Format Memory Cards or Delete Images?

MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
edited July 2013 in General Discussions
In other threads about buffers and card speed, the question came into my head about whether the card would be able to transfer files quicker if it were formatted after each shoot. I format the card immediately after downloading the RAW files to my accessory hard drive connected to my MacBook. I do not have problems with any issues with the buffer although on some long exposures i can see the green light on the back of the D4 stay lighted for a period of a second or two after the exposure is completed.

Thus, my question is whether just deleting the images is less efficient than reformatting the card after each shoot. I do have an opinion but would like to hear what others have to say.
Msmoto, mod
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Comments

  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,290Moderator
    edited July 2013
    Everything I have heard and read says that formatting is the way to go as it ensures you get maximum life out of the card and leaves the card clean. I have never had a problem with an SD card, whether that is because I format (or whether I have just been lucky) I dunno. I format just before the next shoot when I check my settings.

    Oh, EDIT: I just read on a thread here that not formatting can give problems, one of the guys buffer capacity was greatly reduced and that was cured by formatting.
    Post edited by spraynpray on
    Always learning.
  • Golf007sdGolf007sd Posts: 2,840Moderator
    After transferring all the files off the memory card, I format the card within the camera it is going into. It is very easy in to format the card using the two key combination on the outside of Nikon DSLR bodies.
    D4 & D7000 | Nikon Holy Trinity Set + 105 2.8 Mico + 200 F2 VR II | 300 2.8G VR II, 10.5 Fish-eye, 24 & 50 1.4G, 35 & 85 1.8G, 18-200 3.5-5.6 VR I SB-400 & 700 | TC 1.4E III, 1.7 & 2.0E III, 1.7 | Sigma 35 & 50 1.4 DG HSM | RRS Ballhead & Tripods Gear | Gitzo Monopod | Lowepro Gear | HDR via Promote Control System |
  • FlowtographyBerlinFlowtographyBerlin Posts: 477Member
    Ha, Msmoto, that's so cool, it was exactly what I was wondering, too... Thanks for the thread. :-)

    Yeah, after my experience with the buffer problems, I will stick to formatting from now on, too. In fact, I've never formatted my cards until now, only always deleted the pictures. Makes much more sense to really keep it clean like that.

    @Golf007sd: Thanks for this hint! Yes, it appears to be very basic, and I wouldn't call myself illiterate with my camera, but it's one of these things I've never realized (although the symbols are printed in red...) :-)
  • PB_PMPB_PM Posts: 4,221Member
    I only format a memory card after it is full. Photos stay on the card until that time. Formatting a memory card that isn't full is just throwing away write cycles on the card.
    If I take a good photo it's not my camera's fault.
  • blandbland Posts: 811Member
    Right or wrong, I reformat everytime I do a new shoot.
  • NSXTypeRNSXTypeR Posts: 2,135Member
    edited July 2013
    When I feel like I should offload photos off my cards and I've made sure that I've backed it up, I format the card when I'm done.

    I usually do that for a new shoot or when I feel like it though. Mostly it happens when the card fills up.

    I think you should format the card too if you're going from one model of camera to another if you have multiple bodies.
    Post edited by NSXTypeR on
    Nikon D7000/ Nikon D40/ Nikon FM2/ 18-135 AF-S/ 35mm 1.8 AF-S/ 105mm Macro AF-S/ 50mm 1.2 AI-S
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    edited July 2013
    OK, I also format after each shoot.(in camera format from the menu as I have the second CF card as backup.)...even if it is only a half dozen shots. I also do my fist edit from the card after I remove it from the camera. The onto the external hard drive which also has on it LR 4.4. All photos are stored on this hard drive and backed up every so often on a second external hard drive.

    I was unaware that a card had a limited number of write cycles to be concerned about... as my research suggested about 10,000 up to 100,000 write cycles which is more than I will ever get to I would think.... Thanks, all...
    Post edited by Msmoto on
    Msmoto, mod
  • haroldpharoldp Posts: 984Member
    I only format a memory card after it is full. Photos stay on the card until that time. Formatting a memory card that isn't full is just throwing away write cycles on the card.
    This is not true, formatting only writes directory entries and block headers, this is why previous images on a formatted card are easily recoverable as long as they have not been overwritten.

    Write cycles for flash memory cells are in fact finite, but life is in 10's of thousands of cycles. Even if formatting fully writes the card (which it does not) you would have to do this 10 times a day for 10 years to significantly stress it.

    Formatting also re-serializes free space which can become fragmented in delete / fill cycles.

    Flash cards use the FAT32 file system which has a very delicate directory structure. Formatting re-builds it.
    Most cards that are 'unreadable', actually have no problems in storage, but have corrupted directories, that is why recovery software works.

    Re-formatting at each fresh use is safest.

    Regards .... H

    D810, D3x, 14-24/2.8, 50/1.4D, 24-70/2.8, 24-120/4 VR, 70-200/2.8 VR1, 80-400 G, 200-400/4 VR1, 400/2.8 ED VR G, 105/2 DC, 17-55/2.8.
    Nikon N90s, F100, F, lots of Leica M digital and film stuff.

  • Golf007sdGolf007sd Posts: 2,840Moderator
    @PB_PM: All my SanDisk Extreme Pro's come with a lifetime warranty...so I don't worry to much about write or life cycles on the cards. :)
    D4 & D7000 | Nikon Holy Trinity Set + 105 2.8 Mico + 200 F2 VR II | 300 2.8G VR II, 10.5 Fish-eye, 24 & 50 1.4G, 35 & 85 1.8G, 18-200 3.5-5.6 VR I SB-400 & 700 | TC 1.4E III, 1.7 & 2.0E III, 1.7 | Sigma 35 & 50 1.4 DG HSM | RRS Ballhead & Tripods Gear | Gitzo Monopod | Lowepro Gear | HDR via Promote Control System |
  • kyoshinikonkyoshinikon Posts: 411Member
    @PB_PM: All my SanDisk Extreme Pro's come with a lifetime warranty...so I don't worry to much about write or life cycles on the cards. :)
    Sandisk extreme cards are like the $14 hammer you buy at Lowes. It will never break so where the profit comes in is in losing it...
    “To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.” - Bresson
  • FlowtographyBerlinFlowtographyBerlin Posts: 477Member
    This is not true, formatting only writes directory entries and block headers, this is why previous images on a formatted card are easily recoverable as long as they have not been overwritten.
    Harold, thanks for clarifying. It's the same as with magnetic storage media, formatting doesn't overwrite the card with zeros, but just resets the directory file.
  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,290Moderator
    Another point against filling the card between formats is the time you wait for Lightroom to download all the thumbnails from the camera each time you want just the latest images off the card. The previously imported images are not 'ticked' for import as they are duplicates, but it still takes time to unnecessarily download them.
    Always learning.
  • Golf007sdGolf007sd Posts: 2,840Moderator
    @kyoshinikon: are you sure you are not thinking of Harbor Freight? Don't know of any $14 hammer at Lowes or Home Depo. :P

    @spraynpray: Great point. Once the images are off my memory card, it gets formatted before he next image is recorded.
    D4 & D7000 | Nikon Holy Trinity Set + 105 2.8 Mico + 200 F2 VR II | 300 2.8G VR II, 10.5 Fish-eye, 24 & 50 1.4G, 35 & 85 1.8G, 18-200 3.5-5.6 VR I SB-400 & 700 | TC 1.4E III, 1.7 & 2.0E III, 1.7 | Sigma 35 & 50 1.4 DG HSM | RRS Ballhead & Tripods Gear | Gitzo Monopod | Lowepro Gear | HDR via Promote Control System |
  • michael66michael66 Posts: 231Member
    @Msmoto. Personally, I don't 'reuse' the cards. I just keep using them until they are full or there is a lot of stuff from a big trip. I do incremental copies ( rsync or synctoy are painless ) to my backup drives and keep going. When full, I take the card out and it becomes another 'backup'. At a buck a GB, is it really worth screwing around with a card?

    I know some of you folk are professionals. Would you choke on $16 or $32 worth of film for a wedding?

    @spraynpray. Nothing against Lightroom. I've heard of it, but have never used it. But I have a mental block against using special purpose software for file management. I prefer to do that with the standard OS tools available on the PC, be it a Mac, Windows or Linux box.

    @haroldp. "formatting only writes directory entries and block headers" True. Mostly. It depends on the system you are using and how you are formatting the card.
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    I suspect we all have our preference for how we handle images once the click is done. For me, out of 100 clicks, I may keep ten. Other times, 50%. But, I do not want a lot of cards hanging around filled with unwanted images.

    Ironically, the XQD card which is what I like to use is now down to about $60 for 16GB. Originally I think it was about 2 - 3 times that much.....and I have two of them....LOL :))
    Msmoto, mod
  • PB_PMPB_PM Posts: 4,221Member
    I only format a memory card after it is full. Photos stay on the card until that time. Formatting a memory card that isn't full is just throwing away write cycles on the card.
    This is not true, formatting only writes directory entries and block headers, this is why previous images on a formatted card are easily recoverable as long as they have not been overwritten.
    With that being the case it is no better than simply deleting the images. Unless you write zeros over the data you are not preventing corruption at all. It may tell the card that it can overwrite data, but does not solve any real problems.
    If I take a good photo it's not my camera's fault.
  • haroldpharoldp Posts: 984Member
    Formatting rebuilds the directory which is where almost all 'corruption' happens.

    Using compressed forms such as jpg or lossless compressed raw, each entry is potentially a different size. A FAT32 file system which is what flash cards use will allocate space based on it's block size (default 32k).

    Therefore if you erase an image in the middle and store one that is slightly larger, FAT can use the deleted space as far as it goes (in 32k chunks) and then put the rest elsewhere and chain the chunks. After a while things can get fragmented.

    Formatting rebuilds the directory, block headers, and makes it 'logically' contiguous.

    Flash card hardware controllers actually spread things around to even out writes wear to cells but that is invisible to camera software.

    If I suspect a bad string is causing problems, I do a 'secure erase' on the card in my computer, which does overwrite every memory address. I alway do this whwn I initialize a new card.

    Regards ... H
    D810, D3x, 14-24/2.8, 50/1.4D, 24-70/2.8, 24-120/4 VR, 70-200/2.8 VR1, 80-400 G, 200-400/4 VR1, 400/2.8 ED VR G, 105/2 DC, 17-55/2.8.
    Nikon N90s, F100, F, lots of Leica M digital and film stuff.

  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,351Member
    I reformat the card when I put it back in the camera after just about every shoot. Sometimes it is days before I download images from a card but my cards never remotely get full before the images are downloaded and the card reformatted.
  • QuasarQuasar Posts: 24Member
    edited July 2013
    After transferring all the files off the memory card, I format the card within the camera it is going into. It is very easy in to format the card using the two key combination on the outside of Nikon DSLR bodies.

    From what I understand that is the best way to do it. Doing it with a PC or Mac can actually make the card slower or shorten it's lifetime sometimes.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SD_card#Risks_of_reformatting

    "Reformatting an SD card with a different file system, or even with the same one, may make the card slower, or shorten its lifespan. Some cards use wear leveling, in which frequently modified blocks are mapped to different portions of memory at different times, and some wear-leveling algorithms are designed for the access patterns typical of the file allocation table on a FAT12, FAT16 or FAT32 device.[70] In addition, the preformatted file system may use a cluster size that matches the erase region of the physical memory on the card; reformatting may change the cluster size and make writes less efficient.

    SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards have a "Protected Area" on the card for the SD standard's security function; a standard formatter may erase it, causing problems if security is used. The SD Association provides free SD Formatter software to overcome these problems.[71] The SD Formatter does not format the "Protected Area", and the Association recommends the use of appropriate application software or SD-compatible device that provides SD security function to format the "Protected Area" in the memory card."

    I really wish they would ditch the FAT12, FAT16, FAT32 & especially exFAT file systems.

    UDF would be a good alternative, it has more features & it can be read on almost any computer platform.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_file_systems

    It might have problems for transferring photos to tablets or phones though. But that's something that could be solved with a simple OS update.

    p.s. This is the SD Card Association's official formatter. Which won't shorten a cards life or slow it's speed.
    https://www.sdcard.org/downloads/formatter_4/
    Post edited by Quasar on
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    In Nikon cameras. the manual gives the following instructions:

    "Memory cards must be formatted before first use or after being used or formatted in other devices."

    I suspect the process makes certain the card is correct for each camera body and there is also some information placed on the card by the camera after it is formatted to allow your computer to identify it.
    Msmoto, mod
  • michael66michael66 Posts: 231Member

    Not sure if these are real deals, but I got an email from Adorama this morning about SanDisk UDMA cards being on sale; 16GB for $60.

    http://www.adorama.com/IDSCF16GEP90.html?EmailPrice=T

    Amazon seems to have similar sales, but I know nothing regarding how the specs affects price. YMMV.
  • bigeaterbigeater Posts: 36Member
    The bottom line is that I've seen Nikons that were unable to write to cards that have have images repeatedly deleted. Formatting the card fixed the problem.
  • DenverShooterDenverShooter Posts: 362Member
    I Alway format the card in the camera...

    Denver Shooter
  • warprintswarprints Posts: 61Member
    edited August 2013
    I understand that current cards using NAND are rated at about 1,000,000 write cycles. Betters cards have wear limiting - in that they randomly, and apparently some cards actively, write to different parts of the card, for wear limiting purposes. You should be able to format the card somewhere near 1,000,000 times before any problem would start to arise. In other words, you could format the card a few times a day, and the card would still outlive you. I format, not delete.
    Post edited by warprints on
  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,290Moderator
    For me, AD's (accidental discharges) get deleted, otherwise reformatted.
    Always learning.
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