Digital camera memory cards: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Week 47, 2006

Q: On the last hour of the last day of a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Greece and Turkey, a new 2 GB SD card containing 350+ pictures from the whole trip failed, and the camera screen read: Memory Card Error. I could neither take more pictures nor could I view the shots onscreen from that point on. Upon my return home I got the message on my computer (when trying to download) that the card was unreadable or that there were no pictures on it.

I took the card into a camera store. They sent it to their lab, with the result that they could not recover anything. A salesman contemptuously remarked that this kind of failure was not at all rare. Next I contacted SanDisk, the manufacturer, which offered a recovery attempt through LC Technology International, costing well over $100, if successful. Since I mourned the loss of the memories, I went for it.

Result: failure. Cost: $10 for the attempt.

My questions are: 1) Is there any other possibility? 2) What is the failure rate of these cards?

-Dave Docter, Bloomington, MN

A: It sounds as if the card was defective from the start, given that it happened the first time you used it. You can try other companies that specialize in data recovery, but chances are that, sadly, the images are lost forever.

In terms of failure rate, my own experience is that the failures are rare. Yours is the only email I have ever received regarding failure of a memory card. It certainly happens, as it will with any product made by humans. My experience has been that SanDisk is known as one of the most reliable brands, and they are in fact my own exclusive choice when I purchase my own memory cards.

One positive bit of advice that I can offer is that it is very important for all digital photographers to back up data as often as possible, and on more than one medium if possible. When I travel I take a laptop computer and download the images every night, then burn a CD or DVD and check it to make sure it is OK. Then I format the memory cards for use the next day- but ONLY after I know that the images are safe in two different places, in this case the hard drive and a disc. One isn’t enough. If you download only to your hard drive, what happens if your computer is stolen or the hard drive crashes? If you burn only to one CD or DVD, what happens if it is scratched or broken?

The second recommendation is that you readers not put all their eggs in one basket, i.e. using one memory card for the entire trip. Memory cards are very inexpensive and having more than one provides security and flexibility. For example, if you had two 1GB cards instead of a single 2B card, when the card failed you would have lost half of your images rather than all of them. It is for this reason many wedding photographers deliberately use smaller cards and change them more often, rather than leaving the same card in the camera for a long period of time.

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