Tips for handling memory cards


Camera Equipment

How to handle memory cards: Tips for Photographers

Have you considered if you are handling your SD cards properly?

If you are taking digital photos on a memory card (which you most likely are), you will want to read this!

First, let’s talk about a memory card in simple terms.

To most people, a memory card is simply a piece of plastic or metal that they dont give much thought to. However, inside the plastic, there is an amazing system. There’s controllers, flash memory and more. And, the quality of the memory and the controller determines the quality and speed of your card.

Inside your memory card is a File Allocation Table. If you are familiar with computers, you have probably heard of this before — a FAT table. The FAT table is kind of like a table of contents for a book — the book being your memory card. When you format your card, just as on computers, you dont actually erase the card. You simply clear the FAT table. You got rid of table of content, not the book. All those images will continue on your card until you overwrite them with more images. That’s why Image rescue programs are able to recover images from a formatted card.

Memory Card Tips

Now, here are the tips in the order of importance:


. Do NOT erase images from your memory card in your camera!

That is, dont erase images one by one from the card using the camera.

Many people, including professional photographers do this all the time, but its a terrible idea. Your camera is wonderful at taking photos, but it is not very smart at managing the data on your memory card. Deleting individual images from the card will eventually scramble the FAT Table. Just don’t do it!

As inexpensive and large as memory cards are nowadays, you should not have to delete images to save space. Just insert a new card and continue shooting. After you have downloaded to your computer and backed up the images, then format your card to use it again.


Format your memory cards in your camera, not on your computer

In irony to point 1, there are many web sites which tell people to format their memory cards on your computer. This is just bad information! You want to format the cards in the camera. Furthermore, you should do it with the camera that you are shooting with.

That’s right… you shouldnt format in one Canon camera and move it to another. Will they work? Yes, they will. But it could cause problems in the future Similarly, it is not a good idea to take a memory card out of one camera model and putting it into another without formatting. I have seen people shooting with a Canon camera, pull the card out and start using it in a Nikon camera. They like to be formatted a certain way and each manufacturer does it their own way.


Regarding formatting, it is a good idea to format your cards after each shoot

Once you have downloaded your card and have the images in more than one place, you should format that card before its next use. It keeps things clean on the card.


Use a good card reader!

It’s not uncommon that professional photographers take a high quality card out of a $10,000 camera and put it into a cheap no-name reader. Bad idea! If you ever call Lexar about a corrupted memory card, the first question that they will ask will most likely be, “What card reader are you using?”

Memory card readers have intelligent controllers inside them, just like the cards! More cards are corrupted in a reader than in a camera.


Don’t fill the card completely

Although most memory cards are built well and have all kinds of intelligence in them, it is not a good idea to fill a card completely. That’s one reason that it’s a good idea to shoot with a large card — you have more head room to shoot a lot of photographs without worrying about filling the card.


Don’t pull a memory card out of your camera or card reader while data is being written or read from the card

If data is being transferred to or from the card and that process is interrupted, it is quite possible that you will lose some or all of your photos. And don’t always trust the red light on your camera to determine is data is being transferred. Before removing memory cards, always wait an extra couple of seconds after the red light on the cameras goes off, signifying that the data is done being written to the card.


If you have two card slots in your camera, write your images redundantly to both cards to have more peace of mind

Then, if one card gets corrupted, you can most likely get the images off of the other card. I always do this!


Purchase name brand memory cards

Lexar is one of the best brands, but there are others worth considering. SanDisk makes a good product as well. There are others too, but make sure that you do not use one of those cards made by a no-named company.

And you are going to be using the card over and over, so spending a couple of dollars more to get a better product, in the long term, will not cost you much more. Nothing kills me more than seeing someone shooting with a great camera, expensive lens and a crappy memory card. Yep, this gets to me even more than someone using a crappy reader.

Memory Card Misconceptions

Here are a couple of common misconceptions about memory cards:

If memory cards get dropped in water, the data will be lost forever!

This is not true. Because memory cards are made with solid state memory, it is not uncommon for them to go through the washer and dryer and still be useable. Is it the best idea to keep using that card after a situation like this? Probably not. But most likely your data will still be on the card and can be recovered.

You must keep your cards in covers

People have cards loose in my bags all the time. They do not use the little jewel cases that come with the cards. They have countless cards thrown in their bags. This has never been an issue.

In Conclusion

After reading this blog post, I hope you have a better understanding of your memory cards and readers and appreciate them a little more. There is so much technology packed into these devices, but they are so small and unassuming that it is easy to take them for granted.

These are simple tips that could save you from a disastrous situation. I hope that these help all of you to keep your memory cards and images safe now and in the future.

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