Pin Me

How to Format a Camera Memory Card

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 10/6/2009

Without a memory card, it is impossible to take photos with today's digital cameras, so it's important to keep them in top running condition. The best way to do this is to format your memory card, and format it often. Here's how.

  • slide 1 of 4

    It's a beautiful sunset, reds and purples and oranges all arranged over a perfectly reflective surface of the sea, the sun only just peaking over the horizon and through the elegant lines of the sailboats, you take out your camera and you... an error message from your memory card. Not only can you take no more pictures on it for the moment, but all the ones you took since the last time you downloaded your photos to a computer are also gone.

    Don't want this to happen to you? Keeping your memory card in workable condition involves reformatting, and reformatting often. Read on to learn how to do so for your particular camera:

  • slide 2 of 4

    What Formatting Does

    Why does reformatting your memory card help it so much? What reformatting does is to redefine the file structure, keeping it clear of any corruption or the like which can lead to missing pictures and irritating error messages. This will also help lengthen the lifespan of your memory card: if you never reformat, the size of the memory card will shrink at a quicker rate than if you reformat regularly.

    It's a good idea to make a habit of doing this every time after you download your photos to make sure you have a clean slate upon which to . There are no bad effects or downsides of reformatting your memory card extremely often, so don't worry about doing it too often.

    Make sure that you reformat the card in the camera in which you'll be using it. This is important to make sure that the memory card is optimized for the particular camera. There are occasionally subtle differences between the reformatting software, especially between older and newer cameras, so avoiding these issues altogether is best.

    A note: some cameras, especially of the Fuji brand, refer to this instead as "initialization" of the memory card. Don't fret, the steps are exactly the same as for any other camera. Just insert "initialize" instead of "format" for the remainder of the article.

  • slide 3 of 4

    Formatting With A Camera

    The best and easiest way to reformat a memory card is on your camera. Before you begin, make sure that all your photos have been deposited onto a computer so that no information is unnecessarily lost. Insert the memory card with the camera off.

    The reformatting function on the camera is often buried beneath layers and layers of menus, so if it's not immediately obvious, it's probably a good idea to consult the camera's user manual. If you've lost or otherwise misplaced it, then look online for a downloadable version, either at the company website or elsewhere.

    Once you've located the reformatting option, simply select and reformat away. It should only take a few seconds, depending on the size of the memory card, and you have a crisp blank slate upon which to take new photos.

  • slide 4 of 4

    Formatting With A Computer

    If you haven't been reformatting regularly, there's a chance that the memory chip might have been corrupted to the point that your camera can't reformat it. Of course, if a memory card will not reformat in the camera, that might not necessarily mean that reformatting will solve the problem: there are a variety of other things that could be at fault, for instance a fried circuit, that will simply require the purchase of a new memory card. However, if your memory card is refusing to reformat, it's worth a try.

    Insert the memory card into the card reader of your computer. If you do not have a card reader, plugging in the camera with the memory card in it may sometimes work, depending on the operating system.

    The software that you use is highly dependent on the operating system. Some versions of the Windows and Mac operating systems have reformatting built in as a menu function when exploring drive options, and is usually “smart" enough to know which type of formatting to install upon it.