Have you ever had a SD card seem to go bad?  Perhaps it’s acting flaky and there seems to be no signs of physical damage.  I had just that happen with some cards that wouldn’t show up (turns out they were improperly formatted using Apple Disk Utility by an assistant being overzealous).

I found a great program that’s both free and official. It’s SD Formatter 4.0 for SD/SDHC/SDXC cards.  It’s actually created by the SD Association that oversees the SD Card format.  You can get it here — https://www.sdcard.org/downloads/formatter_4/

This tool can format all SD memory cards, SDHC memory cards and SDXC memory cards. It ensures that the cards are fully compliant (especially for things like card speed and buffering). The association states that:

The SD Formatter was created specifically for memory cards using the SD/SDHC/SDXC standards. It is strongly recommended to use the SD Formatter instead of formatting utilities provided with operating systems that format various types of storage media. Using generic formatting utilities may result in less than optimal performance for your memory cards.

The free utility is available for Windows 8, 7, Vista, and XP as well as Mac OS X (10.9—10.5). Download it from their website for free — https://www.sdcard.org/downloads/formatter_4/.


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Join the conversation! 21 Comments

  1. I format in my camera before each use by choosing format card. Is that wrong?

  2. Will the card perform better with the camera if you format in camera after using the SD Formatter mentioned above?

  3. Why? While this utility might adhere most closely to SD/SDHC/SDXC standards how can I be sure that my camera expects close adherence to the standard. It seems to me that the camera format process would be what the camera software is designed to support and what was probably used during the camera QA process. Am I missing something here?

    • Yep… the card spec is absolute… this utility ensures compatibility. try it.

    • To me, you are seeing things the wrong way, *the camera* is supposed to comply to SD/SDHC/SDXC format, not the other way round. So, if a card formatted with this tool does not work in a given camera, the camera is to blame. Of course, from a photographer/user’s point of view the result is an unusable card and/or camera, but still, it’s up to camera makers to make sure their products comply with the card standards they advertise for. Imagine if all camera makers customized standards to their needs/whim? It would be a lottery every time!

      • You’re missing the point… I’ve seen cards come out of the package and not match the speeds or specs that were promised. Reformatting helps.

        • Sure, that’s possible too, then, the card manufacturer does not ship cards which are usable to full specs out of the box. And that’s pretty lame, IMHO… For me, the right procedure then, to be on the safe side would be:
          – re-format card with SD Formatter 4
          – format card in camera prior to using it.
          Should solve most problems.

  4. Good info, thanks.

  5. Huh. Thanks. What about CF cards?

  6. Tried the software but doesn’t allow me to format the card. It says “The Memory Card is Write Protected. Please release the write protect switch”. I have double checked that the write protect mech switch is released, not locked. same with any adapter i use. Any resolution to this problem?

  7. I erased my 8Gb SanDisk Sd Card with my Prestigio phone about 2 monthss ago and since than wherever i inserted it the device either rejected it or showed 0B (meaning no memory) I read your article and decided to give this program a chance and it worked so Thanks a Million man. I formatted with:
    Format type: Full (OverWrite), and
    Format size adjustment On
    Now it works like a charm :)
    Again thanks a lot and wish you all best :)

  8. Is there any way to get the SD Formatter to format a 32 GB card as exFAT? There does not seem to be any choice or control of getting it to format a card properly with a choice of file systems.

  9. I have used the tool to format a SDxc card – it is 64GB but the format says 32GB when complete
    Also my camera just says “Memory Card Error” and it is on the compatible list
    And I can not transfer even a single picture from my computer to the card or I get a message there is not enough room, any ideas?

  10. how is this done. What equipment do I need to do this? What do I put the card in and does it connect to my computer thru usd or something.


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About Richard Harrington

Richard Harrington is the founder of RHED Pixel, a visual communications company based in Washington, D.C. He is the Publisher of Photofocus and Creative Cloud User as well as an author on Lynda.com. Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.


Gear, Gear, Software