Care & Feeding of Memory Cards

by | Aug 5, 2021

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

“No structure, even an artificial one, enjoys the process of entropy. It is the ultimate fate of everything, and everything resists it.”—Philip K. Dick

As I write this I’m sitting in my home office on Daisy Hill looking out the window waiting for some new SD cards to arrive. It’s really peaceful but that wasn’t the case this past Friday when I had an photo shoot with Internet model Maria Cedar. It was a warm day, so we began with two location shoots before moving into the studio.

During the studio session after about 300 exposures while shooting my Panasonic Lumix GH4 in Manual mode I started having problems: When I tripped the shutter it made a click but not like the shutter is firing, then the screen went black and the camera locked up. No image was captured. If I turned the GH4 off, then back on it worked for a while but the same thing happens again. Since this was a similar but slightly different to a problem I had before, I contacted a friend who works for Panasonic who told me, “it sounds like a problem we’ve heard about that happens with bad SD cards that have bad sectors.” How did my good SD cards suddenly go bad?

How I Made this Photo: I photographed this yellow street rod at the Vehicle Vaults monthly Cars & Coffee event using an Olympus E-P3 Micro Four-thirds camera and Olympus 15mm f/8 Body Cap lens. Exposure was 1/2500 sec at f/8 and ISO 640.

The smallest unit of data storage in a flash memory chip is a single cell, which consists of a single NAND (NOT-AND) or NOR transistor. A single cell typically holds a single bit of data. In multi-level cells (MLC,) one cell can contain two or three data bits. This doubles or triples the capacity of the chip without increasing its size or the amount of cells it contains. This makes higher-capacity flash devices cheaper to produce and purchase but there’s no free lunch. MLC chips tend to wear out faster than SLC (single-level cell) chips. If enough flash memory cells become unreadable, the entire chip becomes corrupt. This can happen not because of user mishandling but due to age because all data storage devices break down sooner or later.

How I Made this Photo: How can you tell if a Miata is happy? It was photographed using a Panasonic Lumix GX85 and Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 at ISO 400.

While most memory cards can last five years or even longer, there is empirical evidence that suggests that memory cards are more reliable after a few weeks but before two years of use. I confess that like many photographers I don’t keep track of our memory card’s age and expect them to last forever. They don’t. Some shooters write the dates they purchased the cards, on the cards themselves. That’s a good idea/ Then there is the effect of “Stupid Photographer’s Tricks”—I’m mondo guilty of this— that photographers, in our own inimitable way can screw up the cards too. I’ve written about ways to avoid memory car problems on my photography how-to Blog and you might want to read about it when you have time.

If you enjoyed today’s blog post and would like to treat Joe to a cup of Earl Grey tea ($2.75, Starbucks raised the price of Earl Grey), click here. And if you do, many thanks.

Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s out-of-print but new copies are available for $21.49 or used copies starting around nine bucks from Amazon, as I write this. Kindle version, for some reason, is really expensive.