This is probably one of the most important “For Photographers” posts I’ve ever done! As a primarily digital photographer, my memory cards are extremely important to my business. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do my job. Over the years I’ve learned some important things when it comes to the care and keeping of CF cards and since we’ve gotten a few questions about this lately, I thought this was a great time to share my tips for maintaining one of your most important assets as a photog!
Format your cards after every use.
Formatting your cards can help prevent issues with reading and writing to them. It can also help reduce the chances your cards will become corrupted. Formatting the card removes fragmentation and all of the data on the card as well as setting it up to be used by the specific camera you’re shooting with.
…But not before backing everything up
Once you’ve formatted a card, if you haven’t shot on it again, it’s highly probable you’ll be able to get your images back with the help of a recovery program. If you’ve shot over it, the chances decrease significantly depending on how much you filled the card back up. To put it simply, when you format a card, the files still remain there until you shoot over them and fill the card up with new images. If you’ve filled up a card after shooting on it, it’s VERY, very unlikely you’ll be able to retrieve your images no matter what you do. So take caution when you’re formatting and make sure you’ve got everything backed up. I personally do not shoot on a set of cards until I am either: finished with the wedding OR have it backed up in at least two completely separate locations AND it’s still on my backup SD card.
Format your cards with the camera you’ll be shooting with.
This ensures that your card is set up to work with the camera you’ll be shooting with. Different cameras have different computers, firmware, etc. If you’re going to let a second shooter borrow your cards, I would suggest having them format in their camera before they start to photograph.
Cycle your cards
I keep ten cf cards in my Pixel Pocket Rocket CF card holder and with each wedding that I shoot, I start with the card in the first slot and work my way through them. Once I’ve shot on all of the cards, I re-order them in reverse so that next time I’m starting with the last card in the pack. This way all of my cards are getting used pretty equally since I’m always cycling them around.
Don’t delete images in camera.
Deleting images from a card in camera or on your computer actually doesn’t completely erase the file from your card. Instead, file fragments can be left behind which can make your card more likely to corrupt. I would seriously advise always formatting your card with each new use so that you’re starting fresh.
Turn off your camera before you remove your card
This will help ensure you don’t remove the card before the camera is done recording images to it! If you do, you might lose the images before they’re written to the card or possibly corrupt it.
Don’t keep all of your eggs in one basket
Instead of shooting on larger cards, it’s better to use a handful of smaller cards so that if something happens to one of them, you will probably lose a lot less. There’s definitely a delicate balance between that and shooting on so many cards that you’re constantly having to stop and change them out. I shoot on 16gb cards which usually ends up holding about 400-500 images depending on the ISO I’m shooting at.
Always backup when possible. If you’re shooting with a 5D Mark III, you have the option to record images to both a CF card and a backup JPEG. Last year when I upgraded to this camera, I knew that feature alone would almost be worth upgrading! I always record every single image as a JPEG onto that CF card so that if my CF card with all of the RAWs were to corrupt or be lost or stolen, I’d at least have JPEGs to work with. You can totally record RAWs to your second card, but I choose to record JPEGs because they’re a lot smaller and I can fit an entire wedding’s worth on one SD card rather than changing them out all the time along with the CF cards. I try my best to keep things simple!
One thing to note when you’re recording to both an SD card and a CF card with the 5D Mark III is that the SD card slot is NOT set up to handle the newer Ultra High Speed write speeds that the CF card is. So for that reason, if you’re recording to both, you’ll be limited to the write speed of 133x no matter how fast the memory card you have is. I always keep this in mind when purchasing cards!
Buy new cards regularly.
It’s smart to buy cards at least once a season. If you can’t afford to buy them all at once, maybe consider buying half at the start of the Spring season and half at the start of the Fall. Or, wait until Black Friday or Cyber Monday to get a great deal! You can also often score rebates from online retailers after you’ve made a purchase with them. I recently bought a lens from B&H for $900 and got a $50 rebate from Canon AND $18 in credit from B&H, so that made my recent CF card purchase less expensive!
If the worst happens…
If you have a corrupt card (knock on wood) or formatted over it, STOP. Don’t shoot on the card, don’t format again, and don’t panic. Sandisk has a recovery software called Rescue PRO. There’s also a division of their company that specializes in data recovery. Their website is here. If you haven’t shot over a formatted card and you haven’t touched a card with corrupted images you’ll up your chances that you can recover the files on the card.
Hope this post helps! As always feel free to ask questions if you have them!