What flash cards you use…

An advertising campaign that is currently running in many magazines is built around the tag line, “who insures you does not matter, until it does.” One ad shows a golfer on a course, calculating his putt, and in the background is an approaching alligator. The images are not that memorable and the campaign fails (in my eyes) because I simply cannot remember which insurance company is being promoted through the ads. The thing that is the most memorable is that tag line, which prompted me to think about how that might apply in photography. That led me to think about flash cards of all things.

Camera brands are by definition specific, particularly in terms of lens mounts and other camera accessories. The lower-end tripods are often fairly generic, but the higher-end models are often very specific in terms of their capacity, function, etc. I have blogged recently about how other accessories, including camera straps, for example, are pretty specific. I have even blogged about a specific flash card wallet and why I use the one I use.

The more I thought about and talked to other photographers, the more I realized that many people consider flash cards to fall into the category of something where “what you use does not matter…” I can see where they are coming from, in the sense that flash cards all look pretty much alike and appear to work alike. No flash cards (that I know of) are specifically tied to any specific camera brands or models.

On the other hand, having made hundreds of thousands of digital images over the last eight years (since I went digital) I have come to believe that when it comes to flash cards, in fact, “What you use does matter.” Equally important I would add, “How you use them matters.”

I use SD (Secure Digital) Cards because that is what works in the cameras I use. I actually prefer the older, larger and thicker CF (Compact Flash) cards but the camera manufacturers are leaving that space-consuming technology behind. CF cards are more robust and handle mistreatment and abuse (accidental of otherwise) better than the smaller, more fragile card formats.

I have learned over the years just how flash cards in general and SD cards in particular can be both fragile and finicky. Having said that, the only time my flash cards have failed on me has been my fault. Sad but true!

What do I mean?

The few times I have “crashed a card” have always been when I was in so much of a hurry to change the card that I did not wait three seconds after shutting down the camera (and the light stopped flashing.) I did not allow the whole shutdown process to work its electronic magic. If you pull a flash card out of the camera before the process of writing the information is all done, you may have “crashed a card.” That means that when you go to download the card you may have trouble, such as the card either does not appear on your desk top after putting the card into the card reader (or the information that is downloaded is only partial or corrupted.)

The way that I now get around hurriedly changing flash cards is to work with more than one camera body, so when I want to change cards in a hurry, I switch cameras. Then I change out the flash card full of images at a calmer moment.

Though I have not crashed a card in a couple years (having learned my lesson the hard way) I keep a variety of card recovery software programs on my lap-top computer, just in case. Sadly, I have used those programs enough times to have learned a few lessons. First, always have multiple card recovery programs from different companies on your laptop since the last thing you want to do when panicked after “crashing a card” is to try to download one from the web. Also, when you have to recover images, try the various programs until you get all (or most) of the images you need off the “crashed” card. I start with the program made by the card manufacturer since they should know their technology best. Having said that, I have a couple of other programs on my laptop, which I have used when the manufacturer’s program did not get all my images back.

At the bottom are links to some of the card recovery programs that I have used (or that other photographers I respect have used.) Card recovery programs are perfect examples of something where “your mileage may vary.” I do not know all that much about these so research them before spending any money. I am paranoid, so I keep the old version of the card recovery programs I have used successfully, next to the newer version, which I hope I never have to use but I keep handy just in case.

The first link is to a helpful blog entry on the B and H Insights blog, called “Recovering Erased Images/Data from Your Memory.” The writer draws on a group of photographers, including me, to answer the more common questions photographers have about recovering data.

SD cards are physically fragile as well. You know how when you go to shuffle a deck of cards you split the deck in two, bend the two stacks and interleave them? SD cards, especially the cheaper brands, are often so fragile that such excess pressure on the two ends can bend them just like those playing cards. The problem is that any such bending destroys the SD card. Dead! Useless! No images! A bent card has been so badly damaged in it’s circuitry, that even a card recovery program cannot help.

Treating your SD cards takes a little extra attention but it is worth it. Always handle the cards by the sides, not pressing on the top and bottom. When holding the sides, keep moderate pressure but still, be careful. If a card jams and will not go into a camera or card reader, first make sure you have it in the right way. Do not force it in. Never push hard on the top, since that is sure to cause the bending that will destroy the card.

So how do I know all this? I have bent (destroyed) two cards by pressing too hard on the top. Similarly, I have crashed three cards over the years and successfully recovered 3/4 of the images on average. So, I know from where I speak, as they say.

So, what flash cards do I use? I use Lexar cards. (Disclosure here: They recently sent me some of their newer cards to try out, which I did.) Keep in mind that I have been using Lexar cards since I went digital. I have found them to be consistently well made and I have never had a card failure that wasn’t my fault. Why do I stick with Lexar? Since the inner workings of a card are so much more technologically complex than I could ever understand (or try to repair) I have to have faith in the manufacturer. (To see just how complex, take a look at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvf29R7nXlM&feature=channel_video_title ) Also, their card recovery program worked very well when I put myself in a situation where I need to use it.

Yes, there are undoubtedly cheaper flash card brands out there. From what I hear and read from other photographers, the Lexar cards are as consistent for them as they are for me. With my important images (whether personal or professional,) I agree with the tag line at the heart of that insurance company advertising campaign that prompted me to sit down, ponder and then blog about my experiences with Lexar flash cards; “what you use does not matter, until it does.”



Lexar’s Image Rescue 4 software is included with all of their Pro cards. http://www.lexar.com/products/lexar-image-rescue-4-software?category=2459


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