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20 Tips for Maintaining Your Memory Cards in Top Condition

Memory Cards
Memory Cards

Memory cards are as important for a camera as memories for brain; just think of a life without memories. Even when things remain like that; every other week we hear about photographers losing their images due to various reasons related with cards. Some of the reasons are like the following;

  • Card error or human error; he / she accidentally deleted the pictures from the memory cards.
  • Lost the memory card full of photos entirely or lost the pictures because of a failed hard drive and no backup being available.
  • Card got damaged while on travel.

Knowing how to properly maintain your memory cards and developing a correct work flow is critical to ensure that they remain effective avoiding loss of images.

Here are a few tips or rather some safe practices; if adhered will make sure you stay out of such issues.

1. Label them

The very first thing is to label your memory cards properly soon after the purchase. Give it a number; also write down your Name, Address, Telephone Number and Email on the reverse side of the card. Labeling not only helps you identify the card but also helps others locate the owner in case its lost and found.

2. Firmware

Periodically upgrade your camera’s firmware. It could be downloaded for free from the manufacturers’ website. Upgrading firmware can significantly improve certain aspects of the camera’s performance which may also influence the data transfer speed from buffer to memory card. It’s a good idea to sign up for alerts; so you’d know when a firmware update is available for your camera.

3. Own Camera; own card

Different cameras have different file systems, while they might allow using a card formatted on a different camera it is better refrain from this practice as chances of your memory card getting corrupted are more. If in need to use the memory card on another camera; make sure you first format it after you insert in the other camera even if the card is empty or already formatted with the previous camera. Reformatting it will ensure that the file systems match.

4. Don’t fill it to the brim

Keep track of the number of shots remaining and change the card even when there is some space left for few more shots. Overshooting will force the camera to squeeze in the last few shots in the card and this process can corrupt the images.

5. Do not delete

The camera stores pictures in the memory card in such a way that when the shot is taken on a formatted card; the camera starts recording in a series say 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 and so on. Depending upon the subject matter and camera settings, each image has its own file size.

When an image is deleted (say for example you erase image 4), and you take another image after the deletion; the camera tries to backfill the new image on to the empty space left by image 4 in the memory card.

The empty space left by image 4 might not be enough for the new file and the camera will fill the rest of the data continuing on space from where you left off.

Normally computers are able to piece together the back filled images with no issues, but if the card is somehow corrupted, it will give you a hard time recovering back filled images.

Best solution is to use a bigger capacity cards and do the deletion on the computer after you have finished with the shoot.

6. Don't be too quick

Once you have finished shooting, wait for the LED (that indicates camera busy) to stop blinking before you try to remove the memory card from your camera. This is especially so when working in continuous shooting mode. When camera’s buffer is full; it might take a few seconds for the data transfer to complete. Please wait for a second more after the LED has gone off before removing the memory card.

7. Switch it off

Always make sure you have turned off your camera before removing the memory card.

8. Develop a system

Place used memory cards away from unused ones; so that there is no confusion later on. Develop your own method of keeping track of cards to be used and ones that are empty.

Simple techniques like storing used cards with label side facing down or storing used ones in the left pocket and unused ones on the right etc. could be tried.

9. Find a way

Photographers who prefer to shoot on several smaller capacity cards rather than one large capacity card should find a way to properly securing their memory cards to avoid them getting lost. The locking cable on camera bags like Think Tank International could be used to attach CF wallets to it. This will prevent the wallet from accidentally falling out of bag or being misplaced.

10. Don’t simply put them into your pocket

Don’t put memory cards directly into your pockets, it could either get twisted, bent or get dirty.  The link in pocket may get inside the multi-pin sockets damaging them. The plastic storage cases in which the memory cards came are useful in this regard; first put memory cards in the plastic case before keeping them in pocket.

11. If there’s any card error; Stop Shooting

If you get a card error message middle way through a shoot or you accidentally delete photos from your memory card, stop shooting immediately, put away the current memory card safely and resume shooting with a new memory card. This method enhances chances of recovering photographs using data recovery tools.

12. Don’t let Your Camera Battery Run Down

Replace camera battery as soon as the low battery icon starts blinking. Never allow camera to run out of power while shooting; as shutting down when the camera is still writing on to the memory card will lose those images and may cause card errors. Keep an eye on the camera battery and replace it in time.

13. A card reader is better

Always use a good quality card reader to transfer images in the memory card to the computer. Although you could connect your camera directly to your computer, using a card reader is much faster and safer way. Only use quality card readers from a reputed manufacturer, cheaper ones are known to corrupt the memory card.

14.  Eject Safely

Always follow the correct procedure for ejecting your memory card after completing the image transfer. On a windows pc, use Safely Remove Hardware feature and on a Mac computer right click on the card and select Eject.

15. Backup, backup, backup;

Never delete your images from a memory card or format the memory cards before completely backing up the pictures. Remember the hard drive of the computer on to which you just transferred your images could crash any moment and without a backup, you will end up in serious trouble. Make sure you have not only transferred the images but also backed it up before erasing them from the memory cards.

16. Rotation

Keep track of the card; use in a cycle so they all wear evenly. This will help you get the maximum lifespan out of each memory card.

17. Formatting

Always use your camera to format memory cards; doing it by using a computer could corrupt the cards. Periodical formatting of memory cards is also very important. Use ‘format option’ instead of ‘erase all images option’ as formatting a cards helps clear image data, existing folder structure etc. and prepares the card for a new start.

18. Don’t panic if it gets wet

Memory cards have no moving parts inside, they are solid state drives; so you need not panic if they are accidentally dropped in water, just wait a couple of days for the card to completely dry off and then transfer images using a card reader.

19. Keep off viruses

Be careful when a card is connected to a computer as viruses could creep in and destroy precious files that are stored in it. Use only familiar and trustworthy machines for image transfer.

20. General Usage Tips

A memory card is a delicate thing; do not press or bend it; avoid dropping and impacting; never store it in high temperature, high humidity areas and do not place it in direct sunlight or keep it in car’s dashboard. Avoid placing it near strong electrostatic and magnetic fields.
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