Should I format or erase my memory cards?

Should I format or erase my memory cards?

By Kim Fogle

It's time to discuss how you work with your day-to-day memory cards!

You've backed up your photographs to your computer, an external hard drive, DVD, jump drive, prints, online backup, card catalog, or whatever filing system you have devised--and now you're ready to clear your memory card and start over. What is the best way to do it? There are a couple of options right on your camera: erasing and formatting. Both have their benefits, and both have their drawbacks.

Erasing (Simple Deleting)

First off, there is plain old erasing. Most cameras have an "erase all" button right on the back. It is marked with the little icon of a trash can. From there, you just need to go into the playback mode where you review your pictures, push the trash can button, select the "erase all" (or "delete all", or whatever variant shows up), press "select" or "OK", and the pictures will be gone. It is an easy way to clear the card without pushing a bunch of buttons, and if you need to clear the card in a hurry, it will do.

There are a few drawbacks to this method, though. By pressing "erase all", the camera is not really deleting the pictures. It is just telling the camera that there is room on the card to save pictures, allowing the camera simply to overwrite the existing files. Since each picture file is a slightly different size, it is not a perfect overwrite. As you erase and delete repeatedly again, these imperfect overwrites can eventually cause file errors that can cause you to lose individual pictures, or even an entire card's worth of pictures.

How do you avoid this? Try formatting the card now and then.


Formatting a card is like bleaching a towel instead of just rinsing it out. While you get most of the dirt out of the towel when you run some water through it, it is not completely clean. Bleach the towel, and it will be super clean.

To format your card, simply press "Menu" and go to the Tools menu. You will find it under "Format" or possibly "Initialize", depending on the brand of camera. You will have to confirm that you want to clear the card--it is a built-in failsafe to make sure you do not accidentally delete pictures you actually want to save, since the pictures will be gone for good and prove very difficult to retrieve with media recovery software.

It is a good idea to format your memory card occasionally to prevent file errors from building up. You may also want to format when you buy a new card, or when you switch a card from one camera to another, especially if the cameras are different brands. As well as clearing the card, formatting sets the card up for your camera's particular file structure for storing the pictures. A formatted memory card is a healthy memory card, and a healthy memory card means you are less likely to lose pictures.

Need more cards?

Memory cards have a lifetime...and we can help you replace them when necessary. Always ask our friendly camera experts which card is right for your particular camera--because not all cards are created equal, and not all cameras take all cards!

Recent Articles