How Do You Protect Against Image Lost From A Memory Card Failure?

May 29th, 2016

MemoryCardAubrey asks:

Do you have any secrets for auto backup of photos while you are taking them images? Do you or anyone you know use a wifi sd cards?

It sounds like you had a memory card failure or you are concerned about having one.

I think the only practical way to backup your images as you shoot is to use a DSLR that has dual card slots that can record images to both cards as you shoot. Two examples of DSLRs that have dual card slots are the Canon 5DmkIII (SD & CF) and a Nikon D600 (2-SD slots). There are actually many upper-end DLSRs that can do mirror image to two cards as you shoot.

The second most practical backup solution is to just carry a laptop and backup your card(s) before you leave the shoot.

The WiFi card you refer to isn’t really a general-purpose professional backup solution. I have one and It’s fine when you have access to WiFi but in general, you don’t have access to a WiFi connection while you are shooting. It is also quite slow when uploading RAW files. It’s not a solution.

There are a number of steps you can take to minimize the probability of having a memory card failure:

  1. Never remove or insert a memory card with the camera power on.
  2. To remove images from the card only use the camera’s Format memory card feature rather than deleting photos while the card is connected to your computer.
  3. Don’t shoot when the camera battery is very low.

I religiously follow these three rules and in 17 years of using memory cards have never experienced a failure. Although, I expect to have one soon just for stating that I’ve never had a card failure!

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14 Responses to “How Do You Protect Against Image Lost From A Memory Card Failure?”

  • I too have never had a problem with the memory cards not recording images in 16 years of using digital cameras. I have found Sandisk cards to be the most dependable and I follow the three steps above. The worst were actual hard disk drives I used in a Kodak NC2000 when I was a newspaper photog in back in 2000, they were a whooping 25MB disks that took 2 seconds to record 1.3MB tiff images. I’m glad cameras are a little faster now!

  • Aubrey,
    I’ve had a couple very scary situations, where I had corrupt files after the shoot. Once on my Nikon when I changed a card and realized the camera was on, and once on my Fuji X where I went to delete a frame and accidently hit “erase all, instead of erase frame”, which erased two entire properties from that day. Since I was still at the second location, (thank goodness the realtor and owner were not there), I re shot the property. when I got home, I Installed my SanDisk rescue pro software, which restored almost all of my images.

    After these scary incidents, I now look for cameras that could hold two disks.

  • I’ve never had an issue with card going bad. I also only buy name brand cards, typically SanDisk. I format the cards in the camera as part of my prep and I use one card per job. If I have any indication that a card might be failing, I throw it away and buy another. I use 8gb cards which are nice an cheap and will hold all the RAW format images of a job with room to spare.

    I don’t delete images in the field. I’ve almost hit the “delete all” button once and now I don’t worry about space on my cards. Since image files are not all exactly the same size, deleting images can lead to some bad fragmentation issues. If you do need to recover images, it’s better that they have been put down in a linear manner.

    If you want to use a wi-fi card and have a copy sent to your laptop as you shoot, that will work, but it’s more gear to haul around from room to room (depending on how good the range is from the card).

    Good quality cards are very robust these days and it’s not worth losing any sleep worrying about one going bad. If you only put one job on a card, on the very rare occasion that a card does go bad means having to reshoot one property. Slightly frustrating, but much less time than implementing a workflow to immediately copy files as you make images. If you have a camera body with dual card slots (usually the top model or two) it makes sense to write to both as a safeguard, but only because it doesn’t take any more time to do.

  • Unfortunately, I have had a few situations where the memory card was corrupted. Fortunately, the SanDisk rescue pro software saved them all, (NOTE: the process of using and successfully restoring the images would be a good chapter to add to the E-books offered here) For those that find themselves in deep do do, the first thing you do to the card is NOTHING. Even though you might be in a deadline rush, the actions you do now could completely ruin your chances. So you missed your deadline, life goes on…. Load the rescue software and follow the instructions, then go to bed and maybe by morning you will have all the images on the card recovered. Note that the software will pull all the images on the card, so you could have shot 150 that day, but the recovery will get 830…that is from the previous shoots that you used the card for…even if you format the card each day. Point is, if you see that the recovery is way past the number of shots you did that day, don’t sweat it and just let it go until it says it is done. Also, do not stop the recovery process once it has started…..
    Something else I have learned….do not take the card out of the camera and stick it in your pocket after the last shoot of the day…. Funny how those little suckers jump out while you’re not looking. Wait until you get back into your office and then pull the little sucker. Of course that assumes your camera doesn’t jump the ship….

  • @Ken,Thanks, good point about small cards and using one for each job. Since I now shoot with my Fuji, which only holds one card, I no longer have the safety factor of my duel card Nikon. The new Fuji X2 Pro has duel cards, so I am waiting for it to go on sale.
    @Jerry, the Sandisk recovery pro has been a lifesaver. And yes, when I recovered the files I deleted, I did find old images that I thought were gone, since I format my cards before every job.
    @Ken. Will be ordering 8gig Sandisk cards from B&H today!

  • My Sony A7 eats cards for breakfast… Something funny in that camera that is physically ruining cards. Like the write protection mechanism is catching on something in the card slot.

    On the plus side, I can see now that SD cards are mostly empty shells. All the memory is located right near the contacts, and is about the same size as mirco SD, just installed in a bigger shell. I had one literally break in half, but I taped it back together and the reader read it like nothing was wrong.

  • In addition to the three rules above, it’s a “no brainer” to use quality cards. This is ONE place where price point really does equate to quality, and for my money “SanDisk Extreme Pro” is the ONLY way to go.

    As a company, I can’t say enough about SanDisk!
    I had a 16 GB card get caught in my Dell’s card reader slot (which ruined it). One call to SanDisk, and an exchange for a replacement card was set up. Super easy and quick. Other than the above instance, where I had already retrieved the data, I’ve never had one fail.
    You get what you pay for!

  • I’m feeling a bit “odd” in my routine. I have never had any problems with my memory cards. Over all the years, I have NEVER removed it from my cameras. I always use a USB cable to transfer files. I use the camera’s utility software to transfer files and delete files from the card. The only time I format the card is when I install a new version of Magic Lantern (an operating system add-in for Canon cameras). Formatting, in order to delete images would also delete Magic Lantern, which I don’t want. I believe that the more you fiddle with the memory card — removing, inserting, replacing — the more likely of failure.

  • I have never had a card fail. but in the heat of a busy week I have. I mean, use the wrong card and format a card with a project. My procedure saved me though:
    1. only the best cards – Sandisk Extreme Pro for me too and only one card per project too.
    2. Larry’s procedure for turning off the camera.
    3. The Nikons I use have two card slots. so I always backup in camera. I have 2-64gb cards that I use in the D810 that I rotate so the one that is out of the camera allows about 10 projects or more that are available which protects against many different possibilities – card failure, my failure, computer or hard disk failure I will have the images available until after deliver, invoicing and backup on my main system. In the case where I stupidly used the wrong card. My backup card was in it’s case. Phew!

  • Thank you Rebecca for answering the question that was immediately on my mind when reading about the SanDisk Recovery System. After an online search, it seems many entities are providing links. Thank you for yours.

    I have been shooting digitally since the first Apple digital camera hit the market that made you wonder if your eyes were failing when you looked at the results. But it was not until 2004 that I finally was able to use digital for some types of photo shoots and not until 2006 that I found enough resolution for what I needed.

    In all this time I have never had a card fail from the larger Flash Cards to today’s micro mini jobs that are used in some tablets and the Phantom drones that will blow away if you sneeze. And like others above, I have moved to shooting each job on its own card. I don’t erase the card until I have the files securely copied over to at least 2 hard drives. And even then I don’t wipe until I am reusing the card for another shoot, all the images have been operated on in post and the job delivered to the client.

    And I am old enough to be amazed just how much photography can be crammed into such small physical containers. I just wish all DSLR cameras had two card slots. When shooting film I used at least two camera bodies for 35mm to duplicate the images bracketed not so much in case of film problems but too often the labs would experience a processing error or Edison would turn the juice off in the middle of the run or the rack would fall off it holder. So I would happily pay the price for that added slot. My first Canon DSLR had a slot for a Flash card and an SM card. If they could do it then why not now?

  • I’ve considered purchasing a portable memory card backup device. Scott Kelby recommended these for wedding and other field photographers a while back, but they’ve probably become less popular since you can now get a basic laptop for the price of the devices. Canon has a portable storage device that also has wi-fi but the reviews were very poor. I feel like there used to be lots more options than this, but this is the only one I could find that wasn’t poorly reviewed:

    Seems like a lot to spend, but at the same time, if it saves me the time and trouble of having to re-shoot anywhere from one to four properties due to potential memory card failure, it would be worth it, and it’s more portable than a laptop.

  • Stick with a camera that accepts two memory cards. After two card failures in 4 years I realized it just wasn’t worth it. So much in fact I returned the Sony A7RII just because I couldn’t stand the idea of a possible memory card failure. If you do rely on a camera with a single card slot I’d buy the best cards available and swap them out every 6 months just in case. I’m not saying throw them away, but keep a fresh card in the camera and save a headache of reshooting a home. The $40 for a SD card is nominal compared to embarrassing yourself and inconveniencing the agent and/or owner.

  • I shoot with a Nikon D750 with 2 card slots. I keep a 64 gig class 10 in each, both set to RAW. Slot 1 mirrors to slot 2.

    Every night, I take slot 1 out and process images. Every morning I put slot 1 back, and reformat both. Card 2 never leaves the camera.

    I have had a card failure once in 6 years. Threw away card 1, used card 2. Card 2 became the new card 1, bought another card for 2nd slot.

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