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What Causes a Memory Card to Corrupt?

Your memory card can be the most important piece of gear on a shoot. It stores the one thing that can get you paidbut what do you do if it becomes corrupt? Ive had a bunch of memory devices become corrupt; a brand-new CF card while shooting HDR and portraits on Zuma Beach in California, a trusty SD card in my main camera while shooting video interviews for Under Armour, and even an AJA hard drive while recording my multi-camera sports production for ESPN.

I was on set with Under Armour, shooting video for interviews and event coverage of the Under Armour All-America event at the end of 2014. We had a fairly straight-forward set up, with an A-camera and B-camera. All cameras were Nikon DSLRs; a D750 as our main or A-camera, a D810 as our B-camera, and we also had a D7000 as a backup B-camera.

As we were getting to the end of Day 1 of production, I had already dumped my memory cards to my computer a few times that day. We had just interviewed a a few key people, both high school players and a few professional athletes. Knowing that the stakes were high, I decided to dump these cards again, even though they weren’t full.

I shut each of the cameras off, and pulled the memory cards out. When I plugged them into my card reader, the B-camera showed up, but the A-camera was nowhere to be found. I started to sink in my chair, not knowing what to do. We had lost the main camera from our interview.

However, this wasn’t the first time Ive encounter a card corruption like this. I decided to open up Mac Disk Utility and saw the memory card pop up in the left-hand column. After a quick 5-minute disk repair, the card popped up in Finder and all my files were there, ready to be copied onto my backup drives.

But know I needed to know why.

What causes a memory card to go corrupt?

  • Interrupting the process of writing files to/from the card
  • Removing the card from the camera without turning the camera off first
  • Files could still being read/written when the camera is on
  • Removing the card from the computer without ejecting it
  • When shooting video, renaming the files or changing file structure of the card
  • Static shock or power surge
  • Touching the gold contacts on SD cards
  • Not formatting the memory cards in the camera

One of the downsides to using DSLRs for this project was the lack of simultaneous dual-card recording. In the video world, cameras record at a certain bit-rate, which are similar to megapixels on the stills side. Due to the amount of power it takes to record video, you can’t record to dual cards. The cameras simply don’t have enough power to write to both cards the same way you could if you were shooting stills. More professional video cameras like the Canon C100 or better can record simultaneously.

What would I do different?

Another option I could have used was an external HDMI recorder. Atomos makes a few great recorders that could record broadcast-quality from the HDMI port on the side of my camera. It would have been a good idea to use the external recorder as my primary recording, and use the SD cards as my backup recording.

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