Caring for memory cards

Film era has ended and so have the lead lined cases for transporting films. The memory cards are the in thing now and they come with their own set of problems.

First of all, put your mind at ease. The memory cards are really really sturdy. Photographers tend to either loose them or upgrade to higher capacity cards. Very few of us have actually witnessed card failures.

Memory Cards

Which memory card to buy?

Check your camera’s user manual and understand the cards supported by it. Apart from the card types, check the versions, minimum and maximum capacities, read/write speeds etc. Buy your memory cards which are well supported by your camera. I always recommend buying multiple low capacity cards for the reasons which I will discuss soon. If you are into videography, go ahead and buy the high capacity card you have been eyeing.

I have some basic guidelines that I follow to get the most out of the memory cards-

I use multiple low capacity cards rather than a single high capacity card. This keeps my mind at peace by knowing that in case of a card failure, I’ll end up loosing images only on one card and not all the images had I used a single large capacity card.

Another trick of the trade to make the cards long last is to avoid using them to the full capacity. Change the card before it is completely filled with images. Do not be in a haste to do so however. Make sure that the card is not being used by the camera when you change. If it is, wait for the read/write operations to finish before taking the card out.

Every time, I return back to my desk after doing some clicking, I transfer the images to my computer. Next I format the memory card. I do it for all the cards that I might have used. I do not delete any photos using the delete button on camera. I don’t even understand the reason for that button when it actually does more harm than good. Another piece of advice- Use a good card reader and as with camera, do not take the card out when it is being used by the operating system.

Cards are better formatted in the camera itself. Go through your camera’s menu to find the option for formatting the card. Once in a while I do format the card in the computer especially after returning from a long trip with lots of memory cards to take care of. From what I have heard the experts say, formatting the card in the camera itself is a better option than in the computer.

Computer can be used for formatting when the card seems corrupt. In my opinion, if the card is corrupt, recover whatever photos you can and then destroy the card. Do not risk using such a card for your precious photographs. For recovery I use PhotoRec application on a linux based machine. This is an open source solution that recovers raw files as well.

EMI is scary for me. I do not know how much of EMI is generated from detectors at shopping malls, restaurants, hotels, airports and endless such sources. While transporting memory cards, I use a small case, the size of a small spectacles’ case. The case is metallic and foam lined. I further wrap it with about four layers of aluminum foil. This is my way of having a makeshift ‘Faraday Cage’ for keeping the memory cards safe.

When I take a flight, I carry my memory cards and camera with me. Unlike films, memory cards do not get affected by X-Rays. They are a lot safer going through the X-Ray scanner rather than the body scanner. I have read some stories though where the data got corrupted in an airport scanner. The explanations pointed to some kind of EMI. I have the cards stored safely in the manner I have outlined above so no problems there.

Standard precautions which are provided obviously have to be followed…. and yes that includes not using them as levers to open cans. Keep your cards dry and clean, don’t expose them to extremes of temperatures, don’t drop, bend or cut them and don’t expose them to high electro/magnetic fields. Do not store them near mobile phones. Store cards that are not in use in a plastic casing (usually supplied with the card).


I may sound repetitive but this is vital-

Back-Up your images. Thankfully some of the camera models now have an option to back-up the images on the go by using multiple card slots. On long trips, I sometimes use external storage or even cloud services to back up the photos.

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