9 Things Photographers Need to Know About Memory Cards

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Photographers are gearheads.  We love to know what the latest-and-greatest technology is and what piece of gear will produce optimal results.  I admit it.  I love the technology side of photography and I enjoy pixel peeping even when I know it doesn’t really help my photos.  Surprisingly, however, I am frequently shocked at how clueless photographers are about memory cards.

Memory Card Tip #1:  Do not listen to the MANY photography instructors who teach that brand doesn’t matter, or that Sandisk and Lexar are both the same.  That is simply incorrect.  The truth is that there are loads of very relevant differences between the two.  For example, Sandisk has had several exclusives with Nikon in which they create a memory card that is able to access the full processing power of the camera.  Nikon and Sandisk worked together on a memory card for the D90 and recently did so again with the Nikon D7000.  Lexar also has some useful advantages over Sandisk, but that’s for another post.

Memory Card Tip #2: I constantly hear professional photographers teach that photographers need to get a super-fast memory card only for shooting video.  While it is true that HD video produces large files, digital RAW files produce more data in a shorter period of time when photographers shoot a quick burst of multiple RAW files.  Fast memory cards are even more vital to still photographers who shoot bursts than HDSLR users.

Memory Card Tip #3: Never “erase all images” on your card.  Always format the card.  DSLRs provide both an “Erase all images” option and a “format card” option.  Choose the format card option in order to prevent a host of different errors that can arise by simply erasing all images.  Formatting the card will re-organize the folder structure and prevent database errors.

Memory Card Tip #4: While we’re discussing how to erase all images, never erase any of the images by using the computer.  This will taint your database and can cause even more errors than “Erase all images.”  If you persist in erasing images by using the computer, you Canon shooters will face the famed ERR-99 (side note: that is a general error that is not specific to memory card problems, but memory card problems are one of the things that can draw the error).

Memory Card Tip #5: Because I properly format my memory cards and never edit the contents of the card from the computer, I rarely have technical issues with memory cards.  However, I have broken several memory cards by not storing them properly or ripping them out of the card reader.  This is particularly true with SD memory cards, which have delicate little pieces of plastic on the underside which can easily be bent or broken off if misused.  Treat ‘em like a baby.

Memory Card Tip #6: According to Lexar, using high-capacity memory cards uses more battery life from your camera.  The reduction in battery use is slight, but I think  it’s a handy bit of knowledge.

Memory Card Tip #7: Both Lexar and Sandisk professional-level cards come with a free program that can help you recover the images on your card if you accidentally delete them.  If you delete something accidentally, STOP SHOOTING, bring the card home, run the card through the program, and you’ll probably get the shot back–even if you formatted the card.  I have not tried Sandisk’s program for memory cards, but I give high marks to Lexar’s Image Rescue Software.

Memory Card Tip #8: If you are unsuccessful at recovering images on a corrupted Lexar memory card, you can actually send the card to Lexar at NO COST and they will have a technician perform professional data recovery on the card, put the images on a DVD, and mail you a new card and the images.  Now THAT is impressive service!  As far as I know, Sandisk doesn’t offer this level of customer support.  I checked their website for information and couldn’t find anything comparable.  Does anyone knowledge about this?

Memory Card Tip #9: Okay, I admit that this one is only marginally connected to memory cards.  It is just a recommendation that you subscribe to a blog written by Jeff Cable.  He’s one of the head marketing guys at Lexar and always has interesting things to share on his blog.  Here’s the link: http://jeffcable.blogspot.com/

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Comments from the I.P. Community

  1. amanda says

    I have a SanDisk and I’m not sire whathappened but when I put the card in my computer it says I have to format it first but I was told it would delete the pictures. Can you help?

  2. Angel says

    Hi there I’m not to sure why this is happening I put my memory card in to my camera and some of the pics come up with a question mark on them when I no there was a pic there!!! How do I get the pic back help please. Thanks

  3. Heather W says

    Just curious, I am new to all of this memory card stuff ( I never had problems until now)…so I have been using the same card for a few years and have never reformatted it. I have deleted images both from the computer and from my camera (Canon Rebel T2i), I have never had an error message pop up. My biggest concern is that it is a 32gb card but will only record 5-20 seconds of video (which drives me crazy). IF i format the card now, will it ruin the card or will it help to be able to record longer videos?

    • Bill says

      You most likely have a 32mb card and not a 32gb card. MB’s are 1000th of the size of a GB, so can only record video for a very short period of time. Hope i could help.

  4. says

    In terms of corruption do you have any recommendations. I just got a Lexar Professional 600x card and about 10% of the images I take with that card are corrupted. I assume it’s a faulty card and I’m planning on contacting Lexar.

    Do you know if one card has a better reputation in terms of corruption? This is the most important factor for me after a baseline level of performance (HD video recording). There’s nothing worse than losing your data after the fact. Yes you can recover by sending it in, but that’s not something I want to have to rely on.

  5. says

    I’ve always used Erase All, not Reformat, on 3 different canon cameras, and have never had a problem as a result.

    Another tool for recovering photos is the Exif Card Untrasher (might only be for Macs). I found it when I realized I had erased, and then shot hundreds more photos, over a large set of photos that for some reason I hadn’t offloaded first. Worked like a charm.

    One more tip on handling cards: Once I accidentally grabbed a card by its contacts after taking it out of the camera. When I put it into the card reader, it gave me an error and said that it needed to be reformatted. All I can figure is that the moisture and/or static in my fingers shorted it out. I did reformat and it continued to work fine after that.

  6. JC says

    Erase All is for when you take the time to go through and choose “protect” on the few files you want to keep and then wipe out the rest. It won’t erase the protected files.

  7. Andrew says

    I’m curious about the potential for errors caused by “erase all” and manipulating images on the card with your PC. I frequently delete images from my card on my PC and have never encountered a problem. What is this database that is mentioned repeatedly? The only database I can think of is the Master File Table of the disk partition, but deleting files (through any method) shouldn’t corrupt that unless the disk is faulty. The recommendation to format (which doesn’t touch the images, but rather recreates the MFT) leads me to believe that the errors are indeed caused by MFT corruption.

  8. Vincent says

    I realize that this is probably far too late to tell you, but the reason your camera does that is in all likelyhood because your SD card is too slow, something like class 4, or 6 will not work for HD video.. Ideally you would always buy class 10 cards, they really don’t cost much more, and are considerably faster, which is great for both stills and video+transfer of said stills & video to your computer later on.

  9. says

    Sorry, but “#4 never delete photos with a Computer” is just the half of the story.

    What if you swap Cards, for your Cam it is like you deleted the Images on your Card, Folders are the same with the same name in the most cases but there are just no more images in there…

    Even If you delete the photos with your PC the Camera-Database will see:

    -> oh there is a Index to a file I no more have on my card

    and just shows you “no images on this card”

    If the Database can’t do this there is something wrong with the programming or Card-Readers should be read only…

    And the second is, MTP (Media-Transfer-Protocoll) what all cameras use to connect to PC’s is able to modify the Database of the Kamera if you delete an image this way. If the cam doesn’t support this the deleting will not be available, like on my Sony RX100M2.

    So far, shooting for years by D3100, D7000, D800 some other compacts I never had any issue by deleting the images and I just format the card once in a year.

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