In the good old days of photography, the images you captured with your camera was stored on film. Though films were of various types, the ground rules of handling film was quite simple; keep it cool, keep it dry, keep it in the dark. But the era of digital photography has totally eliminated film rolls and replaced them with tiny, flat electronic devices called memory cards. It brought with it immediate advantages over film in terms of storage capacity and ease of handling. But still, memory cards are electronic devices, and so have a definite lifespan and list of do’s and don’ts. You really wouldn’t want your card to give incomprehensible error messages just when you need to take a shot of your child’s first hockey game, would you? Though memory cards are designed to last long, they do come with an expiry date. Typical memory cards last for 10,000 write/erase cycles, with some professional grade cards lasting for 100,000 cycles. But they don’t last forever. By taking a few simple precautions, you can keep your memory card in perfect health and extend its usable life, ensuring it won’t fail you in your time of need.
Here are 11 helpful tips on how to extend the life and care for your digital camera’s memory card:
1. Turn off your camera while inserting or removing your memory card
Now, this sounds pretty basic, but it’s very common to forget to switch the camera off while changing cards. If the camera happens to be accessing the card when you pull it out, it’ll surely cause read/write errors and potentially damage your card. Another common error is when people run out of patience while formatting the card and pull it out midway. This is a sure shot way of damaging your card. Always remember never to take the card out while it’s being accessed, which is usually indicated by a blinking red or green light on your camera.
2. Be gentle
Your card is a precision electronic equipment, and treating it like a piece of rubber won’t do it any good. Always insert the card straight into the slot, and don’t slant or bend it. The card should go in smoothly, if it doesn’t, there’s a reason for it - perhaps you’re trying to insert it into your camera the wrong way. Never force a card into your camera if it offers resistance, you could irreparably damage the card or your digital camera.
Again, don’t handle the card roughly or throw it around. Try to ensure it doesn’t drop from a height. Though memory cards can withstand some amount of mechanical shock, it’s useful to keep in mind that it doesn’t have iron armour!
3. Keep it clean and protected
Always store the memory card in the protective case it came in, never let it lie loose in your drawer or camera case. Dirt and dust accumulation is detrimental to its life. If your card is dusty, wipe it clean with a soft cloth prior to inserting it in your camera. Never use water or solvents to clean your card. Also remember, like lenses, never change memory cards in a dusty environment, as any dust or sand entering your camera may cause havoc.
4. Memory cards are not waterproof
Keep your memory card away from water of any form; rain, snow, splashes from your cup of morning coffee. Another thing to be careful about is condensation. Atmospheric humidity tends to condense as water droplets on any surface which is colder than its surroundings. So when you walk with your memory card from the chilly outdoors into your warm living room, water droplets can condense on your card and seriously damage it. To help protect it, always store your memory card in a plastic casing before you expose it to a warm and humid environment.
Please continue on to page 2, where you will learn 7 more helpful tips on how to protect your digital camera`s memory card and help extend its life.
5. Heat kills
Literally. Keep your memory card in a cool, dry place. Never expose it to the summer sun, or put it in a closed car parked in the open on a hot day or on top of your room heater.
6. Protect from magnetic fields
As with magnetic tapes, any strong magnetic field can create havoc with the data stored on the memory card. Protect it from magnetic fields, which means don’t keep it near your computer speakers or fridge magnets. Also, try to protect your memory card from high static.
7. One card, one device
Its better for the `memory card if you pair it with a single device, and not switch the same card between your camera and your MP3 player and your cell phone. If you must swap cards between devices, always format the card for each device prior to use (see next tip).
8. Format often
Formatting erases every bit of data on your card and that’s good for it. Deleting images using your computer is not the same as formatting. Remember to format the card, preferably in the device you intend to use it in. At times, simply reformatting the card eliminates minor hitches and errors. It’s a very healthy habit to format your card in your camera before you start shooting, ensuring you start on a clean slate, without any old data floating around.
9. Keep it light
Transfer all photos from your camera to your computer as soon as possible, and format your card once done. Leave no clutter in the card, a cluttered card full of old pieces of data causes what is known as ‘fragmentation’ during the write process, leading to data corruption and loss of images.
10. Use a card reader
It`s always recommended to use a card reader to transfer images to your computer. It`s faster and safer than hooking your camera up directly to your computer. A precaution to be taken here is, once you’re done with the transferring and clicked on the icon to eject the card, wait till your computer flashes the ‘safe to remove USB device’ (Windows/Ubuntu) message, only then pull out the card. If using a Mac, drop the Card Reader icon into Trash, and wait for 5-10 seconds before pulling out the card. This is because, depending on the speed of your computer, it may take it some time to finish off writing to the card after you’ve ejected it, and removing the card during this time may cause data corruption.
11. Never leave the card on the computer longer than necessary
That means, remove the card once you’ve transferred all images. And never ever work on your image directly from the card. To understand why, go back to the introductory paragraph, where I’ve mentioned that the life of a card typically ranges from 10,000 to 100,000 write/erase cycles. The computer, even when not actively using your card, continuously keeps accessing it, and all that contributes to the write/erase cycles. And while working on an image, the computer reads, writes, erases and re-writes a huge number of times. So much so that working on a single image while still on the card can reduce its life expectancy by half! Seriously.
Following these tips will keep your card healthy and increase its longevity. Happy shooting!