Many digital camera owners don’t understand the difference between erasing and formatting a memory card. Both methods of deleting images should be used, but for different reasons.
Before explaining the differences between the two, it should be pointed out that experts recommend formatting a brand new memory card in-camera prior to using the card for the very first time.
Erasing can be done whenever needed, such as when your card is at full capacity and you need more space on the card. You can erase all or individual image files.
A memory card should be formatted several times a year, particularly if its performance seems sluggish. Format more often if your camera is used frequently.
Before erasing or formatting a memory card
Make sure you back up any important photo and video files prior to erasing or formatting a card. While it’s possible to recover image files with special software after either process, you may only have a partial recovery, or recover no images at all.
Erasing a memory card
When erasing a memory card, individual photos are deleted from their directories on the card. You can erase one or more user selected images at a time, or erase all images at one time. However, any images that you’ve selected to be “protected” through another menu option will not be removed during the erasure process.
Formatting a memory card
Formatting, on the other hand, deletes all images from a memory card, even the ones that may have been protected. It recreates the file system including new directories and folders where images are saved on the card.
Unlike erasing, formatting improves the overall performance of a card.
Low level formatting
Some digital cameras offer a low level format in addition to the standard format option. With a low level format, all data on the card is deleted. New directories and folders are also recreated during this process.
A low-level format of a high speed memory card helps ensure smooth continuous shooting at a constant interval. For optimal video performance, it’s also recommended that a low level format be done sometime prior to recording.
In camera, not computer
Though opinions vary, many recommend formatting a memory card in a digital camera, not via a computer. If you plan to use a memory card that was previously used in another camera, format the card in the new camera before taking any shots.
SD Formatter: for Secure Digital memory cards
According the the Secure Digital Association, SD Formatter is the preferred way to format Secure Digital Cards. The utility, which offers three levels of formatting, was developed by the Association. You can read more about this free software here.
Check your camera manual
Formatting and erasing a memory card is done through the main Menu. The functions are generally accessed in Playback mode, though they can be accessed in other modes on some cameras. Since the steps vary from camera to camera, check your manual for specific instructions.
Tip: When getting rid of a memory card, destroy it first so personal information can’t be recovered from the card.
If you’re having problems with your memory card not solved by the many suggestions posted below, check if the card capacity exceeds the maximum capacity specified in the camera manual. If not, contact the manufacturer of your memory card or digital camera for technical assistance.