How To Keep Your Memory Cards Healthy

How To Keep Your Memory Cards Healthy

In this post, Steve Berardi from PhotoNaturalist explains how to keep your memory cards healthy.


Memory cards are one of the most often neglected parts of digital photography. But, they’re extremely important because they’re responsible for safely storing your photos until you get them to your computer.

So, it’s important to take care of them properly. Here are a few tips for keeping them healthy:

1. Format new cards as soon as you get them

Many memory cards are advertised as “pre-formatted” and “ready to use,” but it’s always a good idea to reformat the card again when you receive it, since some cameras have special requirements for the file system of memory cards. Formatting the card with the camera you’ll be using it with will ensure that the card is in a format that the camera recognizes.

2. Never fill your cards completely

Most cameras have some kind of indicator on the LCD screen that tells you how many more photos you can shoot before filling the card. Keep an eye on this number and make sure you never get too close to filling the card, because if you happen to shoot a photo when the card is already full, there’s a chance your camera will still try to write part of the photo to the card (and potentially triggering a write error).

3. Never let your batteries drain completely

It’s also important to never let your batteries drain completely, because if your camera runs out of energy at the exact moment that it’s trying to write a photo to the memory card, then there’s a good chance that the camera will only write part of the file (which could corrupt the rest of the card).

4. Reformat your cards instead of deleting all the photos

Instead of deleting the photos on the card from your computer, always reformat the card from within the camera. This will ensure the card is in a format that the camera expects.

5. Use good quality memory cards

With all those camera bodies and lenses being so expensive, it’s tempting to save some money by getting inexpensive off-brand memory cards. But, remember the importance of these cards: they’re responsible for safely storing your photos. It’s worth a few dollars more to ensure your photos arrive safely at your computer 🙂 Two brands that I can personally recommend are SanDisk and Lexar (if you’ve had good experience with another brand, please let us know by leaving a comment!).

Steveb2About the Author: Steve Berardi is a nature photographer and software engineer. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of southern California.

Read more of his articles on nature photography at PhotoNaturalist.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Guest Contributor This post was written by a guest contributor to dPS.
Please see their details in the post above.

Become a Contributor: Check out Write for DPS page for details about how YOU can share your photography tips with the DPS community.

Some Older Comments

  • Denisse Sechrest August 20, 2013 06:06 pm

    Hey I am so excited I found your website, I really found you by mistake, while I was researching on Digg for something else, Anyhow I am here now and would just like to say kudos for a incredible post and a all round exciting blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to read through it all at the minute but I have saved it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read more, Please do keep up the excellent job.

  • Oliver April 4, 2013 06:10 pm

    You forget onething to share which is to use memory cards only in protectec PC's or Mac systems. That helps your memory cards to stay uninfected from various malware or trojan attacks.

    In most of the cases, memory cards not following the above guidelines would suppose to fail imminently and causing you to lose all your valuable data. In such situations, Stellar Phoenix Photo Recovery Software (Available for Windows & Mac) could able to bring back or restore photos effortlessely.

    Thanks for your valuable article though.

  • Carol February 15, 2013 06:13 am

    I bought my used Canon 30D back in 2006, and it came with a used 4 GB Transcend Compact Flash Card (45x ??). I use my camera everyday, and have taken thousands of pictures, and have never had a problem with the card. I will scroll through my pictures several times just because it's fun to do, but I usually transfer the shots to my computer after a day or two of taking them (sometimes up to 150 pictures). I then reformat the card in the camera.

  • Martin February 13, 2013 09:46 am

    @nanette...for how to format your card look in your menu, you don'tsay what camera you have but this feature will be there somewhere. are you saying never format your card and just delete the photos in camera, or don't do either?

    I take around 8Gb of motocross photos when I go and anywhere upto 64Gb at Equine events....where on earth would i store hundreds of CF cards and how do I pay for them? Deleting in camera or through a card reader is a very bad idea....unless you can prove otherwise?

    If you want your cards to last as long as possible don't use them!!!!!!!!!!

  • John Meyer February 13, 2013 05:51 am

    Number 4 is absolutely wrong. If you want your cards to last as long as possible, you need to minimize the number of times you write data to them, since that's what limits the lifetime of any solid-state memory device (flash drive). The only reason to format the drive would be to make sure someone can't come along later and undelete your deleted file, and unless you're photographing sensitive data (doubtful), the benefit/protection from reformatting is zero.

  • Peter Jamieson February 9, 2013 05:43 am

    I have been using Adata cards, ok so far anyone got any experience of these?

  • nanette hart February 8, 2013 08:38 pm

    Ok, great but how do I go about reformatting my card? I always delete my photos asap, is this enough??????

  • SwissJon February 8, 2013 06:02 pm


    Formatting the card marks the entire file system as writable, deleting marks each individual file as rewriteable. There's arguments either way, but by deleting only individual files, you are preventing the file system from implementing wear leveling properly, by forcing it to write only to the empty blocks. You're also creating more I/O on the area of the disk that is used for managing the directory and file structure., since wear leveling moves these blocks on a flash disk each time the disk gets formatted. In my opinion then, formatting is better for the disk life span than deleting. (Like I said, there are arguments either way, it's not as black and white as I make out since it depends a lot on the way the camera manufacturer writes to the disk and how it formats.)

    I'm not sure I agree with either 2 or 3, they're both true of hard drives with platters, but not of flash type drives. The way that it's written would suggest that the camera manufacturer and the disk manufacturer are incapable of agreeing on a significant number of RFC's. IF you buy cheap disks of fleabay, you're likely to get a disk where the disk claims to be larger than if physically is. What happens then is that the file system says that the file exists, but when you come to recover it, the file is not actually there. That would suggest that it's wise to completely fill a disk once, if the files are all recoverable, then you should be fine. Wear leveling will ensure that each block on the disk gets written to evenly, so you will never be at the "edge" of the disk, and the camera O/S is perfectly capable of judging whether or not a disk is capable of writing a file the size of your next photo. As for dead batteries, again, your camera is most likely to refuse to take a photo if it doesn't have enough energy to complete the write operation. Even if you removed the battery during the write operation, the worst that's likely to happen is that the camera doesn't mark the EoF properly, in which case, formatting the drive ought to fix this.

    The times that flash drives tend to fail is when they start to reach their I/O limit, and if that happens within the manufacturers guarantee limit (usually 3 years) you can return the disk for replacement. Simply, beware of old drives, beware of cheap flash drives, and you should be fine.

    As an experiment I left an old 4gb disk in my pocket and put my jeans in the wash, to test the manufacturers claim of heat and water tolerance (Sandisk) when it came out it was in perfect working order.. These things are pretty tough.

  • lynn February 8, 2013 04:32 pm

    I now only use Kingston with my Canon 20D as I've noticed the best performance and reliability with those cards, regardless of capacity.

    As far as reformatting instead of deleting photos, I've worked in a field where we recover photos from cards that have been reformatted all the time. I've never encountered a problem caused by that. Personally, I just recovered photos from a 32GB Kingston SD card that had been reformatted numerous times. I recovered some very old photos as well as the more recent ones I was looking for.

  • DonnaKay Johnson February 8, 2013 04:21 pm

    I'm so glad this information is being put out there! I'm amazed how many photographers I come across that say they never knew it was important to reformat their cards. It's never a bad idea to go over these topics. Love the info offered here!

  • Martin February 8, 2013 10:22 am

    I have a canon 7D and use Duracell 600X UDMA cards. I have 3 x 32Gb and 4 x 8Gb and have, to date, no failures at all. My cards are formatted in camera as soon as they have been downloaded to my Pc and checked. I buy them all from shoot motocross and Equestrian events in continuous mode, jpgs for MX are written very fast and since the firmware update i can shoot 25 raw before the buffer fills and only have to wait around 3- 4 seconds before I start all over again...(there is virtually no delay writing to the card with shooting jpg)

    @Kristy....your continually checking the pics in camera is called 'chimping' and it reduces the battery life considerably..I check my shots once in a while, generally when the light has changed....

    One point that was missed with looking after your memory cards is to keep them stored individually in a case and not have them moving around in your pockets or camera bag....

  • Marco February 8, 2013 08:19 am

    The needs of the user should be considered here. If I were a professional event photographer or on assignment by National Geographic, I would only use top name, high quality cards like Sandisk Extreme Pro. However I am an amateur wildlife photographer. When I upgraded to the Canon 7D I was moved from SD cards to CF cards. My first purchase was a Sandisk Extreme (400x) card at 16GB, but when I decided to buy a second card for the days when I shoot over 16GB, I gambled on a Duracell 600x card at 16GB also. Since then I have reversed myself. The Duracell card with faster speed became my primary and the Sandisk became my backup. I must say that after almost two years and thousands of images the Duracell is doing just fine and has never caused an error and at half the price of the Sandisk plus the faster speed of the Duracell, I will continue to buy the Duracell in the future! At $40 on Amazon two years ago, it was a great buy!!!

  • Dino February 8, 2013 05:54 am

    I had a habit when I just started digital photography - I liked to check the photo from LCD and if not liking it, I would delete it right away. I heard it is not good to the SC card. Now I import all of the photos to the computer after shooting and format the SC card. I delete unwanted to photos on the computer. It provides 2 benefits: it helps the life span of the card, and you can made a far better decision in deleting a photo or not.

  • Kristy February 7, 2013 01:27 pm

    I feel like a really important aspect is missing here: flash data only has a certain capacity for reads and writes. Despite having a Lexar Pro card (which has a lifetime guarantee) I still came unstuck while travelling. I am s frequent "scroller" when it comes to reviewing my photos, especially for travel, but have since read that each time you preview, or flick/scroll past a photo, you notch up a "read" on your card. It seems in this case, a huge component of card health would actually be to avoid scrolling back through your photos too often, and copying them straight from the card to PC as soon as possible, never editing on the card. Just my thoughts.

  • Robert February 5, 2013 02:00 pm

    Citations needed.

    There are several claims in this post that sound intuitively plausible, but are they true? What are the manufacturer recommendations and does anyone have data more reliable than personal anecdotes?

  • Mei Teng February 5, 2013 11:42 am

    I like Sandisk and their cards have served me well. I always format my cards in my camera and never in the computer.

  • Mike February 5, 2013 09:25 am

    Great tips, I recently upgraded to a UHS-1 Class 10 card (32GB Sandisk Extreme Pro) still cannot believe the difference in buffer clearing speed, before on the class 10 If I did a continues burst I would have to wait 5+ seconds but now I can keep going and when I stop holding the shutter release it only takes 1-2 seconds to catch up and be fully ready again! Amazing difference.

  • Candace February 5, 2013 09:14 am

    Although formatting when you first buy is a good idea, re formatting the card instead of deleting files each time can make it more difficult to successfully recover images if your computer/storage drive becomes damaged.

  • Chris February 4, 2013 12:05 pm

    I've only used SanDisk cards and they are very reliable. Just upgraded to the Extreme Pro that writes at 90MB/s. Can't say that I've noticed much of a difference in file writing but I also got the new SanDisk Card Reader with the USB 3.0 connection and HO-LI-COW the import speeds are amazing. I think your computer has to specifically have USB 3.0 ports for the new card reader to work. It blazing fast on my 2012 Macbook Pro but didn't work at all on my 2009 iMac.

  • Roger Robertson February 4, 2013 11:11 am

    Nice article, thank you for providing it. I agree with all the information provided. I have been using digital photography from 2002 forward, I can confirm that San Disk and Lexar are at the top for latest in reliability and speeds, I also have been very pleased with the performance of the higher grades of Kingston and PNY.
    Among all the brand there are still some cards that are affordable but not high enough read/write speed for our latest models of DSLR cameras. Research and use Memory that have a read/write speed that meets or exceeds the capability of your camera. Then when you need to shoot a continuous series or use burst mode. You will be pleased to find your camera coming closer or exceeding in fulfilling your needs for the moment.

  • Jim Donahue February 4, 2013 07:51 am

    My Transcend SDHC Cards generally outperform my San Disk and were abt half the price. Always use Class 10 Cards esp if you shoot RAW

  • Larry Lourcey February 4, 2013 04:52 am

    Great advice - although sometimes #2 is easier said than done! :)

  • Donna February 4, 2013 04:51 am

    Very helpful article. I also have been very happy with Kingston and Transcend.

  • Keith February 4, 2013 03:31 am

    Note that Lexar cards are made in the USA.

  • Tom Weishaar February 3, 2013 10:16 pm

    Another cautionary tip:

    Be very careful when inserting your card into your camera. I loaded a card into my 1DX, close the door, and the LCD panel indicated that the card slot was empty. It turns out that I bent one of the "pins" inside my camera. You may be thinking, "he must have been in a hurry and forced the card into the camera." That's not what happened...I was careful when I put the card in but...not careful enough. Later with a huge magnifying desk lamp I was able to straighten the pin and "gerry rig" the damage to the "pin hole" on my flash card.

    Lastly, I only format the card in my camera and never via my computer.

  • Martin February 3, 2013 05:30 pm

    Be careful where you buy your memory cards from too - apparently most of the memory cards available on eBay are fakes, and will not provide the capacity or reliability they claim.
    For example, if buying a SanDisk memory card on eBay, only buy from an authorised SanDisk reseller.

  • Regan February 3, 2013 03:19 pm

    Thanks for putting in this article. First place to look is in your owners manual for "approved" cards, the ones the company says will work. My problems with cards, specifically CF are ones that are cheap ones. For example, certain brands and cards that write under x30 rates. Hoodman's are worth the price! Also, shop! You can save money and increase redundancy (if you're not doing video), for example by buying 2 or 3 8GB cards instead of a single 32 GB . Remember that faster cards are only as fast as your camera's buffer.

  • Techgeek February 3, 2013 02:31 pm

    Thank you for writing to help others... I have some questions... I agree it's probably a good idea to format on first use... That way you will use the file system (fat, fat32, ntfs, ext2, etc) the camera prefers for speed and feature compatibility. But I'm not sure it's a good idea to format all the time rather than delete files... With flash meda you have a fixed number of writes per memory cell. Doesn't formatting the card cause more write operations that deleting the files would? I'm not sure so hoping others can answer.

    Since you want to distribute the writes across all the cells on the card... i would suggest try to get as close to fulling the card as you can without filling to reduce using up all the write cycles of one area of the card causing the entire card to fail.

  • JG February 3, 2013 01:42 pm

    None of these points has a single thing to do with memory card "health". Sure, formatting your cards is a good idea because your *camera* expects certain data but it has nothing to do with the cards. Also, having a partially saved file shouldn't hurt anything. At worst you'll get an error when trying to read back that file. Card brand again has nothing to do with health but if you want another good one check out Transcend. It performs just as fast and reliably as Lexar and Sandisk but is often half the price on Amazon.

    Memory cards Re solid state chips and aside from humidity and extreme cold and heat there's no real care need to keep the, "healthy",

  • Jim Woolsey February 3, 2013 12:00 pm

    Wow. Thanks for the information. This is honestly something that I never think about. I guess I've been fortunate so far. I will start taking precaution ASAP. Thanks!

  • Andrew February 3, 2013 08:14 am

    I agree with Timgray regarding speed of card. My question is "How does one check what the actual speed of a card really is, not what is written on the side of it?" I have read a couple of articles in magazines that do this sort of thing, and a couple cards that said class 10 were slow enough to be four at best. I will also remember format the card and not erase when I have a nearly full one.

  • Aussie Mike February 3, 2013 07:47 am

    Choice of brand comes from experience(usually a bad one) and WOM.
    Timgray 100% agree. I have had brand name and cheap failures.
    Currently using Kingston c10. 32Gig - so far so good
    From the local computer store - cheaper, higher speeds, new stock, checked not fake(beware online).
    They are low cost but fundamental , get a few(5+) at least, and swap them in use.
    One failure when using three cards for a shoot is inconvenient but not catastrophe of losing all images.
    My example -two week holiday cruise, one card failed, lost one day's happy snaps, sad but no tears.

  • timgray February 3, 2013 06:43 am

    I actually suggest avoiding name brands and use off brands. Off brands like sandisk are far FAR superior to the CANON, SONY, and NIKON branded cards.

    IF the company is a Memory manufacturer like Crucial, Sandisk, Samsung, and Kingston... Then you are getting a superior product than a cheap china remark from your camera manufacturer. Sorry but Canon and Nikon know nothing at all about making memory cards, they just remark whatever makes them the most profit.

    Lastly your camera shop is the worst place to buy memory cards. Typically they have low speed or way out of date stock. If you use SD cards, dont touch anything under a Class 10. My local super camera shop does not even stock class 10 cards and considers their class 6 cards as "high end".

  • JoeD February 3, 2013 06:25 am

    this is very good advice. I have one question, though. On my Canon T1i when I format the card I'm given the option to perform a low-level format. Usually I do. is this a good idea or unnecessary?