Caring For Your Memory Cards
Some of us use SD card memory. Others use Compact Flash. A few unfortunate souls still use Sony Memory Sticks. Regardless, don't take your memory cards for granted. Here are a few tips to help you and your memory cards to share a long and happy life together.
Use Only High Quality Memory Cards
Cheap memory cards can seem like a great deal until one fails taking a bunch of your images with it. Compared to the money you spend on everything else to do with photography, a few extra bucks for quality memory cards can be money well spent. My advice would be to stick with name brand cards only. And don't rush to be the first on your block to buy the latest and biggest cards out there. Let others work out the bugs first. I generally recommend buying one size down from the largest available from a manufacturer.
Format, Don't Delete
I've written about this before. Memory cards will eventually wear out, and one of the surest ways to hasten the demise of your cards is to overwork them. One format operation on the entire card is far safer than a bunch of ad hoc deletions throughout the day. If you're worried about running out of room, buy another card. And the best place to format a card is in your camera, not on your computer. Since your camera will be doing the writing to that card, let it be the one to lay out the formatting as it sees fit.
Don't Share Cards Between Cameras
For the same reason as above, stick with the one camera to one card rule. Let the camera that will be writing data to a given card do all the writing to it. If you use more than one camera, resist the temptation to pull a half-full card from one camera and insert it in another camera. If you do move a card to another body, format the card in that body before shooting with it.
Always Backup As Soon as You Can
As soon as practical, create a backup of the images you shoot. If you have two copies of an image, you'd have to be quite unfortunate indeed to lose them both. The easiest way to do this is to copy images to your laptop and an external hard drive before reformatting a card. Some cameras have two memory card slots and let you save to both as you go.
Keep Track of Which Cards You've Used
Develop a system to keep track of which cards you've filled with images and which are still blank. There's no worse feeling than realizing after you format a card that it had images on it not yet downloaded to your computer. I've mentioned before that I keep unused cards in one pants pocket and move them to the opposite pocket after I've filled them. Whatever works for you.
Protect Your Cards
Whether you keep your memory cards in your pocket or something more official, try to keep them safe. Cards generally come in small plastic cases that, while not waterproof, do provide protection from dust, dirt and genera wear and tear. Memory cards have no moving parts, but plenty of other things can go wrong if you let it. Airport X-Ray machines won't damage digital memory cards, but common dust can. If you've lost the little plastic case for a card, you can buy new ones on eBay.
If Your Card Went in the Washing Machine, Don't Panic
Since I carry memory cards in my pocket (inside their original plastic cases), I have indeed accidentally run one through the wash before. You may have as well. Assuming you let it thoroughly dry out before attempting to use it again, it's probably just fine. Don't compound things by running it through the dryer though.
If Disaster Strikes, Stop Shooting
If you think you're having problems with a memory card while using it, stop using it until you have a chance to investigate further. Copy the images you can off of the questionable card and then reformat it. Several programs exist to help salvage data from partially corrupted cards. Lexar bundles their version for free with many of the cards they sell. If a card continues not to cooperate, get rid of it and buy a new card. Nothing lasts forever.
Wait Before Turning Off Your Camera
If you turn off your camera while it's still writing images from its buffer to your memory card, you will almost certainly lose those images. Some cameras won't turn off if they're still busy, but many will. Be sure you wait for your camera to finish doing what it needs to before turning it off. Check the activity LED if you're unsure.
Wait Before Ejecting a Card
By the same token, don't eject a card from your camera or from your computer if it is still busy. Doing so may corrupt one image or it may kill the entire card. You just never know, and I'm betting you don't ever want to find out.
Don't Forget to Check Your Battery
Even if you patiently wait before ejecting your memory card, all bets are off if your camera's battery is on its last legs. If you think you might need it, buy a spare battery.