Lock in Your Premium Membership Discount!

Your content will be up shortly. Please allow up to 5 seconds
Tips & Tricks

6 Key Mistakes To Avoid When Handling SD Cards to Minimize Data Loss

By Guest Contributor on April 10th 2015

Portable and convenient, memory cards (SD cards) are ideal storage devices for DSLRs and other electronics as they offer a considerable amount of space at minimal cost. Despite their benefits, many photography pros have encountered issues with such cards, where they are damaged or photos, and video content simply disappears, usually due to user error. Thankfully, there are some steps you can take to best protect SD card data and prevent catastrophic loss. In addition to the tips, there are some thoughts on the chances of recovering data based on certain situations. For example, swapping the card between devices means a high chance of recovery, while a card covered in wet mud might not be salvageable.

Camera and SD card

Here’s a list of six key mistakes to avoid when handling memory cards for DSLR devices:

1. Removing The Card While It’s In Use

If the memory card is in a card reader or in the camera, taking it out before the files are fully written is a no-no. You risk disrupting the file structure that every device develops with unique formatting and numbering sequences. When you are done moving or taking pictures, give the device 30 seconds to finish. You also should use a specific card for each device because the cards are formatted to match the specifications of each device, a process that can introduce errors. Your odds of recovery are good in this situation, but the risks are still great, so stick to one card per device.

2. Watch The Water, Heat, And Dirt

Similar to any electronics, SD cards don’t respond well to being wet, extreme temperature changes or dirt. Keep them away from spilled coffee or tea, and don’t store your DSLR in the trunk of your hot car and then bring it into an air-conditioned room. The contact points of the memory card are especially sensitive. You can clean them with isopropyl alcohol, but make sure you don’t scratch the contacts or give them a static electricity shock. Use a small plastic case to protect the cards.

memory-card-safety-download

3. Card Readers Are Your Friend

Easy to operate card readers make photo transfers easy and worry free. These devices are under $20 and help prevent your camera’s battery from running out while downloading, a common problem that can prevent needed file structure information from transferring properly. A card reader is a cheap but effective solution that is an essential device for any DSLR user.

4. Be Careful Formatting And Deleting Pics

Some camera models employ a very destructive way to permanently delete photos while others use a method that allows them to be recovered. Err towards moving photos to a computer instead of manually formatting and deleting them within the camera to ensure you don’t delete that perfect shot. The chance of recovery is essentially zero for files that are trashed by accident and are subject to destructive deletion.

5. Rotating Or Editing Pictures On The Card

Many photo enthusiasts have reported errors that have occurred when rotating a picture while others are being downloaded. Changing a photo causes the file structure information to change, often overwriting other data on the card. So your one photo might be properly rotated, but it messes up several others. Be sure downloads are finished before you use the camera’s editing and rotating functions.

format-sd-cards-memory-photography

6. Don’t Be A “Backfiller”

Backfilling is shooting new photos in the place of deleted ones. The problem is the new photos will try to fill digital “holes” left by the deleted pictures, which can cause serious file problems. Recovery is usually impossible in these situations, so be wary of deleting pictures in-camera.

Conclusion

DSLR users that want to best protect their data should pay special attention to how they utilize SD cards. Used properly, such cards provide photographers with an amazing amount of storage without adding any extra weight or costing a prohibitive amount. However, these memory cards are fragile and should be considered temporary placeholders for files, not long-term storage devices.

About the Guest Contributor

David Zimmerman has been in the hardware/software industry for over 30 years, specifically in the data recovery software market for 18 years. During this period, he has been involved in the creation; marketing and support of the earlier drive recovery software products to enter the PC market and successfully marketed them both nationally and internationally. His company makes data recovery products for most of his competitors. His experience in the market has made him uniquely familiar with the data recovery business.

LC Technology International, Inc. (http://www.lc-tech.com) is a global leader in data recovery, file system utilities, and data security technology. Clients include original equipment manufacturers, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, corporate security specialists, and IT consultants, among others. Available worldwide and published in more than 24 different languages, LC Technology products are available direct or through several major manufacturers of flash memory products. Founded in 1997, LC Technology is based in Clearwater, Florida.

Terms: #Formatting

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

Q&A Discussions

Please or register to post a comment.

  1. Dustin DeTorres

    [Dustin DeTorres has deleted this comment]

    | | Edited  
  2. | |
  3. Kate Green

    Data gets lost from SD Cards often happens when you mistakenly deleted pictures or videos from SD cards; The SD cards occasionally crash, corrupted or stop working due to virus attack or user error; Accidentally formatted the SD cards without any backup of data.
    Don’t be panic! RePicvid Free Photo Recovery would be the lifesaver for you SD cards to recover all your photos/videos from SD cards.

    | | Edited  
  4. sumona chatterjee

    SD cards should certainly not be considered as a permanent storage devices. However, due to certain mishandling , corruption or formatting SD cards do become corrupt. But they can be repaired first hand, if one gets to know the tricks of this page http://www.stellarinfo.com/article/sd-card-recovery.php

    | |
  5. William Montgomery

    Thank you for helpful tips!
    Indeed, sd cards may be risky. That is why I prefer cloud services like Ideals data room to local storage

    | |
  6. Janna Slaback

    Great tips! I’m so grateful that one of the tips I learned in the very beginning is to use card readers to transfer photos from card to computer. I appreciated reading the other tips as well.

    | |
  7. Jason Boa

    Is this kind of a article on nothing -or some would say common sense hmmmmm

    | |
  8. Heiko Herrmann

    First of all, the author needs to wake up: talking only about DSLRs in 2015? Come on… As if working with SD cards on the modern mirrorless cameras is any different as with those old DSLR cameras with flappy mirrors.

    Second: #5 is absolute bullshit. The file system is made for that. If you edit one file not a single other gets hurt. Any hard disk does this 100.000x a day.

    | |
    • J. Dennis Thomas

      Relax dude. You couldn’t comment on this without swearing and throwing around pejoratives like “flappy mirrors” ?

      This is SLR Lounge so expect discussions about “old DSLRs with flappy mirrors” to be more prevalent than those “slow focusing toy cameras with tiny TV’s in them”.

      Just joking there, but you see how it comes across when you make statements like that? If you don’t like flappy mirror talk there are lots of other sites for you to visit more suite to you obvious preference for mirrorless cameras.

      | |
    • Heiko Herrmann

      Relax :)… You just did not pick up my sarcasm :-D … The point is that handling SD cards has nothing to do with which type of camera you use. Even a point-and-shoot is the same with SD cards ;)…

      Oh and by the way, the reason why this page probably called “SLR” is probably because at the times when it was founded, DSLRs were the only systems with large sensors. Nowadays even few compacts with fixed optics have full-frame sensors :).

      | |
    • J. Dennis Thomas

      “The point is that handling SD cards has nothing to do with which type of camera you use.”

      That’s all you had to say. You could have left out the jab at the author, the “flappy mirrors” comment and the swearing.

      I do fail to see the sarcasm. Because it wasn’t sarcastic. It was just plain rude.

      | |
    • Mikko Rantalainen

      I theory, I agree. However, you have to keep in mind that we’re talking about devices where software engineering has historically produced inferior products. It’s always safe to assume that software engineers that wrote the software for your camera did poor job and if you do anything “unexpected” the changes are high that the camera will mess up the filesystem structure. In *correctly* behaving device that reads and writes SD cards, doing everything listed in this article will not corrupt the card.

      | |
  9. Thomas Horton

    I don’t remove the SD/CF card from my camera unless I really need to. When I download my photos I use the USB cable. Then once they are safe on my computer/back up, I format in camera. Less wear and tear on the contacts/pins.

    But then I don’t take multiple thousands of shots. With dual slots, I don’t have a need to reload cards.

    | |
  10. Peter Nord

    I have had one SD card go bad. Refused to work in one camera, worked in others. A call to SanDisk, they requested the serial number. What serial number, I didn’t see one. The help person said take a photo of the card with a macro lens, blow it up. Sure enough there was a serial number on the card that I could not see with my eyes. SanDisk send me a new card. Nice guarantee.

    | |
    • J. Dennis Thomas

      With Delkin and Hoodman you can take the card to the store you bought it from and exchange it right away. No phone calls, no emails, no taking photos of the card, no waiting for the mail. Just say, this thing is broke and they swap it out. Best guarantee.

      | |
    • Peter Nord

      I had never had a card go bad. Didn’t even know SanDisk had a life time guarantee. I had bought the card mail order. Had no saved paperwork. Read somewhere about their guarantee, so called to see how it worked. Easy enough to drop it in the mail. Didn’t require a trip in the car, no traffic, no waiting around in a store. I have spare cards, and forgot about it while it was gone. Surprised and pleased when a new one came back. No questions about paperwork, or where or when I bought it. Just asked for the serial number. And maybe after I get my cataracts fixed I’ll be about to see it.

      | |
    • J. Dennis Thomas

      Eh, I’ve had so many issues with SanDisk SD cards that I ended up on the phone with their chief engineer trying to figure out why the SD cards were so f’d up.

      I don’t keep stamps and envelopes around the house so, it would be either a trip to the post office, which is always a nightmare or a trip to the camera shop. I don’t typically do mail order because I shop at local independent stores and I don’t mind swinging by the camera store anyway to check out the used stuff, chat with the cute girls that work there, nerd out about Leica gear with the owner…

      | |
    • Peter Nord

      You are fortunate to live in an area with independent camera stores. All the locals have closed up. The nearest independent is in another state. However they are very nice and will ship anything I want at competitive prices. I’m curious about what cameras and computer systems you use where you experience failures with SanDisk cards. I’ve found them reliable even after a trip through the washer.

      | |
  11. Paul Lehman

    Have been advised to only format a card with the camera – not on computer since that format operation may not entirely “sync up” with the format operation of the camera.

    Any thoughts on this?

    | |
    • robert garfinkle

      format is format – what I mean by that is, if the Camera formats the card as fat 32, and the pc formats as fat 32 there is no difference. however I do notice a file that is left on the card after a camera format (for Nikon) but not in the case of the PC, it’s left blank – however, after the first image is created, so is the additional file…

      I have never run into an issue formatting the card using the PC – but that’s using Nikon cameras etc… and only with fat 32. I am pretty sure a camera cannot take NTFS format, nor most media devices like TVs etc…

      And we are speaking about using windows, not apple, to which I have no experience with…

      | |
    • J. Dennis Thomas

      I’ve always been advised the same. I don’t think that there’s a big chance that something will screw up horribly if you format on your computer and stick it in your camera, but it just makes sense to format the card in the machine in which it is to be used as it will obviously have some optimizations built in to the firmware by the manufacturer.

      I have had a camera corrupt a card to where I had to format in my computer to get it working again though…

      | |
    • Dylan Martin

      I would say you might as well do it in the camera, even if it is the same. If people say it, there must be a reason. No need to test it and lose a whole bunch of pictures.

      | |
    • Pompo Bresciani

      same here I only format in camera and use same cards for same bodies…never had a problem with sandisk…ever. Deleting in camera is not suggested either. i

      | |
  12. Dylan Martin

    It seems interesting to me that people delete on the job, I can understand maybe saving space if you have a small card. But the import of five-ten photos probably won’t save you too much time in the long run.

    Since I have started I always do a format of the card in the camera before I start shooting. I normally will do this the night before as well to ensure that I have copied the images from the card to my computer or hard drive.

    Thanks for the article!

    | |
    • Peter Nord

      Have a look at this from the SD Association.
      https://www.sdcard.org/downloads/formatter_4/index.html

      | |
    • Dustin Baugh

      Yeah, deleting photos on the job is alot more work than just mass deletion in post. The only time I’ve had to is when filled up because I didn’t format beforehand and was casually shooting without any spare cards on me.

      Haul all the blurry and overexposed shots home with you; they don’t weigh anything.

      | |
    • Steven Lam

      It’s a bit of a obsession with efficiency for me. I like to leverage the downtime during travelling (e.g. on the flight home) to start selecting which photos to use and cull out the ones I don’t want to keep. I like freeing up future time by taking advantage of the free time now.

      | |
  13. David Blanchard

    Another thing to be careful of is that fiddly little lock switch on the side of the card. I’ve had a couple of cards get destroyed because that switch caught on something and caused the card to come undone. RIP, Amen.

    I really wish the SD standard would allow for that switch to be eliminated.

    | |
    • Steven Lam

      I actually like the lock switch. It’s a quick and easy way for me to identify which card is full when I’m travelling.

      | |
    • David Blanchard

      Steven: I’m sure some folks like it. Personally, I have never used it, only been a victim of it.

      | |
    • J. Dennis Thomas

      Yeah, I hate those useless things. The funny part is the “S” is SD comes from that crappy lock switch that’s what “secures” your data.

      | |
    • Dave Haynie

      Actually, the origin of the SD Card and the “Secure” part is far weirder than the lock switch. So ok, the SD Card came from a modification of the MMC (Multi-Media Card), that includes “robust” hardware enhancements: can’t be plugged in backwards, recessed contacts, and that crappy lock switch.

      However, the other thing was actual data security. In the 1990s, the music industry was all bent out of shape over piracy, and actively opposing new things like MP3 players. They at some point realized that they couldn’t stop the inevitable future, and so published a specification in 1998 called the Secure Digital Music Initiative, which specified ways to make digital music players that supposedly wouldn’t freak the hell out of the music industry.

      And then there’s Toshiba, the originator of the SD card. They were working in 1998 toward adding SDMI support to the MMC standard, but the committe working on the next MMC card had at some point decided to drop backward compatibility. Now, of course, Toshiba had recently lost the battle, a little, on the video front, with their idea for a digital video disc and Sony/Philips MultiMediaDisc getting merged as DVD. Their disc, of course, was called the SuperDisc… and see, they had this logo already paid for… and… yeah. Really. Look at the SD logo, and notice how the “D” is made like half a disc, reflecting light. So based on this whole political thing with the music industry (Toshiba, of course, mainly wanted to sell Flash chips) and their ready-to-go logo, it became Secure Digital. And there are security features in there, though rarely if ever used these days.

      | |
    • J. Dennis Thomas

      Crazy story!

      | |
  14. Peter Nord

    The semiconductors in these devices are physically tougher than most people think. They are environmentally sealed. I’ve had more than one SD card go through the washer/dryer in a shirt pocket. No problem. Drop it in the mud, just wash it off. I’ve seen PC board stuffing operations that used a dishwasher to clean stuffed boards. Mistreatment electrically and software wise is a different story. And of course some companies may be higher quality manufacturers than others.

    | |
    • Dustin Baugh

      The SD cards will probably survive the mud and washing, but it’s still something to try to avoid.

      | |
    • Dave Haynie

      Water is really not a PCB’s friend. It can lead to corrosion, or changes in resistance, even shorts, on a live board. SD cards are nicely sealed, the contacts are gold plated (while it lasts) and won’t corrode, but best to avoid getting them wet, and never put a wet card in a live device.

      Also, be careful handling cards in dry environments that “breed” static. The contacts shouldn’t be touched anyway, but if you get a good charge on your and do touch the card, it’s possible to damage it. The pins are ESD protected, but that only goes so far. I’m always careful to only touch the plastic bits (and I handle circuit boards daily some weeks — I design them).

      All that said, other than on a project trying to fix an SD socket design as a favor (they did pretty much everything wrong: software, circuit, layout… it killed several 8GB cards), I have had only one card go bad… it was actually in my Zoom H4n when it died, a pretty old 32GB card that had been through camcorders and DSLRs in its day.

      Got all but one file off it, and tossed it — that’s another issue. It’s possible any given failure is some kind of software based file system mishandling, or the result of a pull-before-write. But if you have any suspicion, toss it. Justify your decision by realizing the replacement probably costs $15 on Amazon right now, even if it might have run $100 or more new.

      | |
  15. Paul Empson

    One BIG one rule I stick by: NEVER format on the job….

    I shoot weddings, so I format all cards the day / night before… If I place a card in the camera and for whatever reason it doesn’t give me the number of images I expect… just shoot as is or replace with another spare card…

    I also place used cards ‘makers label’ face down in the zip pouches… and in the pocket marked with red Velcro in my kit bag… The unused cards are all ‘makers name’ facing up and from the green Velcro marked pocket.

    | |
  16. Steven Lam

    “Be wary of deleting pictures in-camera”

    This one’s new to me. I delete in-camera all the time to save space and to reduce the time needed to upload to my PC (especially if I’ve been shooting birds/insects using high FPS).

    | |
    • robert garfinkle

      Never heard of this issue before.

      | |
    • robert garfinkle

      I’m still running on cards from 2.5 years ago – I’m lucky they have not become unusable.

      This follows rule #1.

      I would say the one hard fast rule I would follow is to respect that these cards are electronically fragile; so the idea that someone might pull a card out of a camera or computer while a read / write operation is occurring that is something to pay attention to – be patient, let the operation complete… then remove.

      also, follow suggested process for you computer. Don’t just pop the card out even if the operation is complete. In windows, there is a proper way to tell the system to “eject” the card electronically, which more or less unmounts the card in preparation for removal… just a good, clean way to remove. I am not familiar with Apple’s or Linux’ processes of un-mounting, but I’m sure the same thinking applies.

      Comment: I mean, really, even I sometimes just eject the card, but, if the operating system has some kind of business with the card, other than a copy of images operation, it’s rare, but it could play havoc with the card and make it unreadable, possible…

      And the 7th rule of engagement – CHECK POWER!!!

      Has anyone ever experienced a camera where the batteries are not fully charged? I have. And I was thinking “I got a defective camera” NOT!! I got a defective brain – not thinking to check if my batteries were fully charged and all of a sudden, at least in the case of Nikon, typically, I go to take a picture, mirror up, and then nothing… Heck, I cant even properly power down the dang thing and got to drop the battery pack to turn it off… waiting, does nothing. Them batteries are really low, really low…

      You can only imagine the case where you are in the middle of a shoot, lets say a continuous operation, then mirror up, and maybe, just maybe your write operation stops because all power is being drained trying to complete the last mirror up / shutter / buffer / mirror down operation – and your in “F#^K-ville” in between operations… and that can just be good for your card either – forcing you to remove all battery / power sources… Did your card survive? You better hope so.

      Typically, there are warning signals on some cameras etc. And the rule applies to your computer too. heed the 10% battery left warnings. But, the point is to never put yourself in that position…

      Small story, but probably typical –

      I own a D810 and a D800 before that. Let’s forget for the moment I probably don’t deserve to be behind the shutter button of one of those, right? That’s like putting a newly licensed kid behind the wheel of a Ferrari… :)

      Anyway – I use an MBD12 in conjunction with that camera and run Energizer lithium 9x AA’s in those packs. This is to get the additional FPS out of the camera when needed. and it works. But the one thing I keep forgetting is the internal EN EL15 battery. And where I’ve run into power issues, is not so much the MBD12, but the internal charge. And no matter whether or not the MBD12 set is new or not, if you have a poorly charged EN EL15, expect the worst… expect the problems…

      First rule in computing is check power – if you don’t have stability, it’s a deal killer. and an equipment killer.

      So maybe, just maybe this power thing could have been categorized under #2 (kinda an environmental thing along with Water, Heat, Dust…) but could have definitely been tagged as number 1.

      | |
    • Reginald Walton

      Once I’ve copied my photos from the memory card, I just format the card in camera instead of deleting.

      | |
  17. Graham Curran

    I certainly don’t recommend it but I washed and tumble dried a pair of jeans with an SD card in the pocket. I was amazed to find it still worked and the data were intact.

    | |