Best way to format a SD memory card

One of the most frequently asked questions at Digicamhelp deals with memory card problems, especially the ubiquitous Secure Digital memory card. Formatting a memory card can often solve a host of problems, but not always.

For digital camera users, the preferred method to format a memory card is in their camera. Though not generally recommended, some format the cards via a computer. But neither method is foolproof.

SD Formatter

The Secure Digital Association offers free software, SD Formatter, considered one of the best tools to format Secure Digital memory cards. SD Formatter formats SD cards that comply with the SD File System Specification created by SD Association.

SD Formatter is designed specifically for SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards. The utility differs from  operating system format utilities that are meant to format a variety of storage media.

SD Formatter better than operating system formatting utilities

The SD Association strongly recommends using the SD Formatter instead of formatting utilities provided with operating systems.

While formatting tools provided with operating systems can format a variety of storage media including Secure Digital memory cards, they may result in lower performance than using the SD Formatter.

For example, according to the Association, “SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards have a ‘Protected Area’ on the card for the SD standard’s security function. Some utilities may format the protected area, SD Formatter does not.

Using SD Formatter results in better memory cards performance and speed and it improves its overall lifetime.

SD Formatter three types of formatting operations

  1. QUICK - a quick formatting that only initializes the file system parameters in the card, but not the user data area.
  2. FULL (Erase) – initializes the file system parameter in the card, and deletes all the user data areas. If there is something that doesn’t support to the erase processing according to the SD interface device, the erase processing is skipped and is the same as if you selected the QUICK option.
  3. FULL (OverWrite) – initializes the file system parameters in the card and all the user data areas.

SD Formatter works with Windows and Mac OS

SD Formatter works with a number of Windows and Mac operating systems. It can be used with the following devices:

  • Secure Digital slot on computer – Important for SDXC card users: contact your computer manufacturer to confirm the SD slot on your computer is compatible with SDXC cards and for availability of the SDXC driver.
  • USB Secure Digital memory card reader
  • PC Card, CardBus or ExpressCard SD adapter

For system requirements and to download a free copy of SD formatter, visit the SD Association website. As of this writing, user manuals are available in English, Japaneses, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese.

SD Formatter or in-camera formatting?

According to a SDA Help Desk reply to an email inquiry by Digicamhelp:

“The SDA does recommend using the SD Formatter to format SD Cards rather than the formatting utilities provided in SD host devices such as digital cameras. The formatting utilities in SD host devices may not format SD Cards correctly, causing operability issues.”

Related reading: Before Using Your SDXC Memory Card

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11 Responses

  1. Gail Bjork says:

    Henry, how to format a memory card is relatively easy. All you have to do is check the camera manual and follow the instructions for accessing the format menu. You should format the cards in your camera rather than a computer. Good luck.

  2. henry bent says:

    I am an older variety of man and have several times tried to format my photo memory cards, without success. Now having read comments in your news page, I have hope once more, both of my camera’s are Nikons and I have the same problem with the two of them, I hope that you can help me as my older brain doesn’t work as it used to do, although I do still have hope, Thank you very much.

  3. Gail Bjork says:

    Michael, many people don’t format their cardd\, but according to Sandisk, a leading manufacturer of memory cards, you should format occasionally. If you ever have a problem with your card and forced to format it, you’ll be glad you’ve downloaded and backed up your photos. If you do have a problem, do a low level format as recommended on page 54 of your camera manual. Or you can use SD Formatter.

  4. Michael says:

    I bought my Canon SX30 IS in Nov. 2011
    my PNY Professional 8GB card has never been reformatted.
    I have taken to leaving some photos on card since last summer,
    simply to show these pics and vids to friends.
    The photos were all downloaded to my PC hard drive and backed up on CD’s
    and/or DVD’s.
    I have never had any problems at all described in
    ” … when & why to reformat … ”
    Any comments or advice would be welcome.

  5. Gail Bjork says:

    Teddy, run your virus protection software on you memory card, then format your card with SD Formatter, the free formatting software developed and recommended by the SD Association (use the deepest level of formatting, which could take some time to complete. Check if the virus is removed. It should be but, if not, get a new card as it’s not worth taking chances using a card with a virus.

  6. teddy says:

    hello, gail. i would like to ask if it is safe to format a virused-memory card using my nikon coolpix L23 camera? would it be possible to save the virused-memory card?

  7. Gail Bjork says:

    I tried the software yesterday, and it works fine. I’ve updated the article to explain the three formatting options.

  8. policeman0077 says:

    Maybe I should download this tool and format all my card by this tool in case of not harming my date and cards next time.

  9. Gail Bjork says:

    Policeman, check out the last paragraph in the article. It has been updated to include the SDA reply to your excellent question.

  10. policeman0077 says:

    compared with in-camera format which is better?

  11. Bernard says:

    That’s very interesting, I didn’t know about that. You would think OS designers would include this built-in.