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. sgessel

    @ Sgesssel: I would stay away from deleting pictures while in a session. If you are deleting pictures, you are leaving a fragment behind. That fragment can corrupt pictures you took before the one you deleted. I had a bad experience with my camera having corrupt files all the time (I always went ahead and deleted the “uglies” as well as went through the pictures a lot.) MY advice would be to take the pictures and leave them alone while in a session, family gathering, etc. (also because you waste time going through tem when you can spend time with family or catch the shots you would have missed because you are looking down, not around) Once you get home and load your pictureson your computer, then you can transfer the ones you want to your files. Then, simply store your card. I always reformat my card once I head out and taking the camera. (I never remember if I had formatted before, so I just do it when I am going to use it)

  2. trish

    Wow thanks for the advice! I have never reformatted the card and always erase in computer! I would have had no idea about these issues, thanks so much!

  3. Amy

    Wow! What an amazing site! I’m a fairly new photographer, currently using a canon rebel t1i with various lenses but was curious if an “off brand” memory card might be the reason I am getting “busy” readings within my camera when shooting numerous pics at quick pace. Sometimes it will say “busy” and not allow me to shoot, missing out in a great shot! I thought something was wrong with my camera, but could it be the memory card? It was less than half full and has happened more than once. It was supposedly the one especially for DSLR cameras (not certain if that means the higher speed or what) but thats my main concern. Not being limited there. Thanks in advance!

    1. Not_MaryPoppins

      Hi Amy,
      I have the same camera and the same problem, but only if I use my Sigma lens. While the lens is sold as compatible with Canon, it seems to be the couse of the “BUSY” issue, as I can duplicate the situation with the stock Canon lens and not get the BUSY. Very frustrating.

    2. Heather

      There’s no such thing as an “off brand” card. There are, however, more reputable brands than another. PNY and Sandisk are older, more familiar brands that have been in business with flash memory since the beginning. Transcend, Kingston, etc. are less reputable and have a more frequent tendency to corrupt or go bad. I’m rather confused about the love for this article regarding Lexar, as every retail company I’ve worked for we’ve have a myriad of customer complaints….

      I digress. You may need to consider picking up a faster speed card. Class 10 with a UHS-1 rating generally gives you 35-95 megabytes per second as an average write speed. Also, from what I’ve come to understand is that as your card becomes fuller, the card slows down slightly due to the camera trying to find the available space in a more confined area.

      Hope that helps

  4. Eryn

    And Its ok if you accidentally run a memory card through a wash cycle. Your images wont be skrewed up. And the card will still be usable.

  5. The Voice Of Reason

    Your article spread more incorrect information than it aims to correct.

    “This will taint your database ..”

    Thanks for the laugh!

  6. cuznsteve

    Regarding # 5 , the manufacturer will replace the card free….see address on blister pack when purchaseded.

  7. Bob

    Memory Card Tip #1 Those instructors say that because they know that all memory cards come from the same 2 factories regardless of branding.

  8. iTron

    Regarding Tip 3:

    I always delete from the computer first. What I do is transfer the pictures to external hard drives per each groups topic in different picture folders. Once that group is transferred I then delete those pictures working my way until all pictures have been transferred. The problem is when the empty SD card is reinserted into the camera, the camera still believes the SD card has pictures though none show up. In other words, deleting from the computer is not a complete delete. The SD card still acts like the memory has been used even though it has no pictures. I then have to format the SD card to gain the full usage of the card.

    As far as SD card size. Even though there are very good reasons to use many smaller cards; I choose to use 32 Gig SD cards. I need that size to give me the time needed to video tape anything I want when I want for as long as I want. Like long shows and parades at Disney World. It takes about the same amount of time to transfer 32 gigs as it does 8, 4 gigs cards. Plus if I used cards that small I would have to use 3 or 4 for some shows and parades. I prefer continuous uninterrupted playback.

  9. Hassan

    I will remember these things which is really helpful. I was about to buy a sdxc card but now just changed my mind. I will buy 2 32 gb sdhc than 64 gb.
    Really helpful post. Thanks

  10. annonymous

    I’m a beginner photgrapher and I by mistake permanently deleted around 300 pictured pictured of my friends and we all really want them. I have a pny 16 gb sd card. How can I get them back

    1. Nathan Griffin

      Great Article! That is good advice, especially about data recovery if you accidentally erase or format. I have seen it happen to a ‘pro’ wedding photographer – wish he understood that they could be recovered.

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