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Memory card

Image recording media for digital cameras


A SmartMedia image memory card made by FujiFilm. This has a 16MB capacity.  Smart Media cards can hold up to 128MB.
A SmartMedia image memory card made by FujiFilm. This has a 16MB capacity. Smart Media cards can hold up to 128MB.

A digital camera's CCD or CMOS sensor captures a picture, but must have a place to store it. Although some older digital cameras may have built-in internal storage, most cameras today have a removable image memory storage card (also sometimes called "flash memory cards" because they have an embedded Flash memory chip, or just "flash cards") for picture storage. You may also hear of it being called a media card, a digital picture card or simply a memory card.

TYPES

A variety of different memory card types is available, but you must have the ones that your camera was designed to use. Some cameras have two slots, permitting you to use two different types of memory card.

There used to be two main types of image memory storage cards for digital cameras. These were SmartMedia and CompactFlash cards, the latter type being more correctly known as CompactFlash Association (CFA) certified Type I and Type II memory cards. (Type II is identical in size to Type I except for its thickness, which is 2 mm greater, providing for more memory to be added.)

These cards are manufactured by several vendors and are available in a wide variety of storage capacities. SmartMedia, the oldest of the memory cards, is limited in capacity. It can hold only up to 128 MB per card. On the other hand, CompactFlash memory cards currently commonly hold up to 8 GB and are comparatively not too expensive, and there are even 16 and 32 GB versions on the market. It makes sense to have a great deal of available space for image storage, particularly if you are a prolific shooter. When a memory card is filled up with images you wish to keep, you have to download its images to your computer's storage then erase the card's storage before you can continue to use it.


OTHER TYPES OF STORAGE MEDIA

There are and have been a number of other types of memory card and memory device.

Floppy disk - At least one brand-name camera maker offers direct-to-floppy disk image storage, allowing the photographer to simply remove the disk from the camera, insert it in the computer's floppy drive and copy the pictures onto the hard drive. Very easy to deal with, but they have three drawbacks:
(1) Standard floppies hold only 1.44 MB of data, which is only a couple of low-resolution images,
(2) The cameras themselves are relatively slow because of the time required in saving the image to the floppy, and
(3) New computers are no longer being equipped with floppy disk drives. The future of the floppy in digital cameras is non-existent.

CD and MemoryStick - Some camera models also store images on a small CD (which cannot be re-used) and there are other storage media options from different camera makers. Sony, for example, has developed the MemoryStick for both its digital and video cameras. There are different types of MemoryStick, with varying capacities up to 4 GB, each of which will work only in the device for which they were designed. And IBM has created a small hard disk, the same size as a CompactFlash card.

SD (Secure Digital) and xD - Secure Digital is today's most-popular memory card. It is found in so many new digital cameras because it is smaller, helping to make modern digital cameras even more compact. xD memory cards (also called xD-Picture cards) are fairly new, found in Olympus and a few other cameras. They are the smallest recording media.

CompactFlash, Fujifilm's xD-PictureCard and Sony's MemoryStick are popular digital camera memory cards.
CompactFlash, Fujifilm's xD-PictureCard and Sony's MemoryStick are popular digital camera memory cards.

Formatting instructions can be found in your digital camera's manual.
Formatting instructions can be found in your digital camera's manual.

FORMATTING

When using a new memory card for the first time, you will probably have to format it so the card can receive and store data from your camera. Also known as initializing, formatting refers to the preparation of the memory card's contents to enable digital image data recording.

Your digital camera will have a "Format" setting that enables you to do this. (Your camera's manual will have complete instructions.) Formatting doesn't take long at all. Click here or on the "Formatting a memory card" link at the bottom of this page for helpful information.

REFORMATTING

With extensive use over time, we have found that a memory card can sometimes act a little wonky. For instance, one of ours began to record two identical file names (DSCF0001.JPG and DSCF0001.JPG) at the same time. A card that has been too close to a magnetic field will also act strangely. Should something unusual like this occur with your memory card, you probably don't need to replace it; you just need to reformat it. Simply use your camera to format the card again and it should return to normal operation. (Be sure to transfer any images on the card to your hard drive before reformatting.)


THE JOYS OF USING A MEMORY CARD

If you are used to winding and rewinding film into a camera, you will welcome the handling ease of a digital camera's memory card. The memory card must be inserted into the camera in order for it to record pictures. Open the dust cover, slide it into its slot, and its ready for picture taking. It's that simple.

A memory card doesn't have to be full for you to remove it from the camera. But, when a memory card is full, you can remove it, store it in its protective sleeve and/or case, and place a new blank memory card in the camera to continue shooting - all within seconds.

You can use your camera's viewer screen to review images on the card, and to erase those you don't wish to keep, thereby freeing up space on the card for recording more pictures. Because the image data is stored electronically, the card can be recorded, erased, re-recorded, re-erased and so on many, many times. How many times, you may wonder? Well, the basic specifications for a SmartMedia memory card from Transcend Information, Inc. indicate 10,000 insertion/removal cycles.

When a memory card is full, store it in its protective sleeve, and place a fresh memory card in the camera.
When a memory card is full, store it in its protective sleeve, and place a fresh memory card in the camera.

Store memory cards in the protective, static-free case supplied when you purchased them.
Store memory cards in the protective, static-free case supplied when you purchased them.

PRACTICAL ADVICE

It is good practice to turn your camera off when inserting or removing a memory card. In any event, never remove a card when your camera is recording onto it, and never switch the camera off during data recording or erasing, or when formatting. Many cameras have a flashing or colored lamp that indicates when the card is being accessed by the camera.

The memory card may feel warm when it is removed from the camera after a good deal of picture-taking or replaying many images for viewing. This is normal.

If a memory card is charged with static electricity, inserting it into the camera may result in a camera malfunction. Generally, this can be remedied by switching the camera off and then on again.

Because a memory card is relatively fragile, the following handling tips will help to keep it functional into the future:

  • Make sure the memory card is straight when you insert it into the camera.
  • Do not insert or load a memory card into your camera in a dusty or gritty environment.
  • Protect memory cards from moisture, especially rain, snow or water spray. If the card is cold, don't expose it to a warm, humid room, otherwise water vapor will condense on it.
  • Don't leave memory cards in sunlight, and especially not out under the hot sun, on top of a radiator or in a vehicle on a hot day.
  • Don't place a memory card (or your digital camera with a memory card in it) on top of your powerful, new stereo speakers, your television or any device that emits a magnetic field. Any magnet near your memory card can corrupt or even erase the images it contains.
  • Protect your memory card from strong static electricity and electrical noise, otherwise recorded data may be destroyed (erased). To ensure that you are free of static electricity, first touch a grounded metal object before touching the memory card.
  • Don't bend or twist a memory card, and avoid dropping it.
  • Don't touch the contact area of a memory card. Make it a habit to handle it by its edges.
  • If a memory card should get dirty, use a soft, clean, dry cloth to carefully clean it.
  • Use your card only in your camera. Don't use it in another device, such as an MP3 player.
  • Re-format your memory card when it may seem to need attention, if it is not operating just as it should.
  • Store an unused card in the protective case that came with it when you purchased it.

MEMORY CARDS AND YOUR COMPUTER

At some point, you will want to transfer images from your camera's memory card to your computer. Once in your computer, a picture can be displayed (opened) in an image-editing program where you can rotate it, crop it, brighten it and perform many adjustments to enhance it for printing, to email to someone else or to display on a website.

Most digital cameras come with a cable to connect your camera and your computer, and with software for transferring images from your camera via the cable to your computer. (A faster, easier and more practical way to transfer pictures is to use a Memory Card Reader.)

Once the pictures have been transferred and are safely stored on your computer's hard drive, you can erase the memory card so it can be re-used in your camera to store more pictures that you take.

SOME HELPFUL POINTERS

  • Unless you have read your manual and are sure that it won't make a difference, always use the camera (not a computer) to erase image data on a memory card.
  • Copy (don't "cut") the image data from the memory card to the computer's hard disk before attempting to edit or manipulate images.
  • Do not use your computer to format the memory card for use in your camera. Always use the camera to format the card.
  • Don't use your computer to change a memory card's directory (folder) names or file names. You probably won't be able to use the card in your camera any longer. (Sometimes, re-formatting the memory card in your camera may be able to restore it.)

No matter what make of memory card you use, be sure to change its data (erase, format, etc.) in your digital camera; not your computer.
No matter what make of memory card you use, be sure to change its data (erase, format, etc.) in your digital camera; not your computer.
Further information...

Memory card readers

Downloading images to your computer
Related topics...

Memory card capacity

Formatting a memory card