Once you snap some photos, the memory card becomes the most important part of your camera, because it’s responsible for transferring your photos safely back to your computer.
Just like any kind of technology, a lot can go wrong with memory cards. And the last thing you want to happen is to lose all your photos after capturing some spectacular shots, right?
So, here are 11 tips that will help prevent you from running into a memory card disaster:
1 – Format a new memory card as soon as you get it
Even if your memory card came “preformatted,” it’s still a good idea to format them again with your own camera. And, only format the card from the camera itself (and NOT when it’s inside a card reader that’s connected to your computer). This will make sure the memory card is using a file system the camera recognizes.
2 – Use multiple small cards, instead of one big one
With the huge memory cards available today, it’s tempting to just buy the largest one so you won’t have to switch cards. But, what if your 128GB card fails? Then you just lost thousands of photos! That’s why you should use multiple smaller cards, to spread out your photos and reduce the probability that you’ll lose them all at once.
3 – Always leave a few extra shots on your memory card
Your camera probably has a number on the screen that tells you how many photos you can take before your memory card is full. This number is only an estimate, so if you happen to take a photo when your card is actually full, you may corrupt the data on the card. To avoid this problem, always leave some extra space on the card.
4 – Always safely “eject” your memory card from the computer
When you’re done transferring your photos to your computer, make sure to “eject” them properly and don’t just yank it out of the reader (or yank out the USB cable). On Windows, there should be an icon in the lower right corner of your screen for safely removing USB media, and on Macs you can just use the eject button on your keyboard. This is important because although you may think the computer is no longer reading/writing to the card, it may still be accessing it for some reason. Ejecting it will tell the computer to stop communicating with it, so you can take it out safely.
5 – Format your memory card, instead of deleting all photos
Formatting your memory cards is sort of like resetting them, and making them “fresh” again. It will help correct any disk errors that may have occurred during your last shoot.
6 – Store your cards in a safe place
It’s important to protect the contacts on your memory cards, because the smallest piece of dust can cause reading/writing problems and ultimately loss of photos. To protect them, always store them in the case they came with (or get some if they didn’t come with a case), and don’t leave them lying around on your desk.
7 – Turn off your camera before removing the memory card
Although this may seem like a no-brainer, there’s already been a few times where I almost forgot to turn off the camera before removing the memory card. If you yank out the card with the camera on, there’s a chance you may remove it when the camera is reading/writing to it, which could potentially damage files on the card.
8 – Use a good quality card reader
Although the reader merely reads the memory card, there’s still a chance it can damage the card. That’s why it’s important to always use a good quality reader. The best thing to do is use a reader made by the same manufacturer as the cards you use.
9 – Don’t push your batteries to the limit
If you push your batteries to the limit and wait until they completely run out of energy, then there’s a chance they’ll run out at the exact moment your camera is writing to your memory card (which could cause data loss). To avoid this possibility, put in a fresh battery as soon as your camera indicates the current one is low.
10 – Don’t use the same card on multiple cameras
If you used a card to take 40 photos on one camera, don’t put it in a different camera to take more photos. The two cameras (even if made by the same manufacturer) may have different file system requirements or architecture, so mixing them between cameras could corrupt the data on the card.
11 – Only use good quality memory cards
Photos are known to disappear “mysteriously” with cheap off-brand memory cards, so always buy good quality cards. You don’t have to get the top of the line super-mega-fast-10,000x-warp-speed-gold-plated cards, but you shouldn’t get the no-name cheap ones either. Personally, I’m a big fan of SanDisk and Lexar.
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About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, software engineer, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of southern California.