When your memory (card) betrays you

It’s every photographer’s worst nightmare – losing all the data on your memory card! And this happened to me recently when my camera display flashed the dreaded words ‘read error’. I hadn’t back up my images for several months and the pictures on the xD Picture Card were too important to lose.

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom as I found a way of recovering my images, which may or may not come in useful for others, but I also have some best practice tips when it comes to backing up your images.

Although my initial reaction was to feel frustrated about potentially losing my photos, I tried not to do anything too rash to hamper my chances of recovering the data. As the camera was no longer able to read my memory card, I tried connecting it to a computer via a USB cable. Here I was able to view the entire contents of the memory card, much in the same way as you would when plugging in a flash drive. Alternatively, you can insert the memory card into a card reader and connect it to a computer that way. Fortunately in my situation, it was only one image that had become corrupted rather than the entire memory card and I was able to recover the rest.

If this solution doesn’t work for you then there are a number of useful programmes available on the internet designed specifically for data recovery, such as Handy Recovery or ArtPlus Digital Photo Recovery (which is a free to download). In particular, SanDisk offer a free download of RescuePro with every purchase of their Extreme range of memory cards from Extreme III onwards.

Memory card errors can be caused by a number of reasons but if you follow this rough list of tips then you can reduce the chances of the data on your card being corrupted:
  • Don’t remove your memory card when turning the camera on or off.
  • Never change your memory card when the camera is switched on.
  • Don’t remove your memory card while it’s a saving a photo or while you’re reviewing images.
  • Stop taking photos if the battery is low.
  • Memory cards have a finite lifespan. A typical flash memory card unit has approximately 10,000 write/erase operations. So it’s a good idea to buy new memory cards if they’ve been around more often than you care to remember.
  • Use memory cards from trusted brands; SanDisk, Panasonic, Sony, Kingston, Lexar, Olympus, etc, are good choices – beware of buying cheap memory cards off websites such as eBay as these could turn out to be fake and unreliable.
  • If several different memory cards are getting damaged in the same camera, then you might need to consider there is some issue with the actual camera.
Often buying two smaller cards instead of one larger (i.e., two 2GB cards instead of one 4GB card) can often save you money and reduce the chances of you losing any data, as one corrupt card will only affect half of your photos.

Although you might have a huge memory card that can store thousands of photos in your camera, you should still only consider this as temporary storage. As discussed previously, memory cards can fail or worse still can be lost or stolen with the camera. Therefore you should back up your images as often as possible. I find that when making an archive of my photos the best method is to make at least two to three other backups; one on a computer hard drive, another on an external hard drive and one other on a CD/DVD. Unfortunately, no method is infallible as computer hard drives are likely to fail if they pick up a virus, external hard drives have a limited life expectancy (dependent on frequency of use) and on the rare occasion I’ve had a data DVD fail on me but if you use all three then at least you’ve got your bases covered and you would be extremely unlucky if all of these options failed.

Another alternative to consider is cloud based online storage, however, you need to take into account how well protected your images are on a company’s server. Online services might go out of business (such as in the mysterious disappearance of the image sharing website, and they won’t guarantee that your data will be safe.

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