How to Fix Memory Card Errors: The Definitive Guide

(Last updated: July 31, 2017 | Editor's Note: This post has been revamped for accuracy and comprehensiveness.)

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 camera, or in a computer when it's connected. Are my photos and videos gone? You wondered.

You are not alone...

When I had my first Samsung camera, I suffered a similar situation, my heart almost broke. 2GB photos in the SD card became inaccessible all of a sudden.

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

That's why I decided to create this guide -- breaking down all types of possible card errors, with relevant repair solutions from authorities you can count on.

Use the Table of Contents below to better navigate yourself to the right chapter. Don't forget to check out the bonus tips on how to avoid card errors, contributed by experienced photographers.

This guide should apply to many types of memory cards available in the market: including Secure Digital (microSD, miniSD, SDHC), CompactFlash (CF), memory stick, etc. manufactured by SanDisk, Kingston, Transcend, Lexar, Samsung, etc.

CHAPTER 1

Memory Card Locked or Write Protected

Are you getting the message "sd 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 forgot to turn off the write protect lock. These posts show how to unlock it, or fix it if your memory card switch is broken.


CHAPTER 2

Memory Card Not Recognized

If your media card can not be detected by a PC or Mac when connected, or if it simply won't read in your digital camera; then check out the following resources to find the possibles and fixes.

Note: it's not guaranteed that the tricks below will make your card work again because there are many possible reasons that could cause this situation. If the card is physically damaged, for instance, chances to get it fixed are low.


CHAPTER 3

Memory Card Keeps Asking to Format

When you plug the card into the port or adapter of your computer, a message similar to this "The disk is not formatted, do you want to format it now?" shows up, even worse you tried to format it another message pops up saying "operation failure" (or "the disk cannot be formatted" and won't allow you to do so.

Mostly likely your card is corrupted, other causes may include system incompatibilities, lack of device drivers. See the following forum discussions and learn how to handle it properly.


CHAPTER 4

Files Hidden or Became Shortcuts

You try to access those photos or videos stored on your camera card. Once you connect the card to a computer, only to find that all the pictures and folders are now missing, or have become shortcuts (with a few KBs in size the real size could be MBs or GBs). If you encounter this issue, your flash card has probably infected with virus or malware. Here are some posts with step-by-step fix instructions.


CHAPTER 5

Forgot Memory Card Password

Many smartphones, particularly Android-based, allow users to create a password for the microSD card. It could be a hassle if you set a password but forgot it later on, especially when you need it badly. Fortunately, it's not rocket science to recover or remove that password. These resources will be of help to you.


CHAPTER 6

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 pictures due to accidental deletion or formatting the card. Becuase the way file system of a storage card deals with data, technically, it's often quite possible to recover those lost files with the help of a third-party data recovery software.


CHAPTER 7

Memory Card Not Enough Space

It's normal that the actual space available on a new card is a little bit less than what is advertised. For example, your SanDisk Extreme Pro may actually show 29.8 GB usable when it's labeled 32 GB. But if it only shows 40 MB available and you didn't have many writing activities, then that's definitely abnormal. Try the following resources to restore the lost space.


CHAPTER 8

Unable to Format Memory Card

If you are experiencing problems formatting a card either on your digital camera 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.


CHAPTER 9

Other Camera Errors

If you are encountering other types of errors with your digital cameras (not necessarilily related to memory cards), check the links below to match your problems and find fix solutions.


CHAPTER 10

Helpful Memory Card Resources

The best way to avoid flash card issues is to have a good using habit. In addition, make multiple copies of the data on a regular basis. All those will help you encounter fewer unexpected issues or data loss disasters. Here're some of my favorite articles to help you Go PRO!


The Bonus

Useful Tips from Pro Photographers

Huge thanks to all of you who joined the discussion and contributed your thoughts on how to mitigate risk of memory card issues! 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 card issues.

Did the above resources help you out? Let me know what you think.

Or did you run into a problem, or found a solution, that I'm yet to cover in the above chapters?

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

Update notice: this article was last updated on in July 2017 for freshness and accuracy. A few new useful resources are added to some chapters for comprehensiveness.

  • JP
  • November 3, 2015
JP
 

I'm JP, the founder of 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 & iPad, and an Android phone. My goal is to provide you with useful software and how-to tips to solve tech related issues. Learn more about me.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 43 comments