) SD Cards are solid state (no spinning disk inside) so fragmentation would not be the same as harddrives. There is also the issue of leveling.
    2) I do not see where a “low level” format will increase speed over a “high level” format. When a picture is taken after a high level format was done the picture is still written to memory, it does not have to delete the picture from that “page” first.

  • http://sean@bizet.com Cuchulainn

    “I’m fairly sure that modern memory cards can handle being formatted before use.”

    No doubt. Flash Cards are good for 100,000 cycles. If you formatted the card 5 times a day it would last around 55 years. Chances are the card will be obsolete (too small, new formats, etc) long before you wear it out. Go ahead.. have fun.. format the heck out of the thing if you want. You will get bored before it cries Uncle.

  • Jamesc359

    “Goodness me, let’s all hide under our tables and never leave the house – never mind taking photos!”
    *rollseyes*

    “I’m fairly sure that modern memory cards can handle being formatted before use.”
    Yes of course they can. This isn’t a case of the sky is falling, it’s just the way things work. Your car, TV, computer, hard drive, shoes – everything has an average lifespan before failing.

    “In fact you access the card less times by formatting than by deleting photos one at a time [...] This is because an in-camera format deletes the table of contents. It does not wipe the data,”
    No, depending upon the kind of format it can overwrite all data on the card, which is the kind of format I was talking about.

    “it merely changes the flag on written data from ‘do not write over’ to ‘write over’.”
    No, that’s what deleting a file on the card does. Formating completely erases the TOC and starts all over again. There are no pointers to existing files to mark as free because it’s all assumed to be free.

    A memory card’s lifespan is not measured by how many times you access the card. Every byte within the card can (on average) be read and wrote to X number of times before failing. When you erase the TOC you completely overwrite it all. That writing counts against all of the bytes that the TOC occupies.
    When you mark a file deleted it only counts against a single byte in the TOC.

    It’s unlikely that you’ll ever notice the difference in lifespan with either deleting or a simple format. A so called secure format however will have a significant impact, because it is overwriting the whole card, even if it doesn’t need to.

  • http://www.cortens.blogspot.com Julie

    Oh my, I was starting to get confused. Thank you jeff plum for keeping it short and simple. will keep doing what I always do after uploading my pics: “Format card in camera after transferring images to computer.”

  • http://foodientravelbug.blogspot.com Mei Teng

    ” We are all here to learn and at some point or another everyone faces this question. So don’t sweat not knowing because this post will help set the record straight on how each method works.” I like this statement and I agree too.

    I usually transfer my pictures from my memory card to my laptop. So I end up with a blank memory card ready for my next shoot. Do I still need to re-insert that memory card into my camera and press the Format button? Also, I am using a Canon 450d and the Format button is just that. It doesn’t say High or Low Level Format.

    Your answer to my question is greatly appreciated.

  • http://foodientravelbug.blogspot.com Mei Teng

    Jeff has already provided the answer to my question :)

  • http://www.focx.de Christoph

    I for my part simply plug the card into my computer, start Picasa, let it copy the files to where I told it I want to have them, and check the “Erase only the pictures on the card that were copied to the computer” option. No format, no work, no trouble.

  • Daniel

    Just two cents from a semi-techie (professional computer guy):

    So the chance of having a (modern) card wearing out before it is obsolete is fairly low, no matter what you use to get it ready for next shot (maybe except secure erase).

    A good reason for in-camera format is that the chance of having a corrupted TOC (or FAT) is probably much higher than having a failure due to write cycles. And that formatting should create a good clean FAT on the card, the one that is most compatible with your camera.

    With a corrupted FAT, you will still probably recover quite a lot of pictures (had to do it once for a friend, and was surprised to recover much more than she expected, older pics still there) but it requires to have the right tool and a bit of work (renaming, …).

    So for me as well, it is “Format in-camera after transferring to (two different HD’s of) the computer”.

    Daniel

  • http://www.worldinsnapshots.com Vilmis @ World In Snapshops

    I agree with Daniel – how many people wearied out their cards ? If you frequently use camera it most likely in couple years you’ll upgrade it, which will have more Mpix and you’ll need bigger memory card. But if camera used just occasionally then that memory card can last forever.
    Always formatting my card and it is done faster then just deleting pictures.

    p.s. this post I think even more confuse beginners.

  • http://rowanlamb.blogspot.com Rowan

    And here was me thinking you were going to talk about soap and water…

  • Jeff Plum

    “Jeff, if you transfer the images, why do anything at all, since you’re left with an empty card. Surely you meant formatting in the camera afterward if you just copy the files?”

    Er, no. You should never “move” files from a memory card to your computer, always copy them. Because then you can check them on the computer to make sure they have copied without corruption. If they haven’t, YOU’VE GOT A COPY.

    If all is well, put the card in your camera and format it. Not just so it’s empty, but also because the card is then set exactly the way the camera likes it, so there’s less chance of anything going wrong between the camera and card – this is more of a concern to a pro photog than the lifespan of the card.

  • Jeff Plum

    @daniel: agree with all that.

    @Jamesc359: “No, that’s what deleting a file on the card does. Formating completely erases the TOC and starts all over again. There are no pointers to existing files to mark as free because it’s all assumed to be free.”
    In my 5D I can format a card in-camera, then use Sandisk Recovery to access all the images I just “deleted” off the card? Is that possibly because a format just deletes the TOC but leaves the images intact, albeit in a “please write over me cause no-one can see me anymore” state? Yes. That was my point. I think we’re both talking about the same thing anyway.

  • http://cameraguyzack.blogspot.com/ Zack Jones

    Honestly, based upon the title I thought this post was going to be about washing or removing smudges from your memory cards not formatting them.

    @jeff plum summed it up perfectly “Format card in camera after transferring images to computer.”

  • anaconda

    “Er, no. You should never “move” files from a memory card to your computer, always copy them. Because then you can check them on the computer to make sure they have copied without corruption. If they haven’t, YOU’VE GOT A COPY.”

    If such unlikely event would occur, I could use a recovery software to get the image that is corrupted. But that sounds so far fetched I did not even think about it. I worry about things that are more likely, like my cheap external drives that I use for back-ups. Back-ups are obviously a thing for another discussion entirely.

    “If all is well, put the card in your camera and format it. Not just so it’s empty, but also because the card is then set exactly the way the camera likes it, so there’s less chance of anything going wrong between the camera and card – this is more of a concern to a pro photog than the lifespan of the card.”

    Oh, I did not mention that I use the cameras cable so I have not removed the card from camera ever since I first put it there. So it’s not really a concern of mine.

    Also, what exactly you mean by setting it up like the camera likes? The formatting of it or the folders that the cameras create?

  • http://deron.meranda.us/ Deron Meranda

    I think there is perhaps some technical misunderstanding here. Memory cards, such as you’d use in a camera, have extra controller chips in them (they are not just raw flash memory cells any more). These controllers automatically perform a lot of actions such as wear-levelling an error correction. This is done at the hardware level and your camera or computer is not even aware of it. What this means is that when you write, say to block number 342, you are not necessarily accessing the same physical memory locations as the last time you wrote there.

    Fragmentation is usually a non-issue. Memory cards have no seek-time penalty, such as hard drives do. The only times when this could have any observable, though still minor, impact is when you have a nearly full card and have been doing lots of individual file deletes; and then this is really due to the poor design of FAT rather than anything inherit to the card. But as soon as you delete enough so the card is no longer close to being full, any file system fragmentation should be nearly undetectable.

    Basically what you’re calling a low-level format is a good way to clear all the files at once, and (mostly) overwrite all the memory so that those deleted files could not be retrieved or recovered. It will also rebuild the filesystem which can be useful for recovering from a corrupted file system. It will also allow the card to detect bits that are beginning to wear out and remap them much earlier. It’s a perfectly fine thing to do from time to time.

    However do remember that because of the wear-levelling and bad block marking that the “erase and overwrite” of a format is not necessarily perfect. Even after a format there is the possibility that some previously-written data could still be retrievable; though doing so requires much more sophistication. But then on the other hand, simply deleting the files or doing a “quick format” makes it nearly trivial for anybody to recover the previous data. So it is a good idea to perform a low-level format if ever swapping cards with other people, selling them, etc.

    In summary, the choice of deleting files versus formatting really only comes down to convenience, and whether you want to make it much harder for anybody to potentially recover any files that used to be on the card. There’s practically no detectable performance or card-lifetime benefits; especially when using a file system such as FAT-16, FAT-32, or NTFS which have not been designed or optimized for flash storage.

  • http://deron.meranda.us/ Deron Meranda

    Also, what exactly you mean by setting it up like the camera likes? The formatting of it or the folders that the cameras create?

    This is not nearly as much of an issue with newer equipment as it used to be, but some devices (cameras) can be particularly sensitive to the exact structure of the file system and what it contains. For example they may make simplifying assumptions about the particular block layout, the existence of certain directories, etc. Sometimes brand new cards, and especially USB devices, are not empty when you buy them. Also a card’s filesystem could contain hidden files or have other low-level file attributes set in a way that the camera is not programmed to deal with. In many cases you may not notice such differences if you’re just viewing the card in your computer’s “folder view”.

    Doing a format in the device you’re using will insure that camera’s (arguably poor) assumptions are met. Whether you actually need to do this depends on your equipment, how many different devices you swap your cards between, and your experience with it. Oh, and a format is also the best way to make sure you card isn’t carrying a computer virus.

  • PhotoKenetic

    I have one method for cleaning memory cards that I think has not been addressed. One day I searched the house high and low for one of my CF cards. It turned up in its plastic case in my pants pocket. Unfortunately those pants had just gone through the washing machine. Well the card looked really clean… I checked the contacts to make sure everything was dry and hesitantly tried the card in my reader. Everything worked.

    I’m not sure I would recommend this method on a regular basis, but it is good to know that all might not be lost. Most likely the soap would be a problem if this scenario were to be repeated too often.

  • dgeer

    Hi very useful, I was told best to format card rather than erase pictures individually but I notice if I ask the computer to format it in my computer it asks for quick or full format. I assume this equates to high and low level. Usually I do it in camera sometime after I download because my download software only downloads new pictures anyway (unless I tell it otherwise)…also it means I can re-download a while after or to someone else’s computer.

    Thanks

  • anaconda

    Good posts there Deron and obviously the virus thing was important to notice.

    I don’t know how this worked with older cameras, but the current ones I’ve tried don’t really seem to make assumptions you mention. I checked with my Olympus camera and the formatting it does simply formats the drive just as your computer would do.

    Only after you take a picture, the camera creates a folder where it puts the images. So, at least in this case, it does not make any difference whether you do the formatting with the camera or the with the computer. The camera simply creates the folder if it does not exist, and does not care about any other folders there, it just reads from and writes to the folders that it creates. I’ve used my card to store other files as well (lost my USB-stick for a while…) and they don’t have any effect.

    It makes sense really, because if the device is able to format the drive, it has to be able to create the folders it needs.

  • http://www.auzzie.net/beetree R. Campbell

    I have taken over 10,000 photos (RAW + JPEG) with my Cannon 400D using the same card, with a couple of others in my bag, “just in case I need them”. I formatted each before using for the first time. Since then I have NEVER reformatted them. I use Windows Explorer with a card reader to “Cut and Paste” to the folder where I want them. A couple of times with irreplacable and valuable shots, I did a “copy and past” to my computer hard drive, then cut and paste to a USB hard drive, however I have NEVER experienced ploblems, using my method. If ever it happens, I would use a recovery programme if the photos warrented such, and retire that Card. I believe in KISS. (Keep it so simple)

  • http://www.patb-photography.co.uk/ Pat Bloomfield

    This is an excellent article but I would like to warn readers of the potential dangers of deleting images in camera.

    I used to happily delete individual files until I attended a professional wedding photography course last year. One of the photographers warned me against it because it can lead to corrupting the memory. This is because they use a FAT, File Allocation Table, table as used in the original DOS and windows computers. Each piece of data is written to an allocated area of memory, with any unused area just being left empty. Incidentally it is these empty pieces of memory that is used by hackers who write viruses and trojan horses etc. and why FAT is not used for operating systems any more.

    As stated in the article here, when individual images are deleted the entry is only removed from the TOC and the data of the actual image is left untouched. When another image is written into the same allocated area of memory (the same page to use Peter’s analogy) and it is smaller than the previous piece of data it will not be completely overwritten. In short your image is now corrupted.

    Therefore my work-flow now is to never delete images when browsing images on a shoot – just leave them. Images can be removed once you’ve transferred them to your PC/MAC during the initial editing process. After the images on the PC have been edited and backed-up I can then reformat my memory cards.

    Pat
    PatB Photography

  • Matt

    dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdd (d for 4th usb device)

    put in camera and format!

    works like a charm… be careful not to wipe your hard drive!

  • http://flicker.happiestboy happiestboy

    thanks for this article, just have a question though 2 weeks ago i messed up 4 gb sd card by clicking on the bitlocker on my computer, then while it was processing i decided to cancel. now its no longer working, ive since purchased a new 4gb sd card but would like to have it functional as you can never have too many memory cards, right? help!

  • http://BullRhino.blogspot.com Bull Rhino

    With all those posts and all that information I doubt that anyone will get down to this comment, but if you do here’s my 2 cents worth. On my card I have a photo of my computer screen that tells anyone who looks at it who the card/camera belongs to, all my phone numbers and email and that a reward is offered for it’s return – Just in case. I guess it wouldn’t be a big deal to retake that every time I format it, unless I forget the one time when I really needed it.

  • Lu

    Just wanted to share what happened to me. I took pictures at a zoo. When I went to download them to the computer, the disk said it was empty. My son downloaded something from the internet and was able to recover all the pictures for me. Along with those pictures I had taken that day, were a few from a year before that I thought had been deleted long ago. I usually hit the quick format buttons on my Nikon D70 to delete my pictures. Rarely do I go to the menu and do it from there. But I do format every time I download my pictures to the computer, which is generally the same day I take them. So how could I have reformatted that disk over and over again, but still have pictures on there from a year ago?

  • http://www.hahnsphotography.com Dave Hahn

    @lu – The pictures were still on the card because only the table of contents was deleted, not the actual picture. If you had filled your entire card up since those pictures were taken, they would have been overwritten – but apparently you had never filled the card up to 100% so they were still there.

  • Henry

    I have a nikon D80… does anyone know at what level the format function operates on this camera?

  • http://benjamincahill.com/ Benjamin Cahill

    @jeff plum:”In my 5D I can format a card in-camera, then use Sandisk Recovery to access all the images I just “deleted” off the card? Is that possibly because a format just deletes the TOC but leaves the images intact, albeit in a “please write over me cause no-one can see me anymore” state? Yes. That was my point. I think we’re both talking about the same thing anyway.”

    And? What does it matter if they’re still there? Are you taking pictures of things you shouldn’t be?

  • http://www.patbweddingphotography.com/weddings/ Pat Bloomfield

    @Benfamin, I’m not sure exactly how recover software works but I have heard that even if you do a low level format and write all ones and zeros to a hard disk, some software can still read traces of data. I saw and example of forensics software a few years ago and it was quite frightening what can be recovered from your hard disk.

    I guess exactly the same principle applies to memory cards. The data may need to be overwritten more than once before it becomes completely untraceable.

    However in this case I don’t think it will cause a problem with new images being written to your memory. Or at lease a lot less likely to be than simply deleting images.

  • http://digital-photography-school.com Colin

    Many thanks for the clear and very helpful advice. I use an 8GB card and was wondering what to do once it was filled. I have backed everything up but had not cleared the card.
    Thanks again.

  • Shaz

    Wow, that’s a whole lot of comments to read.

    I’m a newbie and I hadn’t really looked into the which way to clean my memory cards. I understood a bit of what the article was telling me, but that also left me a whole lot more confused. Cheers to the guys who provided a solid argument and easy-to-understand advice. It makes sense now :)

  • lorie_wa

    @lu: What was the program/utility your son downloaded? I’d love to try it on one of my cards…

    I had a catastrophic HD disaster this spring: both my main HD and the backup HD (a separate internal drive) fried themselves one night… the night before I had planned to do a major backup onto DVD. I lost about a month’s worth of pix. It would be awesome if they turned out to still be on the card. (I have never formatted it, just copied the pix to the computer through a card reader and then deleted the pix from the card. Is there any hope?)

    lorie

  • http://www.alexkilbeephotography.co.uk Alex – Suffolk Wedding Photographer

    Some interesting arguments, from both sides of the coin.

    I’m perfectly happy with simply deleting the images off the card in my PC when I download them. The only time I’ve found that this causes a problem is when you use the same card in different cameras and they all create their own folder, which isn’t seen from camera to camera, so you wonder why the card only has X% capacity left when the camera says there are no images on the card.

    Like most things in photography, there will be those who are ubertechnical and those who aren’t. For 99% of users, the way they are currently doing things is just fine.

    It’s like the old debate about ‘pro’ vs ‘am’ film – the only difference between the stocks was that pro was frozen from the factory and am wasn’t. All the technical sepcs (colour, sharpness, MTF curves etc..) were, at least according to Fuji’s official book, exactly the same.

    Just do what works for you.

  • http://www.mmvhoracer.com Mark MacVittie

    WOW..my head is spinning after reading all this. I still use my 512 cards from many years ago and have had not image problems. I have owned several differents digital camera’s since I purchased that original 512 and I copy my images from the card to my computer than I put it in my newest camera and format it. Of coarse this card is very limited on the # of images but has never failed me. My newest camera has 2 SD slots and I love it.

    Jeff Plum said it best below toward the beginning

    Jeff Plum Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 8:25 am

    Format card in camera after transferring images to computer.

    The KISS effect (keep it simple stupid)

    Thanks Mark

  • Neville

    I deleted some of the photos I clicked, and they doesn’t show any more. But when I use windows explorer in wiew Icon mode, the SD card still shows those images, again when I went to see them in the file folder, It’s Gone!

    Following is the file path in large icon view
    Computer – NikonD600-DCIM (Name of the folder is 101ND600) When I go only up to DCIM in explorer, 101DN600 folder icon shows some images (actually deleted). But when I open the folder 101DN600, they were gone!

Some older comments

  • Neville

    August 31, 2013 05:21 pm

    I deleted some of the photos I clicked, and they doesn't show any more. But when I use windows explorer in wiew Icon mode, the SD card still shows those images, again when I went to see them in the file folder, It's Gone!

    Following is the file path in large icon view
    Computer - NikonD600-DCIM (Name of the folder is 101ND600) When I go only up to DCIM in explorer, 101DN600 folder icon shows some images (actually deleted). But when I open the folder 101DN600, they were gone!

  • Mark MacVittie

    December 10, 2011 03:50 am

    WOW..my head is spinning after reading all this. I still use my 512 cards from many years ago and have had not image problems. I have owned several differents digital camera's since I purchased that original 512 and I copy my images from the card to my computer than I put it in my newest camera and format it. Of coarse this card is very limited on the # of images but has never failed me. My newest camera has 2 SD slots and I love it.

    Jeff Plum said it best below toward the beginning

    Jeff Plum Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 8:25 am

    Format card in camera after transferring images to computer.

    The KISS effect (keep it simple stupid)

    Thanks Mark

  • Alex - Suffolk Wedding Photographer

    November 9, 2009 08:45 pm

    Some interesting arguments, from both sides of the coin.

    I'm perfectly happy with simply deleting the images off the card in my PC when I download them. The only time I've found that this causes a problem is when you use the same card in different cameras and they all create their own folder, which isn't seen from camera to camera, so you wonder why the card only has X% capacity left when the camera says there are no images on the card.

    Like most things in photography, there will be those who are ubertechnical and those who aren't. For 99% of users, the way they are currently doing things is just fine.

    It's like the old debate about 'pro' vs 'am' film - the only difference between the stocks was that pro was frozen from the factory and am wasn't. All the technical sepcs (colour, sharpness, MTF curves etc..) were, at least according to Fuji's official book, exactly the same.

    Just do what works for you.

  • lorie_wa

    September 9, 2009 03:09 pm

    @lu: What was the program/utility your son downloaded? I'd love to try it on one of my cards...

    I had a catastrophic HD disaster this spring: both my main HD and the backup HD (a separate internal drive) fried themselves one night... the night before I had planned to do a major backup onto DVD. I lost about a month's worth of pix. It would be awesome if they turned out to still be on the card. (I have never formatted it, just copied the pix to the computer through a card reader and then deleted the pix from the card. Is there any hope?)

    lorie

  • Shaz

    September 4, 2009 10:41 am

    Wow, that's a whole lot of comments to read.

    I'm a newbie and I hadn't really looked into the which way to clean my memory cards. I understood a bit of what the article was telling me, but that also left me a whole lot more confused. Cheers to the guys who provided a solid argument and easy-to-understand advice. It makes sense now :)

  • Colin

    September 1, 2009 11:33 pm

    Many thanks for the clear and very helpful advice. I use an 8GB card and was wondering what to do once it was filled. I have backed everything up but had not cleared the card.
    Thanks again.

  • Pat Bloomfield

    September 1, 2009 06:39 am

    @Benfamin, I'm not sure exactly how recover software works but I have heard that even if you do a low level format and write all ones and zeros to a hard disk, some software can still read traces of data. I saw and example of forensics software a few years ago and it was quite frightening what can be recovered from your hard disk.

    I guess exactly the same principle applies to memory cards. The data may need to be overwritten more than once before it becomes completely untraceable.

    However in this case I don't think it will cause a problem with new images being written to your memory. Or at lease a lot less likely to be than simply deleting images.

  • Benjamin Cahill

    August 31, 2009 12:15 am

    @jeff plum:"In my 5D I can format a card in-camera, then use Sandisk Recovery to access all the images I just “deleted” off the card? Is that possibly because a format just deletes the TOC but leaves the images intact, albeit in a “please write over me cause no-one can see me anymore” state? Yes. That was my point. I think we’re both talking about the same thing anyway."

    And? What does it matter if they're still there? Are you taking pictures of things you shouldn't be?

  • Henry

    August 29, 2009 10:02 pm

    I have a nikon D80... does anyone know at what level the format function operates on this camera?

  • Dave Hahn

    August 29, 2009 05:31 am

    @lu - The pictures were still on the card because only the table of contents was deleted, not the actual picture. If you had filled your entire card up since those pictures were taken, they would have been overwritten - but apparently you had never filled the card up to 100% so they were still there.

  • Lu

    August 29, 2009 03:48 am

    Just wanted to share what happened to me. I took pictures at a zoo. When I went to download them to the computer, the disk said it was empty. My son downloaded something from the internet and was able to recover all the pictures for me. Along with those pictures I had taken that day, were a few from a year before that I thought had been deleted long ago. I usually hit the quick format buttons on my Nikon D70 to delete my pictures. Rarely do I go to the menu and do it from there. But I do format every time I download my pictures to the computer, which is generally the same day I take them. So how could I have reformatted that disk over and over again, but still have pictures on there from a year ago?

  • Bull Rhino

    August 29, 2009 02:37 am

    With all those posts and all that information I doubt that anyone will get down to this comment, but if you do here's my 2 cents worth. On my card I have a photo of my computer screen that tells anyone who looks at it who the card/camera belongs to, all my phone numbers and email and that a reward is offered for it's return - Just in case. I guess it wouldn't be a big deal to retake that every time I format it, unless I forget the one time when I really needed it.

  • happiestboy

    August 29, 2009 01:05 am

    thanks for this article, just have a question though 2 weeks ago i messed up 4 gb sd card by clicking on the bitlocker on my computer, then while it was processing i decided to cancel. now its no longer working, ive since purchased a new 4gb sd card but would like to have it functional as you can never have too many memory cards, right? help!

  • Matt

    August 29, 2009 12:56 am

    dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdd (d for 4th usb device)

    put in camera and format!

    works like a charm... be careful not to wipe your hard drive!

  • Pat Bloomfield

    August 28, 2009 11:14 pm

    This is an excellent article but I would like to warn readers of the potential dangers of deleting images in camera.

    I used to happily delete individual files until I attended a professional wedding photography course last year. One of the photographers warned me against it because it can lead to corrupting the memory. This is because they use a FAT, File Allocation Table, table as used in the original DOS and windows computers. Each piece of data is written to an allocated area of memory, with any unused area just being left empty. Incidentally it is these empty pieces of memory that is used by hackers who write viruses and trojan horses etc. and why FAT is not used for operating systems any more.

    As stated in the article here, when individual images are deleted the entry is only removed from the TOC and the data of the actual image is left untouched. When another image is written into the same allocated area of memory (the same page to use Peter's analogy) and it is smaller than the previous piece of data it will not be completely overwritten. In short your image is now corrupted.

    Therefore my work-flow now is to never delete images when browsing images on a shoot - just leave them. Images can be removed once you've transferred them to your PC/MAC during the initial editing process. After the images on the PC have been edited and backed-up I can then reformat my memory cards.

    Pat
    PatB Photography

  • R. Campbell

    August 28, 2009 09:25 pm

    I have taken over 10,000 photos (RAW + JPEG) with my Cannon 400D using the same card, with a couple of others in my bag, "just in case I need them". I formatted each before using for the first time. Since then I have NEVER reformatted them. I use Windows Explorer with a card reader to "Cut and Paste" to the folder where I want them. A couple of times with irreplacable and valuable shots, I did a "copy and past" to my computer hard drive, then cut and paste to a USB hard drive, however I have NEVER experienced ploblems, using my method. If ever it happens, I would use a recovery programme if the photos warrented such, and retire that Card. I believe in KISS. (Keep it so simple)

  • anaconda

    August 28, 2009 01:43 pm

    Good posts there Deron and obviously the virus thing was important to notice.

    I don't know how this worked with older cameras, but the current ones I've tried don't really seem to make assumptions you mention. I checked with my Olympus camera and the formatting it does simply formats the drive just as your computer would do.

    Only after you take a picture, the camera creates a folder where it puts the images. So, at least in this case, it does not make any difference whether you do the formatting with the camera or the with the computer. The camera simply creates the folder if it does not exist, and does not care about any other folders there, it just reads from and writes to the folders that it creates. I've used my card to store other files as well (lost my USB-stick for a while...) and they don't have any effect.

    It makes sense really, because if the device is able to format the drive, it has to be able to create the folders it needs.

  • dgeer

    August 28, 2009 08:56 am

    Hi very useful, I was told best to format card rather than erase pictures individually but I notice if I ask the computer to format it in my computer it asks for quick or full format. I assume this equates to high and low level. Usually I do it in camera sometime after I download because my download software only downloads new pictures anyway (unless I tell it otherwise)...also it means I can re-download a while after or to someone else's computer.

    Thanks

  • PhotoKenetic

    August 28, 2009 05:55 am

    I have one method for cleaning memory cards that I think has not been addressed. One day I searched the house high and low for one of my CF cards. It turned up in its plastic case in my pants pocket. Unfortunately those pants had just gone through the washing machine. Well the card looked really clean... I checked the contacts to make sure everything was dry and hesitantly tried the card in my reader. Everything worked.

    I'm not sure I would recommend this method on a regular basis, but it is good to know that all might not be lost. Most likely the soap would be a problem if this scenario were to be repeated too often.

  • Deron Meranda

    August 28, 2009 03:56 am

    Also, what exactly you mean by setting it up like the camera likes? The formatting of it or the folders that the cameras create?

    This is not nearly as much of an issue with newer equipment as it used to be, but some devices (cameras) can be particularly sensitive to the exact structure of the file system and what it contains. For example they may make simplifying assumptions about the particular block layout, the existence of certain directories, etc. Sometimes brand new cards, and especially USB devices, are not empty when you buy them. Also a card's filesystem could contain hidden files or have other low-level file attributes set in a way that the camera is not programmed to deal with. In many cases you may not notice such differences if you're just viewing the card in your computer's "folder view".

    Doing a format in the device you're using will insure that camera's (arguably poor) assumptions are met. Whether you actually need to do this depends on your equipment, how many different devices you swap your cards between, and your experience with it. Oh, and a format is also the best way to make sure you card isn't carrying a computer virus.

  • Deron Meranda

    August 28, 2009 03:44 am

    I think there is perhaps some technical misunderstanding here. Memory cards, such as you'd use in a camera, have extra controller chips in them (they are not just raw flash memory cells any more). These controllers automatically perform a lot of actions such as wear-levelling an error correction. This is done at the hardware level and your camera or computer is not even aware of it. What this means is that when you write, say to block number 342, you are not necessarily accessing the same physical memory locations as the last time you wrote there.

    Fragmentation is usually a non-issue. Memory cards have no seek-time penalty, such as hard drives do. The only times when this could have any observable, though still minor, impact is when you have a nearly full card and have been doing lots of individual file deletes; and then this is really due to the poor design of FAT rather than anything inherit to the card. But as soon as you delete enough so the card is no longer close to being full, any file system fragmentation should be nearly undetectable.

    Basically what you're calling a low-level format is a good way to clear all the files at once, and (mostly) overwrite all the memory so that those deleted files could not be retrieved or recovered. It will also rebuild the filesystem which can be useful for recovering from a corrupted file system. It will also allow the card to detect bits that are beginning to wear out and remap them much earlier. It's a perfectly fine thing to do from time to time.

    However do remember that because of the wear-levelling and bad block marking that the "erase and overwrite" of a format is not necessarily perfect. Even after a format there is the possibility that some previously-written data could still be retrievable; though doing so requires much more sophistication. But then on the other hand, simply deleting the files or doing a "quick format" makes it nearly trivial for anybody to recover the previous data. So it is a good idea to perform a low-level format if ever swapping cards with other people, selling them, etc.

    In summary, the choice of deleting files versus formatting really only comes down to convenience, and whether you want to make it much harder for anybody to potentially recover any files that used to be on the card. There's practically no detectable performance or card-lifetime benefits; especially when using a file system such as FAT-16, FAT-32, or NTFS which have not been designed or optimized for flash storage.

  • anaconda

    August 28, 2009 02:56 am

    "Er, no. You should never “move” files from a memory card to your computer, always copy them. Because then you can check them on the computer to make sure they have copied without corruption. If they haven’t, YOU’VE GOT A COPY."

    If such unlikely event would occur, I could use a recovery software to get the image that is corrupted. But that sounds so far fetched I did not even think about it. I worry about things that are more likely, like my cheap external drives that I use for back-ups. Back-ups are obviously a thing for another discussion entirely.

    "If all is well, put the card in your camera and format it. Not just so it’s empty, but also because the card is then set exactly the way the camera likes it, so there’s less chance of anything going wrong between the camera and card - this is more of a concern to a pro photog than the lifespan of the card."

    Oh, I did not mention that I use the cameras cable so I have not removed the card from camera ever since I first put it there. So it's not really a concern of mine.

    Also, what exactly you mean by setting it up like the camera likes? The formatting of it or the folders that the cameras create?

  • Zack Jones

    August 28, 2009 12:55 am

    Honestly, based upon the title I thought this post was going to be about washing or removing smudges from your memory cards not formatting them.

    @jeff plum summed it up perfectly "Format card in camera after transferring images to computer."

  • Jeff Plum

    August 27, 2009 09:16 pm

    @daniel: agree with all that.

    @Jamesc359: "No, that’s what deleting a file on the card does. Formating completely erases the TOC and starts all over again. There are no pointers to existing files to mark as free because it’s all assumed to be free."
    In my 5D I can format a card in-camera, then use Sandisk Recovery to access all the images I just "deleted" off the card? Is that possibly because a format just deletes the TOC but leaves the images intact, albeit in a "please write over me cause no-one can see me anymore" state? Yes. That was my point. I think we're both talking about the same thing anyway.

  • Jeff Plum

    August 27, 2009 09:11 pm

    "Jeff, if you transfer the images, why do anything at all, since you’re left with an empty card. Surely you meant formatting in the camera afterward if you just copy the files?"

    Er, no. You should never "move" files from a memory card to your computer, always copy them. Because then you can check them on the computer to make sure they have copied without corruption. If they haven't, YOU'VE GOT A COPY.

    If all is well, put the card in your camera and format it. Not just so it's empty, but also because the card is then set exactly the way the camera likes it, so there's less chance of anything going wrong between the camera and card - this is more of a concern to a pro photog than the lifespan of the card.

  • Rowan

    August 27, 2009 08:07 pm

    And here was me thinking you were going to talk about soap and water...

  • Vilmis @ World In Snapshops

    August 27, 2009 06:29 pm

    I agree with Daniel - how many people wearied out their cards ? If you frequently use camera it most likely in couple years you'll upgrade it, which will have more Mpix and you'll need bigger memory card. But if camera used just occasionally then that memory card can last forever.
    Always formatting my card and it is done faster then just deleting pictures.

    p.s. this post I think even more confuse beginners.

  • Daniel

    August 27, 2009 05:21 pm

    Just two cents from a semi-techie (professional computer guy):

    So the chance of having a (modern) card wearing out before it is obsolete is fairly low, no matter what you use to get it ready for next shot (maybe except secure erase).

    A good reason for in-camera format is that the chance of having a corrupted TOC (or FAT) is probably much higher than having a failure due to write cycles. And that formatting should create a good clean FAT on the card, the one that is most compatible with your camera.

    With a corrupted FAT, you will still probably recover quite a lot of pictures (had to do it once for a friend, and was surprised to recover much more than she expected, older pics still there) but it requires to have the right tool and a bit of work (renaming, ...).

    So for me as well, it is "Format in-camera after transferring to (two different HD's of) the computer".

    Daniel

  • Christoph

    August 27, 2009 02:43 pm

    I for my part simply plug the card into my computer, start Picasa, let it copy the files to where I told it I want to have them, and check the "Erase only the pictures on the card that were copied to the computer" option. No format, no work, no trouble.

  • Mei Teng

    August 27, 2009 01:04 pm

    Jeff has already provided the answer to my question :)

  • Mei Teng

    August 27, 2009 01:03 pm

    " We are all here to learn and at some point or another everyone faces this question. So don’t sweat not knowing because this post will help set the record straight on how each method works." I like this statement and I agree too.

    I usually transfer my pictures from my memory card to my laptop. So I end up with a blank memory card ready for my next shoot. Do I still need to re-insert that memory card into my camera and press the Format button? Also, I am using a Canon 450d and the Format button is just that. It doesn't say High or Low Level Format.

    Your answer to my question is greatly appreciated.

  • Julie

    August 27, 2009 12:59 pm

    Oh my, I was starting to get confused. Thank you jeff plum for keeping it short and simple. will keep doing what I always do after uploading my pics: "Format card in camera after transferring images to computer."

  • Jamesc359

    August 27, 2009 11:35 am

    "Goodness me, let’s all hide under our tables and never leave the house - never mind taking photos!"
    *rollseyes*

    "I’m fairly sure that modern memory cards can handle being formatted before use."
    Yes of course they can. This isn't a case of the sky is falling, it's just the way things work. Your car, TV, computer, hard drive, shoes - everything has an average lifespan before failing.

    "In fact you access the card less times by formatting than by deleting photos one at a time [...] This is because an in-camera format deletes the table of contents. It does not wipe the data,"
    No, depending upon the kind of format it can overwrite all data on the card, which is the kind of format I was talking about.

    "it merely changes the flag on written data from ‘do not write over’ to ‘write over’."
    No, that's what deleting a file on the card does. Formating completely erases the TOC and starts all over again. There are no pointers to existing files to mark as free because it's all assumed to be free.

    A memory card's lifespan is not measured by how many times you access the card. Every byte within the card can (on average) be read and wrote to X number of times before failing. When you erase the TOC you completely overwrite it all. That writing counts against all of the bytes that the TOC occupies.
    When you mark a file deleted it only counts against a single byte in the TOC.

    It's unlikely that you'll ever notice the difference in lifespan with either deleting or a simple format. A so called secure format however will have a significant impact, because it is overwriting the whole card, even if it doesn't need to.

  • Cuchulainn

    August 27, 2009 11:01 am

    "I’m fairly sure that modern memory cards can handle being formatted before use."

    No doubt. Flash Cards are good for 100,000 cycles. If you formatted the card 5 times a day it would last around 55 years. Chances are the card will be obsolete (too small, new formats, etc) long before you wear it out. Go ahead.. have fun.. format the heck out of the thing if you want. You will get bored before it cries Uncle.

  • mike

    August 27, 2009 09:35 am

    Sorry I'm another techie and I agree with jamesc359. There are a couple conclusions here that are probably not accurate.
    1) SD Cards are solid state (no spinning disk inside) so fragmentation would not be the same as harddrives. There is also the issue of leveling.
    2) I do not see where a "low level" format will increase speed over a "high level" format. When a picture is taken after a high level format was done the picture is still written to memory, it does not have to delete the picture from that "page" first.

  • anaconda

    August 27, 2009 09:30 am

    Jeff, if you transfer the images, why do anything at all, since you're left with an empty card. Surely you meant formatting in the camera afterward if you just copy the files?

    That's what I do anyway, use Windows explorer and cut and paste the images to whichever folder I want them. Photos in computer, empty memory card, simple. Also I don't see a need to format the card.

  • Jeff Plum

    August 27, 2009 08:32 am

    Oh my goodness, I feel compelled to wade into this discussion after reading one thing up there:

    "every card has a finite number of writes it can perform before failing, so every time you format your card you’re shortening its lifespan"

    Goodness me, let's all hide under our tables and never leave the house - never mind taking photos!

    I'm fairly sure that modern memory cards can handle being formatted before use. In fact you access the card less times by formatting than by deleting photos one at a time, or - shock horror - previewing your images on the camera or computer screen directly from the card. This is because an in-camera format deletes the table of contents. It does not wipe the data, it merely changes the flag on written data from 'do not write over' to 'write over'.

  • Jeff Plum

    August 27, 2009 08:25 am

    Yikes! So many words, and so much debate for such a simple question! Here's the simple, 9 word answer for people who don't have a spare afternoon:

    Format card in camera after transferring images to computer.

  • BebopDesigner

    August 27, 2009 08:24 am

    Brilliant post! I had no idea. Thanks for sharing. Cheers!

  • Jamesc359

    August 27, 2009 08:04 am

    I understand this is for a newbie, and technical discussions aren't wanted, but I believe there are a few mistakes in your analogy and conclusions that could lead people astray.

    The first being that fragmentation on a memory card will slow it down. This is not true. Skipping around from one supposed page to another is not slower because unlike a hard drive their is no physical seeking involved. In actuality your card will probably be fragmented anyways because of built in wear leveling. Basically that's where your card changes the "page numbers" in an attempt to prevent any single page from being excessively used.

    Also, every card has a finite number of writes it can perform before failing, so every time you format your card you're shortening its lifespan and increasing the odds that you will have a failure. It'd be like taking the eraser to every page in your book regardless if it needs it or not, sooner or later you will tear through a page.

    Going all the way back to my first digital camera and it's 8MB memory card, I've never had a card fail on me or had a corrupted picture. Nor have I known anybody that has either. If your memory card fails it's most likely because of a manufacturing fault. There's no amount of formatting that can fix that.

  • Steven Lilley

    August 27, 2009 07:53 am

    Sorry, this article seems flawed. With a "high level format" the camera is writing to dirty pages, but it doesn't care. It's not going to fragment the new images. Deleting images in camera would lead to fragmentation over time. The paragraph starting "If not, be aware..." seems to confuse these scenarios. Regards.

  • Andre

    August 27, 2009 07:50 am

    The method you call "low level formatting" is not called that. Low level formatting is something that's done to a hard disk prior to us buying it. In the "old days" you could low level format a drive to clear up problems. Newer drives don't allow consumers to do this. Note that a low level format did not erase each byte on the disk, rather it set up the geometry of the drive.

    The method you are referring to would be better referred to as a secure erase.

    My opinion on which method? If you are concerned about someone recovering deleted photos off your card, then use a secure erase. If not, then don't secure erase. You might want to recover deleted photos yourself one day.

    The best every day way to do it? Format the card in the camera. If you format it on your PC, you run the risk of something not being quite right when you pop the card in the camera. A good example is Macintosh. When you use a card in a Mac, the Mac OS will write hidden files to the card. A camera may or may not be able to deal with this. Windows will sometimes create a "recycled" folder to use as a Recycle Bin. You also run the risk of formatting it wrong because of some defaults - for example FAT16 or NTFS instead of FAT32.

    Your camera understands cards best that have been formatted by your camera. The type of format will be perfect.

  • Michael Daniels

    August 27, 2009 07:42 am

    One thing I wonder about low level format is if it shortens the life of the card. Solid state drives have a limited number of times they can be written (granted this is a large number on the order of > 100,000). If you low level format all the time and therefore write to the entire card every time wouldn't the card's life be cut in half. Just a thought. I don't know for sure.

  • Danferno

    August 27, 2009 07:29 am

    Another interesting thing to keep in mind is that your computer has to check the TOC every time you access the card, and everytime you open a photo (say preview function?). Even when you're not actively looking at your images, as long as your card is attached to your PC, the TOC will be accessed every now and then by the PC to check if everything is still OK. This is why you should always copy all your images to your hard drive and immediately eject the device/card. Otherwise, you're wasting valuable memory card life.

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