Memory Cards, Ahoy!


Memory cards are a vital aspect of digital photography. Shridhar Kunte tells you a few essential practices you must follow, to ensure that your cards are in perfect health.

Did you know that the first ever digital camera used a floppy disk to store photographs? Indeed, initial cameras that were produced were large and ugly and the floppy was the only means of storage. As time passed, different storage media were used—until today—when there are two main types of memory cards being used popularly, SD (Secure Digital) and CF (Compact Flash). Whether you are a professional photographer shooting thousands of photographs daily, or a hobbyist who clicks only once in a while, media storage is the pivot around which your photography revolves. Considering the fragile nature of digital media, you ought to take special care of memory cards, which can be done in a few simple steps.

Switch Off the Camera
Media cards are often running processes in the background. They may be writing the photographs on to the memory, or there may be an internal folder structuring process that may be taking place. That is why you should never remove the card when the camera is switched on.

Keep Some Space
Just like a computer’s hard drive tends to become slow when it is full, a memory card may also write images slowly when it is nearing its capacity. This difference of speed is miniscule, but you would rather get the optimal performance. It is also a good practice to change the card when there are 15–20 photos left in its capacity. This is because if you try to wrench out the last few pictures in any card, it may turn out that your card gets full at a time when an action-packed moment is unfolding in front of your eyes!

Steer Clear of Electric Fields
Do not keep memory cards near any strong magnetic or electric fields. These sources can instantly erase all the images stored on the card.

Format inside the Camera
While you can delete images manually, it is best to format the memory card inside the camera. Keep doing this from time to time.

Monitor the Battery Status
This is something that most people do not realise. If the camera’s battery level is dangerously low, stop shooting and recharge the battery! If the battery runs out while the camera is saving images on to the card, the card may get corrupt.

Wait for the Buffer
If the LED light on the camera is blinking, it is a clear indication that the data is still being transferred from the camera’s buffer to the memory card. During this process, if you open the storage compartment, there is a high risk of losing the data.

Keep Them Safe!
When you are too immersed in your photographs, it may be tempting to keep the memory card inside one’s pocket, once you have inserted a new card into the camera. Avoid this. Buy a dedicated soft case for storing multiple cards.

Do Not Mishandle the Contacts
Both SD and CF cards have contact points, which you should not touch. The human body has static charge that can damage the delicate electronics inside. Also, CF cards have a number of tiny holes, which you will have to guard against dust.

Identify Each Card
When you are carrying a number of cards, devise a system that helps you identify which card is empty and which has already been shot on. You should be able to gauge the contents of the card by looking at it.
Most of these practices are easy to follow, but they often slip out of our mind. It is okay if we miss a few photo opportunities, but the loss, corruption or damage of a memory card wipes out hundreds of images at one go. Treat your media storage and other equipment with respect, and photography will be more rewarding.

Quick Tip
Always carry enough media storage, so that you do not waste anytime deleting images and can concentrate on shooting.

Common Myths About Media Cards

  • You should buy a high capacity card: Everyone’s needs are different. A person who uses a compact camera and shoots once a week will be happy with a 4GB card, but a photographer who shoots sports or goes for long trips may need up to 32GB or 64GB of storage. Figure out how much you need and divide that amongst cards. For instance, buying two 8GB cards instead of one 16GB card makes more sense. Any card that gets you around 400–500 RAW photographs on your camera is of an ideal capacity.
  • The speed of the card does not matter: Buy the card that is most appropriate for your camera. For instance, do not buy the most expensive card available if you are only going to shoot at moderate speeds. For those who want to use video or continuous shooting, a Class 6 card is a must.
  • Any card reader will do: Buying a fast memory card is pointless if you transfer images using a low-end card reader. If you are a marriage photographer, event photographer or photojournalist, you will need a UDMA or firewire card reader. Most other users can buy something that falls within their budget.
Tags: Shridhar Kunte, may 2011, Memory Cards, essential practices, Common Myths About Media Cards