I get a lot of customers buying memory cards for archiving photos. Instead of offloading images to a computer or CD/DVD, there are many people who simply store their card and insert a fresh one. Even worse, there are those who purchase huge cards at great cost and never remove them from their cameras.
The risks are huge: if you camera is stolen, your images are gone. If your camera eats your card, your images are gone. If you damage your camera, either through dropping, drowning in gin (yes, a customer just mentioned this today), leaving it on the roof of the car or flushing it in the toilet, your images could be gone.
Quality cards can go bad. Cheap cards go bad faster. As someone who has used or been responsible for close to 1,000 memory cards over the years, I’ve seen a lot cards survive things they shouldn’t while others frustratingly fail at the worst time.
In my opinion, Sandisk cards are generally the most reliable, and also feature a limited lifetime warranty. I’ve had nothing but huge failures from Lexar cards, while many colleagues swear by the brand. I don’t trust any other brand of memory card with my valuable images.
Back to the topic at hand – this comes up as today I replaced three 16GB Sandisk Extreme Compact Flash cards. Thankfully, nothing important was lost and the cards carry the fore-mentioned limited lifetime warranty. Customer is happy and life goes on.
However, what can you do when a card goes bad? Last week, a customer came in looking for data recovery services on a corrupt SD card. It’s a no name card that has been in a camera for at least 6 years. There are weddings, births and many other important life events on this card. The standard recovery tools couldn’t access the card. The Apples wouldn’t even recognize a card was inserted; most Windows machines wanted to format it.
Being a bit of a computer geek and all-around troubleshooting guy, I’ve collected some file recovery tools since the days of DOS. Just in case, I even have a Linux boot disk with some very specialized tools. I tried a few of the more recent tools and recovered four pictures. I was a little disappointed. On to the DOS tools, from an Administrator login. After a few hours of scanning, I was able to recover 490 files (images and video), totalling 900MB of data. There were another 30 files that were not recoverable, although I could see file names. Only part of the image data was still on the card.
I’m sure the customer will be very happy that I was able to recover some of their files – from 2007 and 2008!!
All of this could have been prevented had the images been offloaded to a computer. You can even burn straight to disk at a Kodak Kiosk! Memory cards are meant to be used, offloaded to other media, formatted and reused. Photographers are better served using many small cards than a few large cards – if a card is toasted, you will lose fewer of your important images on a bad 8GB card as opposed to losing hundreds of images on a 32GB card. This applies whether you are a pro earning money or someone capturing family memories.
The nature of camera memory cards prevents them from properly working as long-term storage of important files. They are far more susceptible to static discharges and other electrical and/or magnetic interference than optical storage media.Hard drive arrays and cloud storage will preserve your images far more safely than and SD card in a Safety Deposit box.
If you want the most reliable method of storing and preserving your treasured memories, get those photos off your memory cards.