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. Tara

    I am new to your site and since yesterday when I stumbled on to it, I have been on it, every spare second that I have. I have a question based on this article. I have a Nikon and I am confused on what you are tying to say… Obviously I agree that going with the Sandisk sounds better due to the fact that they team up together… However, the Lexar seems as though it might be a better card and also has some extra advantages.. Would you say to stick with the card that teams up with my camera or would you say that I can chose either one? If I can chose either one for my camera (Nikon)~ If you had a Nikon, which card would you chose?

  2. Paula

    I am curious – does it matter where you buy your card? I had to buy a card in Switzerland (at the Matterhorn, no less). (I live in Kansas – This was actually our fourth trip to Europe, but this time I suddenly wanted to photograph *everything*.) My card/camera worked fine for a week or so, then I got the dreaded ERR 99, and haven’t been able to figure out the issue. Just wondered if the Europe-purchased card could have triggered something, even though the problem didn’t begin immediately. It was a Sandisk, btw.

  3. Brad Mangas

    I just recently accidentally deleted 1 photo from a Lexar Platinum II 100x 8GB SDHC card, the card had a total of 293 images in raw format taken with my Canon 60D. When I got back from the photo shoot I downloaded the trial version of Lexar’s Image Rescue. Read the directions and knew the trial was only good for a single image recovery which was fine. Not only did the software not work the image that was accidentally deleted did not even show up but multiple images from the last time I used the card showed up this was after a format (I always format my cards in camera before each shoot. So my experience with Image Rescue produced nothing. Obviously I did not buy the full version that they sell when the trial version failed miserably.

    Other than that the cards themselves are fine and I actually do trust them and will continue using them I’m sure. In 5 years this is the first time I have ever needed to recover a deleted image and will not make that mistake again, it’s just to bad their software didn’t live up to it’s name.

  4. mike

    Going back to 2007
    I had a corrupt Lexar memory card.
    I sent the card to all sorts of “recovery experts”, none of whom could recover my lost/corrupt images.I was desperate.
    I happened to be on a Lexar stand at a photo exhibition where I was told that they will recover the images for me for free.
    I sent them my corrupt memory card and after a few weeks I received a CD containing all my lost images.
    Congratulations Lexar well done a great service!

  5. Morrie

    So which is better: having a 64G SD card or 16 4G cards? I noticed that a 64G card is quite expensive, but a 32G card is cheaper than two 16G cards, a 16G card cheaper than two 8G cards, etc. Having more cards seems less risky though. Thanks.

  6. Glenda

    Big family Thanksgiving with lots of little ones. Two cameras broke :( I was getting ready to order a Nikon Coolpix S410 camera… We’re not huge picture takers! Just holidays and DH owns a commercial construction company and takes pics during the ‘building’ phase. Question is, will the SanDisk 4GB ‘fit’ with the Nikon camera? Thanks! And GREAT SITE!!!

    1. AJ

      As a P.S.,,,don’t get rid of the cards you have, just be cognizant of the fact you could someday for some reason, corrupt a card. Reformat it and give it a try on some unimportant test shots. If it works OK then you should be good to go. If it happens twice, trash it and get one of the more recognizable major brands. There’s a reason they are popular and others say they are As Good As …….

  7. Barbara

    I have been deleting via the computer too! Great to know there is a better way! My question is now that I have been doing it wrong for about a year, do I need to buy new cards to ensure that I am starting out with non-corrupted cards?

  8. SAFFY

    Hi you mentioned about Lexar and Sandisk. Any idea on Kingston? Cause i am using Kingston with my Nikon D3100. And i would like to know how comparable it is to the 2 brands as stated above.

  9. AJ

    I first ran across the Sandisk Extremes at work long before I had a digital camera. Their history is why I went with them when I did get a DSLR and certainly haven’t regretted it. Also from work history, my cards don’t get erased but rather formatted every time to go the extra step in getting rid of the existing directory. For those who don’t understand, the data is still on the card after you erase it. All you’re really doing in most cases is removing the ability to read the directory. It’s about the same as ripping out the Table of Contents in a technical book. You can’t find the data if you don’t know where to look. (this is also why my own PC hard drives never go into the recycle bin in one piece and the disks sit on a rather large magnet for a day.) (paranoid? we’ve all seen the stories of someones data reappearing after they sent the equipment to a recycler. There are specific programs written to recover your lost data but sometimes the slime of the earth uses it for other purposes)

    The habit of using a few smaller memory cards rather than one large one is insurance against damage or loss. If you are taking shots of the family picnic and you lose the card it’s no big deal. Even those of us who are not professionals still have some photos that for one reason or another are very important to us. Using multiple smaller cards is just playing the odds that we’ll get to keep more if something does happen. Also, as the cards get larger the smaller ones get cheaper so there’s a bonus. And a last note, buy your memory from a reputable dealer. There’s lots of junk out there that has been re-labelled. If the price is too good to be true it probably is. I have a lot of photos that to me are worth more than ten to fifteen dollars I’d save with the cheapo’s.

  10. PattiM

    I was wondering if a memory card could make a dslr camera quit working, not being able to turn it on? I always reformat my card. I’ve tried a new battery and that didn’t work. TIA

  11. Mike

    I guess the old adage of “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket” could apply to memory cards. I am still shooting with a Nikon D50 and the max limit card it will take is a 2 GB. I have four San Disk cards that I rotate around.

  12. eclaviolette

    I recently purchased a brand new Sandisk Extreme card through B&H. In the middle of a session, I received an error. The card was apparently corrupt. I attempted to use Sandisk’s recovery program with no luck. The card wasn’t even accessible. Although Sandisk DOES have a warranty, they DO NOT provide any type of service or reimbursement for recovery. I had to send it off which cost $275 out of pocket. They did accept fault for the corrupted card, but they were very quick to tell me there was nothing they could do to help except send me another card. (Which I didn’t accept.)

    Just some food for thought. :)

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