Why you need to format memory cards with your camera

Memory cards should always be formatted in the camera you plan to use them with to avoid data loss and card compatibility issues.

Your camera is designed to work with memory cards that are formatted with a specific type of format. Some cameras use different formats for different capacities of cards. Using the wrong format can make the card unusable in the camera, or work with slower speed and reduced capacity.

Small cards are formatted with FAT32 format, and larger cards use the ExFAT format. These are just different ways of preparing the card for use. While this can be done with a computer it is best to do it with the camera. Your camera will determine the correct format for the capacity of card in use.

In addition to the format defining the structure of how data is stored on the card, some camera required folders are also created when the card is formatted. These are important as they form part of the EXIF standard that all cameras use. Typically this means you’ll see a DCIM and MISC folder created on the card, with sub-folders in the DCIM to store images.

Formatting a card is a fast and efficient way to reset a card for the next shoot. Doing so will remove the references to any existing files on the card making them inaccessible and prepare the card for new images and movies to be written over the card and any previously saved data. The format process doesn’t actually delete the data, and there are some software tools that can recover the contents of a formatted card.

Format for faster access

When you format the card it makes it easier for the camera to save image to the card as it defines all the space as free to use. If you normally simply delete the images after transferring to the computer then this can lead to sections of the card containing different images, so when new data is written the card is slower as it needs to find space between existing info.

When formatting SD type cards cards, there will be an option for a low level format. Low level formatting takes a little longer but is advised to do at least once every couple of months. If you don’t use the low level format then over time your card will lose a small amount of its storage capacity. Doing a low level format recovers this lost space, but it’s not a big problem with modern multi-gigabyte cards.



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About the author

Full-time photo tutor and photographer. I love to share my knowledge and skills to make photos, videos and teach others. I write books and articles for photo magazines and I always have at least one Speedlite flash in my camera bag