Memory Cards

Causes of memory card corruption

Written by Gail Bjork

Head off potential problems with your memory card by understanding the main causes of card corruption.

A corrupted memory card has damaged data that prevents it from performing properly. If a card becomes unreadable, you may not be able to access photos on it.

Memory card corruption often results from human error. Awareness of the main causes can help prevent card corruption from occurring.

Causes of memory card corruption

  • Turning off a camera before an image is completely written to the memory card.
  • Removing the memory card from a camera while an image is being written to the card.
  • Removing the card from a memory card reader while files are still being transferred to a computer.
  • Batteries conking out as files are being transferred directly from the camera to a computer. Note: always make sure you have fully charged batteries before transferring images.
  • Removing the card from a card reader while folders and files from the card are open on a computer.
  • Opening, deleting, renaming or moving files on the card while its contents are open on a computer.
  • Using a memory card which has not been formatted in the camera. Use the delete/erase function when needed, however a card should be regularly formatted.
  • Formatting a card in a computer instead of the camera. Formatting a memory card in a computer can slow down data processing when it’s used in the camera. With some memory cards, formatting via a computer may result in compatibility and operational problems. [Related reading: Why format a memory card]
  • Inserting a second memory card into a card reader before closing and removing the first when viewing images on the card from a computer.
  • Taking photos when camera batteries are nearly empty.
  • Taking photos too rapidly so the camera can not complete writing one image before starting the next.
  • Continually shooting and deleting, shooting and deleting images when the card is full.
  • Letting a memory card get too full before downloading the images to a computer or storage device. Cards that are too full may overwrite the card headers.
  • Using a memory card from one camera in a different camera without formatting it in the new camera first.

Memory card “fixes”

If your memory card becomes corrupted, stop using it immediately. Do not format or attempt to delete any images from it.

If the card is still readable, try retrieving the files using an image recovery program. If the card is unreadable in the camera, try retrieving images by using a memory card reader.

Some recovery programs recover a wider range of files than others. They recover images, documents, mail, video, music and a variety of file formats such as bitmap, sound, animation, 2D/3D vector graphics, word processor, database and spreadsheet files.

If you’ve lost images as well as video and audio files make sure the program you use is capable of dealing with each format you hope to recover. Image recovery programs can be downloaded from the developer’s website, usually with a 15 – 30 day free trial period.

When images can’t be recovered

If you can’t retrieve images on your own and the photos are of great importance, send the card to an Image Recovery Lab. Many memory card manufacturers offer recovery service…for a fee.

If you can part with your photos, it may be less expensive to purchase a new memory card rather than send the corrupted one to a lab. If your card is still on warranty, the manufacturer may attempt photo recovery without charge.

Tip: Make sure your Secured Digital memory card is unlocked – If you’re using a SD or SDHC card, make sure the small write-protection switch on the left side near the top of the card is not enabled. Sometimes a card gets locked when inserting it into the camera or card reader. Gently slide the write-protection switch down to unlock it.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.

37 Comments

  • Photo-guy, Sandisk, the world’s largest supplier of flash memory cards, recommends that a card be formatted in the camera, not computer.”

    “Using the camera’s menu to ‘format’ removes all files and sets up the memory card for use in the camera….Therefore, it is a good idea to occasionally format a memory card (in the camera and not on a computer).

    You can read the full quote in this article Why format a memory card.

  • While most of this information is correct, the need to format a memory card in the camera is bogus.

    I do it all the time in the computer. You just have to make sure you use Fat32 ( or exFat if the camera supports it), and an allocation block of 32Kb, which provides for the most efficient storage of large files.

    However, for most people, it is probably safer to format their cards in the camera.

  • Kim, I’ve been using Sandisk memory cards for years. I use their high speed Ultra brand. I believe they still come with a lifetime warranty and RecuePro, photo recovery software. In the 10 years I’ve been using memory cards, I only had one problem with the lock on a SDHC card. Sandisk replaced it quickly and without question.

    Other reliable cards are made by Lexar and Transcend.

  • Gail,

    Are you aware of any particular brands of camera or memory card that are less prone to corruption than others?

  • Thanks for providing a wonderful article on memory card corruption.and giving guidelines for causes of of memory card corruption.thanks for sharing with us.

  • Well, isn’t there any other way ?
    because the pictures are important to me and i dont want to risk losing them. 🙁

  • Hi,
    the other day i inserted my memory card in my laptop to get pictues from it, the laptop showed me a msg that it is recommended that i scan and fix the memory card and that’s what i did, my AVG Anti-virus detected some viruses on it and it removed all of them.
    But when i tried to open the memory card it shows this msg :

    The item ‘pywuzx.exe’ that this shortcut refers to has been changed or moved, so this shortcut will no longer work properly.
    Do you want to delete this shortcut ?

    Please help me fix it.

  • suren, thanks so much for sharing the link. So glad it worked for you. I will write a brief article to inform site visitors of the service. Good stuff!

  • suren,
    Unfortunately, your card may be damaged beyond repair.It’ best to always format a card in your camera, not a computer.

    If the card can still be read by the computer, try a recovery program to get back any photos you may have lost.

    For the most accurate advice, call your memory card manufacturer tech support. They will walk you through a series of questions to help determine the problem (eg. which OS did you use, how did you format in on the computer, etc.) and offer a fix, if any.

    They may recommend you format the card again in the computer doing a full format (uncheck quick format) using the default file system (FAT). Then try formatting it again in the camera.

    For future reference, read this article on How memory cards become corrupted.

    Hope you get it fixed.

  • I am using Canon camera & PNY 8gb SDHC card.Everything was working fine. Yesterday by mistake I formatted the card using computer. Now my camera is not recognizing the card. All the default directories were deleted in the card. Please let me know how to bring the card to its factory settings. Thanks in advance.

  • John, this is a stumper. Everything is working fine on your camera and all but one computer; so there is some sort of conflict on that computer. Make sure you’ve installed all the software that came with the Nikon on the problematic computer. Right-click a corrupted file, check it’s properties and make sure it’s set to “open with” the correct program.

    If the files are RAW, make sure any program you are using supports the propriety NEF (RAW).

    Do all your computers have the same OS? If you have an older OS on the one, it may be at the root of your problem.

    Others than these suggestions, if none work, contact Nikon tech support.

  • Hi all;

    I have a Nikon D7000 and corrupted photos issue which started about six for weeks after getting the camera. When I look at photos on the camera they are fine and they appear to import to the PC without a problems; however, when I retrieve them from the PC they are corrupted. This only happens on one of the two PCs in our home and not on the other PC or our netbook. I reformatted the PC hard drive and reloaded all of the software but it did not help. I also reformatted both memory cards in the camera. Any suggestions on what to do fix this?

  • Hi there, I have been stumped as to why my memory card always still shows very little memory left after I clear the card of all photos (via delete not reformatting). For example, I have a 16 gig card with 4 gigs free. When I deleted all the photos, the card is still saying only 4 gigs free but there are no photos on the card. Why! This happens with every memory card I have. Please help, it’s driving be batty!

    Dave

  • Rosie, yes, trying a card in another reader is a good idea. It will help you determine if the problem is the card or your reader. Also try uninstalling and reinstalling the driver and/or software that came with the camera.

    If you used your card with another brand camera, that may be part of the problem. You should format a card when switching between different camera brands.

  • Hi Help!

    It looks like my memory card has failed!(I know i forgot to format the card this time but have done in the recent past- I also think it came out of my other camera)Would this be the cause? I took some images then put in card reader but the computer just could not read them ( shot both Jpeg and Raw) The message says can not open as photo viewer doesnt support this file format or you dont have the latest updaste-I know this is not true.Is it worth trying the card in another reader? Thanks I feel stupid!!!

  • i have a problem with my memory card. I want to transfer images from it but when i open the DCIM folder it says theres an error and that it is unreadable and corrupted. is there a way i can fix this problem?

  • Amy, some have fixed the C:13:01 Error in the following ways:

    – Charging the battery; some report this error when the battery is low

    – erase all the gold contacts with a pencil eraser.

    – carefully wiggle the memory card in the cameras memory card slot. This may bend the tabs and improve contact between camera and the card.

    – if you’re using a memory stick, pinch the metal casing on the back of the adapter to increase the contact.

    If none of these work, contact Sony and/or the memory card manufacturer. They may have a solution so you don’t have to lose the other images on the card.

  • If anyone can help me figure this out I’d sure appreciate it. We got a new camera for Christmas. It’s a Sony CyberShot DSC-T99. We have been using a 16gb SDHC Turbo Class 6 memory card in it with no problems. Two days ago, my husband selected, from the camera menu, the option to “Delete all images from today’s date” (or something to that effect) because we had already burned the images to a disc. Now the card doesn’t work anymore and we can’t access any of the other photos and movie clips taken on earlier dates! When you put in the card and turn on the camera it says ‘Error formatting memory card’ and there’s a C:13:01 blinking. The camera works fine with a different memory card…..but we only have ONE 16gb card and I hate that it’s ‘broken’!! :/ I’m thinking the someone deleted the database file that the card needs to store images but he swears he only deleted images. Are they attached? Can we fix it? Thanks! Amy

  • Gail, Problem solved. Contacted tech support this is their answer: Dear Customer,

    With the internal memory, there is no format, only delete all. There could also be some other data on the internal memory that you have accidentally put there when it is connected to the computer. If the camera cannot process those data, it will not show up.
    Kind regards,
    I therefore through my PC using GParted under Linux formatted the memory and all is now OK.

  • Gail,Thank you for your assistance. I had reset the camera as well as downloading and successfully installing firmware update. The camera is still under warranty so I will contact Pentax

  • Bob, you are correct to remove the external SD card in order to access the internal memory. However, I am not sure why the function to format the internal memory in not highlighted. I’ve check the manual for the camera and there is nothing about this in the troubleshooting section. Try resetting the camera and, if this doesn’t work, contact Pentax tech support.

  • My Camera Pentax optio H90 when turned on without a sd card installed says “Built-in memory full”, yet in picture view reads “No image/sound”. I cannot format memory as command does not highlight on display. With a SD card installed all is fine and format is highlighted. Reading from PC in properties say 51mb available 1.9 mb. What else can I do.

  • Endth, yes there are so many things that can happen it’s impossible to know all of them. When all is said and done, if you’re having problems, call the memory card company for the best advice. If you do, and you find a solution, consider sharing it with us and it will be added to the list. Good luck!

  • The list apparently says I’ve done nothing wrong. But something wrong has happened for sure if half my pictures are corrupted. Hmmmm… So there must be things we could add to the cause list for sure.

  • prashant, try resetting your camera, and also reinstalling the memory card reader driver. You will not be able to get your photos back unless they can be transferred to your computer. Try a firend’s card reader. If that doesn’t work, contact the memory card tech support for advice. Hope you can save your old photos.

  • I had tried reading my memory card thru a card reader. I got a message USB is overloaded please turn off the system. After that I put the memory card back in the camera. I am getting message ‘ no memeory card ‘ in my camera. Did the memory card get damaged. How can I get my photos back.  I had 700 odd pictures in the memory card. Can someone help me restore the images back.   

  • My olympus memory card became corrupted although i was between shots, i did’nt take the card out but the “clean card ” sign appeared and now i can’t access my photos on any format

  • I have experienced a rather bizarre happening after swopping my old Olympus 420 for a 620, but swopping the card over and using it in the new camera produced a series of “picture error” coming up on the screen. There was nothing wrong with the images when first taken, but later when recalling, that message came up.
    Reading your article it now becomes apparent that I should have formatted before taking shots with the new camera.

  • If a memory card is corrupted it can be repaired in seconds using a program such as DriveRestore Professional. When the card is repaired all the files can be accessed i.e. there is  no data lost.

  • Now this is a very informative article.  I’ll certainly be even more careful with my memory cards.