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10 Simple Habits To Follow To Avoid Memory Card Problems

January 16th 2016 9:05 AM

You open up your computer, insert your camera memory card, and expect to see the beautiful photos you just spent all afternoon taking pop up on your computer. To your dismay, the only thing you see is a notification hinting card errors. Or, worse yet, you open the card only to find it is completely empty, devoid of any recollection of your hard work and time investment.

We’ve all been there. Having issues with camera memory cards is nothing new; however, there are a number of things that you can do to help prevent them. Use these ten simple habits to take care of your camera memory card, and you should be able to avoid those dreaded error notifications.

1. Use a high-quality card and card reader

As with anything else, you get what you pay for, so if you want to protect your precious digital files, make the investment in a quality memory card and reader. While all the reader does is “read” the card, there is still the chance that it could damage it. To try to avoid issues with your card, use a reader from the same manufacturer as your card.

2. Always format the card in your camera

Anytime you are shooting photos, make sure that the card is appropriately formatted. To structure the card specifically for the camera you are using, always format it in your camera. Reformatting in a different one or via your computer can cause certain errors. AC Guevara has a nice video showing you how to do this step by step.

3. Remove the card only after you turn off your camera

One of the easiest but most often forgotten ways to prevent card issues is simply turning off the camera before removing the storage card. If you forget and yank out the card while the camera is still on, chances are the camera is still reading/writing files on the card, which could be detrimental to the data.

4. Safely eject your card from the computer

If you take your card out of the computer the wrong way, you are taking your fate, or that of your files, into your own hands. The issue with improperly ejecting your card from your computer is that you could cause data corruption; or even worse, put the integrity of the storage device at risk, according to a test conducted by Andy Betts.

5. Stop shooting before the card is full

Most cameras have a number on the screen indicating how many photos you can take before you’ve filled the memory card. The only problem with that number is that it is just an estimate, and if you end up taking another photo once the card is actually full, you risk corrupting the whole card. Rather than risking this issue, just leave some extra space by leaving a few extra shots empty on the card.

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6. Put your card in a safe environment

This is to protect the contacts of your memory cards. Any number of elements can damage your contacts, including water, dust, and static electricity. According to DFWCI, even the smallest amount of static can destroy storage cards. Too often, cards are thrown into gadget bags or grungy pockets. Try to avoid materials that are static generators. Anti-static bags are cheap, prevent static, and provide a clean storage environment for your cards.

7. Never shoot when the battery is low

Your camera’s battery is nearly as important as your card, so don’t skimp on batteries and avoid pushing it to the limit. If you are shooting on a low battery, there is a chance that it’ll run out just as your camera is writing to your memory card, which could cause you to lose all of your data. To prevent this loss, switch out your batteries as soon as your camera indicates that the current one is low.

8. Think twice before you delete something

Sometimes you never know which photo you take is the best, hence, you would probably regret when you find the one has actually been erased. Also, if you choose to delete photos in the middle of a shoot, whether it’s one or several, you run the risk of corrupting the data on the card. Instead, delete images on your computer once you have uploaded all of them and preferably made several backups of the images.

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9. Stop using the card when you see errors

No matter what error pops up in your camera or on your computer (after you plug in the card), stop using it immediately. Go ask your techy friends or post a question in your favorite photography communities or send it to a nearby camera repair shop. I also published a guide on fixing memory card errors that you may find helpful.

10. Don’t put all eggs in one basket – always backup

Having suffered a couple of heartbroken data loss situations myself, the hard lesson I’ve learned in the digital age is – make multiple copies of everything on a regular basis. All storage devices including camera cards have a lifespan; you never know when it’s going to end. So again, backup! Meanwhile, if you can, always have several new cards at hand. Remember, your photographs are more important than anything else.

Conclusion

While there is no guarantee that you won’t run into a memory card issue, following these habits and tips will make issues less likely to occur. Comment below with your best tips for avoiding camera card errors or share your own story about your camera card woes.

About The Guest Contributor

JP is an amateur photographer and a technology enthusiast based in San Diego, California. He is passionate about writing useful tips to help people solve computer or device related issues. When he is not in front of his MacBook Pro, you’ll probably find him enjoy the city with his loved camera.

If you’re interested in becoming a guest contributor, contact us!

Comments [9]

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  1. Gulzar Ahmed

    These tips regarding memory-card selection are very useful and helpful. Actually Memory Card selection and its proper usage is big problem but I think by reading this article, this problem will no more.

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  2. Dave Haynie

    If your camera will attempt to write an additional file to a full SD disc and corrupt the card, that’s an extremely serious bug in the camera’s firmware. I would be quite surprised if any major brand camera’s file system were that buggy.

    That said, of course you want to watch your memory, and pick the right time to swap out cards. I also recommend pre-formatting all unused cards in-camera, and setting the WP tab (on SD cards anyway) when swapping them out, to avoid filling up at exactly the wrong time and missing the shot.

    Another option for formatting SD cards is the SD Card Formatter from the SD Card Association (https://www.sdcard.org/downloads/formatter_4). This guarantees a perfectly correct format, which isn’t the necessarily the case when formatting using a PC OS or even your camera. The only risk, of course, is that the camera format includes a bug that the camera wants to see. So it’s a very good idea to do some testing of a new camera with cards formatted this way before counting on it.

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  3. Peter Nord

    I’m a nasty card user, treating them with no respect. I’ve put them in and pulled them out of the camera while it’s on, but not while writing. I insert them in the card reader while it’s connect to the powered up computer, sometimes pulling them out before the eject command. I’ll carry them in a shirt pocket which is why I have several washer and dryer cycles on a few cards. I’ve been using cards since the last century (of course that’s just over 15 years). I have bought newer faster larger cards. I’ve never lost an image on a card. I think they are tougher than we give them credit for.

    I do back up hard drives regularly. If I shot in high value productions I’d use two cards at a time, off loading and backing up right away. I did have one card that exhibited the strange behavior of not wanting to work in one individual camera. Sandisk had me send the card back, replacing it for free under their lifetime warranty, nice. It would be interesting to know if they have an analysis of their returns for the kind of defects found. Can they separate manufacturing errors from user errors? Now that would make interesting reading. Anyone in the business with the inside info?

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  4. Cristina St. Germain

    There were some small “duh” things that were good to be reminded of [their impact] :)

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  5. David Hall

    Great advice.

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  6. Paul Nguyen

    I think you missed the most obvious one – always use dual cards, whatever the case may be, using dual cards exponentially reduces your chance of losing all pictures.

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  7. robert garfinkle

    1. Power Off Rule – commit this to second nature; a good practice would be to always turn off all equipment before inserting / removing any type of memory card. I would not pay attention to any claims of how good a device is with it’s media… if you power off devices (cameras, pc, tablet) first it reduces the risk of any power spikes etc which may damage cards.

    2. Keep memory cards in devices as much as possible – if your camera has a secondary way of connecting to a pc / tablet, other than the choice of removing the card, I’d opt to simply connect the two devices and then power up – the idea is minimal removal to avoid breaking media…. I note that inserting a card into a pc with a faster transfer rate does save time, however, in a recent experience, where a card of mine, gently inserted into my pc’s media card slot, crumpled / broke apart and destroyed a $100.00 sandisk extreme sd card… bye bye… I do blame Dell.

    but, external card readers do offer better protection and that’d suffice too…

    3. If you do remove a card, place in an appropriate container, such as the original plastic sheath or a pouch designed for carrying cards – this is if you are taking the card with you to a client / friend etc… don’t just stick it in your pocket – beware of lint!!!!

    4. Don’t get it wet!!!! oh, if you do, by accident, dry it as much as possible then leave it in a dry place for 2 days…

    5. opt to purposefully expire your card, replace with a new one, about every year to year and a half. You don’t have to throw the old one away, just pull it out of service where business is involved – get new cards. Use the old one for general use until it breaks…

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  8. Ralph Hightower

    I found out about the SD Card Formatter from PhotoFocus. The SD Card Formatter doesn’t work for CF cards. But the tips seem reasonable.
    http://photofocus.com/2013/12/17/how-to-properly-format-sdsdhcsdxc-cards/

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  9. Joseph Ford

    All very good suggestions, I have incorporated many of them into my day to day workflow.

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