Long is gone the time when analog photography was the only option to capture memories or images from everyone’s life. It used to be the only option back in early 2000, but in the last 10-12 years with the emergence of the digital imaging this arcane technology gave way to the digital cameras.
The old film rolls which were bulky and could store between 24 to 36 frames where quickly obsoleted by memory cards which were able to store thousands of images and didn’t require a trip to a photo lab in order to see the final images.
With the digital imaging and memory cards, everyone who had a digital camera could see instantly the captured image, retake it immediately if the first image was not as expected and can instantly share the digital images with everyone as soon as they finished downloading them from the digital cameras.
Welcome to the digital revolution and instant gratification!
But as with every new technology there are some caveats which consumers have to face. In the case of the memory cards the caveat is the probability of having a corruption or data loss on the memory card. This ranges from memory card reader not being able to recognize the memory card, to memory card read errors, to no images found on the memory card, to read errors for some of the images while the rest of the images are downloaded just fine.
While some of the above errors could be contributed to memory card hardware failures or permanent damage to the memory cells on the memory card, some of the failures are from not properly using the memory cards or simply caused by the users themselves. Each memory card and digital camera manufacturers have guidelines on how to operate their cameras and use the memory cards, but very few consumers bother to read these guidelines and even so follow them.
Well while not an absolute guarantee for 100% memory card corruption free experience, here are five easy steps along with the explanation why they are important to avoid memory card corruption and lost of your precious digital images:
1. Always Format Your Memory Card Before Using It:
Each memory card storage is divided into two parts: one for the images metadata and one for the images itself.
The metadata contains the pointer to the location where the images are stored, image type, the date the image was taken, image size, etc. It is the catalog or index of the images stored on the memory card.
This is the most likely reason while the images cannot be accessed or read from the memory card. Without the metadata (or index) the memory card readers cannot index the images or read them. The metadata corruption unless caused by corrupted memory cells can be prevented by formatting the memory card after each successful downloading of images and before each use. The formatting resets the metadata (zeros the pointers to the existing images) and prepares it for new use.
The other reason is that the images have been stored on a corrupted memory cells and cannot be read later. This is nothing you can do about it and the best fix is to discard the memory card and purchase a new one.
To format your memory card, you would need to insert the memory card into your digital camera and navigate the setup menu to the option “Format Card”. Please, consult your digital camera manual on how to do that. Keep in mind that there is another camera option “Erase all images” which is different from the “Format Card” option. The memory card metadata is reset only with the later and not the former option.
Formatting the memory card would reset the images metadata on your memory card (this is the pointers to the digital images stored on the card). The images itself would remain in tact until they are being overwrite with the new images you will take. This is the reason why the images can be recovered even after the card is being formatted (granted you have to use the card after the formatting). The image recovering software reads the stored images on the card and reconstructs the metadata on the memory card, so the images can be read and accessed again.
2. Never Delete Images On the Memory Card From Your Computer:
Some users delete the images from their computer (Mac or PC) simply by going to the mounted memory card which appears as a storage device, navigating to the folder where the images are located and deleting them.
What this does is that it removes the pointers to the pictures WITHOUT properly updating the metadata (I hope you read point #1 above) on the memory card. This leads to inconsistent metadata which could cause your existing and new images to be mixed up later.
The proper way to delete all images from your memory card, so you can release the used space is to use your digital camera menu and format your memory card before using it again.
If you are deleting photos from your memory card from your computer, it has been confirmed that Canon camera users will encounter the ill famed ERR-99 error messages. Although this is a camera generic error not specific to a memory card problems, it has been confirmed that memory card corruption is one of the reasons for this error.
3. Use Memory Card Readers Instead of Downloading From Your Camera:
Each digital camera manufacturer provides drivers for their cameras so they interface with the major operating systems and computer systems consumers use to download their images. Each digital camera needs to be connected via USB cable to a PC or Mac to download the images and the connection and images transfer is made possible if the software drivers are installed and kept up to date in each computer.
If the drivers are not installed or corrupted, so the pictures download or access could become corrupted too. This is the case when consumers use different digital camera models or trying to download or share the memory card on another computers.
The advantage of using memory card reader is that most likely this reader has already the required software drivers installed and all memory cards are compatible so the chances to have a corruption is minimized.
4. Use Smaller Size Memory Cards:
Memory card with smaller storage capacity have smaller number of memory cells compared to memory cards with larger storage capacity. It is just a numbers game: The more memory cells a memory card contains, more of them can become corrupt and fail. Using a memory card with enough capacity to capture all images from your event plus 30% buffer is a good idea instead of buying a memory card with the largest available capacity.
Another advantage is that is you buy eight 16GB memory cards instead of one 128 GB memory cards and one of these 16GB memory cards has a hardware failure you would still have seven 16 GB memory cards (or 112GB of storage) while if the single 128GB memory card encounters memory cells failures you will have zero memory cards available and zero storage. And if you are still not convinced of using smaller size memory cards rather than larger, take this recommendation from Lexar: Smaller cards use less battery power from you camera, so you can shoot longer with the same battery too.
As the saying goes: Never put all your eggs in a single basket! Although the memory card manufacturers would give you an incentive to do otherwise by making the large capacity memory cards cheaper than multiple smaller storage memory cards providing the same storage capacity.
5. Don’t Use the Same Memory Card For Multiple Events:
If you have adequate number of memory cards, using a single one for one event or session only can prevent you from losing the pictures from multiple events in case a memory card corruption occurs. I usually change the memory cards for each event and never record two events or sessions before first downloading the images from the first session.
Memory cards are very affordable nowadays and this is a good way to further protect you from losing precious pictures.
The five steps listed above are easy to follow and perform even if you have a point-and-shoot portable camera and taking images on a family event. These are good practices which would minimize the probability of software memory card corruption and save you time and money trying to recover your pictures.
Remember that memory cards are using NAND flash memory which first varies from a manufacturer to manufacturer and second it wears off after usage. While you can prevent software corruption the hardware corruption is hard to predict and prevent. Still there is one thing you can do: If you are thinking to purchase second-hand memory cards, inquire about how and for how long the previous user has been using the memory card. Frequent writes and deletes contributes to the wear of the memory card and you might be better off spending a bit more money for a new memory card and peace of mind.
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About the Author:
Trifon Anguelov Photography is a premiere wedding and events photography business based in Mountain View, CA 94040 and serving clients in San Francisco Bay Area, CA. You can read more about the author on his Wedding Photography Site.