• Jeff Ascough


Ten memory card tips to help keep your photographs safe and secure.

The humble memory card. Since digital photography graced the world, there have been ongoing debates across the internet about those little pieces of plastic we insert into our cameras to record the images we take. Just to add to the noise, here are some hints and tips to make sure you have a trouble-free relationship with your cards.

1. Buy good quality cards from a reputable dealer. It's tempting to buy memory cards from internet wholesalers at discounted prices. Don't. Please, don't. There are many counterfeit cards out there, so spend a little extra and get a card from a reputable dealer. I have used SanDisk cards for 15 years and always bought them from Wex Photo Video.

2. Make sure your cards are compatible with your camera. This might seem a daft point to make, but Leica M9 users will know exactly what I mean. That camera is very choosy about which cards it likes. It won't work with SDXC cards or fast SDHC cards over 32GB. The M9 works well with slower SanDisk SDHC cards (the camera buffer can't take advantage of high write speeds) no bigger than 32GB.

As SanDisk are becoming harder to find in old-school speeds, Sarah has recently moved over to 16GB Panasonic Gold SDHC cards for her M9's. I've been very impressed with them.

3. Never format your card in the computer - with one exception. Cards are designed to be formatted in a camera. Not a computer. A computer will put in place its own file structure which isn't compatible with the camera. The camera needs to tell the card what file structure it wants to use, so format it in the camera.

If you buy a new camera but want to use an old memory card, it can be helpful to give it a really deep clean to get rid of any traces of the previous camera. To do this, we use an app called SD Card Formatter. Once your card goes into the computer, the app performs a deep clean and factory reset. Format it in the camera, and you are good to go.

4. Don't delete images in camera.

I know so many photographers who do this, especially if they are running out of space on their memory card. It's bad practice. Buy a bigger card!! Not only can deleting on the fly upset the data, but I will also guarantee that the law of sod will come into play. Was that picture I just deleted really that bad? Maybe if I'd seen it on my laptop....??

5. Use a card big enough to cover your shoot.

Personal preference here, but I've always believed that there is a greater chance of something going wrong with a card if it is removed from the camera mid-shoot. SD cards are particularly hazardous. They are small, easy to lose and breakable. I would rather keep them safe and sound inside the camera until I'm back in the office.

I know some people are going to argue that it isn't best practice to have all your eggs in one basket, and if something happens with the card while in the camera, then lots of images will be lost. All I will say is that I've never had an issue with a card in the camera, but I have seen plenty of damaged SD cards outside of the camera. Shoot with two bodies and don't worry about it.

6. Don't wipe your card until you have finished working on your images. Another tip for wedding and event photographers. I prefer to shoot one set of cards per event, and I will not use those cards again until the event pictures are backed up, edited, exported, put online, and the final images are backed up to multiple drives. I like the original cards to serve as a back-up through the entire editing and output process. If anything goes wrong with my drives, computers, or if the office catches fire, I still have the original images.

7. Use one set of cards per camera manufacturer. Between myself and Sarah, we use models from three different camera companies in our work. Each manufacturer has its own pool of cards. We don't use cards from the LUMIX pool in Leica bodies for example. This makes troubleshooting easier and prevents mistakes from happening when preparing for a job. See tip #2.

8. Buy a decent card reader. If you have issues with corrupt images, your card reader is most likely the culprit - not the card. Spend some money on a really decent reader and make sure the cables are good quality. I've been using a Hoodman USB 3 reader for years, and it's been 100% reliable. You can buy them from Amazon. I can't say the same for the many Lexar readers that I've owned.

9. After downloading, don't put your card back in the camera and shoot with it. I'm not sure where I read this tip, but it makes a lot of sense. The downloading process can potentially corrupt the card database. So even though your files have downloaded correctly, there could be a nasty surprise if you take the card from your computer and carry on shooting with it. Format the card every time it has been downloaded to ensure the database is complete before taking photos.

If at any time you need to recover images after formatting your card, Use SanDisk RescuePRO.

10. The biggie....Should I buy a camera that has only one card slot?

Yes, you should. Absolutely. I've shot over 500 weddings with digital cameras and I've never, ever, ever had an issue with memory cards. I've always followed the points in this post religiously, and I don't even think about the fact that a lot of the time I only have one card in my camera. I've had shutters fail, lenses stop working, error messages, buffer issues, and power problems, but never an issue with a card. I always shoot critical jobs with two camera bodies at all times. That has been my redundancy policy since the days of film. If a camera stops working, I continue with the second one. This is far better, in my mind than shooting an event with one camera and two card slots. Of course, today's pro-level cameras do come with two card slots, but if you like small and light cameras, you may find that there is only one slot available because of the size of the camera. Don't let that put you off. It is completely ok to use a camera with one slot.

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