How to Fix Memory Card Errors: The Definitive Guide

​(by JP Zhang | Last updated: Jan 4, 2016 )

Guide to Fix SD Memory Card Errors

Having a tiny memory card with your camera or phone is great. All your beautiful photographs are stored digitally on a card almost as small as your thumbnail.

But now the card shows an error in your device, or in a computer when it's connected. Are your photos gone?

You are not alone...

When I had my first camera, I suffered a similar situation, my heart almost broke. 2 GB of photos...gone?

Fortunately, I was able to fix that memory card error with the help of fellow photographers active online. I can't say enough about how helpful they were. My journey was not that smooth, though. It took me tons of effort to find fixes that actually work.

That's why I've created this guide. It breaks down all types of memory card errors, with relevant repair solutions from authorities you can rely on.

Note: the guide below also applies to other kinds of flash cards: SD (Micro, Mini, SDHC), CompactFlash, xD, MultiMediaCard, memory stick manufactured by SanDisk, Kingston, Transcend, Lexar, Samsung etc.

Pro Tip

Use the Table of Contents below to navigate to the chapter most helpful to you. Don't forget to check out the bonus tips to protect the card and data contributed by experienced photographers.


Memory Card Locked or Write Protected

Are you getting the message "memory card locked" on your digital camera? It won't let you delete or take pictures. Or when you attempt to transfer files between the card and your computer, the computer says, "The disk is write-protected?" Then you probably forget to turn off the write protect lock. These posts show how to unlock it, or fix it if your memory card switch is broken.


Card Not Recognized

If your card is not detected by a PC or Mac when you connect it via a USB card reader, or if it simply won't read in your digital camera or mobile phone; then jump to the following resources to figure out the reason why.

Note: it's not guaranteed that these tricks below will make your card work again because there are so many reasons that could cause this situation. If the card is physically damaged, for instance, chances it will get fixed are low. But don't give up!


Card Shows not Formatted

When you plug the card into a computer, it displays an instruction like this or similar: "The disk is not formatted, do you want to format it now?", even worse you tried to format it another error pops up saying "operation failure" and won't allow you to format. Mostly likely your memory card is corrupted, other reasons include system incompatibilities and lack of drivers. Navigate to the following forums to learn how to handle it properly.


Files & Folders Hidden, or Have Become Shortcuts

You try to access the data after connecting the card to a PC or Mac, only to find all those files and folders missing, or have become shortcuts -- the files are are 1-2 KB in size when they should be 1-2 GB. If you encounter this issue, your memory card is probably infected with malicious software and your data is hidden. Here are some posts with step-by-step fix instructions.


Forgot Memory Card Password

Many smartphones, especially Androids, allow users to create a password for the MicroSD card. It could be a hassle if set a password but forgot it later on, i.e. just when you needed it. Luckily, it's not rocket science to recover or remove that password. These resources will help you conquer.


Deleted Photos, or Formatted Card by Accident

We all make mistakes. With computers, most times it's irreversible. However, it's not necessarily the case when you lose previous data due to accidental deletion, or by formatting on your memory card. Because of how your card's file system deals with data, chances are still high you can recover those lost files. All you need are some data recovery programs and the techniques introduced below.


Memory Card Says There's No Space

It happens every time: The space available on your card is a little bit less than what was advertised. For example, your brand new SD card has only 1.8GB available when it's labeled 2GB. But after using it for a while, it only shows 40MB available and you didn't save much of anything, then there could be some problems. Use the following resources to restore that lost space, if possible.


Unable to Format Card

If you are experiencing problems formatting a memory card either on your digital devices or on a Windows/Mac computer, use the following as your go-to guide.

Note: Sometimes you have to use a third-party formatting tool (e.g. SD Formatter 4.0) instead of the default formatting option in your computer to perform a quick and complete format for your card.


Useful Memory Card Resources

The best way to avoid memory card errors is to form the good habit of using the card properly. Additionally, make multiple copies of the data on a regular basis. Both of those habits will reduce the chances that you'll encounter unexpected issues or data loss. Here're some of my favorite articles to help you Go PRO!


Bonus Tips from Industry Photographers

Huge thanks to all of you who joined the discussion and contributed your thoughts on how to mitigate the risk of memory card issues! These names are in no particular order.

Ernst Zimmer Digital Media Specialist

The lesson is always test a new SD card first before putting it to serious use.

Louisa Páez Michelin Fine Art Photographer

I also found stopping before the card is completely full to help.

Jennifer Findlay Glamour Photographer

Make sure you format the card on your camera. Not good enough to format it on your computer.

Ed Wolkis Photographer & Author

Don't make card changes on the computer then use the card in the camera without re-formatting.

Ian Andrews Art Editor & Photographer

Always back up images as quickly as possible on computer, then reformat card on camera.

Cedric Baker Class Leader

Never format your memory cards on a computer as it increases the risk of corrupting the card.

Foto-ish Studio Owner

Cards have a lifespan, even if they are given a lifetime warranty, do replace them after some time.

David Hammant Partner at DJHImages

use a number of smaller capacity cards (relevant to the size of the files you are generating), and in camera format the cards you use immediately prior to a shoot.

What's your favorite guide?

There are countless perspectives and ideas on how to fix memory card errors.

Did the above resources help you out? Or have you run into a problem, or found a solution, that I haven't covered in the above chapters?

Feel free to leave me a comment below, I'd be happy to add to this resource guide.

  • JP
  • November 3, 2015

Hey, I'm the guy behind this blog. I've been passionate about computer software ever since I had my first laptop in 2007. I currently use a Macbook Pro, a PC (HP Pavilion), an iPhone 5, an iPad, and an Android (Samsung Galaxy S5). My goal is to provide you with useful software and how-to tips to solve computer or device issues you may encounter. Learn more about me.

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