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Losing your memory?

Julie Govan is the Brand Manager at Crutchfield, and has been writing about consumer electronics since 1999. Her areas of expertise include home theater, surround sound, digital cameras, and HDTV. In her spare time, she also writes book reviews and fiction. She earned a B.A. in English from Davidson College, and went on to receive a master's degree in English literature from the University of Virginia.

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The memory card in my digital camera works hard for me, and it has never failed me entirely. But I've heard some rough stories about corrupted memory cards and precious images lost forever, and had a few learning experiences myself. So I thought I'd pass on some tips that will help you keep your memory card clean and uncorrupted.

I got some of these tips from Digital Inspiration's post on the topic (there you'll also find a list of some services which can help you recover image files, both in the post and the comments below) but there are a few tidbits from my own experience I'm going to add.

1. Reformat your memory card regularly. Everything needs to start with a clean slate occasionally. The downside of all these multi-gigabyte cards we're using these days is that we can store a lot pf photos before we need to transfer them to a computer. Try to get in the habit of transferring photos regularly, and reformatting the card once you've done so.

2. Make sure photo transfer to your PC is complete before you do anything else. If you've burned a CD, only to have it turn out an unusable "coaster" because you were streaming video during the burning, you'll know that sometimes it's good to leave your gear alone while it's working. Don't snap more photos, turn off the camera, or pull the card out of the card reader while you're transferring files to or from your PC.

3. Once transfer is done, eject the card reader or camera from your desktop before doing anything else. My Mac scolds me constantly for messing up this precaution -- I often accidentally turn off the camera or unplug the USB cable before I've "ejected" the camera, post-transfer. So far, the worse that has happened is a warning, but I have a feeling I'm not doing my card or my computer any favors.

4. Take your card out of your camera as little as possible. This isn't really about corrupting data, but I had to mention it. The more you pull your card in and out of your camera, the more likely you are to damage the little contacts it uses to talk to your camera or card reader -- or the more likely you are to damage the card slot in your camera or card reader. Don't take your card out until you need to.

5. Be careful when transferring files onto your card from your computer. I sometimes use my card to carry information someplace else, and I've had a few problems reading the card at my next destination. Usually this was because I didn't follow the file structure established by my camera on the card appropriately -- instead of dropping images into the file created within the card, I just dropped them into the card in general. But occasionally it was because I transferred files not taken by my camera and then asked my camera to recognize them and transfer them. It not only didn't like it, it couldn't do it -- and that meant it couldn't even delete them for me. I had to reformat the card to get rid of them.

6. Don't use your computer to delete images on your card. You can force it to do this, if you select "Delete" and then empty the Recycle Bin/Trash while the card is active on your desktop. But a lot of cards don't like it -- the results are unpredictable. Use your camera to delete files whenever possible.

Hope this helps folks get the longest, happiest life out of their memory card. And if you have additional tips, please feel free to share.

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