Quick Tip: Format Your Memory Card

Memory Cards

I decided a few months ago that I would always format my memory card after unloading my images from the camera. I happy to say that I’ve actually stuck with it. I’ve never had a problem with my memory cards, but I gained the understanding that it’s not a bad idea to format the card after each photo shoot. It takes a few seconds of your time, and it helps to ensure that you’ll be less likely to have issues with your memory card in the field. Like I said, I’ve stuck with this habit since I wrote the article titled “Clearing Out Your Memory Card“. If you’re not convinced, give it a read. Don’t argue, just do it.

This entry was posted in General Tips, Quick-Tip on by .

About Brian Auer

a photography enthusiast from North Idaho. He's also the guy behind the Epic Edits Weblog. As a hobbyist photographer since 2003, his passion has been to constantly improve his photography skill set, to share his own knowledge with others, and to become an integral part of the photographic community.

18 thoughts on “Quick Tip: Format Your Memory Card

  1. laanba

    No, not “Don’t argue, just do it.” What you should have said is “Because I said so!” like all good teachers and parents the world over. :-)

    And I will, I will!

  2. Andrew Ferguson

    I just started doing this a couple weeks ago after reading a post that mentioned it.

    It hardly takes any time at all! I don’t understand why cameras don’t auto-format the card when they erase it.

  3. Tim Hawkins

    Hmmmm. What issues??. You cant just say “do this, it stops problems”, without listing the problems, does it make the cards faster?, does it give you more space?, does it improve reliablity?. Does it make your photos look better?, Or does it as I suspect, have absolutly no effect what so ever….

    Hey! here is a tip, keep your memory cards in your freezer, it eliminates more problems than formating them, i know……..

  4. Brian Auer Post author

    For the most part, formatting doesn’t have any immediate effects on the performance of the card. It’s more like preventative maintenance to help ensure that something terrible doesn’t happen down the road. If you go to the article I link to in this tip, you’ll find three external articles that give more details on what types of issues may arise from being sloppy with your memory cards. I didn’t get into the details here because it’s a “Quick Tip”.

  5. beth S

    can anyone help me!! i took alot of pictures from my birthday party and now that i want to download them from the 1 GB memory card it wants me to format the card, which will cause me to loose all the pictures i took. i really dont want to format the card and i havent yet, but i really dont know what to do. also when i put the memory card into the card reader it says the same thing

    please help me!!

  6. Rick

    I have a kodak camera with a sandisc card when i formant my card to fat and take it out it goes bak to RAW settings what can I do,

  7. Brian Auer Post author

    Rick, the idea is to reformat your card in your camera so that it contains the correct data structure for storing photos. FAT and RAW are two completely different things. RAW has to do with the file format of the photo and FAT is a file system used by computers. What is it you’re trying to do?

  8. Don

    I’m using a large compact flash card in my canon rebel. I have yet to fill it, let alone format it. Thousands of pictures can fit on it, so I figure I might just let the images sit on there, the file the card away, and always have a back up. Any idea what the life span on one of these cards are?

  9. jay

    I bought an 8gig xd card and my camera told me that I could take 3210 pictures which was brill cos I can do videos then. When I uploaded my pictures, my cardreader told me not format my memory stick which I did (after saving my pictures) – but now my camera tells me that I can only hold 1500 pictures. Can anyone tell me why formatting a disc has halved my memory capacity?

  10. Michael

    This formating card thing does’t make sense I’m only 11 years old and I’m already have a problem. My camera is about 3 years old. When I put iin my memeory card in my camera it says card format? I say no. Then I go onto my laptop and it say card format. It doesn’t let me take picture off of it. I just don’t get what this stupid junk is (format card).

  11. Brian Auer Post author

    Formatting the card 1) deletes everything on it, and 2) sets up the file structure for the camera to ensure that you aren’t as likely to get errors while recording to the media.

  12. bill

    I have a memory card that we have already used. Now the computer is asking us to format the card. Is there a way to format the card without losing the photos on the card?

  13. Brian Auer Post author

    No, formatting clears all the data from the card. Try downloading the photos from the camera to the computer with a usb cable (most cameras have this). If that doesn’t work, try a card reader (if you have access to one). You might even bring the card to a local computer or camera shop to see if they can access the images with a different card reader/computer.

  14. Kristin

    I have a kodak camera with a SD card for it, and recently started saying “memory card requires formatting. so then i try to stick it in my computer and it will not download anything.. but then it will work fine..but now as in today it wont work.. it wont stop saying please format.. is there anyway i could get my pictures off there.. i don’t want them deleted… ??? PLEASE HELP!!!!! Thanks :)

  15. Brian Auer Post author

    I’d try to download the photos via several different methods: card readers, usb cables, etc. If that doesn’t work and you really need the photos, take them to a data recovery expert for help.

    This is why it’s a good idea to format the card with the camera each and every time you unload the photos from it. Formatting helps to keep the file system in order and may prevent issues like this. But sometimes, it’s just time for a new memory card.

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