Your memory card is corrupted. Now what?

The horrible gut wrenching pit of your stomach feeling when a card goes bad. What do you do?  There are a TON of confusing options, and after talking with a few of my fellow photographers, I’ve narrowed down the info.  This is obviously not an exhaustive how – to, but it’s a start.

First step – as soon as a card starts giving you any errors or issues, but you can still download files, pitch it.  Little glitches are a sign that bad things are going to happen to that card in the future.  Throw them out immediately after you download and back up photos, or else you’ll forget and shoot with that card.
Second step – do NOT format the card if your system asks if you want to.  As soon as your system asks that, and you know the card has photos on it, remain calm.  There are reasons that you are getting an error that may be very easy to fix.
Is a pin bent in your camera?  Try using a card reader to see if it works from there.
Is the card reader bad?  Try a new card reader.
Have you unplugged all cards and rebooted your computer? Sometimes that fixes things quickly.
When all of the above fails, try another computer.  If that still does not work, and the card really is corrupted, move on to data recovery software. Your CF card may have come with some.  Try that first.
If you do not have card recovery software from the manufacturer, here are a few resources and how to’s to help you ease out of panic and into action:
Sandisk recovery software – comes with card – a tutorial is available here:
ZAR – somewhat free, and fellow photogs have raved about their program:
TestDisk with PhotoRec (free!):
If none of these work – I highly recommend Gillware:  You will have to send the card in, but they saved me a few years ago, and their customer service is amazing.
In the future, there are a few ways to make sure your cards performs well.
1) Don’t shoot to capacity.  Always take the card out before it’s full – this assures the card has room for all of the data.
2) Don’t turn the camera off while the camera is still processing the photo and saving the file to the card.
3) Don’t shoot with a weak battery.  This could cause the camera to not fully process the image.
4) Always format the card in the camera you are using it in.  This is, of course, after checking that the card does not have any files on it that have not been downloaded and backed up.
The panicked feeling caused by seeing a card error after shooting an event can be eased by following a few steps and taking a deep breath.  There are ways to recover files, and ways to avoid problems in the future.

Written by Hannah Stonehouse Hudson

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