6 Memory Card Problems and Solutions

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6 Memory Card Problems and Solutions

Some digital cameras can store photos and videos directly onto the cameras themselves, but memory cards act as storage devices for those cameras without this feature. Even cameras with self-storage generally offer a limited capacity of storage space and memory cards can greatly expand the amount of photos and video footage that a camera can hold. About the same size as a quarter, memory cards can hold thousands of photos and hours of video footage. This is a major convenience upgrade over film, which has a much smaller storage capacity relative to the space that it takes up.

The large storage capacity of memory cards can be a double-edged sword, though. Sometimes problems can occur with a card that renders it temporarily unusable or unable to display or offload photos and videos. This guide will highlight six common memory card problems and their solutions, including illustrating the steps to take to avoid these problems in the first place.

Camera Memory Cards Background Information

Memory cards come in a few different shapes and sizes, with the trend over time moving towards smaller cards. Digital cameras are generally designed to work with one type of memory card with CompactFlash cards, Memory Sticks, SD cards, and MicroSD cards being the most popular variants.

The storage capacities of memory cards vary, with SDHC and MicroSDHC cards being able to hold up to 32 gigabytes (GB) of memory. SDXC cards are able to hold even more memory, up to two terabytes (TB) (though most of those designed for cameras have 64 or 128 GB of memory) in some cases. The table below shows how many photos and how much video time memory cards of various capacities can store (based on photo settings of 10 megapixels, a size of 3648x2736, shot in "fine" quality and a video setting of 9 megabytes/second/VBR):

Memory Capacity



2 GB


30 minutes

4 GB


60 minutes

8 GB


120 minutes

16 GB


240 minutes

32 GB


480 minutes

If the user changes the camera settings to shoot smaller photos or higher quality videos, the amount of photos and video footage that can be stored on the memory card will fluctuate.

Every memory card also operates at a certain speed, signified by a number on the card followed by an X (for example, 20X). This figure represents how quickly the card is capable of transferring data to another storage device (20X = 3 megabytes/second).

6 Memory Card Problems and How to Solve Them

Listed below are six common problems that can occur with memory cards. Straightforward solutions are presented for each issue, so that users will not face the problem of shooting photos with no way to store them for sharing later.

1. Memory Card Is Write Protected or Locked

SD memory cards have a lock on them that prevents memory from being stored on the card while the lock is on the "on" position. If the memory card is in the locked position and the user tries to record photos or videos, a message will appear, signifying that the memory card is write-protected or locked.

The solution for this problem is simple. SD cards and their variants (SDHC and SDXC cards) have a lock switch on the left side. If the lock is in the bottom position, slide it up to unlock the card. If that still does not unlock the card, toggle the switch back and forth three times and put it back into the locked position for thirty seconds. After half a minute, slide the switch into unlocked position and try to shoot some photos again. If the camera still gives a message indicating the card is locked or write-protected, format the card (see section on formatting below).

2. Card Cannot Be Used Error Message

Sometimes the camera will display a message that the memory card cannot be used. In this case, it is not clear what the problem is, only that the camera is not properly reading the card. When a user receives this message, the first step is to turn the camera off and back on, making sure not to do so while the camera's busy light is on. The user should then be able to view photos and videos by pressing the camera's playback button. If this still does not solve the problem, the user should try to back up the card's data on the computer and format the memory card. 

3. Missing or Unreadable Files

A memory card may be working just fine, recording all of the photos and videos that the camera is capturing, but some of those photos and videos may appear to be missing or unreadable. In this case, an external solution is required. The first step is to acquire data recovery software and run the memory card through it. Good data recovery software should be able to restore the seemingly lost photos and videos.

If software still does not work, the memory card can be taken to a computer or camera repair center, or sent to a data recovery center. These service providers have top-notch software and machinery that may be able to help where data recovery software could not.

Whether either of these methods is successful in recovering photos and videos or not, the memory card should always be formatted after recovery is attempted.

4. Memory Card Runs Slowly

At times, it might seem like a memory card is transferring data much more slowly than usual. In cases such as this, it may not actually be a problem with the card. As previously mentioned, every memory card has a speed rating that indicates how quickly photos and videos can be transferred from the card to another storage device. If the card has a low speed rating, transfer times will be longer.

It is also possible that the memory card is performing sub-optimally. In this case, formatting the card may solve the problem.

5. Damaged or Corrupted Card

Memory cards are sensitive devices that are prone to damage. Many different things, such as immersion in water and being subjected to extreme heat or cold, can damage or corrupt a memory card. In this case, the memory card is generally unusable. The best that the owner of a damaged or corrupted memory card can hope for is to recover the data on the card. It is therefore recommended, in this case, to employ data recovery software or the services of a data recovery specialist.

6. Computer Will Not Read Card

Sometimes a computer will not read a memory card, even though the memory card works just fine with the camera. This is problematic because it makes transferring photos and videos to a practical storage device inconvenient. The issue here is likely with the computer, rather than with the memory card, so computer-based solutions will likely solve the problem.

The first thing that a user can do is try a different USB port. Failing that, the user can try downloading drivers for their computer's operating system. Some older computers with older operating systems are not capable of reading memory cards larger than 2GB, but updating the operating system's firmware generally solves the issue by making the operating system compliant with larger memory cards.

Tips to Avoid Memory Card Problems

While most of the memory card problems described above have solutions, it is possible to avoid these problems, or at least to minimize the frequency with which they occur, by taking a few measures.

First, the memory card should never be removed while it is saving or displaying photos and videos. Second, the memory card should remain in the camera while the camera is being turned on and off. Third, the memory card should not be switched out while the camera is on. Fourth, viewing and taking photos and videos should cease when the battery is low. Fifth, only memory cards from reputable manufacturers, such as SanDisk, Panasonic, Sony, Kingston, Lexar, and Olympus, should be used. Sixth, keep memory cards in their cases when they are not in a camera. Lastly, reformat a memory card often. This is both a means of obviating problems and solving them.

It is also important to be aware that memory cards do not work forever. A typical memory card has a lifespan of around 10,000 write/erase operations. The closer that the memory card gets to this number, the more likely it is to start having one of the problems described above.

Reformatting a Memory Card

Reformatting a memory card is important to both ensuring that the card can be used without problems and in solving problems that do occur. Reformatting a memory card keeps data and the structure of files stored on it clean, helping to prevent error messages and missing images. Reformatting also restores the memory card, which can prevent it from becoming corrupted.

It is recommended to reformat a memory card every time images are transferred from it to a computer. Reformatting should be done directly on the camera from which it will be storing photos and videos. This ensures that the card works well in concert with the camera, since cameras format cards to work best with that particular model or brand.

Digital cameras usually have an option in the menu to format the card that is in the slot. Every camera has a different navigation menu, but it should not take long for a user to find the format option in the menu. It is important to be aware, though, that reformatting a card erases all of the data on it, so users should back up their photos and videos before reformatting their memory cards.

Where to Buy Memory Cards

Memory cards are available from many different sources. Camera specialty shops generally stock memory cards, but cards are usable in a wide range of electronic devices, so they can be purchased from most electronics shops. There is thus no need to limit the search strictly to camera shops. Brick-and-mortar stores are good sources from which buy memory cards because the employees of such shops are generally quite knowledgeable about the products sold there and can provide quality advice about the features of various memory cards. Stocks can be limited though, depending on the size of the shop.

There are numerous retailers of memory cards that have online stores. These often have very large stocks of accessories and can be good sources for items that local shops do not carry. A buyer generally needs to have a firm idea of what they want though, because the amount of available consumer advice available in online shopping is generally less than in brick-and-mortar stores.

How to Buy Memory Cards on eBay

eBay is a good online resource for buying memory cards. There are many different memory cards for sale there and it is easy to organize a search to find certain types of memory cards with specific features. It is also easy to find reputable sellers from whom to purchase memory cards.

Searching for Memory Cards on eBay

To find memory cards on eBay, you can start by navigating to the site's homepage. From there, scroll your mouse to the All Categories menu and select Cameras & Photography from the new menu that appears. When you reach the Cameras & Photography page, select Cameras & Photo Accessories subcategory from the menu on that page. Next, choose Memory Cards from the Categories, which will display all of the memory cards that are for sale on eBay.

The first step in finding the right memory card is determining which kind of memory card is compatible with your camera. If you are looking for an SDHC card, you can elect to see those cards by choosing the SDHC cards from the Format menu on the Memory Cards page. If you want to view the 32 GB memory cards in the SDHC format that are for sale, select the 32 GB option from the Storage Capacity menu. You can also elect to shop by brand by choosing SanDisk, for example, from the Brand menu.

To search for memory card cases to protect your memory cards, go back to the Cameras & Photo Accessories page and select Memory Card Cases from the Categories menu. This will return a listing of all of the memory card cases for sale on eBay.

Buying from Reputable Sellers on eBay

eBay makes it easy to buy from reputable sellers on the site. You can see what kind of experiences other buyers have had with sellers by looking at their feedback ratings. It is also possible to filter your search for memory cards by Top Rated sellers. If you want to buy a 32 GB SanDisk SDHC memory card from a Top Rated seller, for example, simply choose this option from the Seller filters menu once you have a listing of those specific memory cards. eBay recognizes Top Rated sellers for the outstanding customer service that they provide.


Memory cards help make shooting photos and videos with a digital camera more convenient than with a film camera. A memory card with a large storage capacity keeps a digital camera user from constantly having to change film, allowing for seemingly limitless shooting. Although the technology of memory cards has removed one of the hassles of using a camera, like most things it is not perfect. Problems can occur that can make a memory card unusable or cause it to perform in suboptimal fashion. This guide has highlighted the most common of these problems and has provided solutions for them. Furthermore, it offers a handful of steps to take to prevent these problems from initially occurring.

Memory cards make digital photography less cumbersome than film photography, but only when the memory card is functioning properly. Quickly solving memory card problems allows photographers to get back to what they enjoy doing most: shooting photos.

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