Has Your Memory Card Ever Failed?

Has Your Memory Card Ever Failed?

I've always been more afraid of human error than a memory card error and because of this I always shoot weddings with 1 card per camera. Now that I shoot with D800s, the 36mp raw files require a 64gb card per camera. In 8 years I've shot hundreds of weddings and I've never had any sort of card error and I've never lost a file. What about you?

Yesterday I was attacked by one of our Twitter followers for "not caring" about my clients because I shoot with 1 card per camera and "when" I get a card corruption I'll be in serious trouble. I've always been afraid of possibly losing a card if I shot with 10-20 per wedding or running out of memory at a key moment. From my experience, my memory cards have been the most reliable piece of gear that I owned. I've had cameras, flashes, lenses, batteries, pocket wizards, cables, and studio strobes go down at weddings but never a memory card. I had 1 friend that told me years ago that a Lexar CF card he had went down during a commercial shoot and he lost a few images but I think that is the only story I've ever heard of this happening and I have a ton of buddies who are photographers.

So what about you? Have you had a memory card go down? If so were you able to recover the images you had already taken? Let's all find out how common this is by filling out this poll.


If you have had a card fail, I would love to hear your story in the comments below. Make sure you mention the exact make and model of the card. I'm curios to know if some cards are more unreliable than others.

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I've never had a memory card fail before. I have had flash drives or hard drives fail that contained backup images, but never once has an memory card failed me. 

Lee Morris's picture

This is going to be frustrating because people are voting that they have had errors but then not writing about the experience. I want to know exactly what happened and how you attempted to recover the files. 

Demon of Razgriz's picture

Had a SanDisk CF Failing me once, it was during Groom's preparation and all the files are lost without any means to recover it. One TEAM Class 10 16GB SD also failed (lost 60% of the images). These occurrences are in Canon cameras (7D and 60D) , i never have a fail case when using Nikons (i use a D80, D90, and D700). 

Had one as recently as yesterday. Fortunatly I was able to recover the images with 5 minutes left to the deadline!

And yes cards do get corrupt, I have about three that are "dead".

* All the cards I use are Sandisk Extreme of varying speed and size.

Usually though it's not that much of a big deal as long as you don't write over the information recorded on the medium. Last time I used a program called "ZAR" or something like that.

Note that I'm not very careful with my cards, I never have them in the protective pockets and I never eject them from computers just rip them straight out of the card reader.

I agree with you Lee. I've always been more worried that, if I shot with say a dozen cards, I would physically lose one of the cards in an obscure pocket/part of my case/etc, as opposed to a larger card failing.

Lee, you wrote "raw files require a 64mb card". Surely you ment 64 GB.

Lee Morris's picture

haha yes thanks I'll fix it. I could hold 1 image on a 64mb card

Lee Morris's picture

This poll has been rolling for less than an hour and you guys have scared me! I'm going to shoot with 2 cards per camera from now on. 

I shoot with two D7000's and use Sandisk SD's in both slots.  One gets a raw and the other gets a large jpeg.  That way I have a backup if the raw card fails.  I've had an 8gb sandisk start to corrupt after thousands of images.  Still works but will get a random loss of a pic every now and then so it's been retired.  I bought some 32gb sandisk's and one would lock up my d7000 after a few pics.  Gave and "Err" on the LCD.  I remove it and the second SD kicks in.  So I need to warranty that one.  Otherwise, I've never had any problems.  

Graham Marley's picture

The way I handle this is I keep two large, clear pockets in my camera bag totally dedicated to memory cards and nothing else. I don't carry a massive amount of them or anything, but full cards go in the bottom, fresh cards go on top. This takes a little bit of discipline, but any system can turn second nature. 

Other than that, people can relax with the "You don't care about your clients." Photographers really do love to use hyperbole to exert superiority over each other.

Albin's picture

No.  But I did obliterate all the (expendable) images from a casual outing while experimenting with Linux and an unfamiliar post-processing app renaming and uploading from the card - oddly "recovery" software dug up hundreds of long forgotten images erased from the card, but not the the files from that day.  My workflow since has been to confirm I always have two good transferred copies of image files on other drives, before doing anything to edit/delete from the card.

I always know when enter to this business
the Cards are the best part of this because is where the photos store, 10 years
ago I buy a cheap SanDisk cards and shoot in RAW in HI Speed mode and the
memory cards no works any more because is a lot of information trying to enter
on the memory, So it's when I decide to buy an Expensive and Pro memory cards SanDisk
Extreme and Lexar 300X, and never have a trouble with my memories. Right now
have the newest cards and readers!!!

Twice my cards have failed me, a Sandisk Extreme III and a Sandisk Ultra, and I wasn't able to recover the files on any of both cases. The ultra failed me during the last stage of a wedding, thankfully, I was using multiple cards, so I only lost about 1 hour of the dance, bad, but not too bad. The Extreme failed while shooting a dance company, but only about 20% of the images where corrupt.
Multiple cards and formatting rather than deleting, those 2 things have saved me since.

Lee, I suspect you'll get more people clicking through to this article and participating in the survey who've experienced failure than those who haven't, which will bias the results.

As for Sandisk, both their SD cards and their CF are rated for "greater than 1,000,000 hours MTBF" (mean time between failures) http://www.sandisk.com/Assets/File/pdf/retail/OEMdatasheet-US.pdf

Lee Morris's picture

I agree with you. Also, if more people vote that they have had Sandisk failures it may not be because Sandisk is more unreliable but rather because Sandisk is more popular and abundant in the market. I wish I could create a more scientific poll but I'm not sure that is possible.

it would have been more scientific if you had specified all the positive cases, like "I never had a loss with a Sandisk SD" or "I never had a loss with a Lexar CF"...

I can't remember it happening to any of my cards, but I am not the heaviest of users and I split my images over 4 cards and if I don't fill all of them, they are rotated in use.

A bit anal, maybe, but I did have to try and rescue some photos for a friend after she's gone on a trip to Venice. So many of the images were corrupted -- the images got corrupted when writing, so although the files were there to be dragged off, there was missing data and stuff, so they were basically junk.

Lee Christiansen's picture

Cards go into oe of those lovely ThinkTank multi-card holders, which is secured to my belt and then pushed down to the bottom of my pocket.  I'd need to loose my trousers before the cards disappeared.  Simple system... cards face out when empty, face in when used.  Don't erase any pictures... ever... until everything is backed up securely on a Drobo and I've had chance to scan through.  Second back-up onto a second drive kept away from the original.

True, human error is a worry - particularly with this human... but a single card going pop and not being able to get the data back...  Horrible thought...

When I get my 5D3's (Pocket Wizard has finally brought out a beta version for it's MiniFlex system) then I'll probably have a 128GB  SD card permanently in the camera which will just get formatted but left in camera, and continue with my 8GB CF cards that I'll swop out.

double post, sorry.

I had one micro-SD fail. I think it was a Sandisk. I used it in my phone, but it was left in a phone I never use, so I didn't lose anything.

Jonas's picture

If there isn't a hardware defect but only filesystem corruption which I
once experienced when I turned of the camera before flushing the cache
to card was done I recommend the programm Photorec
http://www.cgsecurity.org/wiki/PhotoRec. Worked great for me. I could
recover all of my lost files.


I had a card actually corrupt my cameras. Both my cameras stopped functioning after putting the same card in the cameras. I thought it was a camera issue, so I moved the card into the other camera. Next thing I know I'm out of cameras, both acting in the same manner, 2000 miles from home, and 60 miles from the nearest pro camera shop.

JP's picture


I'm glad you wrote a post about memory card failures. I used to use Lexar Pro 400x cards with my D700 until I got home from a wedding and one of the cards was "unreadable". I was able to recover most of the images using Lexar's Image Rescue software, but the ones I was unable to recover were either half gray, half black, or had funky colors. I threw the card in the trash only to trip over the same stone during a portrait session shortly thereafter. Another Lexar Pro 400x failed me. This time about 20 out of about 200 RAW files were unreadable by Lightroom. I have given up on Lexar and have since switched to SanDisk and haven't had a problem yet. 

David Arthur's picture

I bought a few pny cards because they were cheap, but had one fail on me. I didn't lose anything but it won't record anything anymore. Last card I bought was a SanDisk

Petar Todorinski's picture

My CF card failed in the middle of a hi profile celebrity sesion for a cover story. The half session was gone.  No recovery helped. In result: no gigs from that magazine for more than a year. Lesson learned the hard way. First feature I am looking for in a new camera is 2 card slots.

David Raco's picture

I always format the card inside the camera before start shooting.
Anyone who have ever had a failure, formats the card like this?

I always format my D700 card before starting the shoot in-camera. I had a failure on my sandisk 8 GB ultra where the card is neither readable on the camera nor on the computer. I just lost two hours of hard work! It ruined my evening!

It's not just the card you need to be careful about, it is also the camera. My trusty old D70s had a phase quite some time ago where it would occasionally write corrupt Raw files to the CF card. Sometimes the cards could then no longer be read or used by the camera (i.e. I couldn't continue shooting on the same card, it would just say Err or just plain ignore the card), but not always, sometimes I only noticed that something was wrong when I tried to open the files. The cards were always still readable using a card reader. (The problem has since mysteriously gone away by the way, but if something like that happens, a tool like "Instant JPEG From Raw" can often at least recover the full-res JPEGs from the corrupt Raw files, even if the Raw files themselves are garbage.)

My point is, your camera can corrupt the data on cards, too. So can a card reader. Or a virus (or a human) that erases the card 's contents once you connect it to a computer. If something like that happens, it is great to have a backup. Most professional cameras have two card slots, so on really important jobs you always have the option shoot to two cards in parallel (in most Nikon models, the secondary slot is unfortunately SD, not CF like the primary one).

Oh, and always format your card in the camera before use, and don't delete images on the camera if you can avoid it, don't remove the cards while the busy light is on. I have never had a problem with a card itself.

Nour El Refai's picture

I had a transcend 16GB SD card that failed partially, lost 100 shots, and recovered them all, since this incident I am only using Sandisk extreme pro and they never failed.
On another note, I don't think D800 is best option for shooting weddings, I use my D800 in shooting Architecture but never thought I'll use it in events! I would go for D4, D3s, or even the D700 for weddings or events.