11 Tips For Avoiding Memory Card Problems

SanDisk Memory Card

Once you snap some photos, the memory card becomes the most important part of your camera, because it’s responsible for transferring your photos safely back to your computer.

Just like any kind of technology, a lot can go wrong with memory cards. And the last thing you want to happen is to lose all your photos after capturing some spectacular shots, right?

So, here are 11 tips that will help prevent you from running into a memory card disaster:

1 – Format a new memory card as soon as you get it

Even if your memory card came “preformatted,” it’s still a good idea to format them again with your own camera. And, only format the card from the camera itself (and NOT when it’s inside a card reader that’s connected to your computer). This will make sure the memory card is using a file system the camera recognizes.

2 – Use multiple small cards, instead of one big one

With the huge memory cards available today, it’s tempting to just buy the largest one so you won’t have to switch cards. But, what if your 128GB card fails? Then you just lost thousands of photos! That’s why you should use multiple smaller cards, to spread out your photos and reduce the probability that you’ll lose them all at once.

3 – Always leave a few extra shots on your memory card

Your camera probably has a number on the screen that tells you how many photos you can take before your memory card is full. This number is only an estimate, so if you happen to take a photo when your card is actually full, you may corrupt the data on the card. To avoid this problem, always leave some extra space on the card.

4 – Always safely “eject” your memory card from the computer

When you’re done transferring your photos to your computer, make sure to “eject” them properly and don’t just yank it out of the reader (or yank out the USB cable). On Windows, there should be an icon in the lower right corner of your screen for safely removing USB media, and on Macs you can just use the eject button on your keyboard. This is important because although you may think the computer is no longer reading/writing to the card, it may still be accessing it for some reason. Ejecting it will tell the computer to stop communicating with it, so you can take it out safely.

5 – Format your memory card, instead of deleting all photos

Formatting your memory cards is sort of like resetting them, and making them “fresh” again. It will help correct any disk errors that may have occurred during your last shoot.

6 – Store your cards in a safe place

It’s important to protect the contacts on your memory cards, because the smallest piece of dust can cause reading/writing problems and ultimately loss of photos. To protect them, always store them in the case they came with (or get some if they didn’t come with a case), and don’t leave them lying around on your desk.

7 – Turn off your camera before removing the memory card

Although this may seem like a no-brainer, there’s already been a few times where I almost forgot to turn off the camera before removing the memory card. If you yank out the card with the camera on, there’s a chance you may remove it when the camera is reading/writing to it, which could potentially damage files on the card.

8 – Use a good quality card reader

Although the reader merely reads the memory card, there’s still a chance it can damage the card. That’s why it’s important to always use a good quality reader. The best thing to do is use a reader made by the same manufacturer as the cards you use.

9 – Don’t push your batteries to the limit

If you push your batteries to the limit and wait until they completely run out of energy, then there’s a chance they’ll run out at the exact moment your camera is writing to your memory card (which could cause data loss). To avoid this possibility, put in a fresh battery as soon as your camera indicates the current one is low.

10 – Don’t use the same card on multiple cameras

If you used a card to take 40 photos on one camera, don’t put it in a different camera to take more photos. The two cameras (even if made by the same manufacturer) may have different file system requirements or architecture, so mixing them between cameras could corrupt the data on the card.

11 – Only use good quality memory cards

Photos are known to disappear “mysteriously” with cheap off-brand memory cards, so always buy good quality cards. You don’t have to get the top of the line super-mega-fast-10,000x-warp-speed-gold-plated cards, but you shouldn’t get the no-name cheap ones either. Personally, I’m a big fan of SanDisk and Lexar.

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steveb2About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, software engineer, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of southern California.


  1. Thanks for the tips! Lots of stuff I’ve never thought of.

  2. Thanks for your 11 tips. They were great, easy to understand and helpful.

  3. Thanks for the tips, they are all very sensible. I use Kingston cards (one is 1GB, the other is 2GB), and they have served me very well… 1000s of photos well. I’ve been trying to reformat my cards more often, just to “refresh” them.

  4. Desfolio says:

    These are great tips. Most of them I already know but there were a few that I did not.

  5. Hi, great site, havent been able to stop reading your site since I found it 2 days ago.

    I would like to add 1 point, not really a memory card problem, but loss of photos.
    I’ve got a Canon 500d and my laptop has a slot for SD Cards.
    I was on holiday, so everyday I would copy all my photos to my computer, but one day in the holiday, I accidentally Hibernated my laptop with the card still in it.
    Next day I thought to rather put the card back in before switching the laptop back on, somehow Windows XP remembered what was on the card, and cleared ALL extra photos that were on the card.
    It was a sad day for me as I really took nice photos (IMO) that day.


  6. maritza says:

    hey this is maritza and i have a problem with my memory card (camara) i hope you will be able to give me same advise ,there’s lot of photos on i took not long ago and when i whanted to load it on my computer it didnt read it at all. And on the corner the blue plastic covering the gold blocks broke of but even before it didnt whanted to read ?

  7. do memory cards ever need to be retired, or do you just use them until they die? i have some that are several years old and i wonder if i should rotate them out?

    if you do retire them, do u do it based on time (months? years?) or # of frames shot?


  8. One more tip. Ask your trusted retailer which cards seem to have the highest DOA rate (failure right after purchase) and stay away from these. I strike up a conversation with the sales person for a few minutes and then ask the question. There are certain brands I stay away from as a result.

  9. And what brands are the ones that malfunction the most? Kindly share those brands so that we can stay away from them.

  10. I have a Kodak Z712IS and have enjoyed it but am wondering if my difficulty is camera or flash card. Can take pix and seem to store to card fine until I turn the camera off. When I turn it back on the memory card needs to be reformatted. Tried an other card — same problem — could both cards be bad or is it a camera problem??? Internal memory works fine but it’s pretty limited.

  11. what do i do if i have forgotten to eject my media card on a few occasions from my laptop and i have just yanked it out, and now my blackberry wont save pictures or let me see my camera photos, can you help me in any way please!?

  12. Kurt P Dreas says:

    TIP # 12=
    I never delete or reformat my cards. I just retire them, with the photos on them. They become another way of “backing-up” my photos. Essentially they are digital negatives. Yes, I use online & cloud backup, plus external H.D.’s and DVD’s. But being a professional, I REALLY depend on having my photos available to me. Like Heather, I also use Kingston 4 & 4 GB’s.
    Considering the “one-time-use” of my SD flash memory cards, It’s a reasonably small expense for my peace of mind.
    Since a photo captures a slice of time, it is NOT replaceable, so Don’t loose it, ok?

  13. I enjoyed reading all the pointers you suggested. I have a Canon Rebel EOS and am puzzled with the constant busy mesg I keep getting after taking a photo. This prevents me from taking on the spot photos as I wait for the busy mesg to go away. It makes me think my camera is actually malfunctioning. I will try the higher quality scandisk. I currently use a scandisk but not the extreme III. Thank you

  14. I just had a Sandisk 32Gb card crap out on me after taking maybe 20 shots at the refuge, so even the “good” brand name cards can bite you in the butt sometimes. Good advice in this article, but nothing is 100%. Always make sure to have extra cards on hand.

  15. A memory card like most storage devices around these days are very reliable as long as they are from a reputable company and are supported by your device. SD cards are basically devices with embedded memory chips, much like USB flash drives. Although it is rare, like anything they can fail or more likely get overwritten or lost. An unsupported card maybe unreadable or may not save data occasionally. I have had that… Most likely, different cards have different electronics and they may interfere with electrical components in your camera or code is optimised to a particular component manufacturer.

    The best advice I can give on top of Steve’s tips is do not rely on it as your primary storage medium. I would recommend regularly copying photos to your computer and at a minimum synchronising those folders with a cloud storage provider. I use Microsoft Skydrive, but there are others just as good or maybe better i.e. Apple’s iCloud, Google Drive etc… None as far as I know will recover deleted data. To protect from accidental deletion I would recommend regular backups of your computer to external hard drives.

    In newer Operating systems removing removable devices is a lot more friendly than the early days of OS X and Windows XP. But as Steve suggests it is best to be paranoid and eject. There is also a write lock on the card if you really don’t want to lose data when you plug it into a computer. You need to remember to remove it before returning it to the camera.

    Higher quality cards and readers will read and write faster to and from the cards. I just use my laptop card reader. The cards have classes, 2 is slow and currently 10 is the fastest. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secure_Digital#Speed_Class_Rating. I usually use Kingston or Sandisk as they have an application on their website to give you the supported cards for your device.

    All memory cards will be formatted to the FAT file system format, most likely FAT32. It seems to be the only freely available file system which all computer operating systems can read.

  16. 3 tips for avoiding film problems:

    1. Do not accidentally expose it to light (open camera back with film inside, etc)
    2. Do not drop it (but then you will notice it because it’s much bigger than an SD card)
    3. That’s it, have fun and process properly! :))

  17. Always purchase your cards from an authorized dealer. I bought four “Sandisk” cards from four different dealers on ebay and all were fakes. They looked authentic but lacked a serial number so were illegal copies. Its not worth saving a dollar or two by risking being ripped off by ebay sellers that aren’t authorized dealers.

  18. Go for a USB 3.0 card reader if you have USB 3.0 ports on your computer. They are much faster.

  19. Hi, I ejected my memory card from the camera before turning it off. I seem to have lost all the pics that i took today, is there any way to recover them?

  20. The following YouTube video provides the BEST troubleshooting steps that I could find on the internet for this problem:


  21. sir i was use 2gb memory card in card reader for to taking an print out but when i was inserted that card reader on pc that was not shown there and when i was removed that,a card reader was came too hot just after couple of time i put it on mobile so i have seen . that its not showing on my mobile even there is not shows the format option same hapnning on laptop.please give me satisfiying answer this memory data r too important 4 me.

  22. Any Advice?

    I shot an entire portrait session in a sunflower field and I thought I would have gotten some really great shoots! I was looking at the pictures on my camera on the way home and the next day when I put my memory card in the computer, they were gone! Not everything on my card was gone, just the photos I took that day. When I put the card back in my camera to check , they weren’t on my camera either. I don’t know whereIi went wrong other than perhaps not formattiong my card. Although, the other pictures were still there even though I didn’t formatt the card.

    If you have any advice on how tp get those shoots back, please help! I’m really missing those photos!

    • Download a program called icare. I lost a s**t load of wedding pics I did for my cousin and thankfully was able to recover them with that program. There are a few recovering programs out there but that one seems to work best. Good luck.

  23. Brian in Whitby says:

    Watch out for counterfeit memory Cards. Buy only from reputable dealers

  24. Dianne Murray says:

    I cannot get the memory card out of the card reader…I think that is the right terminology. I guess I have made all the mistakes you said not too. I think I lost most of my pictures. How do you reformat the memory card?
    Thank you.

    • Dianne – there should be an option on your camera’s menus somewhere that lets you format the card. It’s usually in the “tools” menu (which usually has a hammer/wrench icon). That’s too bad your card got stuck!! I’d try to remove it as carefully as possible, making sure not to damage anything on the camera.

  25. The tips above are are almost verbatim to the way I handle my cards. I have always used top class SanDisk cards over the past 12 years and never had an ounce of trouble with any of them. As an old film user I reckon that if the cost of a card equals the cost of at least ten rolls of Fuji Velvia, or less, as they do in most cases, then I’m well in pocket. That’s reason enough to buy into a class 10 UHS1 95mb/s Extreme Pro cards. I have two of these cards which perform amazingly well, along with a SanDisk card reader, which is a treat to use.

  26. Angela Berwanger says:

    My camera, out of nowhere says no images. Yet if I look at how much of my card is in use, it shows almost full. Is there a way to get to all of the pictures that must still be on the card? My computer won’t read it either.

  27. I had a Lexar 8GB SD card that failed after 2 years…

  28. I was a “victim” of tip #10.

    I used two SD cards between my GoPro HD2 and Canon A570 IS.
    When I started copying files on my PC, it reported “Unable to read” errors with all the file and directory names messed up (special characters)
    A chkdsk fixed it but I had a scary 10 minutes trying to figure out if I had lost all the videos and images.

  29. Steve…
    I have been reading about all the sophisticated cameras and computers etc…on your web site, I just have a little Cannon SX230 HS and to my disappointment some of my photos have been resized (smaller) and some show “?” in place of photo!
    I’m told I cannot recover my original photos !? Is this possible ?
    Thank you for ANY help.


  30. M E Richardson says:

    No one seems to have heard of my problem before. My memory card works beautifully. I’m an artist and use my camera all the time. About 4 months ago I went out into the desert to get some pictures which could only be taken at that time of year. They are still on the camera! They just WILL NOT transfer. Hundreds of others have done except this small group. I desperately want the pictures, but there they stay on the camera. Has anyone got ANY idea of what’s wrong? If they won’t transfer, I have to wait another year before I can take similar pictures.

  31. Hello,
    I would like to know if I put all my SD cards in the same case (big one), will it case a problem? I mean putting them together can cause them to demagnetize? or be damaged?
    Thank you in advance.


  1. [...] Good question. I'm certainly no expert i just passed on one of the links I found as a gental suggestion that there is a lot of info on the internet. However it is conflicting as googling the key phrase of your new question "refresh the memory on the card" resulted in this http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-a-memory-card.htm# which says you don't need to worry. Go figure. Modifying the search to "refresh the memory on the sd card" found this http://panasonic.net/avc/sdcard/prof…formation.html which indicates some cards would refresh just by being plugged in once in a while. To get a reliable answer will take some research. Maybe "how do sd memory cards work" The brute force way would be to copy data from one card to another but the you run the risk of damaging the card by writing to it too much. I'd say nothing you do will make the card last forever so save the data to more than one media such as CD or DVDs. A lot of trouble I know but you just have to decide how important your data is. Maybe someone can give us a good answer. I'll look into it a little more as time allows. One more interesting link. http://photonaturalist.net/11-tips-f…card-problems/ [...]

  2. [...] Card June 26, 2012 By Steve Berardi 10 Comments Although there are ways to reduce the risk of memory card problems, you can never escape them [...]

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