In 2012, wireless connectivity was not yet a regular commodity on most cameras, and there were unique Wi-Fi memory cards that you could use to bring such connectivity to your camera.
To cut a long story short, I had one of these ‘special’ cards and ended up formatting it. The memory card didn’t like this and corrupted the files I took the next day on an important photo shoot. The card was in the trash, and we had to reorganize a reshoot to retake the images. Thankfully Wi-Fi cards are a thing of the past, and any modern digital camera worth its salt comes with wireless connectivity built-in nowadays. Over a decade later, I’m asking myself what lessons I learned from that heart-sinking moment. And what advice can I offer you so you never have to experience the same pain? Besides the obvious – wait to remove your cards too early, and always ensure you safely eject them from your computer – here’s my best advice and steps to mitigate the loss or corruption of your digital images…
Dual card backup
The obvious option is to record your files to two cards at once if your camera has dual card slots. This may be dual SD, SD, and CF on older cameras or a mixture of SD and CFexpress on newer camera models.
Go into your menu and set up the camera to record a backup to the second card slot. To save time, you could also set it up to record RAW files to one card and JPEGs to the other, so you’ll have a JPEG backup if your primary RAW card fails.
Single card backup hack
If your camera only has one memory card slot, a good trick you can try to mitigate a corrupted card is using lots of smaller cards. Shoot on a whole bunch of 8GB or 16GB cards and change them as they become full – this way, if a card does corrupt, you’ll only lose a small number of images, which would be less disastrous than seeing all the files from a total 256GB get destroyed.
If you’re shooting a wedding, for example, you should have enough images to rescue the situation rather than being an all-out disaster. And while far from ideal, it’s an excellent step to mitigate potential losses. The bride and groom would rather have some images from their special day than none, so this may be a method to try out if your camera only has one card slot.
Wedding photographers also usually shoot on two camera bodies with different lenses so that they can take shots on the fly quickly. You’d also have to be unlucky for both cards in both cameras to corrupt, so this is another failsafe.
Use high-quality cards
Look online, and you’ll find ridiculously cheap memory cards. While the low prices are tempting, these are often unbranded and can even be counterfeit cards. Either way, they’re unreliable, and it’s simply not worth the risk.
It’s worth paying the extra for a reputable card from a trustworthy store. It’s also worth buying cards with the fastest write speeds you can afford to clear the camera buffer quickly when recording a short burst of images or 4K video. Quick cards are also crucial if you plan to simultaneously record your ideas on two cards.
Send broken cards straight to the trash.
Take broken cards seriously and be ruthless. Throw away any cards that are starting to show signs of wear, such as plastic cracking or pieces falling apart. I once bought a brand-new memory card, gave it a slight twisting pressure, and could hear the plastic cracking – I did the same stress test on my other cards. They didn’t make the same noise, so I quickly decided it was a cheaply made product, returned it to the store, and bought a more premium option for peace of mind.
Back up your files.
Losing data is just as common for digital images stored on your computer. Following the 3-2-1 rule to back up your photos is a good idea. This is where you have at least three copies of your images on at least two different types of media (such as a hard drive, SSD, or the cloud) with another copy stored off-site (such as at a friend or family member’s house) so that you still have a copy of the files at your house are stolen or compromised.
Avoid using adapters
A microSD to SD card adapter can be very useful for transferring images to your computer if it only has a full-size SD card port. However, try to avoid using these adapters inside your camera. MicroSD cards are great for smaller cameras, such as drones, action cams, and phones. Still, you want to avoid using them within an adapter in the SD card slot of your camera as it’s just an extra point of failure – and it wouldn’t take too much to jolt the connections and pins while writing to the card to result in a corrupted file.
Keep track of total cards on a shoot.
One way you could lose your files is to write over and format a full card unintentionally. But this is easily avoided! We recommend getting yourself a sturdy memory card case and flipping over any used cards so you know not to use them next. Then, when you’re all backed up at your computer, you can format them and turn them the right way up once again – then repeat.
While I know the heart-sinking feeling from seeing a corrupted drive or card all too well, try not to be too disheartened as all may not be lost. There is software available such as the Lexar Recovery Tool, and also data recovery businesses that specialize in restoring corrupted files (though the latter can be an expensive route).
However, it’s good to know that options are available to recover your files in the worst-case scenario if you absolutely need to get your files back and you can cover the bill.