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Monday, September 1, 2008

Thanks For The Memory

Be sure your memory cards are working their best for you

And like everyone else, Crandall says that power failure to the card of any kind while it’s working may damage the file structure of the card. This can come from batteries dying while the memory card is being written to or from pulling out a card while the camera is still working. The latter is common when people shoot a burst of images (holding down the shutter while set to continuous shooting) and pull a card to change it before all of those images have been written from the camera’s storage buffer (especially when working with big RAW files). You can’t hurt a card by erasing images or formatting it.

You sometimes hear that flash cards can be “worn out.” Flash memory works by having individually erasable segments, each of which can be put through a finite number of erase cycles before becoming unreliable. According to Crandall, the useful life of semiconductors used in memory cards is about 20 years. So in one sense, a card could be “worn out,” but that’s actually unlikely for photographers.

For example, lower-performance cards will handle 10,000 write/erase cycles. This isn’t each time you add or erase a photograph. Flash memory cards have built-in wear-leveling technology that arranges data so that erasures and rewrites are distributed evenly across the memory, dramatically increasing the life of the card. The result is that 10,000 write/erase cycles isn’t 10,000 images, but 10,000 write/erase cycles for every memory cell in the card. That’s a lot of photographs that even a heavy card user would have a hard time reaching after many years of use.

So what can you do to gain maximum performance from your memory cards and ensure that you’re always getting the photos on and off them as you expect? Here are some tips:

1.  If a memory card is going to fail, it usually will fail early in its life. Always put a new card in your camera and format it. If it doesn’t format, return to the store and exchange it for a new one.
2.  Never buy a card just before you go on a trip. Be sure your cards are working properly.
3.  Buy high-quality memory cards, not the cheapest, high-volume cards from a box store.
4.  Format your card regularly to clean up its file structure.
5.  If you have an older camera, be sure it can handle the card. Some cameras can have their firmware updated to use the new card.
6.  Be careful of memory card contacts. You don’t have to worry much about the card itself being damaged
short of running it over with a car, but the contacts can give you problems.
7.  Never push batteries to their maximum. Change them as they get low, before they lose power just as your favorite scene is being recorded to the memory card.
8.  Never take out a memory card when the camera is still writing to it. Most cameras show this as a flashing light.
9.  Use a quality memory card reader.
10.  If you have problems downloading images from a card reader, try downloading directly from the camera. Be sure your batteries are fully powered.
11.  If your card fails and there are photos on it, try using image rescue software from companies such as Lexar, SanDisk and Symantec.
12.  If you have a problem, try downloading with a different card reader or through the camera. If all fails, you usually can make the card work fine by reformatting it, but you’ll lose the photos.

Memory cards are extremely robust. Failures of any kind are rare, and by following simple guidelines, you can minimize them even more.

Editor-At-Large Rob Sheppard’s photo information blog is located at www.photodigitary.com. His latest book is the New Epson Complete Guide to Digital Printing.


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