In the past few weeks, Nikon and Canon have released their new mirrorless offerings, the Z7 and R, to much fanfare. Despite the great specs and form factor, I won't buy either for one simple reason: neither one has dual card slots. I never shoot anything without dual card slots, and neither should you.
When shooting for clients, shooting for myself, or just casually taking a few pictures of my kids, I always shoot with two camera card slots. I am fanatic about not losing any files, be it for clients or just myself. If it is worth shooting, it is worth protecting those files.
In the time between starting this article and finishing it, I had two photoshoots. In the second one, a compact flash card actually corrupted and was not recoverable. I tried several different software solutions, but all of them failed to recover the images on the card.
Even though that card corrupted during the shoot, I didn't lose a single file because I shot everything to two memory cards. I wouldn't have even tried to recover the files if I was not in the middle of writing this article because every image was safely on my other card.
My clients pay me to deliver, and I sure couldn't ask them to redo a wedding because the kiss didn't save to my memory card correctly.
Constant improvement by card manufacturers have led to fewer card failures, but they still happen. I'm not exactly smart enough to explain how flash cards work or what makes them fail, but I do know someone who is smart enough to understand them. Jeff Wischkaemper is a research professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M University. Dr. Wischkaemper also happens to be a talented amateur photographer, so he understands the importance of memory cards to photographers.
"We used CF cards in an industrial product for over a decade. This was not a photographic application, but the primary function of the of the cards was to store files of similar size and composition to images. The CF cards were, without question, the weakest part of the system. Virtually all cards experienced some data corruption after years of use - many of them experienced complete corruption of the entire card, to the extent that no data could be read or written," Dr. Wischkaemper said.
I am all about minimizing risk and there are several ways you can do that. You can minimize risk by buying good memory cards from authorized retailers. I have less failures in my Lexars and Sandisks bought from an authorized retailer such as B&H than I have had with other brands bought in other places. I don't even want to know how many counterfeit memory cards I have used over the years because I didn't buy exclusively from authorized retailers.
Another way you can minimize risk is changing out memory cards before they fail. As Dr. Wischkaemper said, eventually they all cards he used suffered some corruption or data loss. Replace the cards before they corrupt. Sell them or keep them as emergency backup. You can also do what I do and have a bowl of old cards on a shelf for no particular reason other than I might one day use that 1GIG 80x card from 2005.
In addition to both those ways, you should always shoot dual card slots. I only use new cards purchased from authorized retailers and I change them out regularly. But cards can still corrupt at any given moment, so every time I take a picture, it is written to card slot A and card slot B.
I choose to use raw to card A and JPEG card slot B for a couple reasons, but the main reason is when I shot Canon, I noticed that sometimes the raw file would corrupt when I was hitting the buffer, which was often on the horrible buffer and slow write speeds of the 5D Mark III. But while the raw file would be corrupted, the JPEG file on the other card slot would be unaffected and could be edited normally.
More likely than a card corruption problem, though, is human error. I've heard countless stories of camera bags being stolen, memory cards falling out of pockets, or photographers thinking they backed up the card, then shooting over it without getting all the files.
A lot of photographers suggest using smaller cards and changing them out more frequently. Delkin recently announced three new XQD cards and the smallest size was 64GB. At the time of writing this, B&H didn't offer any XQD memory cards smaller than the Sony 32GB. XQD is the only card format in the new Nikon Z7.
I actually think shooting with smaller cards and switching them out will make you more prone to lose images, because I think the more likely event is human error than card corruption.
Large cards are all I use — large enough where I do not need to switch out cards during a shoot. I know cards aren't going to fall out of my camera and because I use two cards, I know that me losing my cards is much more likely than both cards being corrupted and unable to recover any files. My cards are only formatted at home, placed in my camera, and only come out when it is time to ingest. Never will I format a card during a shoot.
When you have formatted cards for years, it becomes a habit you can do without thinking and so if you never format during a shoot, you will never format the wrong card out of habit. After a shoot, my used primary cards go into a Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket and that stays tethered to me. My secondary cards stay in the cameras. If someone steals all my gear after a shoot, I still have the primary images.
I am really excited to see what my friends, colleagues, and sworn enemies do with these new Nikon and Canon mirrorless cameras. With the great EVF and cool new features, I think we are going to see a lot of great stuff that had not been done with DSLRs. But you won't see it from me. I won't take the risk. I may fall behind the times on this new technology but the risk of losing irreplaceable images for a client is going to be substantially lower.
For years, photographers shot single images on single frames of film. If you ruined the film by not properly rewinding it or in the development process, it was gone and there was nothing you could do. Luckily, times have changed and technology has advanced.
I'll bet you Robert Capa wishes he had a second copy of all the images he shot as he landed with Company E on Omaha Beach for the first wave of attacks on D-Day. Of 106 frames Capa took on D-Day, only 8 were salvaged after the darkroom assistant turned on too much heat while drying the film.
If I lost 94% of my clients files from a wedding or portrait shoot, I doubt they would be comforted much to know that Robert Capa's film was melted almost 75 years ago so no big deal. It happens, right? It doesn't have to happen. We have the technology to do better and our clients deserve better than for us to risk their files with one card slot when there is an option for two.