Causes of memory card corruption

A corrupted memory card has damaged data that prevents it from performing properly. If a card becomes unreadable, you may not be able to access photos on it.

Memory card corruption often results from human error. Awareness of the main causes can help prevent card corruption from occurring.

Causes of memory card corruption

  • Turning off a camera before an image is completely written to the memory card.
  • Removing the memory card from a camera while an image is being written to the card.
  • Removing the card from a memory card reader while files are still being transferred to a computer.
  • Batteries conking out as files are being transferred directly from the camera to a computer. Note: always make sure you have fully charged batteries before transferring images.
  • Removing the card from a card reader while folders and files from the card are open on a computer.
  • Opening, deleting, renaming or moving files on the card while its contents are open on a computer.
  • Using a memory card which has not been formatted in the camera. Use the delete/erase function when needed, however a card should be regularly formatted.
  • Formatting a card in a computer instead of the camera. Formatting a memory card in a computer can slow down data processing when it’s used in the camera. With some memory cards, formatting via a computer may result in compatibility and operational problems. [Related reading: Why format a memory card]
  • Inserting a second memory card into a card reader before closing and removing the first when viewing images on the card from a computer.
  • Taking photos when camera batteries are nearly empty.
  • Taking photos too rapidly so the camera can not complete writing one image before starting the next.
  • Continually shooting and deleting, shooting and deleting images when the card is full.
  • Letting a memory card get too full before downloading the images to a computer or storage device. Cards that are too full may overwrite the card headers.
  • Using a memory card from one camera in a different camera without formatting it in the new camera first.

Memory card “fixes”

If your memory card becomes corrupted, stop using it immediately. Do not format or attempt to delete any images from it.

If the card is still readable, try retrieving the files using an image recovery program. If the card is unreadable in the camera, try retrieving images by using a memory card reader.

Some recovery programs recover a wider range of files than others. They recover images, documents, mail, video, music and a variety of file formats such as bitmap, sound, animation, 2D/3D vector graphics, word processor, database and spreadsheet files.

If you’ve lost images as well as video and audio files make sure the program you use is capable of dealing with each format you hope to recover. Image recovery programs can be downloaded from the developer’s website, usually with a 15 – 30 day free trial period.

When images can’t be recovered

If you can’t retrieve images on your own and the photos are of great importance, send the card to an Image Recovery Lab. Many memory card manufacturers offer recovery service…for a fee.

If you can part with your photos, it may be less expensive to purchase a new memory card rather than send the corrupted one to a lab. If your card is still on warranty, the manufacturer may attempt photo recovery without charge.

Tip: Make sure your Secured Digital memory card is unlocked - If you’re using a SD or SDHC card, make sure the small write-protection switch on the left side near the top of the card is not enabled. Sometimes a card gets locked when inserting it into the camera or card reader. Gently slide the write-protection switch down to unlock it.

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37 Responses

  1. Gail Bjork says:

    Mike, we list free photo software here, including those used for photo recovery. Visit the developers site to see which one will meet your needs.

  2. Mike says:

    Are there any good free software for photo recovery from a memory card corruption?

  3. Gail Bjork says:

    Photo-guy, Sandisk, the world’s largest supplier of flash memory cards, recommends that a card be formatted in the camera, not computer.”

    “Using the camera’s menu to ‘format’ removes all files and sets up the memory card for use in the camera….Therefore, it is a good idea to occasionally format a memory card (in the camera and not on a computer).

    You can read the full quote in this article Why format a memory card.

  4. Photo-guy says:

    While most of this information is correct, the need to format a memory card in the camera is bogus.

    I do it all the time in the computer. You just have to make sure you use Fat32 ( or exFat if the camera supports it), and an allocation block of 32Kb, which provides for the most efficient storage of large files.

    However, for most people, it is probably safer to format their cards in the camera.

  5. Gail Bjork says:

    Kim, I’ve been using Sandisk memory cards for years. I use their high speed Ultra brand. I believe they still come with a lifetime warranty and RecuePro, photo recovery software. In the 10 years I’ve been using memory cards, I only had one problem with the lock on a SDHC card. Sandisk replaced it quickly and without question.

    Other reliable cards are made by Lexar and Transcend.

  6. Kim says:


    Are you aware of any particular brands of camera or memory card that are less prone to corruption than others?

  7. PC software says:

    Thanks for providing a wonderful article on memory card corruption.and giving guidelines for causes of of memory card corruption.thanks for sharing with us.

  8. Eva says:

    Well, isn’t there any other way ?
    because the pictures are important to me and i dont want to risk losing them. :(

  9. Gail Bjork says:

    Eva, personally, I’d format the card, though you may lose your photos but you can try to recover them with a photo recovery program such as those we’ve listed here. As always, read the disclaimers and the software developers site.

  10. Eva says:

    the other day i inserted my memory card in my laptop to get pictues from it, the laptop showed me a msg that it is recommended that i scan and fix the memory card and that’s what i did, my AVG Anti-virus detected some viruses on it and it removed all of them.
    But when i tried to open the memory card it shows this msg :

    The item ‘pywuzx.exe’ that this shortcut refers to has been changed or moved, so this shortcut will no longer work properly.
    Do you want to delete this shortcut ?

    Please help me fix it.

  11. Gail Bjork says:

    suren, thanks so much for sharing the link. So glad it worked for you. I will write a brief article to inform site visitors of the service. Good stuff!

  12. suren says:

    Thanks for your prompt response. I called PNY customer service. They asked me to use the following link for formatting the card.
    I formatted the card and now it works absolutely fine. Thanks for your support.