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Thursday, 14 March 2013


For professional work, I've standardized on 32 gig! At less than a dollar a gig (especially for Class 4 cards, which let's face it, is all you need if you're not shooting video), you can get at least four cards for 100 bucks, far less than the amount of film I ever brought on a job, and far more than any amount of individual pics I ever shot on a job! I start every job with a fresh one, and depending on the client, I don't even erase 'em, just store 'em after the shoot in the clients folder.

How do you spell "schadenfreude" It's happened to me as well but I'm not a pro. Probably just early Alzeimhers. But you can never have too many redundancies. I'm off to China in a few weeks and it's a good reminder to take care of what may well be once-in-a-lifetime photos.

I guess, with many technologies, the chance of machine failure eventually becomes lower than the chance of human failure, and at that point, it's best to let the machines manage those tasks. But surely multiple large cards is the best of both worlds, even for low volumes: switch cards when safe and convenient, putting your eggs in many baskets, but never worry about running out of space.

Ctein, the best way to avoid losing photos when swapping memory cards is simple:

Never delete photos in-camera.

Never format cards in camera.

Pull your photos onto your computer with a card reader and only delete the photos from the card there, preferably only after you've made a backup.

Camera companies say you should format cards regularly, but aside from the first format of a new card, I only do so when I'm cleaning my sensor and it's faster to format the card than it is to delete 100+ dust spot images.

I also use large cards, so I rarely swap in the field. In the last three years, I can think of four instances when I've had to swap cards on the go.

As an aside, the pic you chose to illustrate
this post is yummy, thanks.

What James said.

My workflow is to take a card with pictures from my camera, put it in my Mac, copy the pics to the Mac, then copy the pics to my backup disk, then erase the pics from the card.

As an aside, I have a script (a small program I wrote myself) that does this for me, all I do is run 'getpics'.

I never format a card in-camera. I'm not sure that I can make myself believe that the firmware that Nikon use has added magic over what Apple/Microsoft/etc use.

It is closer to ritual how I deal with my cards, they are arranged a specific way in their case and reversed when "exposed". I religiously download when I am done with a shoot and then format the cards once I am finished post processing. I never shoot video, so I can work with smaller cards and I swap out when the cards get down to double digits. In a way it is like swapping rolls of film, I keep an idea of how many shots I have left without worrying about how many shots I have left.

I've been saved by running two cards in my D3 set for the second card to back up the first.

Conversation with photographers, "There was some really great stuff in there I'm sorry to have lost; it was overall the better set of photographs from the performances." Ctein 2013
Conversation with client, "Nah - they were all pretty bad shots anyway." All photographers down through the ages.

I never format cards in the field, but always format them in the camera. I format in the office before cards go back into the bag - where I have plenty of time and minimal distractions so I can check what I'm doing.

Used cards come out of the camera at the end of the job and go into a labeled envelope carried separately from the camera gear - my thinking being that a card in an envelope is less attractive to a thief than a camera bag. On longer trips cards are backed up to a thumb drive.

These days client cards in their labeled envelopes go into a file box and stay there at least until the job is delivered and all files are written to backup drives.

If my cameras had dual slots I would write backups in camera, but mine do not.

I have lost one card lately, when I ran it through the washing machine in my shirt pocket. It came out in 3 pieces. Luckily that was personal stuff I had shot on the way to the job, not from the job itself.

I think formatting in the camera is safest. But, formatting during the shoot is dangerous, no matter what the safety precautions are. I would format in-camera prior to the shoot.

Thanks, Ctein, for sharing your MO re the care and feeding of files in a rewritable card.

My nephew, an IT professional, tells me that formatting a card (whether or not it's full) is better than deleting files singly or in a range, because: (a) 1 format counts as 1 read-write cycle; and (2) formatting "optimizes" the filing system and prevents corruption. Apparently a rewritable card's useful life—like a DSLR's—lasts for only so many read-write cycles ("actuations").

Is an SD ("secure"~) superior to a CF (~"flash") in terms of robustness? Or are they the same banana?

I used to bean early adopter, having recently found a BH receipt for either 300 or 400 dollars for the then huge 8gb extreme IV card. Not a pleasant find, as I recently sold it and three more and a handful of 4gb cards for a grand total of 25 bucks.

I've been using 32 bg 1000x Lexar cards for a while now. My 1Dx has two in it at all times. My 5D3 has two 32 gb, one SD and one CF.

The eggs in a basket is a bunch of hooey and very old thinking.

I haven't had to change a card EVER.

In my experience, cards that are not in the camera being used are far more vulnerable to problems (through getting lost, dropping to the ground, and yes, I too have put one through the laundry by mistake). Having one very big card that can hold everything so I never have to open my camera unless I'm ready to dump the card (and make a backup) is safer than a bunch of smaller cards.

I like all my eggs in one basket, because the only time I've ever broken the eggs is when I'm juggling two baskets.

I format in the camera before each job. The only failure I had was one time after changing lenses midway through a job, I decided to run the sensor cleaning function. On my Nikon, its in the tools menu close to the format menu item, and when I went to the tools menu, the last function run was formatting, so it was highlighted as default, but my brain just saw the clean item and...

When cards were smaller, I numbered them and used them in sequence like P Perez. Now I use 16G cards in my OLY M4/3s and have not filled one yet.
But I do have a system. I remove the cards and transfer files to the computer but never erase the cards until I know both my backups are done (Mac- Time Machine to one drive, SuperDuper to the other). And I always format in the camera to get most efficient erasure.
When I buy a card, I have a "conditioning" system. I format it in the camera, shoot a bunch of junk with it, check every shot in the camera, format it again and repeat. It's like the "burn-in" we used to do in the old days with electronics, looking for "infant mortality."
As for the "all your eggs in one basket" issue, there is a story that pilots always tell: "Single engine airplanes, contrary to logic, are much safer than twin engine airplanes because twins are twice as likely to have an engine failure."

[Jim, Which might be a problem, unless you're like my uncle--he had a Cessna Skymaster push-pull. Entirely for redundancy.

He also used to go all the way to the end of the runway to take off. By the time he passed the tower he was at about the same height as the controller. The controller would say, "Got enough runway there, Cam?" And Uncle Cam would always reply, "Can't use runway you don't have." --Mike]

Take the cards that you overwrote images on and use an image recovery disk or program on them. You may well find they are still there and the program will bring them up so you can use them.

Have done this a few times, even after overwriting by mistake and often come up with the images I thought had been lost.

Handy when running into surly cops/border patrol types who use threats to get you to delete photos of them - and so you do it with them watching. Then leave, take the card out of the camera and use the recovery program and find all the photos actually still there. Works like a charm.

@Sarge, I think I would have an argument with your IT friend (hey, I'm in IT too!), because his advice is true only for hard drives, not for solid state. Solid state drives have wear leveling algorithms that ensure that the memory is evenly worn over time, which is why you should always DELETE from a flash drive and NOT format.

Formatting a card will reset the wear leveling algorithm and may lead to uneven wear on the card and increase the probability of failure.

Hence, my modus operandi is such: I delete photos only in-camera after an import into my workflow. If the photos are important, I keep the card until my processed photos are into permanent storage (i.e. the cloud).


aren't the missed or lost pictures always the best ones?

Eh, I have a 16 Gb card.....and yesterday morning I was photogaphing with a 0 Gb card. "No memory card" in freindly yet alarming orange typeface......some words Francesco would not be proud of followed. Returned home took the GWS and went back and shot 8 frames of film. Various card have found their way into my home because of forgetfullness....

Ctein, oh Ctein,

On the side of memory card there is a little slider....an arrow in white beside it and in typeface size 3 the letters "Lock"....

1) Always keep a spare card

2) Always format all youre card in advance

3) Always use the lock when done with a card

4) Store the card safe

5) Empty the card before editing

Greets, Ed.

I'm with Patrick Perez: Small, numbered cards. Start the day / shoot / trip with them all blank.

For example, I'm on a two-week photo trip at the moment. When I fill up a card it's transferred to a laptop, and then to a mobile drive, and the card goes in the "exposed" pocket. So three backups as well

If I do run out of cards I start to reformat the exposed ones in numerical order.

When the Hindenburg went down, it was reported that several of the photographers present at the site only used one of the two 4x5 sheets in their twin-sheet film holders, so that they would not accidentally "overwrite" an existing exposure in the heat of the moment...

For a similar set of reasons, I shoot 64GB cards on my D800. I really don't want to have to mess with memory cards while on a mountain climb somewhere.
On the other hand, I did have the "all eggs in one basket" problem when I physically obliterated a memory card (along with a D700 and a 70-200): http://www.alexandrebuisse.org/blog/Broken. I did recover the card, but even forensic companies in the US told me it was beyond hope.

I agree with the reasoning. Large cards are simply easier to work with when there's no need to swap cards frequently. New cards also tend to be faster than old ones and thus downloading the images becomes easier: no swapping and a faster download.

The drawback is of course the all eggs in one basket risk. But having multiple cards means that it's more likely that one of them will fail than a single big card failing and who knows which images would be lost. Also, juggling cards increases risks as you just observed. Some cameras already have two card slots and I think that practice will become more common.

I love your suggested motto for Polaroid.

Can't believe the amount of people on here saying to format storage cards on a computer instead of in-camera, this not only runs counter to what many camera companies say, I've seen it proven time and time again that a computer formated card won't read when it's put back into the camera, and has some other "freak" going on that can only be fixed by formatting in camera...

Where do people get this stuff?

The other reason for big cards is that they're useful in non-camera things. My Roku takes a (micro-) SD card. My ChromeBook's external storage is an SD card. My cameras take SD cards.

While I may plan to only use a given card in one of those devices, things change and more space is generally better than less, so I buy a handful of the biggest cards that are "cheap enough" when I shop and then don't think about them for a couple years.

An added bonus is that when taking a workshop or shooting with friends, and someone asks "Does anyone have a spare card I can borrow?" I can answer "Yes," and help someone out.

Pak, Sarge,

wear-leveling isn't part of the filesystem, it's internal to the card. Otherwise our cameras would be using a flash-specific filesystem instead of FAT32 or exFAT. That means that neither a camera nor a computer can reset the wear-leveling by reformatting (or by any other means).

So from the card's point-of-view the only difference between a mass delete and a reformat is in the number of block write operations generated by each. From the camera's point-of-view there may be a difference.

Switching cards in the middle of a shoot has meant, sometimes, risking missing shots. But recently, I ran into another risk -- in my hurry to get back into the moment, the full card was dropped somewhere.

Fortunately, my camera that day takes dual cards; I use an enormous 128 GB SD card in as a back up that ends up spanning many, many sessions.

I don't understand the fuss. Just don't delete from cards at all.

At $15 for 16GB cards, you're paying a few pennies a shot.

Film was around an order of magnitude more expensive. And the memory cards can likely serve as a spare backup for at least a few years.

Mind providing a list of recovery-software you can recommend?
I have had problems with losing pictures, but it has most often happened when I have juggled to many temporary Lightroom-catalogues, and accidentally deleted a catalogue that was not in my main archive after all. Then it is nice to be able to recover the raw-files from the formated memorycard...

Reading back through here reminds me that I have "overwritten" sheet film. In fact one of my all-time favorite personal prints is two seashells superimposed - an accidental overwrite on 4x5 film.

But you don't get that kind of luck with and SD card.

I normally use 32GB cards in my D7000. It holds two of them, and can go to two 64GB SDXC cards. I have never come close to filling one card before uploading to the computer. However, if I ever have a real need to assure no loss of images, I can assign one card as an in camera backup to the other, making physical loss the only real risk. I don't reformat disks unless there is some indication of need, or I am going to use the card in a different camera. Then I format in camera to avoid any differences in formatting software which may be present. Couldn't do all that with film. Ain't technology great?

I've at least once overwritten a sheet of 4x5 film. I've never used the 4x5 enough to get my technique really well-practiced.

I essentially always format digital cards in the field just before use, and that's never been a problem. Until I format the card, it's backup for the photos I saved off it.

However, I don't think I'd really recommend this approach to anybody else. When you've got a decent backup strategy (and I do), the extra backup isn't worth very much, and the extra handling and time in the field are an obvious risk in certain classes of situations. In general, manual handling is the biggest risk factor for both film and digital cards.

Formatting in advance is nice in several ways; that way you can train yourself to only write to empty cards.

I've spent more than a decade being assured by all sources that formatting in the camera is a MUCH better choice than formatting on the computer, and that frequent formats (rather than erasure) are good. I'll need more convincing before I change my mind on that. In particular, I'm pretty sure Pak is wrong about where the wear-leveling algorithm sits. Besides which, I've never in my life run a memory card out of write life, and I've been using them since 2000.

My real camera uses CF, with no write-protect switch, but Ctein's procedure to use the write protect switch as another level of safety is a good idea on SD cards. Even if it's not apparently totally foolproof :-(. (And whoever that was twitting Ctein for not using it should read the article more carefully.)

Dear Alexandre,

So, after the retrieval companies told you that the images weren't recoverable, how DID you get them back?

And on that note…

Dear Jim & CF,

As a matter of fact, I did try doing image recovery on the card I overwrote. And I did find some two dozen photographs there that hadn't been overwritten!

Unfortunately, they were all from photography sessions sometime previous. Darn.

SanDisk used to provide a recovery utility on a mini-CD with their SD cards. I don't think they've done that for a while, but you might check their website to see if they have a free utility there. There are quite a few free or very cheap ones out there in the world which handle ordinary cases. The tool I am most fond of is Data Rescue. I got this to do data recovery on hard drives and the like, but it works great on flashcards. It's about $90, but it's heavy-duty mojo. If the bits are still physically accessible, this program can find them. I've seen it do extraordinary things with drives that appeared to be almost DOA.


Dear Ed,

Ed, oh Ed…

Sorry, but you only get a B on Reading Comprehension, this lesson [grin].

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I didn't, I apologized profusely to the client and reshot the job in another location.

Just a little comment on card failure. The other day my Canon 60D [sorry but I am just a snapper] showed a card error message and nothing would make it go away. And of course the camera was effectively dead. A different card worked ok so I looked at the card giving the error message. What's to look at? The little slider lock switch simply was not there. [I hope it is not lurking inside the camera waiting to leap about and do some harm.] Without the miniscule plastic switch the size of a pin head, I had a dead card. The solution luckily was easy. I had a tiny 16mb card from yonks ago and I found I could yank the plastic switch from that card, pop it the right way round into the card with the error, and all was well again. The moral is to be careful removing cards in case in your haste, something drops off.

I feel you, Ctein. I went to Canberra this weekend and took 2 cards. One (the 8GB)had only a few shots left on it so I swapped it for the other card on the last evening. I didn't put it away in its usual spot. Bad. Bad, bad, bad! I left 8GB worth of photos behind in the hostel and they ain't coming back. Big sad face. I think I will buy a few 32GB cards for trips away.

You just don't want to lose them!

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