Memory Cards – 15 Essential Tips for Photographers

[gallery] If you use a digital camera you use memory cards. Whether SD or CF or anything else, there are certain things you should know about your memory cards if you want to get the best experience possible.

1. Format your cards in the camera – not on the computer. This helps to ensure that no unwanted or unneeded files make their way onto the card from the computer.

2. When ejecting your memory card from the computer, safely eject by dragging it to the trash or select “Safely Remove” on a Windows machine or Command + E on a Mac. Then wait at least five seconds before pulling the card out of the reader slot. Could save you a few dollars in the long run.

3. Never format or erase a card until you know it’s been backed up in at least two places. Also, don’t erase or format until you’ve verified the backup.

4. To avoid confusion when using multiple cards, mark cards with your name and a sequential number. This makes it easy to determine your cards from cards used by other photographers in your studio or on your workshop. The sequential number is also helpful in making sure you know which card you are dealing with.

5. Don’t buy generic memory cards. While it’s true that there are only two or three principal manufacturers of the components used in memory cards, these manufacturers build to different quality standards depending on who they OEM for. When they make generic cards, the quality control as well as the quality of components is usually not up to par with the same issued by the big names.

6. Note that not all cards work the same in all cameras. Some cards are optimized for individual brands. You can read about these optimizations in the manufacture literature or check various online forums for tests. In general, it’s best to ask if your camera can produce the advertised results before you buy.

7. Carry cards on your person not in your camera bag. If you can’t access your card you can’t make photographs. Too many photographers have shared stories of setting down their camera bag or leaving gear in their car, only to go on a hike, find a great spot and then run out of memory because the cards aren’t where the camera is.

8. To help you keep track of which cards have been used and which are empty, place the cards you’ve filled in your memory card wallet upside down or reverse them so you can see which ones are ready.

9. Don’t edit files on the card as if it were a hard drive. The memory card is designed to get data from the camera to the computer. It’s not designed for editing.

10. Don’t delete images on the card from the camera. Cards are cheap. Buy enough to do the job. If you delete images on the back of the camera you may easily make a mistake. It’s better to delete in your post editor like Aperture or Lightroom.

11. If you accidentally delete an image on a card stop using it and obtain a data recovery program to try to restore the images. If you keep shooting after the deletion you may mess up the chance to recover the lost photo(s).

12. Recognize that some of the ultra high-end cards may have a small impact on your battery life, draining the battery at a faster pace than normal. It’s not a big deal, but if you are in a critical shooting situation and need to have all the battery life you can get, remember the high speed cards might take a few shots off the end of the battery’s life.

13. Don’t share cards with friends, or put them into other people’s cameras or computers. This can cause a crash since the other camera or computer may attempt to write a system, desktop or file of unknown format to the card.

14. Avoid the largest, newest cards until they’ve been on the market for a while. As we get into 128 GB cards and beyond, we are stretching the boundaries of technology. It only makes sense to let the marketplace test these bleeding edge technologies to make sure they are reliable.

15. Turn your camera off before inserting or removing a memory card. Most camera manuals advise this but most photographers don’t read the manual. This eliminates “voltage shock.” Modern cameras are often less prone to this but why take the chance?

Since the memory card is in many ways the most important photo accessory you will ever own, try these tips to ensure that your cards last their longest and work at their best.