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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  1. Imran

    Paid advertisement from Lexar and Sandisk.
    I have been using a 6yr old memorex SD card with disregard of anything the article mentioned and I have not had any issues.

  2. Daniel

    I had a Sandisk which got stuck in the locked position and not only did Sandisk replace it for free but also offer to recover the images on the card if I need them to. Having had already downloaded them to my computer that wasn’t a problem. So in light of tip number eight Sandisk will do a recovery for you. I will always stand by Sandisk’s customer service they will stand by their product.

  3. Diane

    The numbers and letters on the memory cards mean a lot too. I can’t tell you what they mean. All I did was review them, bought the right cards and ended my lesson there.

  4. Graham Reader

    I have bought Sandisk CF cards in the past but this year, although I read after that cards could last for 10’s of thousand formats, but I had 3 CF cards go bad on me, they worked ok in the camera, then when put them in the card reader I got a message that said this card needs formatting before use! I put it back in the camera and the same thing happened, the camera wanted to format the card. I then spent £50 on a recovery program as the ‘trials’ had finished a couple of years ago and reclaimed my photos. The program also offered cleaning the card but that didn’t help and the problem kept occurring.
    The only thing I can think of is where I have taken the card out of the camera without switching off the camera first or not ejecting from the card reader if I had a problem downloading. So now I always make sure the camera is switched off and check the ‘finder’ page on the Mac to see that the card isn’t still mounted.

  5. Roger Moore Jr

    I bought a Canon 7D in July 2010. I was listening to the podcast “This Week in Photo” when they interviewed Jeff Cable. He mentioned how people spend hundreds and/or thousands of dollars on a camera and want to buy cheap memory cards. He stated people send their off-brand cards to Lexar and will pay hundreds to save the images. If they would’ve bought Lexar, they wouldn’t have that problem he said. He was talking to me cause I bought two inexpensive cards with my camera. As soon as I got home, I ordered to Lexar 16 GB cards and I sent him an email thanking him for the advice.

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