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. says

    After you reformatted… did you lose all the images on the card? I am having the same problem with a SanDisk 8GB. It is finicky. It would not work for weeks and then it worked.. No error message.. I made the mistake of picking it up and going to do a job using it… It took all the photos fine.. But when i tried to download them to my computer, the card was not recognized.. i put it back into my camera and the error message “reformat card” came up. I just hope the images can be recovered. Hope you can help.

  2. says

    As a photographer, it is important to use the right memory cards for camera which has a good storage and performance features. I think that photographers should use a super fast speed memory card to shoot videos and photos. Knowledgeable tips here.

  3. Robby says

    Is deleting images actually bad for the card? Or is it just just bad to not format your card. Because I always delete images after I put them on my computer because it makes everything simpler. I can see only the pictures that I will be totally losing when I press the format button. This reduces the chance of accidentally formatting my card while there is something good on it. But did I damage the card by deleting stuff before I formatted?

  4. Robby says

    Also, how can I tell the speed of an SD card? I have a 16gb card that says 30MB/s and a 32gb memory card that doesn’t seem to say how fast it is.

  5. says

    Thanks for listing all these tips on memory cards. Very useful!

    However, I have read somewhere in Google, in a quite appreciable website as far as I remember, that deleting images straight from the camera is wrong, not the opposite. Which is true and why?

    Thanks.

    Morpho

  6. Angyork says

    Solid state memory has a limit number of write cycles, meaning every card will need to be replaced due to usage eventually. They also suffer from write performance over time as the camera needs “figure out” how to write to non-damaged portions of the memory.

    This is an issue with all forms of solid state memory, from sd cards through to computer SSD hard drives. This is why most pro level computers have a SSD for the operating system and a normal spinning hard drive for the data.

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