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Tips & Tricks

5 Quick Tips on Memory Cards | Photography 101

By Hanssie on June 13th 2016

Your memory cards hold much power; without them, your digital camera is worthless, which is why you should always be sure you are purchasing the best memory cards and take care of them properly. Here are some key pieces of advice on purchasing, managing, and salvaging memory cards.


1. Invest in Reputable Cards

Make sure you are buying reputable cards from reputable companies and from reputable places. Two major brands out there and the ones we use are Lexar and SanDisk.

Also, make sure you purchase them in retail packaging which are sealed so you know they haven’t been tampered with or repackaged.


2. Memory Card Speed Matters

Speed is important, especially if you’re shooting fast action, sports, live action events, etc. Whatever you’re shooting, if you’re shooting Raw and want to shoot 5, 6, 7 images per second for 10 seconds (or whatever amount of time), you’ll need fast cards.

For instance, if you have an SD card and it’s 45MB per second, class 10 and holds 32GB of data, it basically means is that it can write 45MB per second. If you’re shooting at a rate that’s creating more images than 45MB per second, it will back up the buffer. There will be a delay, so once the buffer fills up, it has to pause as it’s transferring images over to the memory card and you might miss some shots.

Faster cards will affect the overall cost of the card, but it’s worth it. Gauge exactly what you will be shooting, so you can get the appropriate speeds.



3. SystemaTize The Way You Shoot

Make sure you have a workflow in place for the way you handle your cards while you are shooting – Don’t just shoot and pull the card out and set it down, as it’ll get confusing because you risk mixing up cards you’ve shot with cards that are ready to use.

When we finish a card and take it out, we place it in our Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket upside down with the label facing away from me. This tells us immediately that the card has been used, and I will grab a card that isn’t upside down, with the manufacturer’s label showing.


3. Label Your Cards

It’s a good idea to label your cards with your name, phone number, and the date you started using the card. You should also number your cards to help you keep them in sequential order as well.

4. Back Up Your Memory Cards

It should go without saying, but warrants reminding that you must back up your memory cards and try to back them up right after your shoot.

In our studio, we take the cards and dump them onto a local computer. It then goes onto a server which has redundant backups. Before we clear a card, it’s backed up in three different locations, just in case; one of them is on the Cloud.


5. What if Something Goes Wrong?

Hopefully it won’t happen to you, but it does happen more often than we’d like to think.

What if something goes wrong with your cards? Maybe you accidentally formatted it before backing it up. In that situation, all is not lost. Generally, when you format your memory card, what happens is the camera just preps the file system. So it hasn’t actually cleared everything. Essentially, the camera is preparing it to be written on. So, as long as you don’t start shooting again on that card, you can actually recover all the images.

Let’s say you happen to throw your card in your washer and dryer. There’s still a good chance you can still recover images. If the cards have been damaged or such, many of the images can possibly be recovered. Look for image recovery software (SanDisk and Lexar cards come with their own software), and it is possible in many cases to save those images, particularly with CF cards.

For more tips and tricks like this and more, check out Photography 101Gain access to this workshop and so much more by purchasing a Premium Subscription to SLR Lounge!

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Tim Page

    I for one use 32gb SanDisk but I always have a back up card in my camera to which I set to record to both, the back up set to large JPeg & the main flash to Raw, I find this allows me to shoot on the larger cards & can shoot a whole wedding on 2 32gb cards (one in each camera.

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  2. Peter Nord

    After shooting, how about sliding the switch on the card to write-protect which will prevent accidental overwrites if the card is placed back in the camera. I’ve only had one card go bad, a SanDick extreme pro which decided to stop working in one particular camera only. SanDick replaced it under their life-time warranty plan – no time limit to worry about. Semiconductors in products have to be environmentally sealed for reliability. The business I was in made semiconductor products that were used in cable repeater circuits above the arctic circle as well as in consumer products. All were sealed the same way. The good memory cards are no different. I have had a couple SanDisk extreme pro card travel in my shirt pocket through the washer and drier with no problems. I had no qualms about using them again. And not the one card I had that went bad. They look fragile, but are tougher than you think. Drop them in the mud, wash them off. Just don’t bend them. I agree about using several smaller cards than one large capacity card. I’ve known people to drop a camera in the ocean. Something about all the eggs in one basket.

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  3. Giuseppe Pipia

    Here’s a horror story that happened to me: after using two SanDisk 32Gb extreme pro memory cards for a major shoot, (where video was the first goal), I used them for an interview few days later. On the same day, at almost the same time, both memory cards would give me corrupted videos and images! Both on the same day, and bought a month earlier than this event. Customer care was good enough to substitute both of them in no time. That was the first time it has ever happened to me in over 5 years that I use SanDisk cards and they have worked so far greatly. Needless also to say to never be too attracted to those high capacity cards unless your files are also extremely big. So that if you lose something, you lose little, rather than the whole shoot.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I’m with you there. I typically shoot nothing bigger that 16GB and frequently 8GB, just lots of them. Unless doing video with a HC U3. That said, it depends on what you’re shooting – gear and subject.

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    • Paul Wynn

      With you on that. My CF cards are 4, 8 and 16GB. Only exception to this are the XQD cards I use on my D4, which are 32GB.

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  4. Daniel Thullen

    Great helpful hints! Thankfully I use most of them. I number my cards, put them manufacturer label side up when they are empty, always buy the name brands. I’ll have to look into the Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket. My current card holder is about shot.

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  5. Paul Wynn

    Memory cards are our film, so vital to keep them safe and secure. Ofcourse things do go wrong, so if I have any doubts about the integrity or performance of an individual card, then I don’t use them for client work.
    And don’t forget the XQD card format not mentioned in the article, a format Nikon users will recognise.

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  6. Andrew Giroux

    Great article! How often do you recommend replacing memory cards?

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    • David Kwak

      I would write down the date of when it was purchased and replace anywhere between 1-3 years after its purchased date. Another tip would be to not use any memory cards that are no longer under warranty. I would only shoot cards that are still under warranty which is very crucial in my opinion.

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    • Hanssie

      Agreed with David on this one. :)

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  7. Karen Borter

    I just purchased a Lexar Professional 1000x 32GB SDHC UHS-II/U3 Card (Up to 150MB/s read) and will likely get another one. This is the fastest card I’ve ever owned and it’s a dream. It also came with recovery software. I won’t buy “cheap” ever again. This was in anticipation of a new body purchase in the future where a faster card will benefit

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Good to hear Karen. I never understand when camera owners agonize over camera choices and dwell on minute differences in performance figures, then go out and drop a few thousand on a new kit, and then use inefficient and really inexpensive memory cards.

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