9 Things Photographers Need to Know About Memory Cards

In Gear by Jim Harmer140 Comments

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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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About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. Jim travels the world to shoot with readers of Improve Photography in his series of free photography workshops. See his portfolio here.

Comments

  1. Memory Card Tip #6a: As well as reducing battery drain, having more small capacity cards rather than less large capacity cards means that a) if something goes wrong, you will lose less shots, and b) you can change cards as the shoot changes (different model, different innings at the game, etc). This makes it easier to keyword when you import.

    Good Light!

    1. I shoot with Olympus camera bodied, And I find that a memory card of 16gb is ample for still picture shooting. I haven’t had any problems with SanDisk Extreme Pro . They are inexpensive and with my cameras, they write relatively fast. Especailly when I’m shooting shelter dogs for the PSPCA. I shoot in RAW and import using Lightroom. I always format a card before I start shooting. It’s part of my workflow.

  2. Author

    @Jim (the other Jim….) Good point about keywording on import. I always just select the different photos using click-shift-click and then keyword specific sets, but that is a handy thought. Thanks for sharing.

  3. One thing I’d say about cards, if you’re thinking of buying a 32GB card, don’t…get two 16GB cards instead.
    If you lose one you’ll have another, and if they contained images and you lost a card/camera you won’t lose all your images.

    1. so weird that you advised this because I almost got the 32gb but purchased the 16gb . thus far I love it!

  4. When I shoot weddings I shoot with 4GB cards. It does mean changing the cards more often, but if something goes wrong, then I lose less.

    I do have a question for you… At what intervals should cards be replaced? I have been shooting with the same 12 4GB cards for two years and have not noticed any drop off in speed or anything… But do they have a life expectancy?

  5. Great post. I appreciate the info about the collaboration between Nikon and Sandisk, do you know if anything like that has happened with Canon? I also want to ask what Richard Cole asked about the life expectancy of CF cards, but wonder if it is frequency or volume rather than time that wears down a memory card. I’ve had a Lexar for a couple years and use it quite a bit, something like 1000 images per weekend and want to know if it’s going to last another 10,000 images at least.
    Thanks!

  6. Another tip: always keep your cellphone out of range from your memory cards and do certainly store it in the same pocket while travelling. Or at least: turn your phone off.

  7. Hey – someone just passed this on to me. Thanks for the shout out here. 🙂 This is a really good article. Someone just asked about the life of a memory card. The answer is this…Every memory card does have a theoretical limitation to how many times it can be reformatted (less so on cheaper cards which use a lower quality of Flash Memory), but the number is huge. Unless you format your card 10 times a day, it should last a lifetime. And…of course…if you have a Lexar Professional card, it has a lifetime warranty and can be replaced if anything does go wrong. 🙂

    1. Jeff, this is great to know and definitely will change what I buy. Right now, I purchase a few each of different brands, but with customer service like that, I am willing to switch.

      Thanks for the info.

    1. Did I miss the part where this states this was sponsored by Lexar? You forgot to mention the issues Lexar had working with Canon cameras… The Lexar/Sandisk debate will rage as long as the Canon/Nikon debate will… if you’re going to tell us 9 things… be unbiased… at least a little maybe…

      1. Author

        @Jeff Mulvihill, Jr. Did you read the article? I mentioned both Lexar AND Sandisk several times in the article, and I even linked to an article from last week where I gave some strong reasons why Sandisk is BETTER than Lexar in some situations. I think I’ve fairly given information about both brands lately. In fact, the memory card in my camera right now is a Sandisk. There are benefits to both brands.

    2. Hi! I was curious what exactly this is referring to …. is it referring to deleting while the card is still plugged in? How else is one to delete images????

  8. Hi thanks for the tips they are ivaluable, I certainly noticed no bias towards any particular company, I use sandisk my self and have never had to replace one in over ten years, yes I use lots of 4gb cards its just common sense in my eyes, on deleting, I import all my photos onto my computer, once I have stored those images on my external and internal hard drives then I re formatt my card, it was a Pro photographer that gave me that tip again many years ago,
    once again thankyou for this the tips and I have put you in my favourites list.

  9. One thing I did not read was HOW LONG are cards good for? I recently heard to only download images from a card about 8-10 times & then you should get rid of it. I was told if you are a pro, you should discard cards every 3-4 months. Is this TRUE?

  10. SanDisk has a lifetime warranty on their cards. I had a card suddenly stop working; no reason why…no damage…nothing. I contacted SanDisk and they issued me an RMA to send the card back for a brand new replacement. It is an amazing program.

  11. I am so posting a link to this article on my web page. I teach photography workshops and I am always shocked that almost none of the students format the cards, they erase only. The only thing I would add here is to NOT use cheap card readers. I have student after student and a few friends who buy cheap card readers which then destroy their cards. I only use the cable to upload to my computer, slower but safer.

  12. Tip #7a: Before inserting the memory card with deleted images into your card reader make certain that ReadyBoost (Windows Vista and Windows 7) is turned OFF!! If not, the computer may load the “unused” space with ReadyBoost and you won’t have any chance at all in recovery.

    It’s also a good idea to turn it off when transferring images to the computer, it works against itself and slows the transfer rate tremendously.

    I leave ReadyBoost off most of the time unless I have a spare empty card and I’m really in a time crunch.

  13. you’re definitely right about point #1.. i always use SanDisk and i never ever lost my data again.

  14. Not something that will affect many people…but don’t put an Eye-Fi card in a Leica M9…as it can damage the SD card slot.

    As alluded to above…my tip would be use a recognised brand and instead of buying one large capacity card, buy two smaller (but equivalent total capacity) cards. If one fails or you lose one…then not all your images are lost.

  15. I know this was posted a few months ago but I was just tuned on to your site which I find very informative and usually repost your articles. My question was how you feel about delkin, I have mostly all Delkin cards they have a life time warranty, and really good customer service. I don’t work for Delkin in any way shape or form. However from personal experience, I had 2 of there combat flash cards 32G get destroyed by an old card reader (which wasn’t mine) I called Delkin they gave me a reference number sent me a UPS ticket I sent them the cards. They also offer a free service to get your images off your CF cards add them onto a dvd, and send them back to you. It took about a month from start to finish but it had to do with a person losing their job, however the Delkin employee I spoke to kept in touch with me and kept me up to date about everything. I feel you should check Delkin out.
    D

  16. how can i get pictures that are in my computer and not on my memory cards on my memory card so i can bring it to my local walmart and make copies

    thanxs

  17. “I have not tried Sandisk’s program for memory cards,”
    I have use Sndisk’s “Rescue” program, and will say it was stellar! Bringing me back the pictures I had recently deleted, and needed back, and pictures on the disk from as far back as 8 months before. Nice for a free included program! Thanks for this great article. I’m going to be linking to your articles in my Photo group.
    Randy

  18. I wish I would of read this before… I just bought a new SD card and it isn’t any of the ones mentioned above. I have never reformatted my cards and delete with the computer because it’s faster… my bad! You have reformed me!! (and probably saved me from future trouble 🙂 Thanks so much, Jim, for all your time, effort and excellent posts and articles. You Rock!!

  19. Excellent article! You hit things I have asked photography teachers who were either unable to answer or gave me a different answer than you provided. One Question: Do you have any input about PNY brand memory cards? I just shot about 32 GB worth of photos on my PNY memory cards from a recent trip and was curious of any tips or feedback on this brand.

    1. Author

      @Abby – I have used PNY cards before, as well as several other off-brands. I have rarely experienced problems with any memory cards, but I trust my photography to Lexar and Sandisk. They have the best reputation in the industry and really stand behind their products.

  20. I have been clearing my cards by computer for years. My current cards have been downloaded from and cleared hundreds of times. I have never had a card fail. My current cards are SanDisk Extreme 16gb 60mb/s

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