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. Never Remove 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.


3. Use Card Readers

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. Don’t Rotate Or Edit 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.


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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.


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. (https://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.