Sudden camera card failures can have serious implications. You might lose irreplaceable photographs in a matter of seconds, and while problems like data corruption are relatively rare on modern flash media, thousands of photographers experience sudden camera card failures every year.
Photographers often ask our customer service team whether they should switch camera cards occasionally to avoid excessive wear and media instability. The answer varies depending on the format of your card and how you use it.
Understanding Camera Card Memory Wear
As is the case with any solid-state device, a memory card can eventually wear out, but wear times vary greatly from one card format to the next. Manufacturers estimate dependability with a Mean Time Before Failure (MTBF) rating or a P/E cycle rating, which is measured in the number of write cycles that the card can handle before it becomes unstable. Early flash devices were limited in this respect and could only withstand several hundreds write cycles before degrading.
Flash storage technology has progressed greatly in recent years, and newer camera cards can be used regularly for years without any issue whatsoever. Many flash devices extend their P/E cycle ratings by using special algorithms to write data. By spreading out wear over all of the sections of the camera card, they avoid localized data loss in any particular area of the card. Many cards offer 100,000 P/E cycles or more. Unless you completely overwrite your camera card several times each day, you probably will not reach this limit.
It is important to note that P/E only refers to write cycles. Repeatedly reading data from a flash media device does not wear down the device, and you can access your files as often as you'd like without forfeiting durability.
File Corruption and Other Issues
However, camera cards cannot provide perfect protection for your photographs. Data issues can occur instantaneously for a number of reasons.
File corruption is one of the most common causes of data loss on camera memory cards. When your camera or your computer writes data, it needs uninterrupted access to the memory card, and if anything interrupts the write process, the picture may become corrupt. You may not be able to open corrupt pictures or you may see large lines and garbled elements in your image.
Common causes of file corruption include:
- Software or Operating System Issues
- Camera Firmware Issues
- Removing a Memory Card From a Computer Without Safely Disconnecting It
- A Weak Battery Charge on an Older Camera
Any action that interrupts normal write processes could cause file corruption. High-quality flash devices are more resistant to file corruption and memory wear, so you should research your options carefully before buying a new camera card. Follow the instructions in your camera's manual when removing your memory card and always keep a backup of critically important data. Try to back up your cards after every photography session.
The way that you use your computer can also affect the dependability of your camera cards. Before using photo-editing programs, you should transfer your pictures to your PC to prevent your computer from repeatedly writing to the flash memory. This greatly decreases the risk of file corruption and extends the life of the card.
If you cannot view pictures on a memory card, be careful not to take any actions that could overwrite your data. Do not run data recovery software or take any pictures with the card. Contact a professional data recovery company as soon as you can to discuss your options.