Should you format compact flash cards before using them is DSLRs?
September 4, 2010 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Should you format compact flash cards before using them is DSLRs?

I took some photos for the first time with my Canon 5D Mark II today. I was at a triathlon event and the last 30 or so photos didn't record properly. I remember the camera flashing "CF Error" so I took the card out and put it back in and it seemed to be fine. However, all the photos from that point on weren't able to be viewed on the camera itself nor when I uploaded them to my computer. I'm positive this is a memory card issue and not to do with the camera. The card is fairly new and the few times I've plugged it into my card reader, a dialogue box comes on my screen saying something along the lines of "this disk cannot be prepared". I took that as meaning I should format the card but I'm not 100% sure (and I didn't think it was a serious issue). Has anyone else experienced this?
posted by Joseppi to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You shouldn't need to but I've done it for several of mine from a Mac with no bad results. Try the card in a different camera and/or try a new card your camera to see where the issue is. The card may simply be defective.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:27 PM on September 4, 2010

I'd ditch the card in fire.

And to answer your question, I format the card in the camera *every time* I put it in there.
posted by pjern at 8:33 PM on September 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

The card is bad. Return it and get a new one immediately if you care about ever taking photos with it again.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:42 PM on September 4, 2010

My cards get formatted every time they go in the camera. Sounds like you've just got a bad card though, so I'd ditch it - cards are cheap and easy to replace. No reason to risk losing photos to a bad card!
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:50 PM on September 4, 2010

Yes, format them in-camera before shooting. If you're shooting multiple bodies that are different brands or differ in production years substantially, make sure you format the cards specific to each camera as well. (It's less of an issue these days, but I used to get frequent read/write errors when mixing n' matching cameras and formatted cards.) FWIW: I go through 12-15 cards per shoot, and each one gets formatted the day before.
posted by Hankins at 9:08 PM on September 4, 2010

Bad card, and I do format each time I put the card in. This is especially important if you use the 5DMKii to do any video shooting as well.
posted by shinynewnick at 10:41 PM on September 4, 2010

n'thing return the card. I format CF cards in my camera. I've never had an error on my current 3 CF cards, or the ~10 ive ever used in the past. I always format in camera. I've swapped them 40D to 5D. Ive used them on PC's and macs. Never ever an issue.

Buy a name brand quality replacement.
posted by SirStan at 10:54 PM on September 4, 2010

I've heard it's best to format the card in the camera (not with your computer) after you've loaded the last round into the computer and before you've started taking new pictures, obviously. That way you know that it will always be formatted in a way that is compatible with the camera. If you have any trouble when doing this, then you can blame it on a faulty card (it can happen) and it's time to get a new one unless you want to risk losing photos. If it happens on more than one card, it could be the camera itself has a problem reading/writing/formatting/who knows, and that's just bad news, though you should definitely try different brands (and classes, maybe a class 6 would work better) before giving up on the camera completely.
posted by brenton at 11:55 PM on September 4, 2010

1. toss/RMA that card
2. format cards rather than deleting them, it saves wear on the bits
posted by b1tr0t at 12:08 AM on September 5, 2010

Sounds like a bad card. I always format my cards after a day's shoot, but only using the camera's format function, not through my desktop os.
posted by TrinsicWS at 3:10 AM on September 5, 2010

What is the reason for the in-camera format every time? Is it so the camera will tell you now, rather than in the middle of the shoot, that the card is no good?

"2. format cards rather than deleting them, it saves wear on the bits"

How does that work? Most format operations I've seen take longer than delete operations, which I infer means there is more writing going on.
posted by gjc at 5:27 AM on September 5, 2010

format cards rather than deleting them, it saves wear on the bits

Not true. Deleting a file modified part of the file table, but formatting it re-writes the entire table.

But in practice, there's no real difference, since all modern cards do wear-levelling.
posted by Mwongozi at 5:56 AM on September 5, 2010

I had this issue - sandisk 16gb card with canon 5d. After a little back and forth with sandisk, they agreed to replace the card. Haven't had the problem since, and I do format every time.
posted by bonsai forest at 9:36 AM on September 5, 2010

I format my card in the camera (either my 5D Mark II or my T1i) every time I download its contents onto my computer. I've never had problems with any of my CF or SD cards as a result.
posted by seawallrunner at 12:57 PM on September 6, 2010

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