Twelve Camera Memory Card Care Tips

For all memory cards, there is a limit to how many times files can be written and erased. Memory card experts recommend a these best practices that can prolong card life:

Date Your Memory Cards

Memory cards have a limited life span. Expect a heavily used card to last about six years. A seldom used card can function about ten years. By tracking the card’s in service date, you can replace the card before it goes bad.

Erase Pictures by Formatting the Card in the Camera

Formatting is less wear and tear than individual file
deletion because only writes to the file allocation table. If you let image import programs like Lightroom delete files after transfer, the individual file deletion shortens card life because the of the .

Don’t Completely Fill a Card

Because most camera file formats, including RAW, have some
compression and therefore size variability based on subject matter, even the best cameras can’t predict exactly how many shots will fit on a card. One shot too many with a full buffer can write over the card headers and make it unreadable. To avoid problems, the general recommendation is to swap out cards when the camera shows 10-15 shots remaining.

Switch Camera Off Before Inserting or Removing a Card

This is in every camera manual, but it bears repeating. Make sure the file writing L.E.D. is not lit or blinking and turn you camera off before ejecting the memory card. Turning the camera off flushes the file writing buffer. If a card is ejected mid file transfer, the file system can be damaged. It also cuts off current to the card, which avoids a possible card killing voltage spike as the card ejects. The same care applies to card readers. Make sure you explicitly eject the card before removing it.

Rotate Your Cards

Most of us have a number of cards. Rotating the cards spreads out the wear. This tip applies to camera batteries, too.

Avoid Static Charges When Handling Memory Cards

Try to ground yourself before touching a card.

Avoid Environmental Extremes

Cameras and cards are rated for certain max and min
temperatures operating ranges, which should be observed. Powerful magnetic sources and x-rays can damage cards. If you’re traveling, the walk-through machines probably OK, but the stronger x-rays used to examine checked baggage can ruin a card.

Keep an Eye on the Camera Battery Charge

If a camera battery voltage drops below specification or the battery goes dead with files still in the buffer, card corruption is likely. Two bars, or 25% left, is time to change batteries if possible.

Avoid Editing and Deleting Images with Your Camera

This is known to cause problems, especially with SD cards, probably because they don’t have a controller on board like CF cards.

Perform Low Level Format Every 3-6 Months

Lexar and Sandisk recommend you use a tool like Lexar Image Rescue to low level
format cards a few times a year. The low level format returns the card to factory condition. More important, it can identify and block writing to dead areas on the card. Lexar claims this practice extends the life of memory cards by as much as 25%.

Two Cards Are Better Than One

For important shoots, if your camera supports the setting, consider having your camera write to two cards simultaneously.

Watch for Firmware Updates

Camera and external card reader makers issue firmware updates on occasion. to fix stability problems, so it is a good idea to stay current.

6 thoughts on “Twelve Camera Memory Card Care Tips

  1. Good sugestions! There is one suggestion i would like to add…i see many photographers just put their cards into their pockets. Lint and dust can enter the slot areas causing all kunds of problems.

  2. Can someone please explain the difference between what a “low level format” dose vs the format that the in camera format dose? It’s just the nerd in me that wants to know…

    • The camera format is in the category of a quick format, which just writes over the File Allocation Table (FAT). The image files are still on the card. If you accidently format a card in the camera, the image files can still be recovered with a tool like Lexar’s Image Rescue. The low level format wipes the entire card, and in the process, identifies and marks bad any dead cells, so the file system won’t write to them.

  3. As roger said, putting the card in your pocket unprotected is not a good thing. Actually the individual cards are so easy to misplace or simply hide very well anywhere, especially right on my desk. I picked up one of those small pill boxes that is oblong and has three compartments. It just so happens that the middle compartment is Just right to hold four sd cards. I couldn’t have p made a better safe keeper for my cards. And it’s big enough that it doesn’t hide very well from me. My habit: the cards ALWAYS are either in the computer, camera or holder. Saves stress of knowing where my cards, (valuable work) is at at any given moment.

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