How Old Are Your Memory Cards?

by | Oct 11, 2021

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

“No structure, even an artificial one, enjoys the process of entropy. It is the ultimate fate of everything…”—Philip K. Dick

As I write this I’m sitting in my home office on Daisy Hill looking out the window waiting for some new SD memory cards to arrive. It’s really peaceful here but that wasn’t the case when I had an extended photo shoot with the amazing Internet model Maria Cedar. That shoot was on a warm day so we began at two locations, where I made the featured image, before moving into the studio.

After about 200 exposures during the studio session while shooting with my Panasonic Lumix GH4, I began having camera problems: Whenever I tripped the shutter it made a clicking sound but not like the shutter was firing, then the screen went black and the camera locked up. No image was captured. If I turned the GH4 off, then back on it worked for a while but the same thing happened again and again.

Since this was a slightly different from a problem I had before, I contacted a friend at Panasonic who told me, “it sounds like a problem we’ve heard that happens to SD cards that have bad sectors.” How did my good SD cards suddenly go bad?

Some background on memory cards: The smallest unit of data storage in a flash memory chip is a single cell, which consists of an individual NAND (NOT-AND) or NOR transistor. A cell typically holds a single bit of data. In multi-level cells (MLC) one cell can contain two or three bits. This process doubles or triples the chip’s capacity without increasing its size or the amount of cells it contains. This design makes high-capacity flash devices cheap to produce and purchase but there’s no free lunch. MLC chips tend to wear out faster than SLC (single-level cell) chips. If enough flash memory cells become unreadable, the entire chip becomes corrupt. This happens not because of user mishandling but due to age because sooner or later all data storage devices break down.

How I made this photograph: I photographed Maria Cedar on the porch of an historic farmhouse that’s located not far from Daisy Hill. The camera used was a Panasonic Lumix GH4 with Lumix G Vario 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 at 43mm. Exposure was 1/60 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 200. After a few quick test shots, I used the camera’s built-in flash as fill.

While a memory card’s data storage capabilities can theoretically last five years or even longer, there is empirical evidence that cards may only be reliable from a few weeks to around two years of use. I’ll bet that most of us don’t keep track of our memory card’s age but expect them to last forever. They don’t. Some shooters write the dates they purchased the cards on the cards themselves. A good idea? I think so. Then there is the effect of “Stupid Photographer’s Tricks” (that I am an expert at) that photographers, in our own inimitable way can screw up the cards too. I’ve written about ways to avoid memory card problems before and you might want to read about it by clicking that link when you have time.

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If you’re interested in learning how I shoot  available light glamour portraits, please pick up a copy of Available Light Glamour Photography which is available new from for $29.33. Used copies start around twenty bucks, as I write this. For those preferring a digital format, the Kindle version is an affordable $28.45.