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Chapter 13 Nikon J1: Troubleshooting and... > Troubleshooting Memory Cards

Troubleshooting Memory Cards

Troubleshooting Memory Cards Sometimes good memory cards go bad. Sometimes good photographers can treat their memory cards badly. It’s possible that a memory card that works fine in one camera won’t be recognized when inserted into another. In the worst case, you can have a card full of important photos and find that the card seems to be corrupted and you can’t access any of them. Don’t panic! If these scenarios sound horrific to you, there are lots of things you can do to prevent them from happening, and a variety of remedies available if they do occur. You’ll want to take some time—before disaster strikes—to consider your options. All Your Eggs in One Basket? The debate about whether it’s better to use one large memory card or several smaller ones has been going on since even before there were memory cards. I can remember when computer users wondered whether it was smarter to install a pair of 200MB (not gigabyte) hard drives in their computer, or if they should go for one of those new-fangled 500MB models. By the same token, a few years ago the user groups were full of proponents who insisted that you ought to use 128MB memory cards rather than the huge 512MB versions. Today, most of the arguments involve 16GB cards versus 32GB cards, and I expect that as prices for larger capacity cards continue to drop, they’ll find their way into the debate as well. Why all the fuss? Are 16GB memory cards more likely to fail than 8B cards? Are you risking all your photos if you trust your images to a larger card? Isn’t it better to use several smaller cards, so that if one fails you lose only half as many photos? Or, isn’t it wiser to put all your photos onto one larger card, because the more cards you use, the better your odds of misplacing or damaging one and losing at least some pictures? In the end, the “eggs in one basket” argument boils down to statistics, and how you happen to use your J1. The rationales can go both ways. If you have multiple smaller cards, you do increase your chances of something happening to one of them, so, arguably, you might be boosting the odds of losing some pictures. If all your images are important, the fact that you’ve lost 100 rather than 200 pictures isn’t very comforting. After all, the myth assumes that a damaged card will always be full before it becomes corrupted. Fortunately, memory cards don’t magically wait until they are full before they fail. In a typical shooting session, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve shot 3.5GB worth of pictures on a 4GB card or 3.5GB worth of pictures on a 16GB card. If either card fails, you’ve lost the same number of images. Your risk increases only when you start shooting additional photos on the larger card. In the real world, most of us who use larger memory cards don’t fill them up very often. We just like having the extra capacity there when we need it. The myth also says that by using several smaller cards, you’re spreading the risk around so that only some pictures will be lost in case of a failure. What is more important to you, your photographs or the members of your family? When going on vacation, do you insist on splitting your kin up and driving several smaller cars? If you shoot photojournalist-type pictures, you probably change memory cards when they’re less than completely full in order to avoid the need to do so at a crucial moment. (When I shoot sports, my cards rarely reach 80 to 90 percent of capacity before I change them.) Using multiple smaller cards means you have to change them that more often, which can be a real pain when you’re taking a lot of photos. As an example, if you use 1GB memory cards with a Nikon J1 and shoot RAW+JPEG FINE, you may get only a few dozen pictures on the card. That’s not even twice the capacity of a 36-exposure roll of film (remember those?). In my book, I prefer keeping all my eggs in one basket, and then making very sure that nothing happens to that basket. Preventive Measures Here are some options for preventing loss of valuable images: Interleaving. One option is to interleave your shots. Say you don’t shoot weddings, but you do go on vacation from time to time. Take 50 or so pictures on one card, or whatever number of images might fill about 25 percent of its capacity. Then, replace it with a different card and shoot about 25 percent of that card’s available space. Repeat these steps with diligence (you’d have to be determined to go through this inconvenience), and, if you use four or more memory cards, you’ll find your pictures from each location scattered among the different memory cards. If you lose or damage one, you’ll still have some pictures from all the various stops on your trip on the other cards. That’s more work than I like to do (I usually tote around a portable hard disk and copy the files to the drive as I go), but it’s an option. Transmit your images. Another option is to transmit your images, as they are shot, over a network to your laptop, assuming a network and a laptop are available. A company called Eye-Fi (www.eye.fi) markets a clever Secure Digital card with wireless capabilities built-in (covered more in Chapter 11), which can be used to transmit your photos from the J1 to a computer on your home network (or any other network you set up somewhere, say, at a family reunion). They include software to allow you to upload your images from your camera through your computer network directly to websites such as Flickr, Facebook, Shutterfly, Nikon’s own My Picturetown, and digital printing services that include Walmart Digital Photo Center. Very cool, and the ultimate in picture backup. External backup. You can purchase external hard disk gadgets called Personal Storage Devices (see Figure 13.5), which can copy files from your memory cards automatically. More expensive models have color LCD screens so you can review your images. I tend to prefer using a netbook, like the one shown in Figure 13.6, or my MacBook Air. I can store images on the netbook or MacBook’s internal hard disk, and make an extra backup copy to an external drive as well. Plus, I can access the Internet from Wi-Fi hotspots, all using a very compact device. Lately, I’ve been backing up many images on my iPad, which has 64GB of storage—enough for short trips. What Can Go Wrong? There are lots of things that can go wrong with your memory card, but the ones that aren’t caused by human stupidity are statistically very rare. Yes, a memory card’s internal bit bin or controller can suddenly fail due to a manufacturing error or some inexplicable event caused by old age. However, if your card works for the first week or two that you own it, it should work forever. There’s really not a lot that can wear out. Figure 13.5 Small battery-operated personal storage devices can back up your images. Figure 13.6 A small netbook, with or without an external hard drive, is another backup option. The typical memory card is rated for a Mean Time Between Failures of 1,000,000 hours of use. That’s constant use 24/7 for more than 100 years! According to the manufacturers, they are good for 10,000 insertions in your camera, and should be able to retain their data (and that’s without an external power source) for something on the order of 11 years. Of course, with the millions of cards in use, there are bound to be a few lemons here or there. Given the reliability of solid-state memory compared to magnetic memory, though, it’s more likely that your problems will stem from something that you do. Secure Digital cards are small and easy to misplace if you’re not careful. For that reason, it’s a good idea to keep them in their original cases or a “card safe” offered by Gepe (www.gepe.com), Pelican (www.pelican.com), and others. Always placing your memory card in a case can provide protection from the second-most common mishap that befalls memory cards: the common household laundry. If you slip a card in a pocket, rather than a case or your camera bag often enough, sooner or later it’s going to end up in the washing machine and probably the clothes dryer, too. There are plenty of reports of relieved digital camera owners who’ve laundered their memory cards and found they still worked fine, but it’s not uncommon for such mistreatment to do some damage. Memory cards can also be stomped on, accidentally bent, dropped into the ocean, chewed by pets, and otherwise rendered unusable in myriad ways. It’s also possible to force a Secure Digital card into your J1’s Secure Digital card slot incorrectly if you’re diligent enough, doing little damage to the card itself, but possibly damaging the connectors in the camera, eliminating its ability to read or write to any memory card. Or, if the card is formatted in your computer with a memory card reader, your J1 may fail to recognize it. Occasionally, I’ve found that a memory card used in one camera would fail if used in a different camera (until I reformatted it in Windows, and then again in the camera). Every once in awhile, a card goes completely bad and—seemingly—can’t be salvaged. Another way to lose images is to do commonplace things with your card at an inopportune time. If you remove the card from the J1 while the camera is writing images to the card, you’ll lose any photos in the buffer and may damage the file structure of the card, making it difficult or impossible to retrieve the other pictures you’ve taken. The same thing can happen if you remove the memory card from your computer’s card reader while the computer is writing to the card (say, to erase files you’ve already moved to your computer). You can avoid this by not using your computer to erase files on a memory card but, instead, always reformatting the card in your J1 before you use it again. What Can You Do? Pay attention: If you’re having problems, the first thing you should do is stop using that memory card. Don’t take any more pictures. Don’t do anything with the card until you’ve figured out what’s wrong. Your second line of defense (your first line is to be sufficiently careful with your cards that you avoid problems in the first place) is to do no harm that hasn’t already been done. Read the rest of this section and then, if necessary, decide on a course of action (such as using a data recovery service or software described later) before you risk damaging the data on your card further. Now that you’ve calmed down, the first thing to check is whether you’ve actually inserted a card in the camera. If you’ve set the camera so that shooting without a card has been turned on, it’s entirely possible (although not particularly plausible) that you’ve been snapping away with no memory card to store the pictures to, which can lead to massive disappointment later on. Of course, the no card warning appears on the LCD when the camera is powered up, and the demo message is superimposed on the review image after every shot (assuming you’ve enabled the J1 to take photos when a card is not inserted), but maybe you’re inattentive or aren’t using picture review. You can avoid all this by locking the camera when no card is installed, as described in Chapter 8. THE ULTIMATE IRONY I recently purchased an 8GB Kingston memory card that was furnished with some nifty OnTrack data recovery software. The first thing I did was format the card to make sure it was okay. Then I hunted around for the free software, only to discover it was preloaded onto the memory card. I was supposed to copy the software to my computer before using the memory card for the first time. Fortunately, I had the OnTrack software that would reverse my dumb move, so I could retrieve the software. No, wait. I didn’t have the software I needed to recover the software I erased. I’d reformatted it to oblivion. Chalk this one up as either the ultimate irony or Stupid Photographer Trick #523. Things get more exciting when the card itself is put in jeopardy. If you lose a card, there’s not a lot you can do other than take a picture of a similar card and print up some Have You Seen This Lost Flash Memory? flyers to post on utility poles all around town. If all you care about is reusing the card, and have resigned yourself to losing the pictures, try reformatting the card in your camera. You may find that reformatting removes the corrupted data and restores your card to health. Sometimes I’ve had success reformatting a card in my computer using a memory card reader (this is normally a no-no because your operating system doesn’t understand the needs of your J1), and then reformatting again in the camera. If your memory card is not behaving properly, and you do want to recover your images, things get a little more complicated. If your pictures are very valuable, either to you or to others (for example, a wedding), you can always turn to professional data recovery firms. Be prepared to pay hundreds of dollars to get your pictures back, but these pros often do an amazing job. You wouldn’t want them working on your memory card on behalf of the police if you’d tried to erase some incriminating pictures. There are many firms of this type, and I’ve never used them myself, so I can’t offer a recommendation. Use a Google search to turn up a ton of them. A more reasonable approach is to try special data recovery software you can install on your computer and use to attempt to resurrect your “lost” images yourself. They may not actually be gone completely. Perhaps your card’s “table of contents” is jumbled, or only a few pictures are damaged in such a way that your camera and computer can’t read some or any of the pictures on the card. Some of the available software was written specifically to reconstruct lost pictures, while other utilities are more general purpose applications that can be used with any media, including floppy disks and hard disk drives. They have names like OnTrack, Photo Rescue 2, Digital Image Recovery, MediaRecover, Image Recall, and the aptly named Recover My Photos. You’ll find a comprehensive list and links, as well as some picture recovery tips at www.ultimateslr.com/memory-card-recovery.php. I like the RescuePRO software that SanDisk supplies (see Figure 13.7), especially since it came on a mini-CD that I was totally unable to erase by mistake. DIMINISHING RETURNS Usually, once you’ve recovered any images on a memory card, reformatted it, and returned it to service, it will function reliably for the rest of its useful life. However, if you find a particular card going bad more than once, you’ll almost certainly want to stop using it forever. See if you can get it replaced by the manufacturer if you can, but, in the case of Secure Digital card failures, the third time is never the charm. Figure 13.7 SanDisk supplies RescuePRO recovery software with some of its memory cards.

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