Why format a memory card

Erasing images from a memory card is fine but occasionally it needs to be formatted, or initialized as some digital camera manufacturers refer to it. There are those who insist that formatting isn’t necessary and never format their cards. They are wrong.

To clarify the matter, I contacted Sandisk, the world’s largest supplier of flash memory cards. According to a SanDisk technical support specialist:

“There are two methods to erase the images that are stored on your memory card.

“Using the camera’s menu to ‘format’ removes all files and sets up the memory card for use in the camera. ‘Delete’ (ie. erase) on the other hand removes one image after another. Therefore, it is a good idea to occasionally format a memory card (in the camera and not on a computer). Delete the images if you wish to cleanup the memory card daily.

“Formatting helps clear the card of extraneous issues from standard use. Erasing images just tells your camera that it’s okay to write over the images already on your card. So you will not actually remove images, but just take images over the existing ones. This always leaves ‘traces’ of data on the card. By formatting it you actually remove the images before taking new ones. So you will start of with a fresh data free card.”

Back up images before formatting

Recovering images after a card is formatted may not be possible, so use this function prudently. Before erasing or formatting a memory card, make sure to transfer all image files to your hard drive or other back-up device.

For those who don’t take a lot of pictures, formatting your memory cards a few times a year should suffice. Do it more often if you shoot a lot of photos and video, or if you’re having issues with a card.

Format a memory card in camera not computer

Please take note that SanDisk recommends formatting memory cards used for photography in your camera, not a computer. Remember, any photos you have “protected” on the card will be deleted during the formatting process. Protected images will not be erased when you use the Erase function,

TIP: When you get a new memory card, format it before using it for the first time.

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17 Responses

  1. Gail Bjork says:

    Julie, you may have purchased a memory card, or a card with a capacity, that is not compatible with your camera. Check your camera manual for the types of SD cards the manufacturer recommends (SD, SDHC and SDXC). For related information, check out this article: 7 top memory card tips (read especially item # 1). Also make sure your SD card isn’t locked. Check the little switch on the edge of the card. If the card is compatible with your camera, then I suggest you call the manufacturer.

  2. Julie says:

    I have a new SanDisk memory card, and when I put it in my camera, it says it has to be formatted. I tell it okay, but it keeps coming back to that menu and it won’t do anything else. I want to use the new card, but how do I get my camera to take it and format it? It will come up saying formatting, with an hourglass, but them it doesn’t actually do it. Help!

  3. Gail Bjork says:

    alex, is this a new problem? Have you been able to see them before? Have you recently bought a new memory card? If so, is it compatible with your camera. For example, a camera may take SD cards but not SDHC cards. Check your manual for the types of memory cards the camera accepts. Related reading >. Have you changed a setting that shuts the LCD off? Have you tried resetting the camera? If none of these appear to be causing the problem, call Sony to see if the camera needs repair.

  4. alex says:

    why can,t I read my sd card from my trail camera on my sony cyber shot?

  5. Gail Bjork says:

    aativas, the effect of formatting the internal memory of your camera is exactly the same as formatting a memory card. You’ve erased all the images from it and now you have a fresh start with the internal memory.

  6. aativas says:

    I have formatted internal memory as well. Now what is its effect?

  7. sheri says:

    thank you!

  8. Gail Bjork says:

    sheri, in all likelihood they will be okay. Make sure you install the software that came with the camera. After the images download successfully to your computer, format the card.

  9. sheri says:

    I just bought a dslr and a brand new memory card and forgot to format the card. I was so excited, I pulled the camera out of the box, inserted the memory card and took a bunch of GREAT pics of my grand kid that are irreplaceable. Will they be okay if I download them to my computer?

  10. Gail Bjork says:

    Mary, you format a memory card by accessing the Format menu in your camera. While similar, camera menus vary so check the manual for instructions.

  11. Mary says:

    I don’t know HOW to format.

  12. Gail Bjork says:

    Ali, I usually format a memory card in my camera prior to first use, especially if it was used in a different camera. Consider transferring the current photos to your computer but since you say they are not important simply format the card.

  13. Ali Bell says:

    Hi,just after some advice. I recently bought Fujifilm Hs20exr,i have a sanidisk sdhd card and forgot to format it in camera before starting to take pictures. I will not be taking large volumes of photos daily, so is it better to format it now or leave it unformatted The pictures i have taken are not important so it doesn’t matter if they are deleted.

  14. Gail Bjork says:

    Aki, there may a difference between memory card readers, primarily the type of cards they accept. Make sure the card reader is backwards compatible with your current memory cards. If you buy a new card, check the camera specifications to ensure it is also compatible. I suggest you get a name brand memory card reader such as Sandisk, Transcend or Kingston.

  15. Aki says:

    Is there a difference between card readers? Is one brand or type better than another?

  16. Gail Bjork says:

    Mary Anne, check the camera manual to see if the capacity of the card exceeds the specifications for your particular camera. If you have an older camera, a high capacity card may not be compatible. If that’s the case, you should try to return it. If you can’t, call the card manufacturer and see if you can exchanged it. Another option is to sell it and buy a new card.

    If this is not the problem, then call the manufacturer tech support.

  17. Mary Anne says:

    “When you get a new memory card, format it before using it for the first time.”

    I would like to know how to format a memory card when its brand new. My camera says “memory stick error” even though i bought the memory stick at an extremely reputable dealer. What is going on? I cannot return it now, and I can only shoot 24 picture on my caera before it says “out of memory” without the stick. I delete all photos in camera via formating (not the “delete” button.)